Exhausted (2021) is one of five commissioned works as part of CLIMAVORE: Seasons Made to Drift, an exhibition and public program at SALT BEYOĞLU, that explores how to eat as humans change the climate. Exhausted undoes the tales of soil and human fertility from the Neolithic age in the so-called Fertile Crescent, to explore the crisis of infertility and the subsequent expansion of IVF facilities and treatments in contemporary Istanbul.
Since the Neolithic era the visual representation of fertile bodies and fertile soil has been inseparable; each giving meaning to the other as entangled forms of life. The transition from hunter-gathering to nomadism to agriculture is conventionally described as a linear episode of 'human development.' But archaeological evidence demonstrates the opposite, as James C. Scott remarks in Against the Grain. Neolithic farming communities, especially in the so-called Fertile Crescent, expanded and spread to alluvial bottomlands at the expense of non-sedentary inhabitants.
Grain domestication brought about a history of displacement of nonstate peoples, who having escaped farming to avoid state control, slavery, bondage, and tax collection, had a different understanding of soil and human fertility. Nonsedentary populations typically limit their reproduction deliberately, because the logistics of moving camp regularly make it burdensome, if not impossible. But by 2045, most couples in our global sedentary society may have to use assisted reproduction, without a choice.
This collection of visual representations is matched with counter-narratives around (in)fertile bodies, exhausted soil, misinterpreted figurines, records of controlled reproduction, engineered hyper-fertile grains, state policies and visions of family planning, synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides. They all sit together as building blocks of the current infertility crisis, whose origin dates back to modern soil fertility-enhancing chemicals that have paradoxically disrupted our endocrine systems.
From the Haber-Bosch process to the so-called Green Revolution, billions of people have been fed, while millions have also died in wars derived from food conflicts, starvation, waves of farmer suicides, and a torrent of environmental changes, largely impacted by fertiliser run-off, pesticide contamination, water scarcity, and algal blooms. More than a century after its invention, the overuse of fertiliser has proved to be a major contributor to world-wide soil deterioration through acidification, partly due to the side-effects of nitrogen, phosphates, and ammonia dependencies. These dependencies are entangled with a series of modern infrastructures, agrochemical facilities, modern wheats, modern pests, genetically modified crops, human-made famines, and agricultural trade fairs. They have also been coupled with heteropatriarchal and Eurocentric 'modern' family models to enhance the nation’s fertility, and are now collapsing under imminent and continuous soil and bodily exhaustion. Rather than humans domesticating grain, it seems all these modern technologies eventually domesticated humans, as bodies more and more struggle to reproduce, should they want to.
In 2005, Turkey began to provide state funding for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment both at public and private hospitals and clinics. Since then, the demand for IVF has dramatically increased, leading to a doubling in the number of IVF clinics—from 66 in 2005 to more than 110 in 2013, the largest number in any Eastern Mediterranean country. As shown by sociologist Zeynep Gürtin, the ability of Turkish couples of all social classes and backgrounds to access IVF and sperm injections has had dramatic and positive effects on demand for Assisted Reproductive Technology services (ARTs). Within the past decade, this has consequently positioned Istanbul as a new international hub for ARTs tourism.
Over the course of the exhibition, the installation is activated by a series of lecturers (Gülhan Balsoy, Lucy Beech, Ulaş Karakoç, Tamar Novick, Zozan Pehlivan, and James Scott) to create diverging narratives about the exhaustion of both the soil and the body. An online series of commissioned essays available at e-flux architecture and saltonline (Elizabeth Hoover, Onur İnal, Rami Zurayk, Sharmila Rudrappa, Calvin Po, and Rickie Solinger) expands these contemporary frictions around in/fertility.