On the occasion of the invitation by the Petrarubra Festival 2021 (30/05 - 14/06), Speculum! presents Archeologia Futura (Future Archeology), a 50-minute video-essay. Archeologia Futura addresses the Anthropocene era and the ongoing ecological catastrophe through a fictional and theoretical exploration of the fate of the planet, jumping between dystopia and utopia, collapse and hope.
Below, you will find the original text from Archeologia Futura.
10,000 years after the end of history.
The survivors, following the ecological catastrophe, have migrated to a new planet, Specula.
A group of researchers return to planet Earth to reconstruct its history.
We live near the Junkyard. Our home is the Museum.
The Junkyard - that's what we call it in technical jargon - is actually an endless space where the rubbish of a civilisation that died out ten thousand years ago remains. An archaeological site, it would be correct to call it.
Advanced civilisations are not thrifty, and what remains of them is an endless remnant, the waste that inhabits the dump; what remains after the end of history.
Perhaps the last straw for an intelligent species is just that: fumbling to death in its own waste. Thus, the Junkyard is full of everything: artefacts of all kinds and shapes.
Reconstructing the history of a finite civilisation is a task that raises fundamental questions about the method we adopt in archaeology. What to tell about a world without facts? Or, in other words, is any form of narrative possible in principle?
The few documents we have inherited from the lost culture our ancestors left behind concern critical notions such as: Anthropocene, Sixth Mass Extinction, Capitalism, Global Warming.
The reports on the fate of our old planet are very vague and not comprehensible. We thought we would return now to interpret its history from the ruins and waste. To bring an idea of the past back to Specula.
Always on the alert is the fear that the stories we tell ourselves about the ancients are literary fictions and nothing more. Archaeology, in this sense, is a practice that addresses the foundational questions of ontology and metaphysics. The question of being, i.e. about what exists and how it exists, is declined into the past; what was and how it becomes the question of being-state.
Since the discovery of the Junkyard, the research has never stopped. Much of what is found there is nothing more than rubbish, and because of the foul-smelling stench, archaeologists work on the excavations wearing garbage collection suits. They are often seen at work with large spades. They lift despicable quantities of plastic, an unquenchable material that represents most of the traces left by the human species on earth.
Precisely because of the plastic nature of this production, many of the artefacts have undergone some form of corruption and are now deformed.
We vividly remember the day when we found, in what appeared to be a mass grave, faithful reproductions of humans made of plastic. They bear no trace of colour, no facial expression, only the curvature of the facial muscles in evidence, of the eyes only the hollow of the eye sockets. Some have prominent breasts, others less so; the genitals are ambiguous in both cases, appearing mutilated. We have chosen two specimens from the best condition, the others we have relegated to the area of objects that we have decided to exclude from our archaeology.
In other cases, the practice would be to preserve everything, because each object constitutes a trace and could restore clarity to the narrative we wish to weave. However, in the circumstances we find ourselves dealing with, the material is decidedly overabundant and speaks very little. One of the determining criteria for our practice of negation is a commitment to the principle of the indiscernible: in this world there are too many duplicates, useless and badly made serialities - so if a thousand artefacts are exactly the same, we will only bring back one.
After all, the Museum has vast spaces, but not enough to accommodate every trace. And if no object were excluded, a paradox would arise: if the objects that made up the Junkyard as a whole were to suddenly make up the set of objects in the Museum, then there would not be much difference between the Junkyard and the museum itself. In other words, the identity of the dump would become that of the Museum, and so the Museum would become nothing more than the Junkyard.
"To speculate', in its etymological sense, means 'to look around': the specola is primarily the place from which observation is privileged, the place from which one can see everything. Specola is in fact also an ancient name for astronomical observatories: what better example than the gaze of those who explore, search, yearn; that gaze in search of other planets, other forms of life, other gazes?
And mankind scrutinises the cosmos to understand its place in the universe, because ‘quod est superius est sicut quod inferius’. On the other hand, it is from the observation of the cosmos that philosophy is born - the first question about the arché, about the origin of everything that exists. In the same way, the speculum is both the lens of the telescope that explores new horizons - as Tsiolkovsky said "the Earth is the cradle of the mind, but you cannot live in the cradle forever" - but also the mirror through which we look at ourselves. It is no coincidence that the kind of mirror that restores the whole figure to the eye is called the psyche: to look inside ourselves, we have to look outwards. The mirror is thus one of philosophy's favourite symbols: it is in fact a reflection of the world, in both senses of the genitive.
The adage states that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism; so the practice of imagining the future is essentially revolutionary: we must imagine more, imagine better. The classic paradox of time travel in the common imagination is that altering the slightest detail in the past can destroy the present. But how many of us believe that altering a tiny detail in the present can radically change the future?
The optimistic revelation is that there is no one way things have to go, there are only the various paths events can take, it is up to us to act to determine the flow, or we will be determined.
If hacking the cosmos means rewriting its rules, and every being, every agency is nothing but a hacker, then one must actively negotiate with the cosmos in order not to stagnate in the flow. Just as the pessimist is not sorrowful, the optimist is not joyful, rather it is the one who acts with hope, a kind of practical hope that resolves and justifies action. This is the speculative exercise we have all chosen to practice together.A famous quote by Mark Fisher states that emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of the natural order, and must reveal that what is presented as necessary and inevitable is a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously thought impossible seem attainable. The power of imagining a real future, a radically another scenario, is precisely this. In the words of Netti, the protagonist of Aleksandr Bogdanov's novel Red Star: "But to undertake the struggle we must know the future. That is the reason why you are here."