Genes went haywire & made seedless melons out of everyone

October 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

Today the world died. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.

That is the refrain in Hiroshi Sugimoto’s exhibit Aujourd’hui, le monde est mort (Lost Human Genetic Archive) presented at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris between April & September of this year. The work is structured as a series of “theatrical sets” [almost museum exhibits without vitrines] each depicting a unique apocalypse. Examples include destruction by comet, by nuclear warfare, by love for love dolls, by desire to become love dolls, & by slow environmental degradation [beginning with the death of bees]. These belong to 33 scenarios in total, each one narrated by a generic character from a group relevant to that particular end-hypothesis, looking like this:


They forewarn ruin & stretch possibility, though not imagination. What is arresting about them is precisely their likelihood, the fact that their seeds are already manifest in society today. Together, these scenes seem to be a testament against the blind optimism of humanity, against faith in eternity, & against the delusion of human proprietorship of time & the planet.

The following uncaptioned photographs [by André Morin] can only give insight into the exhibit, refresh memory, but they are not & cannot be archives.




[Instead of studying the exhibit’s content, I propose to unpack what’s behind it in the relatively short — but momentous — artistic statement of Sugimoto’s. This will take heavy quotation from the statement. The method might be considered a reverse-interview, moving towards establishing dialogic research principles.]


I often think of the artists of the Renaissance, a time in which a harmonious combination of religion, science, and art existed. In their eyes, only God was capable of creating a form as superbly balanced as the human body […] After the astronomical telescope had been used by Gaileo on the one hand, and the microscope had been invented by Leeuwenhoek on the other, human beings achieved an objective view of the world. From then on the human race was caught between the infinitely large and the infinitely small.

Sugimoto’s project does, indeed, suggest the work of a Renaissance man — combining the elements of art, science, & philosophy. But how can we be considered Renaissance men when society has forfeited believing in the perfection of the human body, if we have stopped recognizing in it a miracle of mathematics or a proof of a god? Quite probably, Sugimoto’s “often think[ing] of the artists of the Renaissance” reflects a yearning for the integration of all these forms of intuition & intelligence. What has replaced this is the conceiving subject separating itself from the point of observation on either end of a telescope. Science has moved away from its roots of craft & creation, eventually forgetting that its own discoveries were in fact crafted.

It is now just a little over three hundred years since we started to know the world we live in a little better. That is equivalent to fourteen of fifteen generations. Before that an age extends in which the darkness of ignorance prevailed, which we call ‘obscurantist.’ Yet, I don’t know why, I am fascinated by the age of darkness. For before the human mind started to apprehend matter through the laws of physics, the world was filled by a sacred mystery.

Obscurantist thinking embodies the mind in doubt, if not in ignorance. It reflects the mind before it had started its path down familiar cultural doxa. What is referred to as the Zeitgeist is little else than recollection of this path followed. & “knowing” is never an innocent state of being; always, there is some echo of a lost paradise to knowledge. Canonical law — the agreed conduct people follow & prescribe — can only be put on trial with obscurantism. This is the social function of art according to Sugimoto in this piece.

Today I am obliged to come up with art that is not at odds with the state of current knowledge. But the reality that surrounds us appears very limited to me in comparison with the world of the Ancients, in which Gods existed, and manifested themselves in the form of a great many avatars. Thus my imagination as an artist is impeded by contemporary knowledge. In this restricted present, the only field in which my dreams can still unfold is the future, its form not yet being fixed.

Knowledge guides future knowledge: that is what we call scientific progress, one assumption predetermining the next, giving the sense of verifying a single truth [just as doxa are transmitted in a way that seems to shut off alternative modes of being]. Sugimoto’s concept relies on unilateral progress as is assumed by science: predicting the future by following the paths already paved. Lived time as irreversible phenomenon disempowers the individual in opposition to fate. Sugimoto’s hypotheses, by fear or anger, impress on the audience to will for a different future; such ends are only prophetic so long as we retain monological systems of judgement & thought. Aujourd’hui stands as a challenge to fate-resigned consequentialism.

Pertaining to the counter-tradition of linear monologism — nostalgia for polytheism [most starkly Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy] — Sugimoto longs for “avatars” or rather the multi-linear truths that fill the world up rather than repeat emptily the validity of its old discoveries. This is rarely depicted so eloquently even though it is a typical position for an artist, bearing on an essential definition of art: the use of analogy/substitution to double a thing or concept, thereby enriching the world. Contemporary knowledge systems [since the scientific revolution] cripple the ability to think otherwise, to develop the connections between things & to open up new frontiers of discovery & being, perhaps sparing us from becoming any [or many] of Sugimoto’s impromptu funerals.


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