4. Dreams and Deserters of Aroofa, Tar Beach

Imagine if Ice-T, the notorious rapper of the track “Cop Killer” were a cop. [1] That, in fact, has been the case for the last 16 years – at least in his role as police detective Odafin Tutuola in one of the most successful U.S. television series of all time: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. While Tutuola is the second-longest-serving cast member, it is only in the handful of episodes focusing on the only black member of the elite squad chasing rape victims that some information about his personal background is revealed. [2] One of these rare episodes is titled “Rooftop.” [3] Here we learn about Tutuola’s age indirectly: he was six years old when the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. hit the hood. And it is another “King” who will be found responsible for the rape and killing of black, underage girls on the rooftops of Harlem at the end of this episode: Malik “King” Harris, a music promoter, who uses his rhetorical skills to seduce women by pretending to enhance their career in the music business. While engaging in the plot of finding the perpetrator, this episode actually deals with the status of race relations after the American civil rights movement with a complex play of zootropes involved. Read More »

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3. Here are Lions

In ancient Roman maps, terra incognita at the edge of the Empire were marked with the notation hinc sunt leones – “here are lions”. Specific zootopes, animal-places as places of or for animals, are always connected to certain zootropes, animal metaphors and animal images. This is also the case for unknown places, to which the Roman maps seem to attest.

People, through their historically changing material and ideological practices, are part of this complex situation – along with animals and their practices. Animals thwart not only our dreams but also our bedrooms. They populate utopias and heterotopias, are assigned to certain topologies, and transcend them. Animals are ignored and loved, segregated and caged in, but nevertheless build relationships – with humans and other animals, architectures and cities, environments and ecologies. Werner Herzog’s film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams from 2010 gravitates poetically around this relationship in its search for “ecstatic truth” while dealing with the Chauvet Cave drawings in France. Dating back an estimated 30,000 years, the cave paintings are twice as old as any other visual artifacts of human history. Both the birth of man and the birth of art are depicted as one and the same act – a moment that supposedly was inextricably linked to animals and images of animals.

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2. Towards a Theory of the Zoopolitical Unconscious

There are utopian spaces knitted into the fabric of the seemingly pessimistic film La Haine.[1] One famous scene in La Haine condenses this “fleeting utopia”[2] more then any other moment in the film: Hubert packages and smokes weed in his bedroom, listening to “That Loving Feeling,” sung by Isaac Hayes, and looks outside the window of his “rabbit hutch” (cage à lapins – as the identical flats of the cité are called). His gaze falls onto the inhabitants of the banlieue below. While the sound of a police helicopter immerses the social landscape in a tense mode of being watched by unfriendly eyes, Hubert’s gaze arrives at another window. Here we see a DJ, Cut Killer, positioning the loudspeakers by the window to sound outwards into the space between the buildings. The non-admission of young migrant men into discotheques is a recurring theme in banlieue films[3] and also later in La Haine; here, the loudspeakers transform the open space of the banlieue into a grand dance floor.[4] Cut Killer stages an ingenious mix with samples of U.S. hip-hop artist KRS-One’s “Sound of the Police,” French rap formation Supreme NTM’s “Nique La Police” and Edith Piaf’s notorious “Je ne regrette rien.” Read More »

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1. Last Night, During the Riot, I Ran Into a Cow

Without cows and their appetite there would be no photography as we know it, argues Nicole Shukin in Animal Capital.[1] The scientists at Kodak’s research laboratory had a problem at the beginning of the 20th century: The gelatin used by Kodak to bind light-sensitive agents to a base had produced results of poor quality. Only after mustard seeds had been added to the cows’ feed were satisfactory photographic results achieved. Read More »

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V. Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Gynocene: The Many Names of Resistance

In my past postings, I’ve pointed out how the Anthropocene thesis can be roundly criticized for its assorted failings. Nonetheless, the term remains significant for one reason: it registers the geological impact of human activities, and as such offers an important wedge—one that unites climate science and environmental studies with the environmental arts and humanities—against climate change denialism, funded generously by the destructive fossil-fuel industry. And now, with the momentum of its growing adoption across diverse fields of academic, science, cultural and artistic practice, the term Anthropocene is likely here to stay—despite, or even because of, its use-value in generalizing and thereby disavowing responsibility for Earth-systems disruption, validating further geoengineering experiments, and diffusing political traction in the struggle against climate change. Read More »

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IV. Capitalocene Violence

“Climate change is global-scale violence against places and species, as well as against human beings, writes Rebecca Solnit. “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”[1] One way to “call violence by name” is to opt for the Capitalocene—the geological age of capitalism—rather than the misdirected Anthropocene—identifying “human activities” as the agency behind environmental change.[2] The terminological distinction invites a critical analysis of Anthropocene imagery, especially in regards to popular photography. Read More »

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III. Against the Anthropocene

On May 16th, 2015, the “Paddle in Seattle” demo unleashed its kayak flotilla, a mass direct action against Shell’s Arctic-bound Polar Pioneer drilling rig temporarily stationed in the west coast city’s port. Word and images of the “S(h)ell no!” protest spread widely online, accompanying reports in indie media and some mainstream press, distributed by environmentalist and Indigenous movements, adding momentum to the popular challenge to extreme extractivism in the far North.

 ‘Shell No’ protesters take to the water on Saturday heading near Royal Dutch Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig near Seattle. Photograph: David Ryder/Getty Images


‘Shell No’ protesters take to the water on Saturday heading near Royal Dutch Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig near Seattle. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

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II. Geo-Engineering the Anthropocene

“A daunting task lies ahead for scientists and engineers to guide society towards environmentally sustainable management during the era of the Anthropocene. This will require appropriate human behaviour at all scales, and may well involve internationally accepted, large-scale geo-engineering projects, for instance to ‘optimize’ climate.”[1]—Paul Crutzen, 2002 Read More »

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