More Than Planet booklet Old Observatory expo COVER

More-than-Planet Expo Booklet (Miha Turšič, July 2022)

We live in a world in which 75% of the planet’s land surface is experiencing measurable human pressure.(1) The way we imagine our Earth has a substantial impact on the environment. We construct these imaginaries with a number of underlying concepts, value systems, visual cultures and technologies to portray the Earth’s environment. However, these technologies are neither neutral nor socially inclusive.

Our ideas are not only the result – or lack – of established knowledge: they are also related to power. The consequence is a variety of planetary perceptions often at war with each other.(2) To offer an alternative, the More-than-Planet exhibition shows a number of five transdisciplinary works. They open up the conversation in which technology and art-driven innovation can reduce the pressure on the environment.

Western concepts of the environment historically transitioned from imperial and colonial histories toward the modern globalism and contemporary geopolitics of the terrestrial and planetary.(3) These developments fostered the emergence of today’s dominant Earth systems science – and its critical assessment by the philosophy of science, science technology studies and environmental humanities provided an opportunity for more socially inclusive environmental concepts to surface.

Socially sensitive environmental studies look at hidden power structures(4), non-human entities becoming tangled up with human infrastructure projects(5), a fragile thick layer of Earth critically transformed by life(6), or just very messy entanglements that resist systematisation—like in more-than-human studies(7). This is a very different approach from the exclusively scientific view which takes the human out of the equation or neutralises it with generalised terms like the Anthropos.

Since it matters which planet or environmental concept is portrayed (and which one is not), the More-than-Planet exhibition, symposium and three-year project aims to research how mattering can contribute to socially more inclusive environmental imaginaries. Mattering(8) stands here as a study of how making facts and values is inevitably intertwined, and what cultural and societal arrangements can be built on top of that.(9)

As citizens, we need to be sensitive to environmental problems more than we have ever been. Especially since the dominance of science, and the matters of interest from industry and governments, tends to be prioritised over the citizen’s concerns and need for planetary care. Understanding the diversity of such drivers behind environmental concepts contributes to better accessibility of transdisciplinary environmental knowledge and provides agency to us all as actors of change.

In parallel with environmental concepts, iconic images of Earth contributed to a modern understanding of a planet as a whole: Earthrise(10), Blue Marble(11), and Pale Blue Dot(12), all depicted Earth as all-we-have, but still in a very generalised way. On the other side, media studies and artists also explore the planetary environment as an interface(13), a parametric future landscape(14), a vertical public space(15), environmental violence and racism(16) or visual policymaking imaginaries.(17)

Such examples overcame the concept of the Earth as a neutral and systemised object of scientific observation. At the same time, such works of art shed light on technologies and data infrastructures underlying the mediation of an Earth as a planetary concept. They also demonstrate the ways in which artists – in creative and concerned ways – use the same tools as scientists, yet are better at identifying matters closer to citizens, especially those in a variety of social and environmental problems.

1. Venter, O., Sanderson, E., Magrach, A. et al. Sixteen years of change in the global terrestrial human footprint and implications for biodiversity conservation. Nat Commun 7, 12558 (2016).

2. Latour, B., and Weibel, P., Critical Zones – The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2020

3. Likavčan, Lukáš. Introduction to Comparative Planetology. Strelka Institute Press, 2019.

4. Bureau d’Etudes, Atlas of agendas – mapping the power, mapping the commons, 2015.

5. Tsing, A.L., Deger J., Saxena A.K., Zhou, F., Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene, Stanford University Press, 2020).

6. Guinard, M., Latour, B., Lin, P., and e-flux journal editors, Editorial: You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet, e-flux, Issue #114, December 2020

7. Jaque, A., Verzier, M.O., Pietroiusti, L., More-than-Human, Het Nieuwe Instituut, 2020.

8. Law, J., Matter-ing, Or How Might STS Contribute?, published by the Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University, UK

9. Haraway, Donna (1991), ‘Situated Knowledges: the Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’, pages 183-201 in Donna Haraway (ed.), Simians, Cyborgs and Women: the Reinvention of Nature, London: Free Association Books.

10. NASA, 1968

11. NASA, 1972

12. NSA, 1990

13. Terravision by ART+COM, 1994

14. Brain, Tega. (2018). The Environment Is Not A System. A Peer-Reviewed Journal About Research Refusal.

15. Parks, Lisa. Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual. 1 ed. Duke University Press, 2005.

16. Cloud Studies, Forensic Architecture, 2020

17. Oceans in Transformation, Territorial Agency, 2020

The More-than-Planet expo at the Old Observatory Leiden (1 July - 23 December 2022, NL) is an exploration of the impact of humanity on our planet. The exhibition features five artworks, from artists Minna Långström, Dani Ploeger, Territorial Agency, Forensic Architecture and artist group Tega Brain, Julian Oliver and Bengt Sjölén.

The connective tissue between the different artworks is that they comment on how our experiences and preconceptions change how we look at our planet. Take a look at the exhibition booklet, with an introduction by curator Miha Turšič.