What is Missing? – a memorial by Maya Lin

The mission of ‘What Is Missing’ is to create, through science-based artworks, an awareness about the present sixth mass extinction of species, connect this loss of species to habitat degradation and loss, and emphasise that by protecting and restoring habitat, we can both reduce carbon emissions and protect species. As Maya Lin’s final memorial, it asks us to look at a memorial not as a singular, static object, but as work that can exist in multiple forms and places around the world. Loss is merely the departure point for this wake up call and call to action. The What Is Missing? Foundation is equally focused on action and hope, showing individuals what they can do in their own lives to make a difference, presenting plausible scenarios for a sustainable planet, and showcasing examples of what is being done around the world. It is within our power to make a difference. Head to the website, whatismissing.net/#add-a-memory, to submit your own memory of habitat and species loss and recovery, and whatismissing.net/#what-you-can-do to find out how you can make a difference.

https://www.facebook.com/whatismissing/

@WhatIsMissing_

 

Lost Tortoises of the Indian Ocean – by Matt Stanfield

Strewn across the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues) are well known as the former home of the dodo and other strange extinct birds. However, dodos and their kin were only part of the unique ecosystem encountered by early visitors to these islands. As with Madagascar, the Mascarenes had been geographically cut off from the rest of the world for millions of years prior to human discovery. This isolation combined with their tropical location to produce an abundance of singular forms.

Today it is hard to imagine an environment virtually unaltered by human activity, so thorough has our species’ effect on every part of the biosphere been. Even in 1598, the year in which present-day Mauritius was named by the Dutch, such a task would have been difficult. In fact the Mascarenes were the very last sizeable tropical islands to be settled by humans. Though the Renaissance-era Dutch sailors who stumbled ashore on a warm September day had no way of knowing it, they would be amongst the last humans in history to behold the full splendour of what evolution can conjure on a good-sized tropical canvas.

The Dutch landed in a mountain-ringed bay draped in thick forests, home to well over one hundred times as many endemic flowering plant species as mainland France in an area less than one two-hundredth of the size. Within the forests roamed an array of island oddities. Besides the famed dodo, bulky broad-billed parrots lumbered through the undergrowth, whilst navy-blue pigeons perched above, puffing out crests of slim white feathers. The largest animal inhabitants of this paradise were the giant tortoises (genus Cylindraspis), of which five species were scattered across Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues. Giant and unafraid of humans, these creatures made quite an impression on the Dutch, as shown in this fanciful 1601 engraving of mariners riding (a ridiculously oversized) one.

French and Dutch settlers arriving on Réunion and Rodrigues in the seventeenth century found great herds of native tortoises. One early arrival on Rodrigues described whole fields covered in the creatures! Unfortunately for all five Mascarene giant tortoise species, their large size combined with apparent tameness and slow movement to render them ridiculously easy prey. Before refrigeration, islands served as gigantic larders for malnourished and hungry sailors. Faced with abundance, humans responded as they so often have: with rampant plunder.

The slow metabolic rate of the Mascarenes’ biggest natives counted horribly against them. Able to survive without food or water for months on end, they were viewed as an ideal food source, to be loaded alive en masse into ships’ holds. Thousands of captive tortoises died before they could even be eaten, since their shells had diminished in thickness due to an absence of native predators, causing many to be crushed to death within the stockpiles.

Our species’ fixation with oil also played a part in the demise of these animals. Long before the petroleum era, humans already lusted for the substance, searching for it inside living creatures. One seventeenth-century Mauritian governor reports a grisly tableau of dead and dying tortoises with holes smashed into their shells in search of fat to be boiled down. Apparently, up to fifty might be slain before a single fat individual was found, with each barrel of “tortoise oil” requiring the deaths of at least 400 fat testudines.

Unsurprisingly, such wanton slaughter soon turned beguiling plenty into vanishing rarity. Even by the standards of a Europe that burned, beheaded and hanged tens of thousands of its own as witches during this period, the treatment of Mascarene tortoises was seen as reckless by officialdom. As early as 1639, legislation was put in place on Mauritius to protect its tortoises. Sadly this proved ineffective and it would not be until 1771 that the remaining tortoises would receive meaningful protection.

It is unclear exactly how many of the original five species remained extant by 1771. Certainly the number of survivors would have been very low. The bountiful lands of Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues had largely been laid waste by slash-and-burn deforestation, with feral cats and pigs wandering freely amidst remaining tortoise nesting sites.

During this twilight of the tortoises, a handful of scientific observations were made, including at least one image of a live animal. That 1792 sketch, reproduced below, shows a Réunion giant tortoise. It was the largest species, capable of growing over a metre in length.

Tantalising scraps of evidence, including an alleged photograph of a living tortoise, survive from the late nineteenth century. However, the last generally-accepted record of Mascarene giant tortoises was in 1844. A British expedition to Round Island, off the coast of Mauritius, found several living tortoises. A female was captured and laid eggs, with the hatchlings distributed amongst various friends of one of the explorers. There is no information available as to which of the two Mauritian species was found on Round Island, nor is there anything known about what became of the hatchlings. Given that goats and rabbits were introduced to Round Island shortly thereafter, it is probable that one of the hatchlings became the endling of the genus Cylindraspis.

Disappearing when they did, at a time when modern science was still emerging, the Mascarene giant tortoises occupy a strange halfway house between poorly-understood human-induced casualties of the early modern era and better-known lost species of more recent times. Unlike some of their vanished compatriots, such as the Mascarene grey parakeet, their life appearance is fairly well-known, but there is still a deep air of mystery about them. The world’s only taxidermied specimen is kept in Paris, in the sombre setting of the Room of Endangered & Extinct Species. Below is a (slightly blurred) picture which seems a poignant reminder of these peculiar giants, now forever receding into the mists of time.

Images: Public domain   

What do you call the last of a species? – by Michelle Nijhuis

Painting by Bjorn Lie

This article was originally published in the New Yorker and is quoted from here with the permission of the author.  The word ‘endling’ was coined twenty years ago by an American doctor, Bruce Webster. He meant it to refer to the last remaining members of human families, and initially the word gained little purchase in common language. Then, around five years later, an exhibition about thylacines in the National Museum of Australia told the story of the the last thylacine, and described it as an endling.

‘…The exhibit gave the word visibility and institutional endorsement … and in the years that followed, Webster’s invention inspired an essay collection (“No More Endlings”), a chamber-orchestra composition (“Endling, Opus 72”), a contemporary ballet (“Self-Encasing Trilogy #1: Endling”), a doom-metal album, at least one art exhibition, and several works of science fiction. In a recent paper in the journal Environmental Philosophy, the historian Dolly Jørgensen notes that writers and artists are drawn to both the emotional power of the concept and the poignancy of the word itself, whose old-fashioned, Tolkienesque suffix—like “Halfling” or “Enting”—evokes a lost world.

Yet nobody seems to apply the word to the last member of a human family, as Webster originally intended. Perhaps that’s because, as Jørgensen observes, “a familial meaning of ‘endling’ does not have the same cultural currency as talking about species extinction.” The word has value, in other words, but the value is of a different nature than Webster expected. People have sometimes given proper names to particular animal endlings: Martha was the last passenger pigeon; Celia the last Pyrenean ibex; Turgi the last Partula turgida, a Polynesian tree snail; Booming Ben the last heath hen; and Lonesome George the last Pinta Island tortoise. By inventing a noun that describes all of them, though, Webster serendipitously connected them to one another, and to a larger, less graspable sense of loss. And this, Jørgensen suggests, has given artists, writers, and others a new way to reckon with the meaning of extinction.

Unfortunately, there is no end of endlings. One of the world’s three surviving northern white rhinos will soon become an endling, as will one of the thirty surviving vaquita porpoises, down from sixty just last year.’

Read the full New Yorker article.

Read Dolly Jorgenson’s original research.

Visualized Bird Song – by Elisabeth Pellathy

Voice of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar, visualised by Pellathy

“First, it should be stated that the single most significant threat to bird populations is habitat destruction, in all of its forms and with all of its causes.” – Sibley Guide Book

“Sounds, once generated, never die; they fade but continue to reverberate as sound waves across the universe” – Guglielmo Marconi, radio pioneer.

So many things are disappearing at such an alarming rate that perhaps we will only have a catalogue of objects to remember what they were and how they existed in our environment. How can we begin the conversation to preserve?

Using the dense audio resources found at the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the voices of the top ten most endangered birds of the world are cataloged, collected and charted becoming objects and prints representing the voices of these birds. The bird songs are mapped in sound editing so ware and then traced in 3D modelling soft ware and 3D printed. Digital drawings, made by removing the router bit from a CNC machine and replacing it with a ball- point pen, and following the tool path of a stereo-lithograph, accompany the 3D prints.

The bird calls become more than just records – instead an encounter with a frozen instant of time. A visualized model charts the intangible and elicits reaction on the fleeting nature of what is here now, but may not last. A moment of reflection with individual species from endangered bird species possesses a poetic quality. I think of the objects and prints as a catalogue of the disappearing, much like an 18th century wonder-cabinet.

The display serves to rarify the object, contain it and isolate it. The bell jars reference a specimen that has been collected and displayed which also becomes a commodity to be owned. Perhaps the viewers will contemplate the collective idea of objectifying the experience of the natural world.

Elisabeth Pellathy is an artist and academic based at University of Alabama, Birmingham.

An interview with Ackroyd & Harvey – by Fred Carter

For over 25 years, Dan Harvey and Heather Ackroyd have worked together to produce innovative environmental art which inhabits a unique juncture between performance art and climate science, organic process and artificial preservation, personal response and public space. Their artistic practice ranges across photography, sculpture, architecture, and installation to tackle a range of issues from global warming and international politics to arboreal ecology and biodiversity loss. Following their high-profile Radical Action Reaction at COP21 last year and this year’s large-scale exhibition and architectural work at the University of Cambridge, Fred Carter caught up with Harvey and Ackroyd at their Surrey studio to discuss what it means to be an artist in the midst of environmental crisis.

FRED: I first came across your work in relation to the Cape Farewell Project way back in the early 2000s, which highlighted the threats to polar ecosystems and Arctic ice. But I think the way we talk about climate change has changed a lot since then. What do you think has changed in our relationship with climate science and the challenges to representation that face environmental art?

HEATHER: Well, what was then called the greenhouse effect just kind of pinned itself into my consciousness in 1988. That was the very first time that James E. Hansen, who at the time was the leading atmospheric scientist working for NASA, popped his head up above the parapet and said that we’ve got a major problem going on here. He said I am 99% sure that it’s because of the fact that humankind is burning so much fossil fuel. So this is always within my consciousness.

I think from a very early point meeting Dan, our work was going on in urban spaces and in found spaces. It could have been a disused domestic property or disused factory spaces and we would bring these dynamic materials into them: water, mud, germination, fire, mould, and sprouting elements. So we’d act upon these architectural carcasses and bring in these disruptive materials that we would then shape and create quite formally and aesthetically to make these pieces.

 Implanted Spirit, 1991

Our work in a way was always addressing this edge, these precipices where the urban stakes claim, takes away, or erases nature. Where it takes away an orchard or takes away a garden or takes away a field or an overgrown parking lot and places in the bricks. But we just felt there was this incredible vulnerability to it. Going to places like Australia and working on the west coast in Perth, where you felt all of this colonisation which seemed very European, you saw all of these houses with their patch of grass and water sprinklers throwing water all over the place… and yet it was on desert.

DAN: It was a thin veneer of civilisation and of Europeanization.

HEATHER: You felt as though if you were a giant you could just take a palette knife and just scrape it all away and just flick it away. It felt just superficial in some way. It was that sense of tenuousness; that humanity holds its place by threads of existence at times.

So I think when we first went up with Cape Farewell to the high Arctic we were kind of enthralled and inspired and found the whole experience very profoundly moving. In a way, out of that experience came this very large piece of work that we just showed at the David Attenborough building called Stranded, where we were working with the carcass of a whale.

Stranded, 2007

DAN: The whale was always one of those iconic creatures, I suppose a bit like the polar bear in some ways, and the idea was to try and get hold of a carcass and to subvert and do this chemical process on it.

But I think what I’ve found interesting since 2003, when I first went up to Svalbard with the Cape Farewell project, was that you got a feeling that actually information was getting out there and people did start to believe the story of climate change. Then suddenly there was this movement back again. Channel Four did a program called The Great Climate Change Swindle and that did so much damage. I think there are still people who believe that. There’s so much denial still going on and yet it’s so stupid because it could be so easy to actually switch now, the technologies are there. Everything is there but we’re still being led by this because the power is still in the hands of the mad men.

HEATHER: I think now what we’ve realised through all our reading and all our interactions is that even though the physics and the science of climate change is actually relatively straightforward, the political and economic machinations are huge. It plays out on so many levels to do with monopolies of power and deliberate attempts to vandalise the science. Absolutely calculated attempts to introduce chaos and confusion into the thinking. And that happened very early on. After James E. Hansen made his statement that generated all manner of revolt from the corporate ranks and from the fossil fuel industry. They sensed danger and they reacted in a very calculated and intellectually corrupt way. And that’s still playing out.

My thinking now is to ask what kind of work do we make that really has resonance and is doing something more than awakening. I think the communications in and around climate change were done very effectively by the cultural sector many years ago. We’re in a different situation now and I have to really work out how to use our artistry, our understanding, and our perception to best effect. And we did a big piece in Paris…

FRED: Yes, I wanted to ask about that as well. There’s a general trend that I can see in your work from those very domestic spaces to begin with – houses, churches, chairs – towards a more political stage. And in fact the piece in Paris at COP21 was a stage in itself. Do you think your work has changed in response to that changing space?

HEATHER: I think Dan and I have always been very adaptive in the way we work and, in a way, the found space gave us an autonomy in a way that the gallery couldn’t. The exterior space, again, gives us access to the accidental audience.

DAN: Yes, you’re not really tied to the elite or to the people who always go to galleries. In a found space people are curious to see it because they’ve walked past it and it’s always been boarded up and in a public space you’re just confronted straight away with it. So immediately you have a much larger audience.

Radical Action Reaction, 2015

FRED: So do you see something like Radical Action Reaction to be a public piece of art in a similar sense to one of the early found spaces?

HEATHER: Yes because if you do something inside, even if the door is open, there’s still that metaphorical threshold. Somebody has to make that decision to go through the doorway. If you do something in a public space like the Botanic Garden [in Cambridge] then you’ve got people running, you’ve got children, and suddenly they’re going “what’s that?”

DAN: So you sort of hook them in. One of the beautiful things about the living medium of grass is that it has a vibrancy and a colour to it that you know instinctively isn’t synthetic and when it’s grown like the curtains we used in Radical Action Reaction it is really quite lush, quite sensual.

HEATHER: We wanted to bring our dark arts. We wanted to bring something tantalisingly sensual and seductive, so beautiful so that people would go “what’s that?” Because they were quietly enthralled with the piece and they were realising that it was living grass, they then stopped and read what was being said. I’ve never seen so many people sit and read. It was just great because what we did was that we caught their attention and their curiosity.

Actually, at that point we were framing the tree within that urban setting and saying that we need to plant our cities, following Joseph Beuys, and that we have to make our cities as green and forest-like as we can on every level.

FRED: It’s interesting that you mention Joseph Beuys. His idea of the gezamkunstwerk sees the artwork as something interactive – a social sculpture – and some of your pieces really necessitate engagement. In Seeing Red… Overdrawn, for example, the act of writing on the artwork is a very powerful thing and a way of engaging with scientific knowledge and Latin names in a way that we don’t normally in museums. Is that something conscious?

DAN: Well over the years we’ve used the IUCN Red List of critically endangered animals quite a lot, but when you look at the list like that on a computer you might only get 20 names or something up on your screen. There were 4,734 when we downloaded it and had it printed. When you actually stand in front of a three metre by seven metre wall with those names on, even if you’ve been standing in front of it for a week, you still see new names coming out. There’s something about the scale of that piece that meant that even though there was a lot of information there, you could sort of access it all at once visually which I think is something that you couldn’t do in a book or on a computer screen. It was like a huge war memorial and yet each name wasn’t a name of a person, it was an entire species. I think when you understand that, it really hits home.

We had very good invigilators with iPads looking up the species and things so that there was also this interaction with the public.

Seeing Red… Overdrawn, 2016

HEATHER: If someone said “what is that? I love the Latin but what is that?” then we could find out for you, so that became quite interactive as well.

DAN: And on the performance side of it too, you had to wear white cotton gloves before you were given the pen so you took it seriously and then maybe you had to climb the ladder to reach one at the top. I think it was a very successful piece in the end.

HEATHER: But it came through quite late. We had a meeting with Tim Cluttenbrock, who works in the zoology department, very early on in our R&D phase and he struck the table and said; “what are you going to do about the fact that it’s five to midnight on the planet?” That just stayed with us and I kept saying to Dan “I just don’t think we’ve got our five-to-midnight piece yet.” Then that piece just kind of punched through.

DAN: It’s certainly a piece we’d like to do again… the list is already much longer.

FRED: Absolutely. Do you feel a “five-minutes-to-midnight” sense of immediacy in your work now that maybe you didn’t before?

HEATHER: Yes… but I think for me a lot of it is just about tempering the anxiety. I think it’s been there for a long, long while and I just think it’s increasing. I just read a George Monbiot article online where he’s saying that unless we just do not draw up to the surface what’s there in reserves, then we’re not going to hold to the Paris Agreement figure of 1.5 degrees. We’ve also got the whole lag in the system still to play out. A lot of people I’ve met say that we passed 1.5 degrees probably about 8 years ago. I can feel the stomach tightening but I don’t wish to get depressed. I’d rather use the anger and the anxiety to creative effect, I’d rather turn it into something visible, visual, and aesthetic. I’d rather channel the emotion into that.

Yet we don’t want to hit people with it. With the Cambridge piece, we were actually working on eight different pieces in tandem. It’s like an orchestration. So you may have one piece that’s slightly more “in-your-face” or “activist” and some other pieces that are really more nuanced, very subtle and, very poetic although they may allude to various crises. The exhibition in the Attenborough building was like that. We had Stranded alongside The Polar Diamond and the IUCN Red List, then the light boxes for the spirits and the trees. So there were many different levels to it and many different emotions. It’s orchestration at times.

Spirit + Conflicted Seeds, 2016

FRED: Something that struck me in your work is that so much of it is to do with preserving, as well as memorialising. The Spirit piece uses this very antiquated way of preserving and a lot of your early work with research into grass is concerned with how to preserve and how to keep things. Is there a sense of not mourning a loss but of trying to retain something?

HEATHER: Actually we’re working at the moment on a project to do with Ash Dieback disease and Ash conservation.

DAN: The brief is to celebrate the Ash but when you go round these forests in Kent where 80 percent of the trees were Ash, out of that 80 percent are dead already and now, once you start to see it you see it everywhere. It’s really shocking. It’s really hard to actually celebrate a tree when you know that you’re losing it all the time.

I think with this work about trying to preserve and conserve, so much of our work has been ephemeral that possibly now in our work with the trees and so on there’s a lot more longevity to them. They’re going to improve with time, provided the trees stay healthy. There are certain trees that actually have the possibility to be immortal, to live forever. It’s only exterior things that will kill them. That, to me, is really intriguing. There’s a lot, too, that we’re still learning about trees and I find that really fascinating. That’s perhaps one of the reasons we’ve started working with trees is that they are going to be around a lot longer than we are, for one thing, whereas a lot of the grass works were impermanent.

The first grass works, the exterior pieces not the photosynthesis works, they very much go through a process of growing, changing, and finally decaying, being stripped back. With the photographic work there has always been that thing with the fleeting image and trying to fix the image, a bit like the early black and white photographers. I think that’s why we really pushed to keep photos for longer and, with the chlorophyll in the grass we use now, we can keep them provided they have a low light level. If you put them in stronger sunlight they would fade within a week or so because it’s a natural pigment, the chlorophyll. We do live in an unstable world.

HEATHER: It is that thing about bringing stability into a situation. I don’t see stability as being somehow boring or status quo. You have to work at stability, in a way. It’s not a given. Going back to how they used to preserve the museum specimens, it’s amazing how you can still see this creature that was killed around 120 years ago. It’s amazing that it’s all still there, it’s all preserved.

FRED: I was really interested in something you’d written in Signs of Life, you said you’d been interested first in the arcane arts and the folklore of grass, before you got into the scientific rigour. I wondered how you saw that develop in your work or what was the tension between these sacral spaces of the church and the more rationalistic, scientific side?

HEATHER: Well that’s the beauty of being an artist and not a scientist, you can get it all in! Actually the other project we’re working on is with an organisation called ArtAkt, it’s being curated by Marina Wallace who is also curating an exhibition that will be at the Ashmolean in Oxford called Spellbound: Magical Thinking Past and Present. We’re working specifically with Sophie Paige, who is a senior historian at University College of London, and her specialist area is medieval cosmology. So we are now steeping ourselves in magic and astrology. I’m reading C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image right now and you know what, it feels so good to be back! It’s back with the names and the people that I was frequenting and falling asleep with when I was in my twenties when I was reading a lot of stuff about alchemy and magic and Karl Jung.

DAN: It’s interesting to really understand what it was like in medieval Britain and the way the mind worked then because it’s very different from the way we see the world now. There have been enormous shifts in perception and yet we still believe in a type of magic. If you ask someone for their wedding ring and say that you can replace it with an exactly identical copy, they’ll want their wedding ring back because they believe it’s imbued with something.

HEATHER: In a way I think we tend to ascribe a certain logic and rationality but actually it’s not working like that. I keep thinking that I’m kidding myself to think that politics is logical and rational. It’s not about that.

At the moment we’ve not quite found the right form for it yet but I’m thinking you almost need something like a post-Dadaist response to what’s happening now. It’s just so absurd. I cannot take Boris Johnson seriously, I cannot take Trump seriously. It’s just absurd. It sickens me.

The Dadaists were brilliant, their response to the atrocities of the First World War was brilliant. They said; “how do we begin to make sense of this, you cannot make sense of it.” I feel a little bit like that at the moment, you know. It’s coming at it from the flank, highly lateral and subversive. I want to dig deep, to disappear and come up; to draw those arcane arts back into it.

7000 Oaks, 2014

FRED: Finally, I hear you’re also about to do a TedX talk together, which is a new kind of format for you. It’s a very short 20 minutes, so if someone could take away one thing what should it be?

HEATHER: I don’t know, I think something we will definitely talk about is how the haem molecule, in the blood, and the structure of the chlorophyll molecule are incredibly similar. It’s old knowledge for us on some levels but I think we need to understand we are of nature. We’re not superior, we’re not an advanced life form; we are of nature. And we need to find within us the guardianship and the custodianship that comes with it.

But we’ve got to pick it right, because anyone can just say, “that’s bloody worthy innit!”

DAN: I think the thing is, though, that everything is interconnected and we are part of everything. We can all make a difference. It’s not being worthy, really, it’s just being aware.

HEATHER: Yet still, in a way, that rhetoric is easy. You can use words to get everyone going “yes, yes, yes!” But I don’t think I’m going to go for a single point or a single message, I’m going to go for a chain because that’s how my brain works anyway. I think for me it’s slightly more elusive and I think I probably work more through an agency of charm and incantation… and whatever we put in their drinks!

Fred: I’m looking forward to it! Thank you for your time guys.

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

 

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.

14379821_894998517297108_7564531986508029120_o

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.

sea-cow-image-2

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.

sea-cow-image-3

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.

sea-cow-image-5

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…   

sea-cow-image-6

  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.