Burtynsky’s Anthropocene coming to the AGO in September 2018

The photographer's sprawling collaboration with filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier will open simultaneously in Toronto and Ottawa


The latest collaboration between photographer Edward Burtynsky and filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier is the Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) major fall 2018 exhibit.

The trio, who previously worked together on the documentary films Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark, will explore climate change and the irreversible impacts of human life on the planet through the Anthropocene Project, which combines art, environment science and anthropology.

Based on the research of international scientists arguing that the name of the current geological epoch should be changed from Holocene to Anthropocene – “human epoch” – it encompasses augmented reality video installations, Burtynsky photographs illustrating resource extraction, large-scale murals, an art book and educational website.

According to a press release detailing the show, changing the name of the geological age is “a controversial idea currently under vigorous and passionate international debate” that would recognize what Burtynsky, Baichwal and de Pencier call the “human signature” on the planet.

“Our ambition is for the work to be revelatory, not accusatory, as we examine human influence on the earth both in planetary scale and geological time,” the artists said in a joint statement. “Humans now change the earth’s system more than all natural forces combined, and we want to bear witness in an experiential way to these lasting impacts. The shifting of consciousness is the beginning of change.”

The project also includes the third entry in a documentary trilogy about the environment. Production began in 2015 and the film was formally announced in early 2016. A release date hasn’t been announced, but given the AGO show opens in September we can probably expect a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Baichwal and de Pencier were on hand at TIFF this past September for the premiere of their Tragically Hip documentary, Long Time Running.

Anthropocene Project will run simultaneously at the AGO and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from September 2018 to early 2019. Details of each institution’s shows will be announced at a later date.

The exhibition is organized by the AGO and the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada and co-produced with the MAST Foundation, Bologna, Italy.

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