by Sukanya GargJun 17, 2020
In the fall of 2021, the visitors, and other living species of Central Park in New York City had a new assembly to congregate, one that called for ‘friendly relations among species’. Conceptualised by the Danish art collective Superflex, Interspecies Assembly was led by Art320 to coincide with the 76th UN General Assembly, 2021, in New York. Superflex’s contribution to the project involved the sculptural installation in Central Park, and a gigantic computer-generated siphonophore (marine organism) presented as an animated film Vertical Migration on the facade of the UN Secretariat Building. The idea through both these installations is to initiate a conversation about interspecies in the wake of rising sea levels and climate change. For Superflex, siphonophore is ‘the first official non-human UN representative’.
Superflex’s association with siphonophores and its neighbouring habitat began during their deep-sea exploration a few years ago. Their interest in siphonophores resulted in a series of works on Ocean's biodiversity. Unique from its other species, siphonophores are marine animals that exist as a colony of many genetically identical individuals called zooids, with each zooid specialised to perform a specific function. The collective existence as a siphonophore is integral to the survival of zooids. Candidly calling them their cousins, Superflex sees Siphonophore, a fitting reminder for the human species towards a renewed sense of collectivity.
While the Collective's engagement with biodiversity existed from the very beginning of their practice, their notable reference to non-human species dates back to early 2011, when the refurbished Science Museum in London opened to the public with a unique tour conceptualised by Superflex. Entitled, The Cockroach Tour of the Science Museum, the Collective designed the tour to view the history of human scientific evolution through the perspective of the cockroaches. The trio chose cockroaches as they are the oldest living creatures who have lived and are expected to survive many more disasters. Led by an expert on cockroaches, the visitors wore custom-designed costumes and moved in zigzag directions across the Museum, going through inventions such as the steam engine and the spaceship. For Superflex, such an approach to the Science Museum is to alter the perspective of human history advocated by the Museum. Their more recent projects such as the Pink Elements adopt restoration methods for the underwater species by making coral-friendly bricks with their pink color known to foster ‘coral polyp growth’. These bricks are designed to be suspended underwater and to sustain and grow new micro coral communities. Seen outside the aquatic context they appear as forms and structures that are an integral part of everyday architecture.
The Interspecies Assembly, sculptural installation at Central Park extends the conversation further by foregrounding human responsibility to the natural habitat. It was conceptualised to bring to the attention of the world leaders who gathered at the Assembly, and the people of New York City the need for an ‘interspecies contract’. A space where agencies of all living forms on earth are acknowledged. The installation is a broken circle displayed as a sum of disassembled parts of pink-stone, and carved with words onto its surface resembling that of a disintegrated memorial. Unlike the flat, grandiose wall of a memorial inscribed with generic visions of what the world should be, Interspecies Assembly subtly suggests that it is the time to pause, listen and reimagine what co-existing with other species means to humans. In the Central Park documentation of the project, many visitors are seen reading the text inscriptions. Squirrels and different kinds of birds interacted with open channels carved in most pieces of the installation.
The Vertical Alignment film installation, on the other hand, reconfigures our perception of light stream memorials. In contrast to the abstract light stream that embodies the 9/11 memorial every year in memory of fallen twin towers, Vertical Alignment highlights the siphonophore and its gradual unfolding in the monumental facade of the UN Secretariat. It appears as if the organism is headed towards an upward journey from the deepest contours of the ocean to make itself visible to the world, a testament of life forms hidden from the immediacy of our naked eye.
In a recent conversation on Interspecies Assembly, Superflex noted how they see the impact of these installations on the leaders that gathered in the high-profile week of the UN Assembly. Rasmus Nielsen of Superflex said that while the Collective was not there to witness the responses in person. They imagined Macron, Biden, Merkel, and Modi leaving the assembly with Siphonophores stuck in their heads and that there is no way for them to avoid it now, due to the scale of the installation. Nielsen elaborated that while this is what they hoped as a Collective, there is no way one can calculate cause and effect in projects like these and among the art in general.
(After debut in New York at the 76th UN General Assembly, 2021, Interspecies Assembly was presented at Copenhagen against the backdrop of COP26, and will continue onwards to a new location in Spring 2022.)