On Having Seen Other Worlds
Ron Broglio, from Echo (2012)
"Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of the universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history”, but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature."
—Friedrich Nietzsche "On truth and lies in a nonmoral sense"
A plurality of other worlds and temporalities are just beyond our reach. Rock formations develop and decay over thousands of years. The glaciers move at their own speed. Animals, too, have different senses of time – from the fly that lives but a few days to the bear that hibernates in winter to giant turtles that live longer than humans. This arrogant thing we call world his- tory is not the temporality of the earth and its geological time, nor the time of flourishing nonhuman animals. Rather, we comprehend all of time—cosmic, geological, and animal – only through and within the narrow scale of human time and human being.
When we see the Echo WORKS by Perttu Saksa, we are seeing heterogeneous temporalities – time capsules from other worlds and other times. These apes and monkeys lived lives outside of human history in biotopes quite different from ours. Only through global transport and burgeoning natu- ral history did European worlds collide with these animals’ wilderness. The animals enter our history through their capture and death. They know his- tory only as a violence that took them from a world known to them into a world of humans. As Walter Benjamin has said “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”
These individual lives were made to represent their species for humans across the globe who wanted to know about this nonhuman world. Then, they live on in a material afterlife as figured SKINS: taxidermied bodies molded around wire, wood, and straw to fit ideal forms of animals. They endure for decades even a century or more, outlasting any human they met, and continue to live on today and into an indefinite future. Much later they are photographed by Saksa where the light of a moment is captured on camera and then presented to us as photographs in a gallery or a book.
Consider that these taxidermied forms and these printed images will outlive us viewers. The vulnerability and fragility we see in these stuffed forms echo across time and space to each of us as ‘clever animals’ who, too, are vulnerable as individuals and as a species passing from this earth. For a moment in these photographs we SHARE a gesture, a time, and a vulnerability with another species who lived in spaces and times far from us. Perhaps in these echoes we will hear the voice of nonhuman beings calling us to something beyond human time and world history.
To look at these images is to imagine worlds beyond our technologies of capture: beyond guns and cages, taxidermy models and cameras and prints. Where these apparatus of capture fail, the artist invites us to imag- ine this beyond: photographed against dark backgrounds, the formed SKINSseem to drift outside of human time and context. The seams bear witness to the unseemly capture of a life which we can only imagine. What and who were these animals before us? They have human-like features and expressions. Their hands and ours echo and yet open on to different lives. They live before us and we (follow) after them. They are of our time and outside of our time. Like and unlike, the vertigo echoes back upon us until we re-think what it means to be a clever beast in the universe.