When Destiny Catches Up with Us
Desperate Actions Before the Sixth Extinction
Museo Reina Sofía: free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection at the Museo’s Ticket Offices or on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before the activity. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before the activity
Museo Thyssen Bornemisza: free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza website
This programme, which throws into relief the sixth mass extinction in which our world is currently submerged, gathers popular knowledge and scientific research, focusing on marine life and insects. It zooms in on those species which, in being outside the scope of human perception, do not have the same visibility in our collective imagination as other endangered animals.
The title of the activity, When Destiny Catches Up with Us, is a translation of the Spanish translation of Richard Fleischer’s 1973 film Soylent Green, a futuristic vision of the year 2022, when over-industrialisation and overpopulation have pushed the planet to tipping point and caused food shortages. The picture is structured as a police crime drama with its main plot thread the commercialisation of the only food product the population has access to: the plankton-based “Soylent Green”. The film is based on Harry Harrison’s novel Make Room! Make Room!, originally published in 1966.
Our present seems to teeter dangerously close to Fleischer’s fiction: in 2022, Scientist Rebellion, a sister organisation of Extinction Rebellion, warned that the planet had already reached the point of no return. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWFN), human behaviour has been responsible for the extinction of 60% of wildlife over the last forty years, while the “State of the World’s Plants and Fungi” report, published by the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, states that two out of every five plant species are in danger of extinction. Furthermore, the studies carried out by authors in the article “Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers”, in the journal Biological Conservation, reveal that the dramatic drop in the world’s insect populations could lead to the extinction of 40% of species in the coming decades. Out of the five previous extinctions, some hypotheses draw parallels between the present and the Permian-Triassic, an extinction that occurred two hundred and fifty million years ago and ended 90% of life through a huge increase in CO₂ in the air. This time, the sixth mass extinction is advancing ten thousand times quicker.
The need to strengthen environmental politics is nothing new. In 1992, the UN organised the Earth Summit in Río de Janeiro, a convention that would lay the foundations for the Kyoto Protocol, approved in 1997, in which industrialised countries committed to limiting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 1999, Bruno Latour, in the book Politics of Nature. How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, stressed the urgent need to place ecology at the centre of politics, while a few years earlier in Mexico, the Zapatista Movement had already started to show a determined resistance to neoliberalism and its understanding of the Earth as a space for trade and with ecological policies already put into practice that, from Europe and the USA, would later be known as the Anthropocene.
On the basis of the above, this programme — organised in collaboration with TBA21 — comprises the presentation and screening of a documentary, two sound experiences and two conversations that connect, in one way or another, knowledge around the global extinction threatening the Earth.
This encounter presents the project 2020: The Walk by Marta Moreno Muñoz, an artist and activist with Extinction Rebellion, which, as an international social movement, aims to influence environmental policies to mitigate global warming, the loss of biodiversity, the mass extinction of species and the risk of social and ecological collapse. Conceptualised in 2019 and produced in the spring/summer of 2022, 2020: The Walk is the artist’s final project for her doctoral research “Art as an Experience of the Dissolution of the Self. Towards an Artistic Practice in Times of Collapse”. This videographic proposal documents the journey made, largely on foot, across the four thousand kilometres between Granada, in southern Spain, and the Arctic Circle, where the artist connected with climate activists from kindred movements and disseminated the purpose and concerns of Extinction Rebellion, while also giving talks and training on non-violent direct action.
This speculative essay, based on attentive listening and our current perspective, revisits the myth of bees in popular Galician practices associated with death. Honey bees, a pollinator species threatened with extinction, have been among the most important insects in Western culture, both for their influence on the upper classes, in contemporary Western architecture and eighteenth-century hives, and their importance in funerary rites in traditional and rural societies. For instance, in Galicia, the buzz that bees make, reproduced through the voice, would accompany the dead to the grave. This activity features the intervention of Paula Ballesteros in the staging of the book Abellón. O libro negro das zoadeiras (A Central Folque, 2020) by Xoán-Xil López and Mauro Sanín, a publication that stems from a series of intuitions, readings and investigations around buzzing as a “paramusical” sound with the capacity to reach transcendental value in different cultures. This open and thought-provoking proposal is based on sound experimentation and creation, areas which prompt us to rethink our relationship with “noise”.
This concert conducted by Jana Winderen seeks to showcase the importance of microscopic organisms which, despite being imperceptible, are essential to our planet’s ecology. Winderen, an artist based in Norway, worked on the research “The Soundscape of Anthropocene Ocean” (2021), the results of which were published in an article in the journal Science, with other artists. The text, overseen by Carlos Duarte, sets out the impact of anthropogenic noise produced by humans and the machines they manufacture and use, and how it exacerbates the extinction of sea life, already under threat from rising sea temperatures. These changes could wipe out entire populations of microscopic organisms, affecting the food chain of ocean wildlife and the production of oxygen for global survival. Winderen also studied mathematics, chemistry and ecology focused on fish, her practice focusing more deeply on sound environments and creatures that are inaccessible to humans due to physical or auditory factors such as water depths and ice or the frequency ranges which are inaudible to the human ear. Her work also includes audio-spatial site-specific installations and concerts performed in major institutions and international public spaces.
Using sound technologies, the research group The Malaspina Expedition, with public funding from Spain and led by Carlos Duarte, recently discovered that 95% of marine biomass can be found in mesopelagic zones (lying between two hundred and one thousand metres below the ocean’s surface). Due to their diminutive size, these fish escape fishing nets and play a key role in biodiversity, along with plankton and predators. According to an article by Helen Scales published in The Guardian on 29 September 2022, the industry has been quick to respond and organisations such as AZTI (Marine and Food Science and Technology), which develops high-impact transformation projects with organisations aligned with the UN, have started to study the possibility of using mesopelagic organisms as a food for commercial fishing species to explore their potential in pharmaceutical production and animal feed.
When, how and why did humans begin listening to whales? Different cultures have heard the songs, roars and bellows of these cetaceans, yet Western culture — which has found beautiful verbs such as “clatter” for the noise storks make — still refers to the “clicks” and “songs” of cetaceans, even though none are exact descriptions. Herman Melville, long before writing Moby Dick, was said to have set sail towards Lancashire and first heard a whale, because many things are often understood through the ears before the eyes.
Listening to Oceans 2 is an encounter which brings together researcher and curator José Luis Espejo and Txema Brotons, a biologist specialised in cetaceans and the director of the Tursiops Association, to consider an archaeology of mediums through which science and other disciplines of knowledge started to listen to and classify cetacean sounds. The encounter continues with a presentation of some of the scientific studies carried out with mediums analysed archaeologically to understand the impact of anthropogenic sound on whales’ communication systems.