On the Impossibility of Drawing a 1:1000000-Scale map of the Empire (Or, So we’ve Got a terrible Problem
Translation: M. Wawrzynczak
I met R for the first on a hunting platform, some eight kilometres from the place that had been designated as City 1551. The meeting had been planned beforehand and professionally arranged (busi- ness cards, freebies with the gallery logo) by w, as it used to be in the times before the Event. For a longer while we watched wild boars rooting around, digging up fragments of tyres, car bodies, and elec- tric cables. we jokingly shouted at them from the platform, and they raised their snouts at us and leered threateningly. For a moment we achieved a kind of interspecies harmony.
I wrote down in my notebook the things that R was say- ing. In between stories about how he managed in the new Situation – ninety percent of conversations today are about survival strategies – he would offer reserved comments about his former practice. As long as he painted, made models in display cases, or small ink draw- ings, everything remained under control. he knew the system inside out, the well-oiled machine working smoothly and hardly ever fail- ing. Errors were rare and quickly eliminated. we moved alongside the coordinate axes of a system known once as contemporary art, where X is the art coefficient and Y is the visibility coefficient. R had mastered operations alongside the X axis, but the Y one frequently slipped out of his control; as a result, he not only lost his footing, but from time to time couldn’t even verify his own existence through a web search. he thought he was disappearing, which was true in a way – his left thumb was dwindling. Facing up to his problems, R started building models of decline, very precise and credible ones. he had let it down on the X a bit, and the Y soared (ultimately giv- ing a boost to the X as well). R produced his “prophetic models” in the rather classic form of small sculptural objects placed on plinths 120 x 40 x 40 centimetres in size. Years of following the insurance market and studying climate science had finally started paying off! which part of the beach should the house be built at so that the tsu- nami doesn’t wash it off, where should the bunker be located, how long will the Visegrad Union’s minister of the environment live? to all such questions R had only one, kind, yet firm, answer: “Please
invest in art, contemplate it, and see where and how it reflects the future.” true to word, the term “knowledge production” was more popular than ever, used in all kinds of collocations, inflected for per- son and case. business was good, and the world was sliding towards disaster with the vigour of a teenage suicide.
“wann wird es endlich regnen?” one of the wild boars finally asked R.
The model Untitled (Light of My Duration), which R made in 2031, re- quired using all seventeen rare-earth elements. he had long been dreaming of using them in a single work. Awakened in the middle of the night, he could recite in one breath, in forward or reverse alpha- betical order, if he had been roused from his afternoon nap (which happened often enough, the Irreversibility management Committee encouraging citizens at the time to save energy by lying inert for most of the day), the entire sequence of the metals: cerium, dysprosi- um, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, praseodymium, samarium, scandium, promethium, terbium, thulium, ytterbium, yttrium.
The model references a specific mountain range, but one that is a trash heap rather than a magic mountain (a joke alluding to what we used to call high Culture). The object is untypical insofar that while meeting all criteria to be deemed artistic (scoring seven- teen out of twenty points in the Kozlowski test), it is also lethally dangerous to the public. It is an art work that can be literally over- dosed, and at the same time the most sophisticated (and valedicto- rian, as it turned out) model ever built by R. what hides behind its frightening popularity? The answer is simple, even embarrassingly so for a work so demanding, so rich in meanings, in historical, eco- nomic, and sociological references. See, it very precisely indicates the date of human extinction. And that’s it. The date can be found atthe foot of the mountain, on the right side. You can notice it through “parallel vision,” with each eye looking at a different image of the stereoscopic pair. This takes some getting used to, but the effect is – literally! – electrifying.
This time the piece comes without a plinth. It is placed directly on the ground, that is, on biologically active soil, with heavy soils preferred: loamy dusts and sand-loam clays. The model is very lightweight, weighing just six hundred grams, which is the amount of promethium naturally appearing in the Earth’s crust at any given time. R had come up with the restriction himself, even though the fact affects neither the work’s interpretative potential (a high eighteen points) nor its aesthetic value (a continental mean, collected using the application COntemplate: nine points). And so much the better, perhaps, for you can equally well imagine the same design winning public-art competitions somewhere far away, in new Caledonia. The demand for statues (“memory prostheses,” as the Dictionary of Old terms would define them) was staggeringly high prior to the Event.
The sculpture Untitled (Light of My Duration), 2031, has one peculiarity that I found out about right there, in the middle of the woods, stand- ing on a hunting platform and watching a pack of wild boars practice their German phrases. when you press the belly of the tiny figure perched on the summit (which is best done using an unsharpened pencil, softly), it will squeak, “Eat death.” You need to press your ear against it, the sound being barely audible. This figurine of a small boy works like a hug-me doll, but in a geologist’s version.
That this time, in 2039, we survived (yes, yes, we know it’s only seven percent of the global population, but it’s still enough to save the museums, zoological gardens, and palm houses) had come as such a surprise that R hid the model in the basement and ditched art-making once and for all.
R had always been obsessed with the subject of economic growth. he collected all kinds of charts, graphs, indicators. he was into Power- Point aesthetics before it became de rigeur in post-dramatic theatre. R knew very well what was happening – for who wouldn’t become aware of the scale of the problem after digesting so many economic and meteorological studies? he called that amount of data “terrible.” he was fond of the word, and would often say, for example, “well, we have a terrible problem.”
In fact, this mock-up mountain is but a model of a mod- el. It has a strange, inhuman scale that indicates the impossibility of imagining the system that the object relates to: 1:1,000,000.
R will take the model Untitled (Light of My Duration), 2031, out of its box when all indications are that it is really the end. Like that there is no extra time this time. Ending the twilight Age, entering the “un- titled” era. This time we won’t weasel out. There will come the time when the last bird falls dead from the sky, an electric dog eats an emaciated living dog with little hair remaining, and some confused poor fellow sniffs up the ashes of the last charred book. There will be no one to contemplate the rough form, the colours and stains. It will stand there, alone, for 2.62 time units currently known as years. Then it will disappear, vanish into thin air. That’s the plan. before that happens, the model enjoys the status of an art work. It carries the cap of invisibility. when time comes, it will become something else. A portal or a trap. In any case, it will end up with all the rest in the warm, sour soup in which great blue whales once frolicked.