Art & Culture

Michael Wang

The Drowned World
Reading time 2 minutes

The mechanism of climate change can be reduced to a series of material transformations.

Burning fossil fuels reverses the chemical transformations of photosynthesis. Plants, algae, and cyanobacteria change carbon dioxide into the living matter of their bodies. Carbon, reconfigured and recombined, moves from gas into solid. As the physical remains of ancient photosynthesizing organizations burn, the carbon locked within them is released.

"The Drowned World" (2018-) names a series of works that commits the orga- nic origins - and the ongoing biological

consequences - of industrialization and climate change. The works appropriate living matter and the chemical operations of photosynthesis as artistic media. The ruins of fossil fuel infrastructure and the ubiquitous atmospheric effects of carbon emissions form their site and context.

In First Forest (2018), a forest assembled from plants closely related to the Carboniferous period of the ruins of a gasworks. These plants have grown so vastly across the globe - Earth's first forests. Over millennia, their buried remains hardened to form coal. As at thousands of industrial gasworks, the gasworks that form the site of the work heated and burned coal. First Forest suggests a speculative

matic future. By returning to the atmosphere, the climatic conditions of the Carboniferous period may be restored. Here, a carboniferous forest engulfs the coal gasworks, and a 300-million-year process comes full circle.

The photographs that include the series "Carboniferous" depict the fossilized forms of plants from coal deposits around the world. The images offer a glimpse of the ancient forests that, as coal, would fuel the industrial revolution. While the material imaginary of modernity is dominated by inorganic matter - steel, concrete, and glass - these photographs, produced in a modernist idiom, reveal the hidden organic origins of the modern world.

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