Stretching Out: Species Extinction and Planetary Aesthetics in Contemporary Art

This week I published a long essay ” Stretching Out: Species Extinction and Planetary Aesthetics in Contemporary Art” in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Art History. It is a companion piece to a second more historical essay coming out in Environmental Humanities later in the year.

This is the abstract:

There is madness in species extinction. The horn has been removed from the last male northern white rhino on earth and he has two armed guards 24 hours a day. The huia in New Zealand were killed off by the desire for white-tipped tail feathers in Victorian hats. We fear the extinction of rhinos, we mourn the extinction of the huia, yet we might need reminding to also show concern for the extinction of the dung beetle. This paper looks at the ways that artists are engaging with these difficult events. By placing Gayatri Spivak’s call for a planetarity of thought in conversation with Donna Haraway’s practice of ‘making kin,’ I argue that art history is a practice of planetary aesthetics. In discussion of recent works by Shannon Te Ao, Francis Upritchard, Diana Thater, Agnieszka Golda and Martin Johnson, and Black Moss (Nathan Hughes and Jinyi Wang), I show how artists are rethinking the moments when species meet in the Anthropocene.

               Keywords: species extinction, Anthropocene, contemporary art, planetarity, kin.

The essay began from a riff on Shannon Te Ao’s Two Shoots  video installation, and then extended into a working through of Gayatri Spivak’s concepts of planetarity. To me this concept marks a critical way forward for an art history that steps outside the usual. I also make a tentative connection with Haraway’s figuring of ‘kin.’ And Michel Serres makes an appearance :

If we judge our actions innocent and we win, we win nothing, history goes on as before, but if we lose, we lose everything, being unprepared for some possible catastrophe. Michel Serres, The Natural Contract, trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), 5.

Together I’m using a figuring of these ideas to propose a new way of thinking planetary aesthetics.

You can access my essay here, if you don’t have institutional access, please email me for the free download code: