Concrete Buys Time: Art and Anthropology in the Anthropocene

Richard D.G. Irvine, Anne Bevan

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Abstract

Recent engagements with deep time within anthropology have urged an expansion of our time horizons in order to confront the contemporary ecological crisis. Here, we explore this theme by considering concrete’s material properties as a substance that
reveals the troubled relationship between the present and deep time. We combine discussion of the life cycle of concrete in Orkney, Scotland, with reflection on sculptural interventions that seek to capture concrete’s character as both solid and fluid—the pouring of concrete has the potential to congeal a fleeting moment in time. Yet, recognising the impact of the production of concrete, understood at the geological level, we see a pernicious feedback loop: attempts to secure the land/water boundary contribute to the climatic changes which threaten those very environments. The task of tracing concrete’s place within the geological record illustrates both the challenge and the necessity of recognising humanity within deep time.

Keywords

  • concrete – cement – geology – Anthropocene – sculpture

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