About the Slam

photo of baroque stand

We are in the midst of a great reawakening to questions of time—across the spans of geological, ecological, evolutionary, and human history. It is a reawakening precipitated not by a nostalgia for the past but by a sense of urgency about the future. The "Anthropocene," coined in 2000 by ecologist Eugene Stoermer and popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, is one of the most resonant examples of how the urgency of the future has prompted scientists, artists, humanities scholars, and social scientists to engage creatively with the emerging legacy of our geomorphic and biomorphic powers. The advent of this new scientific object - the Anthropocene - is altering how we conceptualize, imagine, and inhabit time. The Anthropocene encourages us to reenvisage (in Nigel Clark's phrase) future and past relations between "earthly volatility and bodily vulnerability." What images and stories can we create that speak with conceptual richness and emotional energy to our rapidly changing visions of future possibilities? For in a world deluged with data, arresting stories and images matter immeasurably, and play a critical role in the making of environmental publics and in shaping environmental policy.

The Anthropocene is just one among many moments in time when new scientific objects have altered humanity's relationship to the past, present, and future. The coming-into-being of scientific objects such as fossils, radioactivity, genetic mutations, toxic pesticides, and ice cores, to name a few, have precipitated different narratives and imaginings of the human past and the human future. What might a cabinet of curiosities for the age of the Anthropocene look like? What objects might jolt us into reimagining environmental time across diverse scales, from the recent past to deep history? How might certain kinds of objects make visible the differential impacts—past, present, and future—that have come to shape the relationships among human and non-human beings, living in an era of extreme hydrocarbon extraction, extreme weather events, and extreme economic disparity?

In the spirit of a poetry slam, this event invites scholars and artists to "pitch" objects which could belong in this Anthropocene cabinet of curiosities. Presenters will have ten minutes to explain why their object stands as a representative of this epoch in human and natural history. The audience is then invited to engage with the presenters and their pitched objects, and vote on which pieces belong in the final cabinet.