Life and Death

Submitted by John_O on Thu, 11/20/2008 - 20:55

Bacteria are all around us - they are a single cell organism, with no nucleus.  The DNA of a bacteria is contained in it's cytoplasm and they reproduce asexually - quickly replicating and forming colonies.

Today we worked, as artists, with this lifeform - collecting it, incubating it and facilitating it's growth.  Tomorrow we will destroy it.

Oron Catts, an artist, posed the question:

Is there something intrinsically different about working with life?  (As opposed to any other matter on planet earth.)

In the context of The Meat Licence Proposal I would like to add:

Is there something intrinsically important about death, and the act of killing?  And, is the killing of a thousands of bacteria the same as the killing of thousands of cattle?



Working with life and working with death

I suppose working with life is an exercise in cultivation rather than culling.

The latter has a very definite outcome, and the former a much more open ended one - a discovery to be made. The act of killing is a work with 'life-as-lifeform' where as cultivating is working with 'life-as-a-process'.

In an isolated sense, the act of killing is simply the end of THE experiment, not the beginning of another. Working with Life (form or process) is  not comparable to killing in the sense that light and dark are not two different things, but one expresses the absense of the other.

In this isolated way, you cannot work with killing, but can only choose the manner in which you wish to end working with life.

Open it up to others though and killing itself becomes and experiment with life as form and process, one in which we choose OUR form. Through working with killing, you start to work with life - the lives of in relation to that killing - as person doing the killing, the being getting killed, sponsor of that killing, spectator or bystander, beneficiary, victim, banker, protester, forgiver, justice, legal, wintess, intervener, questioner, supporter, participant, aider and abbetter, accomplice, harbinger...and so on.

When the subject being killed is changed to a human, or a cow, or a bacteria, we change the parameters. Equally the scale of the killing, the number of beings being killed. What other parameters are there? proximity? People react - or respond - accordingly to a change in these parameters, like the chromatic ink blot tests we used to do at school. However, we do have the capability to respond consciously, and I think this what you are trying to cultivate.

The act of killing - more than any other perhaps - encourages us to define what we are going be in response to that killing, in this 'life experiment'.


The scale of killing cattle and bacteria

We can farm bacteria as we farm cattle maybe? Cattle are an organism on the surface of the earth as bacteria are on the surface of the skin. We could see it as the same thing but at a different magnification. Bacteria live in the small world, us and cows in the middle world. In some ways our relationship to bacteria is different to our relationship to cows because of this - we have a (relatively speaking) similar experience to the world - and each other - than that of a bacteria, and so if we kill a cow it is different, it is much more like killing a being.

Although, maybe we are not in such different worlds as I would like to believe: have you seen this guy talk about farming grass?


The food chain

Macdonalds farm cattle on cleared rain forest and serve it in their restaurants.

They farm bacteria in their restaurants, and serve them on the burgers.