Lisa Ma began her talk with a question:

"How can design move people from passivity towards activism?”

Propaganda is not doing the job it used to, Ma infers. Or perhaps it's just that the messages that might move us are insufficiently well-designed. The information we receive is, increasingly, packaged in standardized forms. Subjected to the design of a given platform (Twitter, mainly, if we're talking about news), what is more important is who, and how many people reproduce a message, rather than (visually speaking) how.

Referring to the bird flu outbreak, first detected in China in March 2013, Ma recalled how there was a national fear of the spread of the news rather than a spread of the virus itself. An epidemic amongst birds threatened the livelihoods of many Chinese farmers, as well as that of the national Badminton industry -- Ma told how mass incinerations of chickens led to a shortage of feathers needed for shuttlecocks used in the game.

Ma moved on to call for more sensitive and more innovative forms of spreading messages. With neither old forms of well-designed propaganda, nor clicktivist "armchair activism" considered appropriate, she proposed small and localised forms of community action.

Bioludditism is a movement that Ma is hoping to build on precisely this principle of site specific activity. Eventually tying together research from design, technology and biology, her contribution to the theme of extinction consisted of proposing a new diet. Many of the Marathon speakers had focused on the endangered pangolin, and the various ways in which it's being eaten to death.

But Ma moved beyond decrying the consumption of endangered species, or simply recalling Moby by advocating veganism. Instead, Ma has been travelling to Ghent to convince the mayor to eat the legs of invasive geese.

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Anna Zett presents a crisp and powerful silent lecture, using a series of animated GIFs (with titles) to talk about the relationship between production and subject in the history of dinosaurs films, most notably the Jurassic Park series (1993-2001) and The Lost World (1925).

Zett's compelling argument positions the history of the cinesaur as being about understanding the relationship between modern science and nature (of course), but also about the U.S. writing itself a new prehistory: one that doesn't trouble itself with who might have called the continent home before the arrival of the white subject.

Jurassic Park, she claims, is a celebration of computer effects, yet also displays a deep distrust of computers. What follows in Jurassic Park 2 is an either starker contrast: all technology but the radio is destroyed. In 3, all that is left is a boat and a satellite phone. Of course, Zett says, we are supposed to think Jurassic Park is posing us questions on the technological intervention of man into nature, and the height of man's techno hubris. On screen, however, CGI has already won — and so has the Jurassic Park brand, which is available on the silver screen even before the cinemagoer has chance to buy their own t-shirts and lunch boxes on sale, in the foyer, now.

This contradiction is as old as the dinosaur itself — a beast positioned as both scientific and phantastic, old and new, a precious, rare original and a cheap reproduction: the dinosaur represents symbolically the modern contradiction.

The dinosaur, Zett claims, is the true animal mascot of the U.S. American Empire. A lost giant that once ruled the world, but then disappeared, only to be resurrected by those miners, biologists and frontiersmen. Discovered at the birth of the modern era: "all those modern scientists, all those American dreamers, caught in a bad romance at the frontiers of progress and accumulation".

In the US, she claims, dinosaurs were resurrected to symbolise the death of the ancient Other, but also the dinosaur is also at the forefront of technological development: any new technology in moving image making was immediately test-driven on the dinosaur, from stop-motion in The Lost World through to the latest CGI in the Jurassic Park series.

A clue to why this is the case, she says, can be found in the two scripts written for The Lost World. The first, Plot A, is the script eventually made into the released film, using stop-motion techniques to animate our prehistoric friends. However, doubting the ability of this new technology to truly represent dinosaurs, the producers also commissioned a second script, to be used in the case of the failure of the new technology. In this Plot B the cast are attacked not my dinosaurs but by cannibals.

The stop motion was successful, however, and we only see a glimpse of the Native Americans; the colonial conflict zone was replaced by a zoological one which captured the imaginations of the American cinema-going public, and in doing so, helped create a popular image of a New American Past.

Zett compares these films with other films of reanimated beasts of cinema, including King Kong — again, a tale riven with the violent fantasies of the colonist against the dark interior, and the preservation of white womanhood by the virile white heterosexual male. It too is a film about the power of film-making. The docu-fiction becomes reality: "Seeing is believing in the terror of this industrial magic". Again, the beast is untameable, and the subject of its attack is modernity itself, "because the more alive and terrifying it appears, the more symbols of modernity it destroys, the more powerful modern technology appears to be".

Jurassic Park, however, marked a change it tack for the cinebeast, and CGI marked a changing relationship with the scientific subject. In Spielberg's vision, they cease to be monsters but instead become animals, and the hunters become veterinarians and conservationists. Digitisation accompanied a process by which dinosaurs became unprehistoric, and the digital wilderness must be protected, returned to the conservation park and the laboratory. Yesterday's dreams of de-extinction at the Marathon became unavoidable...

Back in this peaceful conservation paradise history dissipates. Manmade dinosaurs obsessively parent their young. This wilderness, Zett claims, is not prehistoric but posthistoric:

Evolution and history, once dialectically entangled in the name of progress and modernity, have now fully collapsed into each other. The past is a digitized animal and the future is the promise of this animal materialisation and artificial fossilisation.

Modern lovers used to point with cameras and funs at dumb prehistoric creatures. Smart contemporary creatures now point their digital eyes back at modern lovers.

Just like my laptop is looking at me right now.

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Having woven together stories of gardens, psychotic episodes and orgasms with themes of extinction and apocalypse, Jesse Darling conjugated the verb Yolar*:


I, You, we, they Only Live Once.

A panel discussion on language with Federico Campagna and Franco "Bifo" Berardi continued, moving through ideas such as the new spoken terms presently evolving from writing published online. Also language loss, emoji language and being between different languages and trying to gain access to what Campagna referred to as a hard to glimpse "outside".

"We are reduced to our communicative, performative identity without an outside”

Sound came up in relation to performance and reading. While Berardi and Campagna emphasized the role of the voice and a symbolic "mother" as an integral part of our visual recognition of objects and signs, Darling pointed out that hearing is not universal - we don't all, as Campagna implied, have access to sound and vision.

*Darling's conjugation was Latin-derived, I think. My version is Spanish.

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"I was thinking the colour of Schopenhauer, of Dostoevsky … Old men nostalgic for the past potency of humanism. What is humanism? The masculine potency that is going to be lost in the extinction of things … I was wrong. Extinction won't come with the dark colours of Dostoevsky … My language is old! It's the old language of an old man who has not perceived the real reality of the real. I am trying to understand. I am trying to feel! I am trying to perceive a perception of the colour of extinction! … It will come in the colour of excitement! it is brilliant, exciting, glittering, stimulating! Extinction will come in the colour of brightness! It is like me! And it is like you." — Franco Bifo Berardi

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U.S. artist Trevor Paglen produces work on the infrastructure and apparatus of the surveillance state; that's what he's known for, and usually, it's what he'd talk about at events like this. But with just 15 minutes, perhaps that's too expansive an issue to discuss, with its complex issues of serious breaches of civil liberties, torture and oppression. To cram that into 15 minutes would involve being necessarily and unacceptably reductive.

Instead, he wants to talk to the Marathon audience, at this point crowded into the room which is at capacity, about his work "The Last Pictures", an artistic project dealing with an extreme, possibly unprecedented, duration. This is a project that virtually no-one has seen, and probably no-one will ever see, he explains, because it's based far outside the earth's atmosphere. It can only be experienced at one removed, through talks like this.

The earth is surrounded by a ring, not unlike the rings of Saturn; but a ring not of dust and debris but of machines. Geostationary satellites providing instantaneous communication (and surveillance) around the world orbit around 36000 km. Hundreds of machines that, outliving their use, are allowed to die, but never decay. Untouched by erosion, and outside an orbit that would eventually suck them back into our atmosphere, they just sit there, lifeless, silently waiting. Without erosion or decay, their futures are not measured by in the time of human epochs, but in the time of planets and of stars.

This ring is a permanent part of the planet.

Paglen recounts a potential future history. The average lifespan of mammalian species is about 2 million years, and we've been here for 200,000. Species might evolve into new species, or they might die out. But the earth will (probably) live on well past our the insignificant speck of the anthropocene, and see new epochs. Paglen imagines what may happen once the Age of Humans is over. We might see the age of dogs. Crows. Centipedes. Maybe another age of dinosaurs. In the meantime, the movement of the earths tectonic plates have swallowed what little human activity was left unburied by the many volcanic explosions, dust clouds and asteroids.

Imagine an Age of Giant Squids. In the depths of the worlds oceans, recovering after the pollution of the anthropocene, the Giant Squids have developed incredibly sensitive eyes to see through the murky seas. They rise to the top of the oceans, and with thee eyes, they look, like we once did, to the stars. Much moons! Very numinous! Not a single moon, like we see, but a whole array of moons. And maybe a million years later, they develop the means to investigate the moons further, and discover the moons are not natural. The moons are alien spaceships.

So the rest of the history of earth includes the age of space artefacts, a ring of human fossils encircling the globe.

We should treat these spacecraft as messages in bottles, Paglen proposes. Vehicles of messages travelling not through space, but through time. A cave painting for the distant future. A monument to the anthropocene.

Paglen was invited to be artist in residence at MIT and set about, with a team of engineers, to design an artwork that can live in space. He intended to build the most archival work of art ever made, and they worked to make something approximating a microfiche film, but built of diamonds. They build a shield for it to live in, protecting it from the trip into orbit and from the powerful attack of the sun's rays in space. It was attached to Echostar 16, a satellite in geostationary orbit launched from Kazakhstan.

Images Paglen chose included

  • A photo of the back of the Angelus Novus by Paul Klee
  • Eye of a predator drone
  • A photo of people watching a tidal wave about to kill them
  • Human transformations of the worlds surface
  • Cats
  • Malevich, because, well, Malevich
  • A fruit fly genetically modified with legs coming out of its eyes
  • Ships in the Suez Canal
  • A reaper drone photographed by a Pakistani man upon waking one morning
  • A photo of flowers in a field adjacent to a GULAG camp

Paglen says "I don't think these images drifting through time will ever be found by anybody. And I don't think images mean anything outside of their historical and social context."

Nevertheless, he recounts feeling a huge responsibility in choosing what images might represent humanity. Unlike artworks created for, say, the Voyager missions, Paglen's work is not intended for extraterrestrials, but for communicating back to earth. In an important way, it's about a reflection for the artist himself, a project about becoming self-aware as a human. It's not about communicating over space, but it's a question of what sort of relationship we want to the future.

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