Broken open – by Persephone Pearl

Broken open

wrung out

limp

eyes tiny swollen things

limbs heavy and immobile

yet I want to stay like this

to lie by the embers while the cold wind whips me

press my face against stones while my tears roll through the gaps between them

shout into blackness and feel the wind push my cries back into my throat

fall down and pummel the ground

my heart so full that it has cracked wide open like a burnt rock from the heart of the pyre

 


Last night in Brighton we held a funeral for the thylacine, extinct since 1936. The meeting point was at ONCA, where we gave people whiskers and Lost Species Day stickers when they arrived. Glitter, fur, black garb, leopard print, tails, ears: the gallery was full of people curious, open, ready for this, tangibly in need of this kind of space.

I preface the procession with a disclaimer/ celebration:

This is an experiment, there are no rules, we are inventing it all together because we need to – 

Then we press pieces of paper with the names of lost species into their hands and pockets, and off we all go, carrying an effigy of Benjamin, the last thylacine. We only made a head and a tail, and they are connected by a great length of white sheet that many people hold and drape over their shoulders. We’re a motley crew: Ellie at the front in her thylacine mask made from an old teddy bear, tolling the Bell for Lost Species as she goes; Gary with his dark glasses and his tambourine like a Krishna devotee; Alex the bewhiskered numb-fingered ukulele player; people with masks with lanterns; my son Felix running around like a paparazzo with a borrowed GoPro. People smile as we pass by, or shake their heads and mutter “bloody humans” when they hear that it’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

Wake up, shouts Andreas as the bell tolls. It’s time to wake up!

Is this alright, I am thinking. Is this enough? I want this to be enough. I need it to be enough for the people who have come. Yet what could ever be enough?

Through the Pavilion Gardens – for a moment we nearly end up on the temporary ice rink – then down onto the ink dark beach, crunching over pebbles all the way to the foreshore with this strange snaking hodgepodge creation. It stinks of fish down here but instinctively I want that – to perceive, viscerally, the processes of life and death.

The thylacine-snake is laid out in a circle with head and tail meeting in the middle – a great wonky ouroboros – and we gather shufflingly around it. Matt steps into the centre and tells the story of the thylacine – its uniqueness, its niche, its scapegoating, persecution and extermination.

Then, people speak from the edges of the circle of the things they wish to remember tonight:

I want to remember the wolves and bears of this land shot to extinction

I want to remember the boreal forests of Canada given way to tar sands

I want to remember the great forests of Germany now all but gone

I want to remember the red gazelle, though I never knew of its existence till now

I want to remember Toughie and the lost amphibians

Down, I am sinking down, dropping so far, held by the voice of the sea and this fragile circle of vulnerability

I want to remember the lost forest people of Brazil and Panama

I want to remember Berta Caceres the murdered Honduran indigenous environmental activist

I want to remember the unborn Native American children poisoned by the persistent organic pollutants in the Great Lakes

I want to remember the murdered Thai environmental protector who inspired so many people

Further, let me drop further down –  I am ready for the abyss, I feel the sides rushing past me as I fly – but are others frightened? Is this too much? How much can we bear to look at? 

I hold in my thoughts the protectors at Standing Rock

I hold in my thoughts the bees and the pollinators

I hold in my thoughts the protesters defending the woods of Leith Hill from oil exploration

I hold in my thoughts the web of life that is sustained by the soil and I commit to restoring the soil

I give thanks for the worms

I give thanks for the return of the beavers

I give thanks for the wasps and their great work

I give thanks to all the people who give their lives in service to the earth that they love

I could stay here forever.

And then Ellie is saying, Come on then, let’s burn it, and I am wondering, Is it too much, are people too cold, is it too difficult? And we are stumbling about, placing offerings into the mouth of the thylacine, while Andreas plays Amazing Grace on his flute. Lu-Lu in the lemur hat is lighting the paper and up goes Benjamin, a sudden exquisite blast of brilliance in the dark. Just like that.

I sit by the fire, almost touching it; my friend Flor and I tend the flames and I watch every moment. I must stay until the very end, just as I had to at my mother’s funeral when the gravediggers came with their little digger and pushed the heavy clay over her coffin. The tears come now. All I can do is cry, and hold onto strangers.

My comrade Andreas takes one of my tears and puts it into the fire. He says the earth’s song is out of tune and the tree of life is withered. We need to howl and weep, for how else can we water the withered tree or bring music back into the voice of the earth? He recites a poem by Antonio Machado, taught to us by our friend the brilliant Martin Shaw:

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odour of jasmine.

‘In return for the odour of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odour of your roses.’

‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’

‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’

the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’

Remembrance Day for Lost Species – ONCA @LostSpeciesDay from hyperoculus on Vimeo.

 

Liturgy of Loss – by Nick Hunt

What words can do justice to the disorientating, vertiginous experience of loss that accompanies an awareness of the unfolding of the sixth mass extinction? These words by Nick Hunt were used at a DIY ritual event held at the Dark Mountain Uncivilisation festival in 2013. Juxtaposing humour and the mundane with the epic and unknowable, they are offered here by Nick as inspiration for Lost Species events this year. Please write your own extinction liturgies and eulogies, and share them here too. 

Ladies and gentlemen, men and women, friends, humans, homo sapiens, homo heidelbergensis, neanderthalensis, finders, losers, St. Lucy giant rice rats, loves, lost loves, dears, Schomburgk’s deers, darlings, Darling Downs hopping mice, American lions, Tasmanian tigers, Bermuda night herons, Bermuda triangles, objects, possessions, lost keys, Geeze, Nagumi, Etruscan, Eyak, Basque-Icelandic pigdin, passenger pigeons, words, languages, memories, laughter, laughing owls, Ilin Island cloudrunners, short-faced bears, sharp-snouted dayfrogs, welcome to the Liturgy of Loss.

We ask you now to throw our loved ones’ ashes in the Ganges, to wrap their bodies in flags and drop them in the sea, to stand around the cold church hall eating canapes, to slam our whisky glasses down on the coffin, and finally recline on the topmost tower and let the vultures carry our bones away.

And let us also check five times in the same pocket for your missing mobile phone, and the train ticket that has joined the odd socks in the cupboard under the stairwell of the night

And let us also search in vain for the word for the memory conjured by the particular smell of our mother leaving the house in a rainstorm while potato cakes almost burn in the oven while the cat sicks up the pine needles of last year’s Christmas tree.

And let us also remember our never-to-be-realised childhood dreams of employment as bears, robots, kings of volcanoes, revolutionaries, outlaws and millionaires.

And let us also remember all that we’ve lost without knowing: the sound of the wings of the passenger pigeons that no longer darken the sky whistling over the empty grassland where there is no grass any more and soon there will be no land. The phantom limbs of our orchards, hayricks and other bucolic appendages. The rusted bicycle frame with no gears, no wheels, no brakes, no bicycle, locked outside a boarded-up shop on a street you no longer walk down.

We ask you all to sing of the sadness of things you love and let them go, to laugh at longing, to celebrate the seasonal and circadian rhythms of loss and return.

Ladies and gentlemen, nonhumans, broad-faced potoroos, root-spine palms, dinogorgons, Karankawas, golems, bigfoots, pravoslaverias, you are in the Liturgy of Loss…

We will now forge a Liturgy of farewell for vanishing things. These three certified ritualologists will lead you outside to speak of the things that you love and the things that you’ve lost. We ask you to make a simple offering, a sketch or a few words to represent a personal absence for the forthcoming Immolation of the Darlings, the culmination of our ceremony.You will bring your songs and offerings back here, and the Liturgy will begin.

Ladies and gentlemen! Tarpans! Great auks! Aurochs! Lacunae! Misplaced ephemera! Pieces of the world! Fragments! Missing jigsaw puzzle pieces! Extinct hominids and the extant cousins of extinct hominids! Come! Gather! Make haste! Scurry! Eroded statues! Runes that can’t be read! Please proceed back inside, please proceed back inside, for the Liturgy of Loss is about to begin, the Liturgy is about to commence! Loss! Loss! Loss! Loss! People! Ex-people! Missing persons of the future! Small but essential lost pre-fabricated garden furniture fittings! Soviet notions of a utopian future! The Liturgy is about to begin!

After words, after songs, come only flames and silence. We ask you now to proceed to the Fire of Forgetting for the Immolation of the Darlings, to finally lose the things you’ve lost, and then to go your way in peace and lose yourselves in the world.

 

Image: mandala from Feral Theatre’s Remembering the Javan Tiger. Photograph by Abi Horn

 

Ritual Burials – by Katie Tume/ Mother Eagle

For the past year I have been working on a series of pieces based on the ritual burials of animals.

This series explores the way we as humans share an ancient history of ritually honouring animals in life and death, and invites the viewer to consider how the sacred place those animals once held has now changed. In the transient nature of life and death, there are clues all around us of the importance and significance certain animals have – in the names of plants, in the folklore and mythology of global cultures.

Inspired by ancient Celtic burial rites, the composition of each piece suggests a burial ground where the spirit of each animal is ritually honoured with sacred plants, symbols and runes.

Our ancient ancestors believed in reincarnation. Although specific funeral rites varied throughout Europe and indeed the globe, one common thread is that the human remains were being prepared for another world, where they would be infused with spirit and live again. Early on in this project I visited the British Museum and saw examples of ‘grave goods’ – objects of personal and spiritual significance placed in the grave or burned, believed to travel with the soul to the next life.

Many tribes or clans were believed to be descended from animals. We know of ‘Cat People’ in Scotland, and ‘Wolf Tribes’ in Ireland. Some families were even said to have descended from animals; at least six families in Scotland and Ireland were thought to share ancestry with the seal. In our early tribal culture, most had their animal totems – Sheep and Raven people in Sutherland, Horse people of Kintyre. In Switzerland they have discovered altars to the Bear more than 70,000 years old. Ceremonial headdresses made of antlers over 10,000 years old were found in Yorkshire.

Our ancestors chose to be buried with their animals, as guides or companions. Although hunting was commonplace, every part of the animal was used – even its excretions for healing rituals. The hunt itself was considered sacred, and the Goddess was asked for permission before daring to take the life of any creature. Animals held a role in our ancestors’ society far beyond anything we recognise now.

This series specifically looks at ten animals, all native to the British Isles at some point and all with special cultural or religious significance to pagan communities. Despite the sometimes literally God-like status some of these animals once held, many are now either endangered or lost entirely from the UK. In fact, of these 10, only 2 have populations defined as ‘stable’. Certainly it is true that every single one of these creatures faces persecution in some way.

The Arctic Hare was the original Hare of Britain, later replaced by the Brown Hare, probably brought by the Romans from central Europe. The Brown Hare is the only game species without a closed season when hunting is prohibited. Numbers have declined more than 80% in the last 100 years, a trend that continues.

There are 18 species of bats in Britain, all endangered and protected by law, and at least 12 species worldwide are now extinct.

Although frogs are numerous, their numbers have declined by in the UK by 75% in the last century due to habitat change and destruction. There are only 2 species of toad left in Britain, the Natterjack Toad is one of the top ten most threatened species of the UK.

Wolves were hunted out of existence in Britain in the18th century, the last one thought to have been killed in Scotland in 1743.

The Bear cult is one of the most ancient on Earth. It lived in Scotland until the 11th Century.

Otters are a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan although it is the only species of this series whose numbers are confirmed to be on the incline in England.

Deer are not threatened in the UK, although this is undoubtedly due to huge numbers being owned and managed as a game species, on private estates and country parks, rather than being a ‘wild’ animal.

The Wildcat is critically endangered. In Britain since the Iron Age, and still existing in Scotland, its numbers could be as few as 400.

The Fox is the only species in this series both truly wild, and with a population considered stable, despite still being hunted and considered vermin throughout the world.

Finally the Barn Owl’s numbers have declined severely in the last few decades, with as few as 4000 breeding pairs remaining in the UK. They have coexisted with man since prehistoric times but a loss of habitat and change in traditional farming practices has put them on the critical list.

When I began this project, it came from my lifelong love for folklore and ancient mythology and a desire to explore this. However, researching each of these animal’s stories, learning of their magic, their power, and in many cases of their centuries of persecution borne out of human fear, I discovered I was personally marking each animal, ritualising my grief too. Even the process of embroidery can often be a meditative one. The in and out of the thread, the inhale and exhale. As I come to the project’s completion I feel both a sense of catharsis, and a strong desire to continue sharing the stories of species we have lost, species we are losing.

Who was it who first decided to name the harebell? What were the circumstances? Were they enjoying the golden late spring, watching the wild Hares boxing and dubbed the first flower they saw? Has a harebell ever been placed on a Hare’s grave? Has a great Bear’s body ever worn a crown of oak leaves?

Do we know when it was, or who our ancestors were when they first became aware of species disappearing? Or the moment when they – when we – first decided to stop ritually marking the death of animals?

 

Katie Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex. Born in 1980, she is a fifth-generation needleworker who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. She attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design as a Fashion and Illustration student, but is largely self-taught in hand embroidery techniques. She completed her first formal training in 2015 at The Royal School of Needlework in Coloured Metal Threadwork. You can read about her fictional muse Mother Eagle here, in a short story she wrote about her. Katie’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, pagan societies and the old Gods.

Find Katie on Instagram: @mother_eagle_embroidery_art

 

 

Spirit Boats – by Alexi Francis

At home I am making an origami boat out of paper. It is covered in scrim, dried teabag papers and used coffee filter papers and adorned with natural materials – moss, lichen, bark, sheep’s wool. It ‘s to be a “spirit boat” for a ritual to mourn the many species which have been lost or are at risk of going extinct.

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In the shamanistic tradition of Arctic Europe, spirit boats were made to journey to other realms of reality or to carry the souls of the departed on to the next world. I am making several spirit boats each with a different theme. I have sewn the found bones of a rabbit on to the sides of one boat and used a rabbit skull as a figurehead. This boat is to commemorate extinct mammals and will carry the names of those that have recently disappeared – the Javan Tiger, the Quagga, the Pyrenean Ibex…

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On another boat I’ve attached feathers, twigs and eggshells; this one is for the extinct birds and it too carries names of recently extinct species – the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk, the Kangaroo Island Emu, the Laughing Owl, the Crested Shelduck, Mariana Mallard…

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A third boat carries the names of recently extinct insects and other invertebrates – the Levuana Moth, the Cascade Funnel-Web Spider, the Polynesian Tree Snail, the Pearly Mussel. It shall have paper wings.

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Yet another will be for plants and forests.

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As habitat destruction continues with climate change, urbanisation, changes in agricultural practice and other wanton human practices, habitats and species of all kinds around the world are dwindling and disappearing faster than ever.

On 30th November, Remembrance Day for Lost Species, I shall take my spirit boats to a favourite stretch of the River Adur in Sussex where lines of pollarded willows stand on the dishevelled floodplain. There the water is still like glass, rippled only by passing swans. A dead tree stands sentry-like, its contorted limbs reflected in the mirror waters below. As the sun sets I shall lower my boats into the water, each lit up by a tea light and as dusk settles they shall drift off with the gentle current as a last farewell.

Alexi Francis is an illustrator living in Brighton, England.

Graveyard of Lost Species – by YoHa & Critical Art Ensemble

Graveyard of Lost Species is an ambitious collaborative project and temporary monument by artists YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble commissioned by Arts Catalyst. The artwork – created from a local wrecked boat, and placed back into the Thames Estuary carved with people’s stories of changes in the area – is a physical but decaying memorial to what is passing as our environment and society transform.

The project records and acknowledges wildlife, marine creatures, microbes, people, livelihoods, fishing methods, landmarks, mythologies, and local dialects that once flourished in the Thames Estuary and are now disappearing under multiple threats. The artists worked with local inhabitants of the Leigh-on-Sea and Southend foreshore from 2013 to 2016, to gather knowledge and expertise about these ‘lost species’ and discuss how people and ecologies adapt and respond. The culmination of the research is now imprinted on the boat originally called The Souvenir.

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Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble says: “How do you make a monument that, rather than creating a smooth ideological space in which all people are expected to feel and believe in the same way, instead accounts for difference and allows for the contradictions and conflict of history, that lets all the different voices speak out? It might be a community but there is not unity of story – there are vastly indifferent interpretations of what’s going on. We are creating an anti-monument that will come apart, like the memories, over time.”

During Summer 2015, The Souvenir, a 40ft 12 ton Thames Bawley boatwreck, was resuscitated from the Estuary mud flats. She was cleaned and re-configured, whilst sited in a prominent public setting on Belton Way, the main thoroughfare between Leigh-on-Sea station and the old town.

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Arts Catalyst’s Programme Manager Claudia Lastra says “Without the thriving local industry there once was, The Souvenir had fallen into disrepair and become impossible to restore. Since it was built in 1933, local people have memories of this boat. It is a landmark, part of the Estuary’s landscape, and part of the archeology of this fascinating ecosystem. This project allows its heritage to remain public.”

The Thames Estuary is changing rapidly with new industrial infrastructure in construction, including the largest container port in the UK. The estuary’s sea marshes, tidal flats and muddy waters are critical wilderness zones for biodiversity conservation and species migration. Simultaneously, they are also zones for leisure and tourism, fishing grounds and the sites of historic wrecks. Graveyard of Lost Species is part of a wider project commissioned by Arts Catalyst, titled Wrecked on the Inter-tidal Zone,that seeks to explore art’s responsibility to understand and communicate such environments and cultures.

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Photo credit: YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble, Graveyard of Lost Species, Leigh-on-Sea, UK (2016)

These Times – by Bridget McKenzie

Image: DARK BIRDFISH, sculpture by Jan Harrison

I don’t know about you.

My days are filled with warmth, food and loved ones, with creative work, with the beauties of a slowly turning mild Autumn.

But my nights are running with the blood of children, with flood waters, with tears. My dreams are filled with running, with searching for home, with people who will never go back home. In the night, we leave home in a rush, but I insist on carrying our pond above our heads because the frogs are spawning. I dream of fishing boats heading down the Thames, in front of the Houses of Parliament, piled with dead people like so much compost in a wheelbarrow. I dream I am trying to buy farmhouses in France to house all the children from the Calais jungle. 

I’ve absorbed the stories of the day and they play back repeatedly in the dark. But truly, my nightmares contain less pain, less torn flesh, than the reality behind these stories. 

Terror is abroad. Each day a new toll, like a clock of cities, already struck or waiting. But terror has truly made itself at home in Syria. Despite truces, the bombs keep falling on the hospitals and remaining civilians. It’s a Gordian knot, a hell ball of fighting. Hundreds of children bloodied, forever traumatised and killed in Aleppo, and Russians poised to inflict more crude damage.

Thousands of lone children wandering, clustering in places that are unsafe and cold. The questions run through our heads constantly: How can we bear it? How can our own lives be so beautiful while this happens? How can we do something, some action, that will be enough, without breaking up the beauty of our own life and facing this darkness, enough? 

Everyone in the world, however far from the US, has tinnitus from the ticking time bomb that is the orange fascist Trump running for President and leading in the polls. Trump who has 75 legal battles about his personal conduct, including a trial for child rape.

In the UK, a nation is cleft by the EU referendum and our PM insists on bypassing all our nation’s parliaments to press ahead with a hard Brexit. Despite the High Court ruling today that the Royal Prerogative cannot be used to trigger Article 50, Theresa May immediately appealed the ruling. Hard-right Brexiteers have immediately begun calling for blood, the most extreme petitioning HM Forces to take over the Government and suggesting that Jo Cox’s fate will come to all MPs they disagree with.

Brexiteers seem to misunderstand time, thinking that Brexit has already happened, saying ‘see, the economy hasn’t crashed yet’. But Brexit hasn’t happened yet. And anyway the pound is falling, to a 168 year low, and is still falling. It will surely be an unfolding story of crashes and losses over many years, and potentially leading to the crashing of the EU itself. 

And 

And this also is happening: It has been 56C in Kuwait and Iraq on some days this summer, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, hotter than is possible for many animals to be outside. American and Russian forests have been burning. Louisiana, India and China have seen historic flooding. Warnings of more and more species on the brink of extinction. The maths on climate change have had to be entirely recalibrated. 2C of warming is already baked in. 

And there are small pieces of good news – a cancelled dam in the Amazon, millions of trees planted in India, cities pledging to divest from fossil fuels, small or even grand acts of heroism and design – but at the rate of the bad things happening, there have to be some good things. 

I am seeking explanations, and solutions. I spend inordinate hours reading articles and trying to come up with logical disentanglements of the situation. The explanations I sit with for longest are the ones that admit complexity, that go to root causes, and therefore do not have easy solutions. When confusion kicks in those of us who ask questions lose the will or the consensus to act, while those who have simple answers step in and mount campaigns. 

Here’s my latest inadequate and pompous-sounding attempt at an explanation.

Human exploitation of the planet’s resources, in particular fossil fuels, is causing catastrophic collapse of the biosphere. The 1%’s exploitation of the poor, in the process of extracting and processing these resources, and selling stuff to people that makes them sick and addicted to consumption, is causing unmanageable inequality and social dis-ease. This is the spirit of wetiko, humans cannibalising their own life-world as if they are separately alive from it. With this spirit rampant, we have overshot our global ecological limits and are now experiencing what military risk analysts call ‘resource insecurity’. These analysts have long warned that resource insecurity risks stirring conflict as people migrate and fight over territories and resources, and have to migrate again. Most states have not heeded warnings and not yet transitioned enough to renewable energy or local ecological agriculture, or to deliberative democracy. The powerful states prioritise controlling the supply of fossil fuels that are at the root of their capacity to provide for their citizens and accumulate wealth for a few. The Middle East is the crucible of conflict, catalysed by drought and food prices, and interventions by oil hungry nations. From this crucible come the victims, the displaced, and they are seen as terrorists by the xenophobes of the so-far protected states. Individuals who seek the most power in this state of chaos play off different interest groups against each other. They have no values other than the desire for power. The people supporting these demagogues feel liberated – they see the potential for licence to be as bad as they can be. Their self-enhancing, self-protecting tendencies are reflected back at them in these populist leaders. Power is promoted as a good. Therefore violence to protect self-interests is seen as a good. It is a vicious downward spiral – like the Ant Spiral of Death – people following each other into a mill of entropy.

But, the complex and clumsy explanations like these are not in the news, at least not at the forefront of the big channels, because big media channels are owned or influenced by the corporate and political elites upholding the system that is causing collapse. The only thing we can do is to try to explain and share what we think.

That’s why I started a Facebook group called Everyday Ecocide. It highlights how our everyday thinking and communications are blind to the environment. Our culture does not have an ecological way of knowing. By neglecting to include and value what is other-than-human, we not only fail to notice its damage and depletion, we contribute to it. Ecocide means the destruction of the natural environment. This group aims to highlight incidents in media, institutions or everyday society, of forgetting or obscuring of ecosystems, biodiversity, non-human persons, the importance of climate change, or ecological solutions. Do go to Facebook and request to join. 

Another way of exploring what is really happening is to pay attention to the members of our community who cannot speak, many of whom are not only losing their habitats but losing their entire line of inheritance. These are the species losing their entire existence. They can be honoured, celebrated and mourned – in creative ways – on the Remembrance Day for Lost Species on 30th November.

Extinction Mourning Gown – by Sherrell Biggerstaff Cuneo

I started Sew The SEEDS, a project making quilt panels about endangered species with kids, back in 2013. It was an incredibly wonderful and fulfilling experience. At the same time I began making panels of my own for extinct species with the ultimate plan of making an extinction quilt with eight panels. Somewhere along the line I started feeling the burden of the slowness of my process as compared to the speed with which we are losing species daily. As someone who enjoys making, I also began feeling that I was losing the ‘magic’ that I needed to sustain myself and the work. Into this equation crept Agnes Richter.

Agnes Richter was a German seamstress living in an insane asylum during the 1890s. She covered her uniform jacket (it is often erroneously referred to as a straitjacket) in thoughts, pictures, and often undecipherable ramblings. Her jacket, along with the works of other patients, was collected by Hans Prinzhorn, who later published ‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill’.

Agnes’ Jacket is part of the Prinzhorn collection at the University Hospital in Heidelberg. It has a special place for stitchers, and as a piece of outsider art. For me it has always had a kind of magic, exactly the kind of magic I was missing. Here then was a way of back to the magic. Here was a quicker way to record the passings. A name is something. Sometimes something very important. A lament circles the neck, followed by the five previous major extinction events; and then the sixth, the Anthropocene. 666666 etc. The rest to be filled with names. As things progressed, brief stories and thoughts on the process found their way in, and the extinction symbol.

Is this penance, she wonders.

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Sherrell Biggerstaff Cuneo is founder of Sew the Seeds community arts quilt project

Remembering Steller’s sea cow – by Jess Tanner

Over the 31 days of October I have been on a journey of remembering the Steller’s Sea Cow, who disappeared from our oceans over 250 years ago. It is at this time of Samhain, the beginning of winter and the thinning of veils that I say goodbye to this dear friend of mine. It has been an honour and I have paid tribute to this gentle, giant creature in the only way I know how. It has been within acts of mark making, stillness and noticing, walking and chance encounters that I have come to know of this great Sirenian. Through simple, quiet gestures of remembering I find a door that is revealing and shifting. It has been an opening for connection and tenderness, a place of loss, and of deep grief.

At the foot of a weeping willow, marking charcoal onto rock, in a harvest of cosmos and calendula is where I find you.

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A once free and watery world

This extraordinary species was named after its discoverer, naturalist Georg W. Steller, who accompanied the Great Northern Expedition, 1741 – 42, and recorded his first sightings whilst shipwrecked on what is now known as Bering Island, the largest of the Commander Islands in the Russian far east. The Steller’s Sea Cow, a slow-natured, already vulnerable population, had been hunted to extinction less than three decades later .

Defenceless, harmless, these gracious giants inhabited a once free and watery world, grazing on a rich abundance of seaweeds, kelp and other aquatic grasses. They were the largest members of the Sirenia, an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals, their skin thick, dark, like the bark of ancient oak.

The Steller’s Sea Cow was tame, with no teeth and no manus, no hooks and no claws, soft and placid at every turn.

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A shared journey

As my own personal connection for the Steller’s Sea cow grew I became increasingly curious to fnd out what those nearest to me and in my community might imagine this creature to look like. With only a name to go by what kind of imagery would be evoked?. I managed to get into the habit of travelling about with a small sketch book dedicated to the collection of Steller’s Sea Cow drawings. There were many wonderful depictions and imaginings, each and every one with its own unique story to tell.

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I see you

Over these last autumn days I have in one way or another tried to mark the life and legacy of this extraordinary species. A simple sketch, a passing thought or chance encounter, the Steller’s Sea cow has never been far from my mind. And as the days have gone by so has the season turned.

I have seen you gently move across the river, your form shimmer on the woodland floor, your tail dancing at the roots of rambling Beech tree. And you, playful you, etched in the pavements that lead me home…   

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  Jess Tanner is a Wiltshire-based  artist and environmental educator

Dear Anton – by Alex Lockwood

Painting by Linnea Ryshke

 

Dear Anton,

I need to introduce you again. Introduce again this practice of writing to you every day for 180 days, the industrial lifespan for your species, Sus scrofa domesticus. I do it to come closer to your life. To try, at least. I began the experiment after finishing my book about pigs in industrial farming. I didn’t know happens when you finish a book in which the subjects of your work are killed. I thought about getting a tattoo of you. I felt responsible. I knew I couldn’t just leave you in the machine, treated as a machine. I needed to stay close; I couldn’t just blow you out in my head like a candle.

So here we are. We’ve got an audience. To recap, I’ve told you already in these letters about: who you are, who I am; explained—as poor as those explanations were—what happens to you in the first three weeks of birthing; about my mother, your mother; then onto philosophy, Thomas Nagel, bats, nature, nature writing, how the media represents you (badly); how I am planning to get you out of there.

Today I’m writing about extinction. Specifically, the connection between where you are, in that factory farm in Iowa, or the warehouse-like hangar in China, and the global crisis of species extinction. Extinction, Anton, is the process by which a species, animal or vegetable (and mineral?) is completely wiped out. That it no longer exists, except in memory, fossils and books. Sometimes we humans say “extinct in the wild” to mean we still imprison other individuals of that species somewhere, usually in zoos, mostly so people can stare at them. I know… All of this is alien to you, as your species is caught in an endlessly renewed hell, a regeneration of billions of individuals every year, every half a year. It’s what the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, a friend to animals, especially cats, a philosophical Doolittle—(so much in that name, Doolittle, when it comes to animals)—calls a perverse cycle of anthropocentric power, a constant re-birthing of life so we can kill it, and eat it. Eat you. And at ever growing cost.

Extinction, Anton, is relevant to your existence. Relevant, not least because of the massive numbers in which your species takes up the space of the ever dwindling numbers of other species outside the animal agriculture industry. (This is not your fault.) The question is not whether there is a link between extinction and the industrial animal agriculture that imprisons you, but rather how to make the existing bondage clearer.

Through statistics? What, by simply telling people that slaughter—the violent killing of billions of individuals from a tiny number of unlucky species—is the largest single contributing industry to the greenhouse gases causing climate change? By telling them that it is the major contributor to deforestation (91% of the Amazon clear cut for grazing and soy for feedlots) and loss of wildlife habitat? That it is the industry most responsible for water use and water pollution? That the industrial animal agriculture complex is the way we choose to prop up our growing global population’s calorific needs, even though there are (much) more sensible and sustainable means? That industrial animal agriculture is our manifest sloth and greed: producing meat and dairy that no one needs? In fact, knowing what we know, that the consumption of animal products is slowly killing us through cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia…? The links are all there, Anton. But telling people doesn’t seem to work.

The species that is perhaps most surprisingly critically endangered by industrial animal agriculture, my friend, is us. We humans.

Not that that’s any comfort to you. Quicker, you say. Quicker.

I can hear the arguments against this, Anton. It’s all indirect. Industrial slaughter isn’t directly killing the white rhino. Animal agriculture isn’t directly responsible for the disappearance of the Asiatic cheetah, in the way that hunting was directly responsible for the disappearance of… oh, so many. Okay, no. Industrial animal agriculture is only directly responsible for the 80,000,000,000 (80 billion) land animals it slaughters per annum—one of whom is going to be you—and the 3,000,000,000,000 (three trillion) or so sea creatures. Mostly, they’re replaced. See you next year.

Remember your mother, Anton?

You don’t, I know. But I do.

This is where another concept may be useful: entanglement. That is, we are all entangled in mind–body­–world relations, and that what happens to each one of us can both cause and be caused by changes to the mind–body–world realities of others. Including the nonhuman other. The philosopher Lori Gruen talks about “entangled empathy” and that we need to give our “moral attention” to the other bodies with whom we are already entangled. Perhaps an example: a person who eats the body parts of another is entangled with that other, yes? Benefiting from that being’s energy? So the relation demands a moral attention, right? But when a human being eats the leg of a lamb these days, there is little moral attention given to the relation. Only economic attention. To convenience. Only the luxury of the taste. (I wrote this during #LoveLambWeek.)

Where has moral attention disappeared to, Anton? Why did we stop feeling empathy for the infant sheep whose legs we eat? There is no moral attention given today, Anton, by 98% of the world’s population, to the desires of those of you trapped in that interminable hell, where there is no living, survival is all. There is no recognition of the already existing entanglements between mind–body–world beings. And that’s because no one wants to be re-minded that there was an entanglement with not only the leg but also the mind of a young lamb, skipping with delight, bleating for its mum. No one, that is, Anton (and this is the mess we’ve got ourselves into) who wants to take direct responsibility.

Anton, I feel that I’m failing. I feel like I’m not doing justice here to the issue of convincing people of the connection between animal agriculture’s slaughter of billions, land and sea, year upon year, and that other slaughter of life: extinction. Maybe that’s because we’re all failing, Anton. Failing you, failing the Asiatic Cheetah, failing all of the red-listed creatures. Do numbers work? They’ve been shown not to. But it’s all I’ve got. Today 225,000,000 (225 million) of your domesticated brethren will be slaughtered for food; and 225,000 new humans will be added to the earth to eat that food; and 80 species will become extinct to make way. Just today. Tomorrow, again. Life shoved out by death. The monoculture of a species: homo rapiens, as John Gray calls us.

So, okay. The connection between slaughter and extinction? Or rather, the connector? Imagine it this way. In the middle you have the Great Human Baby that needs feeding if it’s to keep growing (growth is all!), its two grasping hands seeking sustenance. On one side you have a big pile of slaughtered animal products. On the other side you have a pile of those lovely wooden toys in the shape of animals, a child’s Noah’s Ark and its exotic megafauna. But the Great Human Baby needs to eat, so it grabs at either pile, indiscriminately, and like all babies, it will thrust whatever it finds into its mouth. Burger or snow leopard. Pork chop or parakeet. Cutlet or cloud forest. They’re all being consumed by the same source. Consumption here as both literal and metaphor. The shameful thing, my friend, is that we, the parents, the adults, keep shovelling the animals onto the piles, keep loading them up, so the baby can eat and eat and eat. And aged two (remember: metaphor and literal!) it is already obese. Already has diabetes and chronic heart disease.

It’s too much for me, Anton. Too much. And what have I done for you today other than depress you? You in your metal cavern, in the ammonia reek of your middle-age, the waste-stinking runnels, your wretched Iowan life. How has any of this helped you understand the connection between the extinction of species and the death that is looming for you?

Agh. I can’t give in to this helplessness. I am still looking for a way to help you escape. I know this is also what drives those who are working so hard, in conservation for example, to save individual animals who are, unlike you, part of a species not endlessly reproduced for its economic value.

Who’s better off, though? Those endangered lemurs and frogs, or you pigs? And why do conservationists still smother apple sauce on your belly and legs?

It’s a misnomer, isn’t it, Anton, this word extinction? When all we really need to call it is killing. Then perhaps we can see a little more clearly the connection between the two: industrial slaughter and the wiping out of non-economic nonhuman animals and ecosystems. Because to quibble over directness or indirectness is to simply betray an anthropocentric comfort with the question.

Oh, humans are saying, you mean the connection is us?

Oh, too miserable, Anton! Where have I gone with this?

I’ll get you out of there. Ninety four days gone; I have eight six days left. You are over half-way through your industrial lifespan (not 1/40th of your natural life expectancy) but I will use these days well. I just need to persuade 6,500,000,000 (6.5 billion) more humans that they’re already entangled with you too…

 

Alex Lockwood is a writer living in Newcastle and senior lecturer in the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland. He completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University, exploring self-identity, psychoanalysis and affect. His book The Pig in Thin Air explores the place of the body in animal advocacy, and chronicles Alex’s journey around Canada and the United States in 2014, exploring animal advocacy and the animal rights movement there. 

 

Behind black bird-masks – by Mikael Vogel & Brian Williams

Brian Williams is an artist living in Columbus, Ohio, USA, and Mikael Vogel is a poet living in Berlin, Germany. They frequently collaborate on creative projects focusing on extinct and endangered animals, and will release an illustrated book of poetry in spring 2017.

This is their tribute to the extinct Hawaiian po’o-uli bird. 

Behind black bird-masks

The last three poʻo-uli
Within their three close home ranges (in ʻōhiʻa
Rain forest, on Maui), refusing to leave those, thus
Refusing to procreate in any way. Gone ex-
Tinct November 26, 2004

 

Hinter schwarzen Vogelmasken
Die drei letzten Poʻo-uli
In ihren drei nahen Revieren (in ʻŌhiʻa-
Regenwald, auf Maui), sich weigernd diese zu verlassen, so
Jede Fortzupflanzung verweigernd. Ausge-
Storben 26. November 2004

 

Poem by Mikael Vogel. Translated from German by Holden Silverfish

 

Some information on the po’o-uli

The po’o-uli was discovered in 1973 on the slopes of Haleakalā on the island of Maui. It was the first species of Hawaiian honeycreeper to be discovered since 1923. It was unlike other Hawaiian birds, belonging to an ancient lineage of Hawaiian honeycreepers. No other bird – living or fossil – has a structure similar to it.

By 1997, only three individuals were known to exist. In 2002, one of these, a female, was captured and taken to a male’s home range in an attempt to get them to breed. The female, however, had flown back to her own territory, which was 1.5 miles away, by the next day. There was also a ten-day expedition in 2004. The goal of this was to capture all three birds and bring them to a bird conservation centre on the island, in the hope they would produce offspring.

On September 9, 2004, one of the remaining birds, a male, was captured and taken to the Maui Bird Conservation Centre in Olinda, in an attempt to breed the bird in captivity. However, biologists could not find a mate for the male before it died on November 26, 2004.

The decline of the po’o-uli was due to habitat loss, mosquito-borne diseases, predation by pigsratscats, and small Asian mongooses, and a decline in the native tree snails that the po’o-uli relied on for food.