Accepted Paper:

Species extinction: art, materiality and the representation of material loss in the age of the Anthropocene  


Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen)
Gro Ween (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the art and the materiality of species extinction and species recreation in the age of the Anthropocene.

Paper long abstract:

In the age of the Anthropocene the forever lost have been internalised as part of the human condition, their absence mobilised in many foundational narratives. They appear as art, their lost materiality integral to their representations and the uses these representations are put to. The life and death of the unfortunate great auk reminds us of this. The last great auk died on the Icelandic island Eldey, in 1844. Three locals, employed by a private collector keen to secure an example of a bird on the path to extinction, ended the lives of the last two birds and destroyed their egg. This paper describes a multiplicity of responses to the death of the great auk, its material loss. Through a period of almost two hundred years, the great auk existed as an absence, producing a series of movements and transformations, enacting artistic, economic, political, cultural and scientific value. These transformations have included recreations in art, in museum practices - acquisition, taxidermy, conservation, display - and the reintroduction of the great auk in artistic expressions and scientific practice - renaming of species, placing in order, recreation of genetic material, cloning. In the story of the great auk, scientific and artistic practice as culture of repair in the face of material loss, has been redirected from ordering, conserving and representing as ways of making sense of loss in the Anthropocene, to its possible recreation.

Panel P025
Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization