Oli Sorenson: Capitalocene?
Text by Liuba Gonzalez De Armas
Building on a series of exhibitions titled Panorama of the Anthropocene which examined the ecological impact of human activity through an array of paintings, digital prints and videos, Oli Sorenson’s Capitalocene? turns to the economic system that underlies this era. Where Anthropocene names a geological epoch defined by human activity, Capitalocene disputes the former term’s homogenization of humanity within a single category, refuting its equal attribution of responsibility for the impacts of an economic system predicated on unequal distribution of power. Capitalocene? ponders instead on a much smaller subset of humanity: the so-called 1%, whose choices and lifestyles drive anthropogenic climate change and who are nonetheless largely sheltered from its impacts. Avoiding didacticism in favour of critical engagement, Sorenson’s framing of the term as a question invites viewers to reflect on responsibility and complicity for themselves, and to find answers in their own terms.
A digital Pop aesthetic permeates the exhibition, which features works on paper and canvas, video, and online NFTs. Neon-toned graphics evoke informational and material excess in the form of abstracted cargo ships on waterways and repeating icons of automobiles, fuel containers, shopping bags, and vaccine vials. Collectively, these images suggest the immensity of global supply chains by referencing processes of mass production, transportation, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Sorenson creatively borrows from Pop and Neo-Geometric Conceptualism, making tactical use of repetition and geometric abstraction to describe the monumental scale and impact of human economic activity under capitalism. Relentlessly bright tones echo the advertising screens of consumerist visual culture: the desire to catch and hold the eye, the failed promise of infinite material prosperity..
What at first appears as a contradiction – the inclusion of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) in an ecocritical exhibition – serves to open up another realm for consideration: the art world’s complicity in global capital. Conscious of the massive energy footprint of conventional NFTs, Sorenson opts to use cleanNFTs which consume an infinite fraction of energy, in comparison to those based on dominant crypto-currencies. This deliberate gesture underscores that viable alternatives are available today, in NFTs as in other economic sectors. Yet as these approaches involve less money per transaction and fewer intermediaries, Sorenson notes, ecological solutions are sidelined in the interest of profit.
Capitalocene? does not explicitly name a culprit of climate change. The exhibition does, however, convincingly illustrate how the dominant economic system of capitalism prescribes an array of human activities whose ubiquity and sustained repetition, carried out in plain sight and sanctioned by those in power, shapes life on a planetary scale to dire ends.