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Against human self-centeredness 21 September 2017

Flyer designed by Malin Bäckman for the Action Hub: Arts-based methods for transformative design at Transformation 2017

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March 2017

I enter a dark room, two screens on both sides display images of large telescopes and green forests, in the front a black screen with white text. A story is being told. I’ve seen this before, in various art museums and galleries I first think to myself. But there is something in the setting, the atmosphere that invites me to sit down and find out what the story being told is about. The storyteller is describing the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which holds the world’s largest telescope. The telescope acts as an ear and a mouth. From this site signals have been sent out into the galaxy, with the intention to find intelligent life outside earth. Now a response is awaited. It’s only after a while I realise that the storyteller is a parrot, telling the exhibition visitors about the nature of human beings and about humans’ relationship to life around them, from her own perspective. It turns out this story and this installation is nothing like the ones I’ve seen and heard before. The installation is an art work by the artist duo Allora & Calzadilla titled The Great Silence (2014)[i]. The storyteller-parrot reflects upon the human desire to find intelligent life in space, when in fact parrots, now threatened by distinction, share several features with humans. They too communicate, give each other names and have learned not only to imitate humans’ way of communicating, but also to understand the concepts of colour and shape. It took a long time for humans to consider the possibility that parrots in fact could be intelligent, “Humans like to think they’re unique.” the parrot reflects.

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