In her most recent work, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016), the biologist and philosopher of science Donna Haraway offers the idea of the Chthulucene as an instrument with which to learn how to “live and die on a damaged planet”. Going beyond the utopia of technology or the dystopia of extinction, she suggests replacing the very idea of future with the experience of “infinite space-time configurations” that assimilate the complexity of what occurs “in the airs, waters, rocks, oceans and atmospheres” and that tell the stories of evolution in a lower and deliberately marginal tone, as a tangle of intermingled narratives, the result of collaborative survival.
In Haraway’s way of seeing, the prefix chthu refers to the abysmal subterranean powers of the Earth. However, unlike Lovecraft’s monster Cthulhu (note the difference in spelling), which expressed terror at the unknown, her Chthulu wishes to invite us to an encounter with other forms of life: non-human animals, plants, fungi or bacteria, the human being’s companion species, with which we share stories of “cohabitation, co-evolution and sociability”. Inspired by the biological concept of sympoiesis (making with), the Chthulucene ultimately questions the exceptionality of the human and the very categories of the living.
As with the cyborg theory, here, too, a central part is played by speculation and SF, letters that refer both to science fiction and to speculative fabulation, and also to the intricate forms of games with string (string figures) that appear in native cultures in various parts of the world, associated with the collective, anonymous minor arts. Here, SF is not a genre but a way of thinking and acting that demands a redefinition of the natural sciences and humanisms in favour of a dynamic convergence, in motion, between aesthetic and experimental practices interested in formulating new model systems or what Haraway calls “worldings”. In contrast with literal, univocal readings, SF in conjunction with the Chthulucene opens up areas of contact with the many faces of the monstrous.
In this context, the “companion species” are the various forms of life that live together on the planet in sympoiesis with each other, but also the ecosystem of practices that engage in dialogue with or against or through the aesthetic and conceptual figure of the Chthulucene. Ranging from speculative biology or postnaturalist fictions to the politics of inter-species organisms, the invention of utopic taxonomies or the exploration of experimental ways of thinking and feeling, the pieces selected project a playing field (a compost field) for some of the tentacles contained in Haraway’s latest tour de force, as complex as it is troubling.
This exhibition wishes to pay homage to Nathalie Magnan (1956 – 2016), media theorist, translator of Haraway’s writings and one of those responsible for introducing her work to the French-speaking world.