System Change not Climate Change (Lessons of the Socialist Anthropocene). Talk by Maja & Reuben Fowkes

Tuesday, 10 January 17.30 EET

Riga Art Space


Multiplying signs of ecological breakdown and a parallel deepening of social injustice are constant reminders of the magnitude and gravity of a climate crisis that demands systemic change. Rising global temperatures and their disastrous impact on the species and entities of the natural world appear now as long-burning consequences of the toxic entwinement of colonialism and extractivism. In this talk we will consider how contemporary artists have uncovered the systemic origins of climate breakdown in colonial extractivism, from its historical roots in the subjugation of the indigenous Americas to the insidious expansive mutating forms of neo-colonial exploitation. What lines can be drawn between the modes of colonial oppression and decolonial struggle in the global South and global North, including its post-socialist territories? More specifically, how have artists shone light on the distinctive histories and potentialities of the socialist Anthropocene and its relation to the natural world, ecology and climate change? Could a decolonial ecological perspective, especially one rooted in the non-capitalist histories of actually existing socialism, sharpen the critique of green capitalist proposals for incremental adaptation to climate change? To what extent does artistic exploration of indigenous, non-western and eco-socialist epistemologies and practices open pathways to ecological transition?


Maja and Reuben Fowkes are art historians, curators and co-directors of the Postsocialist Art Centre (PACT) at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London. Their publications include Art and Climate Change (Thames & Hudson, 2022), Central and Eastern European Art Since 1950 (Thames & Hudson, 2020), Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar (Sternberg Press, 2021), The Green Bloc: Neo-avant-garde Art and Ecology under Socialism (CEU Press, 2015) and a special issue of Third Text entitled Actually Existing Artworlds of Socialism (2018). Recent curatorial projects include the exhibitions Colliding Epistemes at Bozar Brussels (2022) and Potential Agrarianism at Kunsthalle Bratislava (2021). Their Horizon Europe project on the Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts is supported by a UKRI Frontier Research grant.

The event is part of the international project Islands of Kinship: A Collective Manual for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions, co-funded by the European Union and Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia.

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