Cthuluscene, David Blandy & Claire Barrett, 2020
Can I ask you a question?
Smooth ancient bone, dry fur encased for a century, gelatinous bodies suspended, glowing in the darkness, a legacy of enquiry.
Naming is a way of containing something, of putting it in its box, as a known entity. A clean line to separate it from the messiness of existence. There are myths of true names, essential words that when spoken can bind the owner of the name. Without clear lines of control, how are we to navigate the world? All life is bound together, intertwined, united in the earth, the coal, the oil, layers of sediment in time.
I am not of faith. And in my life I have felt like an ant finding my way about in the mud. I had no feeling of fate. But everything seems to be building. We are all so different, but I can’t shake the feeling that we have been brought together, and that is a very foreign thought to me. Are we building something?
I have started to forget what it’s like to be without you people.
But do you choose not to act, knowing what you know? Or do you act, knowing that you may fail entirely? What’s our next move?
Viewing the natural world as separated from humans is not only ethically problematic but empirically false. Microorganisms in our gut aid digestion, while others compose part of our skin. Pollinators such as bees and wasps help produce the food we eat, while photosynthetic organisms such as trees and phytoplankton provide the oxygen that we need in order to live, in
turn taking up the carbon dioxide we expel.
In biology, taxonomy (from the Ancient Greek (taxis), meaning ‘arrangement’, and (-nomia), meaning ‘method’) is the science of naming, defining and classifying groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics. The urge to collect is overwhelming, to catch
them all. Each specimen is a step closer to omniscience. A small step away from oblivion. I saw one with alternate colours, and now I understand. “A dagger symbol placed next to the name of a species or other taxon normally indicates its status as extinct.”
Mass extinctions—when at least half of all species die out in a relatively short time—have happened a handful of times over the course of our planet’s history. The largest mass extinction event occurred around 250 million years ago, when perhaps 95 percent of all species went extinct. We’re in the midst of a great extinction now. And it is what we do now
that will define if we humans join that list.
They’ve been talking about change for decades but that’s all they do – talk.
We hang suspended, looking through eons, at who we were, who we could have become. Life, just a brief moment in the transformation of matter. Entropy gets you in the end.
Nature doesn’t go backwards. We have to embrace this new world of hybrids, form kinship from the common cause of survival.
This is your inheritance. A wealth of knowledge build on misconceptions and bias, a thousand thoughts about better worlds. But it’s your time now. We’ve been holding this gift for you, clumsily, packaged with useless baggage from history. These constructions, these clean lines cutting through geography, separating bodies, ignoring the physical and digital reality of flow. Gene flow. Data flow. All sunk beneath the rising tides. You laugh now, but we used to have to prove ourselves to be human- with papers, numbers and words.
This repository of flawed knowledge. The last specimen of an extinct species. That fur will never again glow with breath. But we know it lived. Once. But from these bones, from all this life and sacrifice, you will forge a new world. A world without lines.
Artist statement by Blandy & Barrett:
“Cthuluscene” (7 minutes, 4K Video) addresses the climate crisis and our collective future, through a close examination of our relationship to the concept of “nature”. Blandy & Barrett’s finely crafted film uses essayist voiceover, folk tales and poetry to create a meditation on the history of scientific inquiry and the parallel evolution of ideas, and what we do now that the paradigms of the post-industrial world are breaking down. Filmed at University College London’s Grant Museum of Zoology, the film “Cthuluscene” gazes at a history of enquiry, of classification and dissection made while some of the subjects of the investigation were falling extinct from colonial activity and the acceleration of climate change.
Through this process, “Cthuluscene” thinks about humanity’s place in the universe, the desire to order the chaos around us, and the myth of objectivity. The word Cthuluscene is a neologism combining a number of concepts; Encompassing Donna Haraway’s concept of the Chthulucene, where the philosopher proposed an epoch where refugees from environmental disaster (both human and non-human) will come together; fandoms that emerge around myths, such as H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, a terrible racist who created a persistent collective mythos; and the idea of the “scene” where people find common space from a shared situation, as sung about by Dinosaur Jr in “Freak Scene”.
Made with the generous support of Arts Council England. With thanks to University College London’s Grant Museum of Zoology
Hanna Drummond: Voiceover
“Cthuluscene” was shown at The Big Screen, Focal Point Gallery, Southend-On-Sea until Jan 26th as part of the associate programme for ‘The World After’ by David Blandy. It was also shown in an installation at ONCA Gallery, Brighton: 23rd January to 15th February 2020.