e-flux journal issue 94

e-flux journal issue 94

e-flux journal

Masaccio, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (detail), c. 1424–1428. Fresco. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

October 11, 2018
e-flux journal issue 94

with Beatriz E. Balanta and Mary Walling Blackburn, Jonas Staal, Natasha Ginwala, Sven Lütticken, T.J. Demos, Ariel Goldberg, and Boris Groys
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Masaccio painted his fresco of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden (c. 1424–28) just about 600 years before 2030, which is the current cutoff point for humans to curb global temperature rise or risk quicker extinction. In Masaccio’s rendering, the expelled pair walk together from the green valley crying with open-mouthed agony. Caught in this moment during their walk of shame, their lips, especially Eve’s, surround gaping dark ovals: Where are their teeth? 

It may be that early Renaissance painters simply did not depict the bones inside human mouths unless the subjects were demonic or dead, appearing in the form of skulls. But maybe it’s that the famous biblical duo both cut and lost their teeth biting into the profane fruit. There is life after expulsion. In fact the entirety of history really starts when those two are kicked out.

Nowadays, with twelve years to contain the heat, we’re alternately chomping at the apple or champing at the bit. Perhaps they remain unaware of danger right up until, or throughout, the moment where they find their little bodies in the feline jaw, softly seizing, much to the cat’s delight. What does that soft fluttering do for the mouse itself? If it wasn’t deterred by the cat’s smell from faraway or even up close, is it fearful by now in its clenches, or just holding on for the ride? 

One possibility: we actually won’t feel a thing. Mice infected with a parasite called toxoplasmosis learn to devolve; they completely lose their ingrained fear of cats. Perhaps they remain unaware of danger right up until, or throughout, the moment where they find their little bodies in the feline jaw, softly seizing, much to the cat’s delight. What does that soft fluttering do for the mouse itself? If it wasn’t deterred by the cat’s smell from faraway or even up close, is it fearful by now in its clenches, or just holding on for the ride?

When all the exhibitions burn up and/or flood, whose fossils and shards will remain buried, or somehow rise out of the liquid plastic? Whoever or whatever is tasked with cataloguing and identifying remains—post-forensic curation—will have a hell of a time locating accompanying dental records. Various forefathers’ commands to dig up sacred sites for the purposes of extracting museums continue to resonate. They were barked with stolen teeth. 

And if and when breathing lifeforms phase out, will photographs and archives of them persist—whether physical or located somewhere in the cloud? In the meantime it matters to dive deeply into these records and archives and understand their modes of identification, classification. 

Unlike the earth’s first known predator, the Conodont, adult human beings have not evolved to the point to regenerate lost teeth when there is too much prey to handle at once. Full-mouth restoration or decay are both possible now; what else? Via a handbook of affective sciences, we remember that what is now considered a human smile began in the animal world with baring fangs in a show of either dominance or submission. 

These days we may feel ourselves crushed, farmed, bogged, productive, or frozen. There will be death, sure. Rising temperatures, literal and otherwise, bear seismic pressure down onto artists and artworks too—tasked to mobilize, amass, comically relieve, boil it down, prod into action. How and what to produce, gather, think—what to gnash and sink our fangs into, if we’ve got them? Can we make positive, emancipatory propaganda, with or without nuclear aesthetics? Is it possible to mobilize artworks toward other life-affirming, restorative, just ends—against means like the lying-through-the-teeth death traps and summits that princes and billionaires deploy? 

It’s strange to consider, after 400-some years of deforestation—and at a moment when Amazonian rainforests may now rest dead in the hands of Brazil’s presidential hopeful—that one of the previous five extinctions on earth may have been caused by too much green: an overabundance of life. Here’s part of one possible story: Giant ferns, trees, and flowers went rogue, choking earth’s surfaces. The breathing plants broke down rocks and minerals; these tumbled into the rivers, then oceans. Algae bloomed, plugging up the oceans and their biting and cellular beings alike. The ocean turned green and lost its air. Huge armored sea monsters went bust. 90 percent of everything went that way, but as ever, not all was lost. Some pockets of sea life survived—smaller sharks included.

In the sixth extinction, will we go down gaping, laughing, unaware, buoyed, or baring teeth when we sink back into the garden? 



Beatriz E. Balanta and Mary Walling Blackburn—Sticky Notes, Part B (4–17)
Europeans joke about the laboratorial whiteness of American teeth. It all began with George Washington. He wanted teeth, perfect or otherwise. The president was in possession of an awful mouth. Abscesses festered, decay triumphed. At age twenty-four, the first extraction. Twenty years later, incisors, canines or cuspids were gone. As he savored the gnarly taste of immortality, the rosy-cheeked progenitor was “indisposed with an aching tooth and swelled and inflamed gums”—dentures mauling the gums. When he spoke these words: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States,” there was only one tooth in the foul mouth. As words billowed out of the acrid cavity, the fetor wafted, thick enough to see. It should have choked frogs; it should have made men sputter, but instead swarming bots swallowed the miasma and spewed out sulfuric brimstone, the thickening substance gumming nation.

Jonas Staal—Propaganda (Art) Struggle
Recent years have demonstrated that propaganda can set into motion vast geopolitical processes, from the Brexit vote and the election of Trump—both of which took place amidst a haze of misinformation—to more brutish examples, like the rise of the authoritarian regimes of Erdoğan, Modi, and Duterte. These events have shown that responding to the propaganda of the Nationalist International with mere “facts” is no solution, because facts need narratives to make them effective and affective. While it is crucial to develop a collective “propaganda literacy,” understanding propaganda does not stop propaganda. To oppose the various propagandas discussed above, we will need infrastructures and narratives that mobilize the imagination to construct a different world.

Natasha Ginwala—Untaming Restraint and the Deferred Apology
Laughter is a sense-making device in the darkest phases of restraint, and also a means of self-extension. Bodies in pain and souls in fury are fundamentally transformed in sonorous gradations of mirth. “Isn’t laughter the first form of liberation from a secular oppression?” asked Luce Irigaray. Rational terror is pulverized by the Medusa’s laugh—to draw from Cixous’s formulation—an entrapped body given release in her reverberation.

Sven Lütticken—Shattered Matter, Transformed Forms: Notes on Nuclear Aesthetics, Part 1
Does climate change instantiate the “Kantian gap” between phenomenon and thing-in-itself, or rather actualize the Kantian correlation between mind and world, of which the thing-in-itself is the irrelevant remainder? As Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro have argued, “We can see the irony of our predicament as that of a catastrophic terrestrial objectivation of the correlation”—in other words, “human thought, materialized as a giant technological machine of planetary impact, effectively and destructively correlates the world.” If the productive abstractions of modern technoscience—this weaponized, transformative, operative logos—have remade the world, they have done so through the “actually existing linearity” of GDPs and CO2 levels.

T.J. Demos—To Save a World: Geoengineering, Conflictual Futurisms, and the Unthinkable
Even though Love is the Message offers an amazing account of generative ambivalence and creative survival, even while it also gives rise to encompassing hopefulness in collective moments of love, solidarity, ethical conviction, and collective justice-seeking, it simultaneously obliterates any consideration of extending or sustaining its world of horror, one of beyond-grotesque inequality, impoverishment, and violence that renders Black life and lives matterless by the state and its human apparatuses. Unlike The Breakthrough Institute, which proffers art and leisure as rewards, Jafa’s sci-fi reaches the realm of cosmopolitical magnitude without losing sight of vernacular instances of in/justice, of situated expressions that are future-oriented but historically informed, and which are dedicated to the reinvention of everyday life, art, culture, politics, mourning.

Ariel Goldberg—Incomplete Messengers: Notes on Heavy Equipment
The photographs I am devoted to are not merely set to disappear in their time capsules; they wait for viewers, ready to wrestle through the now and future nows. “Lesbian photography” has learned how to orbit through inhospitable dominant cultures, through normalizing forces that have always wanted to deny the presence of an image culture rooted in anti-hierarchical and anti-capitalist practices of self-determination. Restraining myself from the fuzziness of nostalgia, I acknowledge that “lesbian photography” is simultaneously not immune from creating and perpetuating inhospitable cultures. Yet a lustful ekphrasis makes space for minutia as opposed to absolutes and leaves space for conflict and imagination while contending with an overwhelming loss and conflict of information.

Boris Groys—Curating in the Post-Internet Age
At first glance, the distribution of information on the internet is not regulated by any rules governing its selection. Everyone can use cameras to produce images, to write commentary on them, and to distribute the results with little censorship or selection process. One might think, therefore, that traditional art institutions and their rituals of selection and presentation have become obsolete. Many still see the internet as global and universal, even while it has become increasingly evident that the space of the internet is rather extremely fragmented. Even if all data on the internet is globally accessible, in practice the internet leads not to the emergence of a universal public space but to a tribalization of the public. The reason for that is very simple. The internet reacts to the user’s questions, to the user’s clicks. The user finds on the internet only what he or she wants to find.

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