Plastic Dinosaurs

Short 7 minute talk / intervention into the Talbot Rice Gallery / Exponential event on the 24th of April 2017 that was framed as:

“Join an event that accelerates from 10 years to beyond 100 million in just 2 hours, moving from speculative talks to experimental poetic and musical performances. Taking the lead from the works in Between poles and tides, Exponential is an invitation for us to think about the future, the passages of time that we have experienced and those much, much further ahead.”

Developed and led by James Clegg, the evening featured 9 performers who spanned the arts, geo-sciences, cultural theory, poetry and music to move through 10, 100, 10,000, 100 million and 1e + 16 years.

Below is a modified transcript of my short talk. I say modified, because the direct transcription from the audio recording doesn’t entirely make sense!

Plastic Dinosaurs

The first thing I need you to do is to take a plastic dinosaur from the first tray, then take a plastic human from the second tray, and finally take a toe tag from the pile that is going to be past around the room.

When I was asked to talk about, or speculate on futures that are 100 years from now, I was very interested in how an idea could be made less abstract by encouraging you to hold on to something as we stepped into the future. The artefact is plastic dinosaur and it is provoked by a particular tweet that entered the world just over a year ago:

“That awkward moment when you realize plastic dinosaurs are made of actual dinosaurs.” 1st of February 2016, at 6:08AM (GMT) @BrianRathbone

It was in the a deeptime ‘rush’ (not a ground rush that a parachutist might experience as they approach the last 200 ft of a fall) that I scrambled through the children’s drawers in search of a plastic dinosaur to try to make sense of the time scales involved. For me, holding a plastic dinosaur, evokes a phenomenological awareness that everything around you, every manufactured thing, every element of information, has come into being through the expenditure of energy. An expenditure of energy that in many cases is 66 million years old, and is derived from animal and vegetable materials that have produced oil, coal and gas.

As we explore the next 100 years, I’d like you to hold on to your dinosaur, because we probably won’t have lots of the material that makes this stuff left, so treat it with great care. Whilst, I’m not sure about facts anymore, and we have geologists amongst us tonight to corroborate or dismiss, it’s been mooted that this stuff in particular may well run out by 2088, so by the time we reach 2117 this may well be a very important asset for society, but perhaps it needs to take the form of something else.

So when we think of things that do take different forms, transubstantiation, “the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining” maybe was something mythical, maybe it’s a story, certainly something that was part of a past, but an idea that may well become part of the present in 2117. I suspect that in 100 years time, reminiscing, speculating and laughing about holding dead creatures and then reconstructing them, transubstantiating them into other forms, may well be considered conceit of play, a conceit of a Modern idea in which we can take things from the world and turn them into anything we want, and to be honest, they are £9 for a bag of 72. I doubt if they will be that cheap in the future.

As a designer looking around for references, I was interested in James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau’s work. This is their After Life project from 2009, and they speculate on our future death as energy. Their design speculation was envisaged through a coffin that would capture biological residue from a decaying body after it was placed into the ground. Underneath the coffin is a bio-chemical battery that captures energy, as though every persons life can be condensed into a small, short life battery.

James and Jimmy offered the possibility of these batteries to different people, and they asked them if their plastic didn’t turn into oil, or into another dinosaur, but instead what would they do with their energy? Somebody came up with the idea of a torch “that’s what I’d like – I’d like dad to become light in my life”, a surprising amount of people chose to power vibrators as a way that their partner could have a sex life beyond their partners death.

It’s in these moment the I’m quite interested in returning to now, as we begin to think about life and what things will become in 2117. Have you all got a plastic human yet?

Evoking Nigel Thrift, and that perhaps an idea of transubstantiation isn’t something that we need to associate with the Catholic church, but instead it’s something that we need to take seriously as we do begin to run out of a material we take for granted, that we use to fill up our cars at Tesco, but instead “I believe that the sheer scale and sophistication of what is happening now [and something that will take place through the next century] amount to something quite different: a studied extension of the spatial practices of the human which consists of the production of quite new material surfaces which are akin to life, not objects, and thereby new means of bodying forth: new forms of material intelligence producing a new, more fluid transubstantiation.”
Driving in the City, 2009. Nigel Thrift.

With Thrift’s ‘more fluid transubstantiation in mind let’s think about what you might want to become, since one of the few things that we do know about 2117 is that you all, will be dead. The question is, what will you become?

So to finish then, I’d like you to get yourselves a human, if you don’t mind, and I want you to play Rathbones little game. The human that you have in your hand, I want you to take it and add some more information to it.

I want you to take a toe tag, and I want you to write on it and attach it to your future self.
And I want you to write the following information on to the tag:

Your name, so that we know who you are whenever you’re dead.
I’d like to know when you’re going to die, so date of death please.
But in the end referring back to how the dinosaur feels, because of course it didn’t know that it would become a shadow of its former self, I want you to write down what you might become by 2117.

So you might die by 2060, 2070, but what will you become?
Will you become energy? Will you become a thing? What will you be haunting?

As evidently many of the things that we see about us are haunted through the lives of things past: animals and vegetation, and into carbon, energy or oil that make things present.

——————————————————–

Below are some of the humans that were tagged with names, dates of death, and something that they might become…

thanks for all who took part, and James Clegg and the Talbot Rice Gallery for the invitation to ‘think and do’ time.

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