© Elvin Flamingo | website : elvinflamingo.art | contact : elvin.flamingo@gmail.com

Motto — a quote from JOE DAVIS :
If you build the bridge, sooner or later somebody's gonna come across

Motto 2 — a quote from SLEAFORD MODS :
Have you ever wondered why you wonder why?

1. VIDEO & Photos

2. Description

3. Essay ONKALO

4. Drawings / EXECUTIONER

5. Additional information

— opis w j.polskim

Essay Onkalo.
The Onkalo for Elvin Flamingo is a short essay written by scientist Maciej Smietanski.
It is a subjective understanding of the Decapitation of evolution — New evolution by Smietanski.

Maciej Smietanski


Decapitation of Evolution — New Evolution is the title of Elvin Flamingo’s most recent work. Within a closed, darkened room we see a powerful machine, a table, a laboratory. In the assigned space of imagination, we see a machine made with great effort for a great task. It is not a mock-up; everything is real and true: ocean water, hibernated microbes, chemicals, and nutrients. There are annihilation props, such as a cleaver, hammer, gun, sterilising UV-C lamp, and props for creating something new: components of the soil, the atmosphere, the earth's water in various forms and, of course, the leaven: living archaea, bacteria and fungi selected from those primordial ones that have not mutated for millions of years and thus they have potentially more to tell than we humans. The sight rocks your world big time. We just need to sit down, make a decision and start acting; a resurrection, a new evolution. It is a Promethean myth transformed by Elvin Flamingo into a prediction of ecological and cultural doom, the dread of our time. Leaving the machine for that "follower", the heir to our civilisation, who will come to read and start all over again.

Will this happen, though?

To answer the question, several factors need to be considered. Firstly, what is it for? Surely art should and can stir in us the ways of understanding reality that the author implies. It raises anxiety and makes us reflect on the end of the world as we know it, not only as a human world, but on the total catastrophe of a planet with no life left. If this is the case, is not the creation of a laboratory for re-creation an endeavour to hand over what we are? To whom, though? Posing the problem in this way presupposes that someone will come along, sit at the table and set all of this into motion. It is unlikely to be a human being, since life will have been extinguished. This raises another question, like any last will and testament. Is what we get without our awareness of the gift a hope or a threat? "Don't forget to use that hammer before you make any decision" says the author. The choice is on the table: creation, destruction or pre-emptive suicide. Maxims from the author or perhaps quotations from various sources show us possible paths, implicit hints; they emerge from fragments of the work. Should we follow the clues, or is there room for alternative action? Flamingo's work is full of advice for the next user; it offers tips and guidelines. The very choice of micro-organisms and substances conveys a message. It can be found in the props, the design of the station, the sounds and images/pictograms, and in the captions on the chairs.

Perhaps, then, we should turn back time and regard the work with the eye of the viewer (I'm not talking about the visitor to the exhibition) or the archaeologist who finds it, because the prediction may not come true, and the machine will remain merely a prop. For the researcher, it is a record of Flamingo's time, of his vision, obsessions and way of thinking as well as of the world around him. A record of the 21st century and its way of thinking, in a progressive form, built by an artist who is ahead of his time, but nevertheless a man from here and now.

Let us begin, then, at the start. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen intense developments in archaeology, genetics and anthropology. Humans are trying to find out where they come from and why they exist; they endeavour to learn about the history of their species and understand their place on the planet. Such an anthropocentric viewpoint also extends the inference to futurology, wondering what is going to happen next? Nowadays, of course, we naturally prioritise the ecological hazard over the fear of God's wrath, but nevertheless it is all the time a rationalisation of the fear of death. It is not appropriate for modern man to admit that in his atheistic views he is afraid of death. Hence, he rationalises the apprehension by turning it into a fear of a disaster; today it is an ecological one, while thirty years ago it was a nuclear one. Both of these heralded catastrophes turn an irrational fear into a directed fear, which we rationalise by knowing its cause, which is no longer god, but rather man. We will also encounter this in Flamingo's work. As an author, he affirms life. He says that all that we are – has value. The leaven of life, i.e. the first bacteria, should be protected so that we can start from scratch. Flamingo believes that our successors will be able to take better care of this; after all, it is for them that he has prepared the habitat. This, however, shows a belief in life, not in man. The man of the future has a choice, because time has not yet come to an end and the essence of the future has not defined itself.

Therefore, if the one from the future feels that they can cope, they can start from the beginning. If they judge that they are strong; yet what was in the past was wrong and they can destroy the habitat. If they judge themselves as Flamingo fears the consequences of man's work, they should kill themselves. Here Flamingo poses the question because he knows what he does not know. But there is a flip side to it, because there are also things we don't know that we don't know, and these surprise us more. And here, unfortunately, because of a lack of knowledge in the future or the premeditation of evil, the habitat thus created can be used differently. This is what Flamingo does not show, but this fear is evident throughout the work; the sentences written on the test tubes, the laboratory table or the tools are meant to guide thinking similar to our own. For future others, however, this language may be illegible, so pictograms are used to replace it. Flamingo dresses them up in the art of his drawings and sounds. Interaction with this testament of thought seems to be guiding one subconsciously to the right solution. It is a seeming paradox, because Flamingo knows that it is man who will bring the planet to an end, yet he sees this goodness and beauty in man. Therefore, he has no hope of changing modern man and believes it is necessary to start again. It is Rousseau who sees man as inherently good if misguided. From the point of view of cultural anthropology, it often happens that the artist is out of step with the world and sees it as evil but is a survivor of beauty. He cannot set the direction of today because no one listens to him, but he spins a vision of the world arranged by him if only at the cost of mass destruction. Everyone has such thoughts and grapples with them.

The work takes the form of a disordered creation, a mess, a network of dead ends. It is like a city, created over centuries by many people. Initially, they do it for better organisation and convenience. With time, the city becomes oppressive, out of step with reality and the times, excessively congested. But after all, we (usually) don't tear down cities; we see them as a testimony to history, as our heritage, the legacy of our ancestors, etc. In hindsight, we praise those who succeeded like Akhenaten, Nero or Napoleon, but curse them for failing like the duo of Hitler and Speer. There are many such references in Flamingo's work: abandoned topoi in the form of hanging cables or old switches abandoned in the concept. It is every generation's obsession with leaving something behind. Solutions to existential anxiety for future generations. Here the author shows himself as part of a sequence of people who have left their mark on this field. In this context, the work is unfinished; it is here and now. Combining this way of understanding with what we find on the table becomes all the more a record of our time. Returning to the question of the last will and testament, to whether it is an opportunity or a threat, we believe we are the opportunity. We do not allow ourselves to think that the end of man could be a self-cleansing mechanism for the planet, and that the great extinction is not a catastrophe but a new beginning. Yet, it is human nature (a feature of Western civilisation) to believe in the meaning of existence and to deny that all of this can come to an end. There must be something more, for if there were not, then annihilation would make no sense. Following by this reference to Habermas, it is therefore necessary to look in the work of Flamingo for what cannot be seen: the belief in oneself despite the headwinds, the conviction that one is right to act in spite of criticism, the sense of continuity in a system that one is contesting, or, finally, the desire to be an example even to the very few who will understand.

To grasp that, I believe we need to take a step back and take one more look at Elvin Flamingo’s art, especially The Symbiosity of Creation and We—The Common Body. In these works Flamingo senses the Latour potential of this system of picturing and comprehending the world as equivalent for all actors in the process. This is the strength and novelty of his projects. However, are they bio-art and post-humanist in their concept? Yes and no; I believe that the author creates his works in response to human action. In them, he expresses anxiety and compassion for the destroyed nature and tries to show solutions significant to the proposed symbiosity. Thus, he makes a claim that is realised by assigning roles to actors in the process but hides the fact that he himself is the creator of this process. The creation of sound performances is all the time anthropocentric, imposing an association with the freak theatres of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, where a higher being incorporates a subservient one and stimulates it to produce a familiar aesthetic form. This assumption can only be challenged by seeing the artist as a curator of the process, highlighting the unfamiliar interpretations of the actors in the process. These are, on an equal footing, the ants, the artist and the musicians.

However, this gains a new context in Flamingo's subsequent work. Recall here the works from the 2017 series Hospital Diary. Elvin Flamingo was hospitalised, as he himself writes in the statements accompanying that exhibition, in a psychiatric hospital due to an exacerbation of bipolar disorder. In the hospital, he creates drawings of a very complex structure with interspersed imaginative creations with features of neither humans nor animals; some kind of hybrids that fill up the space of the drawing. These interpenetrating creations always form a closed creation-organism of great complexity, suggesting precisely the symbiotic nature of the individual components. We also find them as an element of Decapitation of Evolution. The works are closed in form, the organism always forms a central creation of interpenetrating sub-structures, while the border remains white and empty. It is like the habitats of ants. However, in this case it is the author who is subject to the action as a non-human actor of the network. Because of his illness, he is subject to confinement in a hospital reactor. It is no longer he who offers a habitat to ants; now doctors offer a habitat for him. They give him a home, feed him, care for him, and finally give him medication. This white safe space of the habitat shows up in the drawings; even if the central creation raises some concerns, the white calm frame is the safe space. The hospital cuts the author off from the threatening world and gives a sense of security and peaceful work. And this is the context for assessing Flamingo's work. In this context, the habitats, drawings and other artefacts that Flamingo leaves behind are just documentation of the interaction he creates in a Latourian network, where actors swap roles. One moment Flamingo dominates by creating a habitat for the ants, another time doctors create it for him, becoming the creators with the highest capacity to act. This was only until 2020, though. The COVID pandemic swept doctors off this pedestal by demolishing their carefully constructed world, overturning a seemingly perfect organisation. Doctors are becoming part of the same chain. The circle of dependency described closes by subjecting humans to the power of micro-organisms in their man-made habitat.

From this point of view, Flamingo's work manages to show the contemporary coexistence and translation of ANT philosophy into art and science. The breadth of thinking should show that it is not only Flamingo, his works or interaction that are actors here. Equally performing are descriptions and words, analyses of both Flamingo's work and thinking. In this context, neither his bioreactors, nor his drawings, nor the machine from Decapitation are "works" of art. He himself is art. Through his journey, he puts an equality sign between life-nature and art, blurring the boundaries by making a transgression from what he creates to what, or who, he himself is.

Decapitation is autobiographical. Applying the prescribed codes of meanings, it emerges from previous works yet abandons them without any qualms. Elvin Flamingo develops here the previously described fears and seeks solutions. He understands the world in his own way, but no longer needs the ideological support that gives his work meaning and positions it within the values of contemporary philosophy and culture. Flamingo stops pretending to be post-anthropocentric, to understand the coexistence of species and the balance of life. He distances himself from the discussions of environmentalists and post-humanists. He rejects evil, terror, violence, and anger. In his work, he leaves only the positivity of life guided by what he believes to be in the forefront, i.e. art and science. If you open the door of this exhibition, you will see that Flamingo has matured; he is no longer part of Latour's actor network. By creating Decapitation, he has clearly shown who he wants to be. And he is a god.

Post Script:

The title ONKALO (Finnish for repository) is a reference to the 2010 Michael Madsen movie Into Eternity. The film is a documentary about a Finnish spent nuclear fuel repository. The authors of the film discuss with engineers and creators of the venue as well as with the advisory committee the potential impact of the repository on humans for the next 100,000 years.

Maciej Smietanski