Animachines

This was a project for my english class; here is a picture and part of the essay that goes with it. Enjoy!

 


 

Animachines sprung forth from a combination of ideas from many different pieces of art and many different writers. Based on Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and many of Giger’s images, I decided to create a type of cyborg of my own. Whereas Haraway and Giger’s cyborgs tend to be human-machines, this type of cyborg is different. The Animachine cyborg idea focuses on the transformation of Nature and of the entire planet by humans. This new cyborg Earth is represented by five animals created out of organic matter and garbage. The materials used and the process was inspired by Andy Goldsworthy’s work. The final assemblage however is a hybrid, constructed of many different ideas.

Animachines was a project that spanned over several months. The first, and longest step in the process was the collection of materials. This involved many long walks on Acadia’s Woodland Trails and many opportunities to connect with Nature. Materials were accumulated over time and from different stages of fall. I was inspired by Goldsworthy’s play with color and collected bright fall leaves and preserved them by pressing them. Goldsworthy’s art is not based on its longevity nor on its durability, and Animachines does not quite respect that because other materials were also brought in: garbage, plastic and glue to hold things together. However, Goldsworthy’s art makes a point out of being in harmony with Nature- not harming it. Animachines is made entirely of recycled materials, things found in Nature. The garbage used was removed from where it was found, along the Woodland Trails. The only elements that were brought in from elsewhere were color pencils and glue. Like Goldsworthy, I let the materials themselves inspire me; their textures and colors shaped each animal created. Each animal is an individual piece of art in itself, and all are brought together and form one greater image, much like Nature itself. The British scientist James Lovelock first brought forth the Gaia hypothesis. This theory suggests that our planet, Gaia, is made up of many different beings and that together, we make up a self-regulating superorganism. Lovelock’s ideas as well as those of many nature writers were influential in the piecing together of Animachines.

 

The very title of this piece of environmental art, Animachines, speaks of one of the main themes behind this project: the transformation of Nature. Gaia herself, through humanity’s actions, has become a hybrid, a cyborg. Since the Industrial Revolution and undoubtedly before, albeit at a significantly lower scale, humanity has been altering the face of the planet, and of life itself. William Cronon, in The Trouble With Wilderness, states that wilderness no longer exists and he denounces the pristine myth. Humanity, through extracting resources from the Earth’s crust, through overexploiting and changing landscapes to unrecognizable scenes of chaos and destruction, has progressively been transforming itself and everything else. Gaia has become a cyborg; half of it is still the Earth we once knew, the one governed by tides and winds and the cycles of Nature. The other, darker side has become an unpredictable, potentially dangerous Earth governed by new, unknown laws. Three footprints split Animachines in two; they represent humanity’s ecological footprint. Our footprints are tearing apart our world; here they represent fragmentation. They emphasize the disconnectedness of human and Nature and the way that our species has intruded in the lives of the other organisms. They represent habitat fragmentation; the breaking up of natural habitats, leaving only small islands with limited resources for refugees. They also represent the fragmentation of worldviews. Science, technology and consumerism have contributed to a loss of a holistic view of the world. Consumerism is represented by three elements in the collage, as well as the skeletons of the animals. On the bottom right of the there is a bar code, representing modern-day commodities. As Scott Hess argues in Postmodern Pastoral, Advertising and the Masque of Technology, Nature has in some ways been replaced by consumerism. In the top left corner, two price tags symbolize the prevalent place that the economy occupies in our minds today. Our world used to be governed by natural cycles. Now it is governed by stock markets and by consumer demand. Above the price tags, a paper from a fortune cookie states; Your energy is at its peak. Channel it into creative activities. This is a valid example of how modern-day society has gone astray. The fortune cookie and the paper probably originated from a mass-production food factory, ultimately owned by a big corporation. It speaks of a certain faith, a trust in big corporations that run our all-powerful, meaningful economy that we worship with a quasi-religious faith. This piece of paper speaks of the effort made by large companies to appear friendly and the belief that they have advice to offer that might be relevant to our lives. In sum, we have grown so detached from our environment that instead of seeking answers, whether spiritual or not, from Nature, we turn to things that are not unlike these mass-produced bits of paper that are supposed to serve as prophets. Consumerism, the fragmentation of worldviews, industrialization, science and technology have all contributed in some ways to the gulf growing between humanity and Nature and to the creation of a new cyborg Earth. The five Animachines, the fox, the frog, the bird, the fish and the snake represent citizens of this new Earth. Their skeletons, made of garbage, represent the hidden sickness of Nature. Skeletons are not usually visible, and nor is this sickness. We know it is there, we see some symptoms, but it remains hidden. Garbage is tenacious and long lasting; so is this sickness and it has reached our planet’s very bones. These five animals are victims, unwilling participants of this long-term experiment that involves turning life itself into a commodity.

 

The five Animachines are representatives of the animal kingdom; mammal, bird, fish, amphibian and reptile and all are being directly affected by human actions; none of them can escape. These five victims represent a multitude of unheard voices and thousands of questions. Who asked for the consent of other life forms when we started handling our planet like we do? After all, we are only one species amongst countless others. The consequences of our actions are reverberating throughout the lives of others. Does humanity have the right to force these consequences and conditions upon all other life forms on the planet? Does humanity have the right to destroy their ways of life, ravage their homes and steal from them the things they need to live?  Humanity is the sickness that has afflicted our Earth. But humanity could also be the cure. Who is going to speak up for the animals? Who, out of genuine selflessness and empathy will serve as a voice for the rest of the living beings? Who will speak for Gaia’s silent voices?

Animachines is not only about humanity’s abuse of Nature. It is also about hope. Hope is conveyed by the bright colors and by the pressed leaves that speak of Nature’s ephemeral qualities but also of its immortality. Nature is vulnerable and fragile and yet it can be harsh, strong and eternal. The fall leaves speak of the cycles of Nature, the colors that come with fall spell the end of a year but also carry the promise of a new beginning. The evergreen cedar branches represent constancy in nature and its stability. They signify that life can go on, even in harsh conditions, and that it can even prosper. Regardless of what humans do, the planet will persevere, even if it takes thousands of years for it to recover. However, humanity may not persevere; presently, we are digging our own graves and creating conditions that our intolerable for ourselves and for many life forms that evolved alongside us. Therefore, we must change. And we do have the power to do so.

 

Finally, environmental art can serve as a tool to repair the broken links between humans and Nature. By showing people the importance of our environment and opening their eyes to its beauty and its value, we may be able to rediscover our place in Nature. Through art, people might learn to care, and once they care they will want to help protect it. By changing people’s values and by showing them why they should care, we can recover what we have lost. I think that art should always offer hope and incite people to take action. Furthermore, it is a good tool for change. Art is more powerful than many would think. It often lets people make up their own minds instead of imposing values or morals upon them. It lets them come to their own conclusions, and therefore it is a subtle but meaningful tool. Art can be aggressive, but not in the same way as speaking or lecturing can be, and it doesn’t necessarily put people in a defensive mode. Therefore, art can be a formidable type of effective activism and social engagement.

 

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