later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
– Warsan Shire
Since the early 2000s, there has been a scramble amongst scientists to define the boundaries of what is being called the ‘Anthropocene’. The term marks a geological era in which ‘human’ activity has become a geological force, shaping the Earth through terraforming, climate change, chemical deposits, and the creation of a global extinction crisis, amongst other things. As a result of these activities, Anthropocene scientists believe that this so-called ‘human’ era will leave its own distinctive mark in the geological strata of the Earth. In the rush to mark and claim this era, hundreds of scientists and some social scientists are racing to find a definitive ‘golden spike’: a place in which to drive a stake, make a claim, to the conversion of the Earth into a human dominion. Most notably, the ‘Anthropocene Working Group’ of the subcommission on Quarternary Stratigraphy is planning in 2016 to announce where in time the spike should be driven. It will choose amongst numerous proposals, including the detonation of the first nuclear weapons; the Industrial revolution; and the beginning of large-scale agriculture. In so doing, this group of overwhelmingly white, male scholars of the physical sciences, whose meetings are closed to the public aims to make a claim on behalf of ‘humanity’ over the history, future and fate of the planet.
The various points in timespace that the Working Group is considering as sites for the golden spike represent world wounds. Specifically, they tell us where the world hurts for these scientists – where it is torn and ruptured, where it generates pain and fear. But the world hurts in different places depending on who you are and what kind of violence you’ve experienced. Our project focuses on the foundational – and, specifically, colonial – violence that has forged the so-called Anthropocene through material and discursive means. We build on and beyond the idea that the Anthropocene started in 1492, with the period of colonization that resulted in the genocide of more than 50 million Indigenous peoples in the Americas and created patterns of colonial domination that have re-shaped the planet and its peoples since.
We invite participants to take one of the golden spikes we have produced to a place where the world hurts for you. Then, we ask you to reflect on this hurt and to find a way of expressing it in response to the spike – perhaps through a poem or song, an act or a dance, an image, recording, photograph or written format. Please find a way of digitizing this expression and email it to us at the addresses listed below. We ask only that your submission does not do violence to others – whether human or nonhuman, physical or otherwise.
Once you have finished with your golden spike, please pass it on to someone else who can share their story, along with this background sheet. Submissions will be curated in a forthcoming website, where they will provide an archive of alternative stories and responses to help others come to terms with the changing planet and the violence that is shaping it.