Sixth session of the Environmental Humanities seminar at LARCA

Artistic Engagements with Air Pollution in Nineteenth-Century England and France,’

featuring Daniel Finch-Race, Sarah Gouldand Jesse Oak Taylor

5.30-7.30pm, Paris & Venice time – Thursday 8 April 2021

Zoom link(full Zoom invitation below)

· ‘Wondering at Industrial Emissions in Camille Pissarro’s Paintings of Rouen,’ Daniel Finch-Race (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

The Industrial Revolution paved the way for the Carbon Age of unseasonable conditions and extreme phenomena linked to the ‘air [being] full of deadly substances’, in the words of the anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus in 1866. Many parallels existed between cultural production and climatology in the nineteenth century, not least in terms of a focus on skies above major urban areas – art and literature came to complement science in encapsulating the emotional stakes of pollution on a comprehensible scale. Indeed, the Salon of 1859 gave rise to the poet Charles Baudelaire’s infamous remark about etchings of ‘obelisks of industry, spewing forth their conglomerations of smoke against the firmament’. Along these lines, creative works such as Camille Pissarro’s oil paintings of Rouen in the 1880s and ’90s provide spatial, temporal, elemental, and sensorial context for empirical findings about atmospheric irregularities associated with a surge in the production of carbon dioxide and other problematic compounds. Such concerns invite interdisciplinary discussions of the local basis of global warming, including the worldwide ecological repercussions of a lack of resolve about long-term polluting practices in the Global North. 

· ‘The Polluted Textures of J.M.W. Turner’s Late Works,’ Sarah Gould (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne)

This talk will consider the ways in which J.M.W. Turner’s engagement with the material surfaces of his works testifies to the ever-changing experiences of early industrialisation and globalisation. Turner’s obtrusive handling of paint was considered excessive by many of his contemporaries; his use of impasto was, especially in his late works, thought to thwart representation itself. The disruptive dimension of his technique has in turn become one of the main entry points for critical evaluations of his work and, for art historians, a crucial marker of his modernity. Shared by some art historical studies concentrating on this question, is the idea that Turner’s treatment of matter is regarded as avant-garde because it testifies to a consciousness of form. Contrary to this view, this paper aims to show that an alternative conceptualisation of texture as a semiotically unstable category might contribute to reprocessing Turner’s attention to polluted atmospheres. It will be my contention that through the expressivity of the painterly medium, Turner introduces a new relation to observed matter such as vile air, both setting him apart from his contemporaries, and enabling him to illustrate subjects that were outside of traditional representations.

· ‘Nocturne in Smoke and Fog: Whistler v Ruskin in a Time of Climate Change,’ Jesse Oak Taylor (University of Washington)

In November of 1878, a sensational trial began in London. Instead of murder, sex, kidnapping, blackmail, bankruptcy or embezzlement, the subject of contention was art. James Abbot McNeill Whistler was suing John Ruskin for libel over a bad review of his Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, which Ruskin disparaged as “throwing a pot of paint in the public’s face.” The ensuing trial is often considered a watershed moment in the rise of modernist aesthetics. This presentation will situate it within a different trajectory: the conceptual emergence of the Anthropocene as a radical rupture in Earth’s history, and hence a form of planetary modernism. Whistler v. Ruskin crystalizes a number of dilemmas about how to talk, think, and write about works of art in the context of ecological crisis: the discomforting sensation of finding a polluted environment beautiful, the question of what to do with aesthetic evidence, and perhaps most notably the status of atmosphere as both a property of the work itself and the world that surrounds it, extending from the paintings to the courtroom in which they were displayed, to London’s polluted “fog” outside, and to the archives of polar ice. Meanwhile, the incongruity of turning to the courts to adjudicate a question of aesthetic judgement converges with the absence of effective legal frameworks through which to address anthropogenic climate change, and expansive historical work needed to contextualize events within the Earth System. 

For more information

Sujet : [SEM] Session 6 – ‘Air Pollution’ (Env Hum at LARCA)

Heure : 8 avr. 2021 05:30 PM Paris

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