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Pablo Borra-Paley

Epochal Unmooring: The Pictorial Horizon Line in the Anthropocene

An annual corporeal calendar, mapping each year onto the body, would list 2019 as the year of the lung. 2019 was bookended by damaging respiratory events. The year started with the bans on flavored juul pods, with deaths related to respiratory complications and unregulated  e-cigarette juice, and closed with the rise of COVID-19, a virus with a deadly notoriety for attacking victims’ respiratory systems. With 20-20 vision, this thesis explores the compounding, longer-standing, respiratory threat: smog.

This thesis is a reticular journey through the anthropocene, environment, the sublime, photojournalism, and the pictorial horizon line. Smog acts as the common lodestar. According to the scientists who proposed the term, the Anthropocene began in mid-18th century England – around the same time and location where Edmund Burke wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. London, where Burke lived, had long been plagued with smog attacks, and period accounts of the effects share many similarities with Burke’s definition of the sublime. Burke’s sublime is then compared with Jeff Wall’s definition of photojournalism, which is used to transition into the smog attacks of the 21st century and the accompanying photojournalism. Through these images, the pictorial symbolism of smog, the horizon line, and their relationship, is explored as a shifting natural system of the Anthropocene.

Sector B

Advisors: Sam Mapp (ARTH), Ian Verstegen (VLST)