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Anne Hemkendreis & Anna-Sophie Jürgens Research Project

Anne Hemkendreis Research Poster

Environmental Circus – a project in development

There is a fascinating and innovative negotiation taking place in contemporary circus – one that transcends the boundaries of traditional performance art to engage with the complexities of the Anthropocene. This negotiation goes beyond the human-centred perspective – beyond human exceptionalism – to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all living beings and the environment. In this exploration, the concept of the 'more-than-human' becomes a crucial lens through which contemporary circus performance engages with the Anthropocene. We call this type of circus ‘Environmental Circus’.  

Environmental Circus is a relatively new cultural phenomenon in which ecological disasters are negotiated through extreme physical performances. Aerial artistry in particular, but also acrobatics, juggling and dance, play with moments of physical danger and stress to draw attention to the increasing ecological urgencies. Artists bring objects from nature (stones, ice, plants, etc.) onto the stage to refer to, and reflect on, the irretrievable loss of entire ecosystems and the experience of climate-related catastrophes. In dialogue with these non-human agents – in addition to questioning one's own identity and testing seemingly superhuman forms of movement – a post-anthropocentric perspective on the world is not only performed, but opened up for participation. Climate change as an everyday spectacle thus becomes accessible to reflection, not from the distanced standpoint of the enlightened subject, but as a form of involvement with the endangered world. Immersive aesthetics of environmental circus performances lead to a heightened awareness of the need for action and resilience to feelings of eco-anxiety or climate-fear.
In cooperation with researchers from the Young Academy of Sciences of the Leopoldina and the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Germany) and the Popsicule (CPAS, ANU), this project is dedicated to communicating environmental knowledge through an aesthetic experience. In particular, core elements of acrobatics, such as balance and rotation, become symbols and sensual experiences for abstract ecological processes, such as the carbon cycle. The multimedia project invites the audience to consider the agency and significance of non-human entities – animals, plants, landscapes – in an unfolding narrative. Circus acts thus become a canvas for the representation of ecological relationships, blurring the boundaries between performer and environment, human and non-human.  

In this project – our collaborative ‘Environmental Circus’ SILBERSALZ project – we want to develop a new and exciting science communication stage format that brings environmental science, environmental humanities and, ultimately, pro-environmentalism, to life through circus art. Our project explores the power of circus performance not just to address or tell stories about our climate crisis, but to engage our emotions through suspense, awe and wonder. Stay tuned!

Photo by T&J Photography