New Art Exhibit Envisions 'Fossils of the Anthropocene'

Work by Erik Hagen featured in the AAAS Art Gallery considers what the legacy of humankind will be millions of years from now.
 
Erik Hagen discusses his new exhibit at the AAAS Art Gallery. | AAAS/Carla Schaffer

As a child in central Minnesota, Erik Hagen discovered a fossil while exploring a quarry with his aunt.

"It was this little mini-portrait of an animal that lived millions of years ago," he said. "It lived and died and it was this snapshot. It came to me, across all those years, like a magical communication."

Fascinated by the idea of what people will leave behind for those who live millions of years from now, Hagen developed a unique series of paintings for "Fossils of the Anthropocene," a new exhibit now showing in the AAAS Art Gallery.

Hagen, trained as both an artist and an environmental engineer, described the anthropocene as the age of man. "While we're looking backwards in time at what the fossil record can tell us, what are they going to find in the future - whoever they are? That really captivated my imagination and led me to do all of these different pieces," he said.

"This theme is a portrait of humanity and the things that we do," Hagen continued. "It's a snapshot. I'd like people to think about what we might leave behind."

Some of Hagen's "fossils" were created by throwing marble dust on a canvas covered with latex paint mixed with sand, then embedding casts of plastic coins or a cell phone, referencing commerce and communication. Other pieces include toy army men, a diamond ring, and a cross, alluding to war, love, and religion respectively.

Several of the paintings incorporate plastic waste, including a water bottle as well as plastic fragments and micro-beads like those used in lotions and soaps. "I work in natural resource issues so I'm really sensitive to the environmental issues as they come up, especially as they relate to water," Hagan said. "I like to reference emerging environmental issues."

One piece features plastic fragments collected by students from the Sea Education Association (SEA), a program run by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

"They go out to sea for several weeks at a time and these are some of the pieces that they actually collected that were in a beach environment or out in the ocean," Hagen said. "They donated some plastic micro-fragments that they collected in the ocean environment.  I put them into a painting and I'll send it back to them because they wanted the plastic back-so they get the art piece."

"Fossils of the Anthropocene" runs in the AAAS Art Gallery through November 19.