CHAPTER ONE is not here. The beginning is missing. We should be able to recall it by heart, but it is not at hand. Yes, we’ve left a message. No, there are no words, not in chapter one. It is pre-words. It makes sounds—but what kind? Perhaps it sighs. Into thin air that chunk of time disappeared, leaving a vestigial scar on the verso of each eyelid, etched there as our ancestors watched an ancient glacier defrost in the sea. In the ocean-sized chasms between our atoms float the fossils of chapter one.
for the time being…
…planets mate and divide; the Elements lock fingers; Nature’s populace seeds itself, sees itself, confronts itself, hunts itself, skins its sisters and sells the peelings at the Mall of Memory. A technique is developed to extract mirrors from surface water, thus instigating the vanity trade and its wars, which outcome divides mammals along two lines: those of Hair and those of Fur.
Very, very, much, much later, the Life Span of All Beings conjoins into a solid single line. One can drag a finger along its zodiacal sign—called The Gut—of stacked bodies alternating: host and parasite, host and parasite. In this panarchy, nature and culture answer one another.
This next bit may upset you (I cannot protect you forever): Yesterday’s Beings have all died. The emptiness is visible in hindsight, but only in the furthest rearview mirror. In looking back, you’ll be gone too. (But rats stay on for a long, long time, all the way past the future-past, gnawing through the coils of evolution to become our genetic grandmothers, may you love them or not.) This is not the end. (There is no end.)
We inhabit the Museum of Nature—a ‘Dead Zoo,’ one might call it—refrigerated and safe and untroubled, our best attempt at a peaceable kingdom. We ponder many wonders like the ant colony’s opera on opening night—oh, it must have sounded just right. Press button to hear the coyote’s anthem, the frog’s requiem, the mushroom’s dirge, the rain’s breakbeat, the nightbird’s cabaret. Every now and then, around midnight, we throw a light onto the mirrored eyes of the taxidermied Antarctic wolf, and into its rotten mouth, until the silence paralyzes us, and then we know we are alive.
A Field Guide to Nature’s Abstractions
Flags and Pennants signal that you are not alone. Strung together and flown, flags and pennants mark the wind-chased footprints of prior journeyers. A flag’s locus will prefigure, by millennia, the exact site of an archaeological dig. See also: Pottery/Vintage Porcelain, Rainbows, and Tchotchkes.
Magic Tools require sun- or moonlight to function. See also: Bioenergetics.
Accidental flora, or “Weeds,” may appear ordinary and forgettable, yet their opportunistic imperialism suggests a radical arrival, by foreign bird or boat. Here (through Nov 1, 2012), the tough urban “weed” is transplanted and tested. The environmental trauma of an art exhibition causes the leaves to thrive / surrender (circle one).
A capsule or envelope, such as Tent, Coffin, Bell Jar, and Belly, safeguards a body’s passage through transformational states, usually in solitude. Contrast to: Mask, Feathers, and Ornament as means of subterfuge to perforate habitats and transgress taboos. See also: Twins, and Virus.
Twin (singular) is the secret pocket of the Self, for stashing shame, disremembered dreams, and skin from prior metamorphoses.
Twins (plural) embody wish fulfillment. Many genetic twins reject each other. Why? We are born with loss, and compelled by desire—without end.
Story of Nature’s Replenishing
PERSON woke up and said, I haven’t seen animals in many, many days. He counted the days: since Beaver Moon. No one knew why; no one was paying attention. Person looked in the familiar places for animals: traps, roasting pit, salt cave, bone yard, bell jars, all absent. Person decided to journey and find out why animals stopped showing up.
Animals are attracted by mimicry, Person remembered, from the old hunting tales. He shook his eyebrows up and down very fast at the sky. He chomped his teeth loudly in a hedge. He bared his nipples, but no pups swarmed in hunger. Then night came. It was cold. Person felt the chicken bumps rise on his skin. He realized he did not know any real animal calls.
In the cold night Person warmed himself with coyote fur of his grandmother’s old overcoat. It smelled of her deodorant, and dust, and soured pheromones. Person dreamed that night, cloaked in coyote: The animals were eating each other, natural at first, as they do, but then murderously, like vulgar machines, until only a few fat animals remained, then finally one animal, the one that had eaten all the others. This bulging animal was not exactly bear nor wildebeest nor snake, nor exotic rhino. It was all of these, with many varied parts, some even like human. The victorious chimera rolled its bloated belly and tumbled off the planet, like into sky, but down.
In the morning Person knew he must not act, but live, like animal to find animal. He journeyed deeper into the forest, resting at night in a safe-house of his own devising: A tent with an interior of raccoon and beaver pelts. No dreams filled the tent but at morning he emerged very thirsty. He drank at a puddle not with cupped hands but with all limbs folded down, and his mouth biting the water. Several months passed, and Being continued to drink like this.
One day upon his journey, Being tripped over the bones of animals in a field, scattered among the burial mounds from past tribal wars. The sacred burial mounds were always guarded by animal woodcarvings, and Being realized: animals are drawn to the dead.
Being gathered all the animal pelts he could find, and laid them over a dome he dug from the earth. Beneath the dome Being made a chamber to live, as if dead, to lure animals. Several years passed, and the burial ground became a homestead.
One quiet night in the mound Being scratched a tic off his belly and then felt he was not alone. A hyena’s nostril huffed through the window and slobbered on the curtains. The first animal! Being quickly hushed his excitement, as hyenas, he recalled, are maniac. Being faked sleep. The hyena entered and pissed on the bed and erupted in silly, awful laughter. They fought for the bed, and tossed, and growled. Between ragged, foul teeth each gripped the other’s forearm, tail, anus. The hyena, breathless, staggered out, and whooped—never before, said hyena with a smile, had he wakened a corpse with his semen.
Blinking, dizzy, drenched in hyena’s black saliva, Beast lay in their bed. She preened, and stretched, and cooed. Beast’s belly felt warm, and newly alive. And that is how nature increases.
Art critic Jason Foumberg wrote this wonderful piece for the catalog that accompanied The Hall of Disappearing.