‘End Game’ is an ongoing collaboration between Todd McMillan and Zoë Sadokierski through which the artists attempt to understand widespread apathy toward environmental issues. The prints in ‘End Game Part 1: Possible Cost of Complacency’ (June 2017) explored nonchalance towards human-induced climate change. No less ambitious or bleak, ‘End Game Part 2: Sleep Well’ focuses on the escalating extinction rates of animal species, including humans.
Todd and Zoë inform and respond to each other’s work through conversations and shared readings. ‘End Game: Part 2’ draws on ideas from Margaret Atwood’s fictional trilogy ‘Maddaddam’ and Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Harari describes Homo sapiens as ‘an ecological serial killer’ and suggests our apathy is in part due to ignorance:
Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology. Perhaps if more people were aware of the First Wave and Second Wave extinctions, they’d be less nonchalant about the Third Wave they are part of. If we knew how many species we’ve already eradicated, we might be more motivated to protect those that still survive. (82)
Atwood speculates about a future in which humans are responsible for mass extinction and, through genetic engineering, unleash hybrid creatures that may cause our own extinction. Atwood says her fictional trilogy “does not include any technologies or biobeing that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.”
Responding to these authors, Zoë’s speculative diagrams ask us to question how long Homo sapiens have left on the planet, and how much of the animal kingdom we’ll take down on the way. Sleep well.
Note that I have only displayed my own work on this site, not Todd’s video work.
Abstract for an academic paper I’m writing about this work:
This suite of ‘speculative diagrams’ visualises ideas from Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy (2003-13), through which Atwood speculates on the future impact of bio-engineering. Atwood’s novels are populated by hybrid creatures which she uses to draw attention to environmental and ethical consequences of humans meddling with the natural world. Atwood states that her fictional trilogy “does not include any technologies or bio being that do not already exists, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.” The speculative diagrams are designed to bridge the gap between Atwood’s fictional bio-beings and the real-world science they are based on.
The diagrams are visual interpretations of Atwood’s writing, grafted with additional scientific information. They are designed using graphic and material strategies that intend to surprise and engage viewers, and to provoke further speculation on the key themes of Atwood’s novels such as genetic modification and climate change, which are urgent issues in the world today.
Within the essay, each diagram is accompanied by annotated process work which led to the final visualisations. In laying bare the design process, the essay highlights the significance of graphic and material considerations that are part of designing information visualisations. It offers critical language to explain how information visualisations can function as narrative devices. This is a direct response to Johanna Drucker’s assertion that information visualisation is under-theorised and requires scholars to develop critical languages that help explain the “graphics that predominate in the networked environment.” (2014)
This work contributes to an emerging zone of scholarly activity, in which information visualisation is adopted as a comparative tool for text analysis. As a comparative tool, visualisation has been used to show the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they are written, such as Stefanie Posevec’s ’Writing Without Words’, Ben Fry’s ‘Preservation of Favoured Traces’ and Stanford University’s ‘Mapping the Republic of Letters’. These visualisations illuminate the semantic structure of given texts (Posavec), the writing process (Fry) or cultural context in which the texts were produced (Republic of Letters). The diagrams described in this essay offer another comparative approach – drawing ‘visual correlations’ between a novel and the research that it draws upon. In all these comparative approaches, the visualisations function as ‘paratexts’: they provide thresholds of interpretation to the texts they relate to.
Drucker, J. 2014. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.