An endling is an individual living thing that is the last survivor of its species or subspecies and whose death consequently means the extinction of that species or subspecies.(1)

Memorial For The Lost is a performative act set in a forest landscape. Moving through fern into thick vegetation, dirt, and rock, we transcend above and into the earth. Progressing through the landscape is a meditation, initiated through the sound frequencies of Singing Bowls.(2) In the midst of the forest are six pairs of poles mounted with fabric, assembled in a triangular shape. The six pairs of poles and fabric, each represent five individuals that were the last of their species before extinction.(3)

Benjamin the Tasmanian tiger, Martha the Passenger pigeon, Celia the Pyrenean ibex, Celia’s baby clone, Kauai O’o the Moho bird, and Incas the Carolina parakeet. By the time a species is down to its very last individual, extinction has already taken place. Benjamin, Martha, Celia and Celia’s baby, Kauai O’o and Incas were lost before they were born. On January 6, 2000, Celia was found dead. Three years later, her baby clone was born. For seven minutes, the Iberian Ibex was no longer extinct, until the baby goat clone died of a lung defect.

Memorial For The Lost is a meditation for grief and loss, a desire to heal amid an ongoing mass extinction caused by humans.(4) Fragmental and intertwined, it tells the stories of the lived lives and passings of six endlings. The video is narrated through a voice-over in English and reinforced with subtitles. As in the ideas of philosopher Thomas Attig, who has written extensively on how to come to terms with loss, Memorial For The Lost approaches notions of death and the act of mourning as a process to re-learn the world.(5) In an act of care for the deceased and ourselves, we hope to heal and transform. Attig writes “Through grief, we can form a new understanding of the world and of ourselves within it”.(6)

Taking place in silence, extinction often goes unnoticed, a quiet event where, currently, between 17,000 and 100,000 species are lost each year.(7) In the cases of Benjamin, Martha, Celia and Celia’s baby, Kauai O’o and Incas, we have the date, time, and place of the passing of the last individual of a kind. We are left with a body that epitomises extinction. Something/someone is gone forever.

Sound is vibration and vibration touches all parts of our physical being. In this sense, sound is not only heard through our ears but through every cell in our bodies. Central to the video, entwined in its fragmental narrative, is a sound score of Singing Bowls. Singing bowls are a type of bell that produces a rich, deep tone when played. By striking the bowl with a mallet, then firmly pressing it in a circular motion against the bowl’s outside rim it produces a special, resonant tone that will be unique to that bowl’s history, shape, size, weight, and dimension. During a “sound massage”, bowls are placed on and around the body to cultivate and balance energy flow in the chakras, offering powerful healing properties. In Memorial For The Lost, the bowls are placed on gathered fabrics, weaving in and out of healing sessions recorded on location in India and Sweden, together with a collection of archival sound material. A memorial to those lost and a proposition to heal and change the course of Human activity.

Concluding the video is an “index” of archival sounds and other recordings that have been used in the video. It includes the song of the last sighted Kauai O’o singing to a mate that never arrived, recorded by ornithologist H. Douglas Pratt(8) in 1987, and the final sounds of Toughie the frog, the last known living Rabbs’ fringe-limbed treefrog. The Singing bowl healing sessions were recorded at Aithein in India and Sweden.

Footnotes:

  1. Definition of endling in dictionary.com https://www.dictionary.com/browse/endling#:~:text=noun,in%20a%20zoo%20in%201914
  2. Printed onto the fabric are blown-up images from archival images of each individual endling. Sourced from the Internet.
  3. “The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the sixth mass extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is an ongoing extinction event of species during the present Holocene epoch as a result of human activity”. National Geographic, VANISHING, October 2019 issue.
  4. Thomas Attig https://www.griefsheart.com/. We were introduced to the work of Attig through an article written by researchers Thom van Dooren & Deborah Bird Rose who’s combined research focuses on extinction and its implications. Keeping faith with death: mourning and extinction. https://publications.rzsnsw.org.au/doi/pdf/10.7882/AZ.2014.048
  5. Thomas Attig, “How We Grieve - Relearning the World”, page 22, Oxford University Press, 2011
  6. Singing bowls are also known as Tibetan singing bowls. However, since the history of the origin and use of the bowls is unclear and debatable, we have here chosen to refer to them as “Singing bowls”. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/02/18/tibetan-singing-bowls-are-not-tibetan-sincerely-a-tibetan-person.html and https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/tibetan-singing-bowls/
  7. https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2012/03/28/the-sixth-great-extinction-a-silent-extermination/
  8. This recording was later stored at Cornell University’s department for ornithology. In 2009 it was remixed by a man named Robert Davis and uploaded to Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDRY0CmcYNU

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The script to Memorial For The Lost was written during an artist residency at Sfakiotes residency, Lefkada, Greece during 2019 with the generous support from Helge Ax:son Johnsons Stiftelse. The video includes an animation by Jonas Holmer. Camera by Giorgos Chloros. Many thanks to Johannes Berg, Timo Menke, Salad Hilowle, Anastasia Melekou, Giorgos Chloros and Jonas Holmer for their generous time and ever so valuable opinions and thoughts. Also thank you Sussi Aspelin and the many yoga/spiritual teachers that have inspired this work.