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Od kláštera Osek na Selesiovu výšinu, k Lomu, Libkovicům, Hrdlovce a zpět/From The Osek Cloister to Lom and back
By Samotar, 27 September 2015
By ll, 25 September 2015
On the Transmutation of Species
Today, there is an industrial mutation — a technological mutation — that’s taking place. New machines are appearing: cognitive machines, cultural machines, and now nanotechnologies. There are new processes of exteriorisation: Artificial Intelligence, the cell phone. … Until today, these technologies of exteriorization were limited to the world of Research and Development. Now, they are expanding into consumer society at large.
From the vantage point of geological time it seems the moment had occurred just yesterday. Humanity awoke from a dreamtime and started learning more than just to observe: to construct, improve and dismantle sophisticated systems and visual apparatuses; to obtain, distinguish, scan, save, replicate, multiply and compare the images of the world and of the human from above, from a bird’s-eye view. Today the ever- expanding content of the imagosphere’s digital central archive contains terabytes of landscapes, close-ups, sketches, samples, portraits, self-portraits, but also images which are created autopoietically and without the active involvement of a human: the image database of stratigraphic, geo-morphological and geo-historical data and records.
Such archives also offer us both direct and circumstantial evidence. Apart from prehistoric images, we also find forensic documentation on the extinction of species — eschatological illustrations and whole files on the exploitation and colonization of the biosphere by the human. The screens and monitors clearly show the development of new tissues of informational networks, as well as the agglomerations which surround and connect our terrestrial cities. These archives also allow us to animate other processes of urbanization, and observe the changes in the planet’s color palette — the frontier between desert and vegetation, the melting of polar ice, and the development of sprawling industrial zones. We can observe the pulsing capillaries fed by the system’s obsessive compulsion to endlessly transfer resources, goods and nutrients, and to dig up and rearrange fossils and accelerate their metamorphosis into energy, heat and smog.
By means of satellite cameras and drones, people have claimed the surface of the Earth and have gained the ability to perceive the world from a bird’s-eye view. The art of objective distance transforms the appearance of our homes, changes our perception of planetary topography, and transforms space into a living map — a fragmented image complex compiled by immersive apparatuses of ever-present observation. The observation post is the avatar of today’s world — it is a metalab, a planetary dump where horizons open up onto distant space, and where contours and details are obfuscated by the granularity of LCD monitors and the electromagnetic noise of data.
Thanks to tools, the people of the 21st century see not only far, but also deep into physical matter, observing processes which their ancestors could only intuit. We can observe and study new natural and artificial formations and structures, circumscribe vast environments with meandering rivers and zones of lithium tailing ponds, seacoast fractals, cloud voyages, and networks constructed at a speed and scale never before seen. Man’s drive towards energy production has changed even the appearance of the Earth. As an image from Athanasius Kircher’s The Ecstatic Journey (Itinerarium Exstaticum, 1656, Rome), a visionary tale documenting a round-trip to the planets, electric plants and grids have obsolesced the rhythms of day and night and have illuminated vast continents, whose shining dendrites and fibres may be seen from outer space.
Humanity’s bird’s-eye view does not necessarily have to be spectacular, pleasant or entertaining. If we conquer our vertigo, we will often see scenery that is rather bleak or unsettling. Throughout the ages, people have largely remained hidden, prowling the bush and forests, mapping the immediate surroundings and the earth beneath their feet, while turning their eyes to the heavens. The starry sky has always been the primeval screen for projecting earthly anxieties; it was a stage for magical thinking, instances of pareidolia and evocations. The heavenly optics of the Anthropocene, however, offer views of complex systemic events and processes of which, until recently, we could detect only small details. We were either unaware of their wider existence, or did not ascribe any importance to them. Now, we are thrust into the roles of both observer and actor in planetary changes.
The Trees of Life
The era stretching from the medieval cosmologies to 19th-century positivist science was rife with attempts at abstracting a coherent system — a mental and descriptive visualization of reality — which fed the imagination of artists and the experimentation of natural scientists. Each period found and established some type of successful unifying diagram which corresponded to the vision, ideologies, situations, and scientific knowledge present at that specific time and place. In Darwin’s The Origin of Species (6th edition, 1872) we find the following paragraph (which was clearly inspired by a sketch from his B notebook Transmutation of Species, dated 1837):
The affinities of all beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during former years may represent the long succession of extinct species. … As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.
Ernst Haeckel, who was largely devoted to popularizing Darwin’s work, published a similarly — but much more “realistic” Darwinian diagram in his Evolution of Man in1866. It is a popular picture of a “phylogenetic” tree which further promulgated the idea of an evolutionary development of life and the taxa joined together are implied to have descended from a common ancestor. The roots of a grown oak, representing the emergence of life and the taxonomy of simple organisms (protozoa), branch upwards in a unitary gesture of development towards the genus, species and family. The branches shoot up towards more complex forms — plants, fungi, vertebrates, mammals — and the very pinnacle of God’s work is crowned by the “Kingdom of Man”.
The 20th century gradually developed and dispelled many of the outdated ideas and seemingly obsolete images of how humanity imagined the world. Some conceptions were embedded within the morphology and models of live matter which developed from still older constructs of natural science and religion. The colorful illustrated tableaux of marine life in Haeckel’s encyclopedias exhibit a fin-de-siècle aesthetic and have an affinity with the organic morphology of the Jugendstil. This neo-baroque filigree geometry of mysterious marine crustaceans was markedly popular towards the end of the 19th century. Later, it resonated with artists associated with Bauhaus, such as Paul Klee, as well as fermenting the imaginative unconscious of the Surrealists, and later still was an influence on Buckminster Fuller’s architectonic principle of Dymaxion. It was Donald B. Ingber, the director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, who took up Buckminster Fuller’s and sculptor Kenneth Snelson’s concept of tensegrity (tensional integrity) which, in bionic architecture, forms the underlying concept of hierarchically organized and spatially regular organic structures. According to the theory the basic expression of organized living matter is its ability to resist gravity. The formation of firm organs, such as bones, tendons and muscles, is predicated on this tectonic principle of tension. The extracellular matrix organizes cells into tissue, and the cells adjust and retain their shape based on the cytoskeleton scaffolding which is manifest both at the macro and the micro, or molecular, scale.
The domain of machine and non-machine non-humans (the unhuman in my terminology) joins people in the building of the artifactual collective called nature. None of these actants can be considered as simply resource, ground, matrix, object, material, instrument, frozen labor; they are all more unsettling than that.
—The Promises of Monsters, Donna Haraway
This structural characteristic which attempts to find a homology between the micro and macro worlds, between different human and “unhuman” systems was also being developed in other disciplines. Around the middle of the previous century cybernetics, system theory, anthropology, and other social and natural sciences were proposing alternative models of basic biological and physical phenomena, such as open and mutually connected systems which strive to retain homeostasis by means of feedback loops and adaptation, thus resisting entropic processes. The concept of a ‘rhizomatic structure’ received much attention. This irregular and seemingly chaotic shape does not heed the determinacy of gravity, or hierarchical formations of growth and linearity.
Deleuze and Guattari borrowed the term ‘rhizome’ from biologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson.They describe it as a symptom of heterogeneity; as a subversive alternative to the patriarchal archetype of the tree. Thus they expanded its relevance from the language of botany and natural sciences into fields such as linguistics, ideology and aesthetics:
We are tired of the tree. We must no longer put our faith in trees, roots, or radicals; we have suffered enough from them. The whole arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics. On the contrary, only underground stems and aerial roots, the adventitious and the rhizome are truly beautiful, loving or political. [Deleuze & Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1983].
The rhizome is the determining shape of ginger, calamus and the potato plant, the shape of the labyrinthine system of paths and walls of the termite nest, silicon-based electronic and electric networks, moss, parasitic and symbiotic mycelia connected by trace elements in soil, tree roots and animal biotopes — all these are connected in one branching organism. Its propagators further ascribed to it an essential affinity with the postindustrial techno-culture typified by crumbling boundaries between the public and the private, biological and technological, organic and inorganic, and between the center and periphery. The rhizome is thus considered as a universal element, and a significant concept in natural, artificial, sublime, hermetic and non-linear figures. No organ is the ultimate beginning or end, nor is it the cause or effect. We cannot find axial symmetries, a center, or a periphery. The rhizomatic organism has a diffuse intelligence: everywhere it simultaneously moves, gives birth, grows and perishes. Consequently, this kind of evolution resembles a clump of roots that considers the occurrence of multiplicities. Emerging species grow from the rhizome with gene repertoires of various origins allowing the multiplication and perpetuation of this species. As such, new species and new genes are and will continuously appear.
Naturally, I had no way of controlling the form of what I was making: I just stayed there all huddled up, silent and sluggish, and I secreted. I went on even after the shell covered my whole body.
—Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
We find rhizomes not only in the world of fungi, insects but also in moss and lichen. Lichens are able to penetrate into various substrates, and are most often found on rocks, in soil and as epiphytes growing on trees and bushes, comprising one part of a symbiotic community of fungi (a mycobiont) and algae or cyanobacteria (a photo- or phycobiont). Their relationships stretch from the mutually beneficial to the clearly parasitic. Their commensalism is predicated on the biological cohabitation between two organisms where one reaps benefits while the other remains unaffected. The model of allelopathy or antibiosis however, describes the relationship when one species of organism negatively affects its surroundings or other species by means of chemicals which it releases into the environment. Such an analogy offers an ominous model for the Anthropocene. The „natural history“ and new aesthetics of electronic fossils is indicative of the economies, cultures and ecologies of our time. Omnipresent digital debris penetrate as artificial lichens into geological subtrates and into bodies of living organism. Its rhizomatic structures are unfolding through minerals, chemicals, temporalities, soil, water, air.
Krištof Kintera’s “post-natural” works and installations are predicated upon the counterpoint of the sculpture’s rhizomatic anatomy with the orthogonal geometry of the aseptic gallery space. As if the toxic hardware virus crawling on the floor were affected by mutagenesis which shaped its sculpture-organisms’s biomorphic, yet inorganic body made of e-waste, digital debris, copper and silicone. The appearance remains enigmatic — perhaps the viewer is watching the remains of a symbiont’s exoskeleton, or an artifact from an unknown insectoid civilization, a model of post-apocalyptic architecture, or a fossil of a species from the electronic age.
Miloš Vojtěchovský, text for the catalogue of Kristof Kintera´s large installation POSTNATURLIA at the Colezione Maramotti, 2017, translation Vít Bohal