Act 1 : The Vampyroteuthis infernalis
Vampire squid from hell
I’m going to tell you a tale. A story coming from the abyss. A story that interrogates the human condition. It’s one about a cephalopod, cousin to the octopus and to the squid, living thousands of meters under the ocean’s surface.
He is our absolute alterity.
This particular species was found in the China seas at the end of the 17th century, during a large scientific expedition: Valdivia. In this era, the German, Carl Chun identified the animal as belonging to the octopus family. Fished it, and brought it back dead to the surface of our lands for closer study.
However, he is neither an octopus nor a squid and baffles our scientific taxonomy. Moreover, his eyes and brain strangely resemble ours.
Tell me Darwin: why have you separated vampys and humans into so many branches on the tree of life? Tell me, can we remove ourselves from your linear model?
Today, we can observe the Vampyroteuthis infernalis with the help of a submarine, going thousands of meters deep. Some humans observe them: they call them
Octopus with ears.
We’ve even built a high pressure aquarium to accommodate him to our floor’s surface in california. We reproduce his habitat to observe Vampyroteuthis.
He possesses his own specific order, that of the Vampyromorphida.
The water that I find all around me is at the surface of his underworld, we have to descend, into the deep, to find this incredible vampiric being. Just imagine for a moment, that the mirror of our existence appears through an octopod creature. A deforming mirror, metaphorical, incredible, impossible. Through this cephalopode, we can find a direction based on total otherness.
What does it look like?
The vampire of the abyss can measure up to 12 meters in diameter. His jelly-like coat varies from black velvet to pale red, depending on the place and the lighting conditions. One membrane of skin links his eight arms, each arm is lined with prickles which could be either fleshy or sharp; inside of this
casing is black. Only half of the furthest extremities of the length of the arms has suction cups and photophores. The color of his bulging eyes ranges from red to blue depending on the lighting. The adults have a pair of paddle, which resembles fins or ears, projecting from the lateral side of their coat.
When he moves them, the Vampire of the Abyss seems to fly in the water.
From a metabolic view point: everything opposes us.
Evolution has made us two-legged beings, preferring an upright posture and walking. But with this mollusc, it's the other way around: the head coincides with the feet and the mouth is much closer to the anus.
Vampyroteuthis lives in a spiralling world: his line is a circle.
The vampire of the abysses is entirely covered in organs that produce light, called photophores. The animal has a great control over these organs, and is capable of producing flashes of light every fraction of a second, for minutes at a time, to disorient predators.
The Vampyroteuthis produces clouds, called sepia, which floats in the water.
These biological attributes are the manifestations of intra-specific highly refined communication.
As distant as the vampire of the abyss may seem to be, we share with him the particularity of a psyche beset by an environment of very complex information.
Close your eyes, imagine :
A luminous animal, with a cape.
At first tucked under himself,
He must spread his coat to open to the world.
He is literally capable of absorbing the world.
He is a harmless vampire.
His cape is a lure. A game played on the perception of others.
He is ok with feeding himself with the rain of planktons which float peacefully around him.
His favourite food is glowing snow that crosses the deep.
Man comes from the continents. The Vampyroteuthis from the abyss.
We aspire to the light. He buries himself in darkness.
If our species is relatively recent, his species dates back to the oldest times.
He doesn’t tolerate the air that we breathe, whereas we would be crushed by the pressure of the depths where he lives.
He is mollusc. We’re skeletal.
Man thinks in two dimensions. Vampyroteuthis in three.
Man is cartesian. Vampyroteuthis is dynamic.
We experience the earth, we manipulate it with our hands. He absorbs the world, its representation is experiential.
We work for God. He works for the devil.
Vampyroteuthis comprehends the world thanks to eight tentacles that surround the mouth, originally destined to suck in food and bring it close to the mouth. Therefore the world apprehended by him is a fluid and liquid world that precipitates into Vampyroteuthis. His purpose in knowing the world is to digest it. His eight tentacles are extremities of his digestive apparatus. Here resides the most radical difference between human and vampyroteuthian epistemology: that for man, knowing is a gesture that advances against the world, an active gesture, and that for Vampyroteuthis, knowing is a gesture that grasps the world, a passive gesture. We men know with the aim of resolvingproblems, and Vampyroteuthis knows with the aim of discriminating between theinfluencesandimpressionsthat he suffers.
(Vilém Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis , trad. du portugais par Rodrigo Maltez Novaes, New-York, Atropos Press, 2011, p71)
The hand and the tentacle. Two ways to perceive the world. Two diverging arts
Who speaks for the cephalopod? Who for the Vampy? How does the Vampyroteuthis infernalis think? What if the vampy possesses his own culture, a specific way of inhabiting the abyss?
Act 2 : Vampyroteuthian Art
In his eternal night the vampy uses light to communicate. He is able to transmit light information up to many minutes, to give them a specific form. From the tip of his arm, he ejects a cloudy and sticky mucus, bioluminescent, containing innumerable orbs of blue light. It can be an instantaneous gesture, or a longer movement. His body is his canvas, his tool for transmitting information.
For us, art withstands time: paintings, statues, cathedrals reside in an eternal form. In the abyss, materials do not last.
But who between human beings or Vampyroteuthis, would like to be forgotten?
Art, the practice we characterise as human, opposes nothingness. It inscribes information in stone, wood, and every other medium. Art is a way to transmit these information for eternity.
From the view point of the Vampyroteuthis, human art is derisory. In his liquid habitat, only biological and genetical information can settle in time. The vampy has already established the synthesis of genetical and informational art. The purpose of art, which is transmitting information into stable objects, doesn’t work: art becomes intersubjective and immaterial.
The vampy does manipulate, however, sorts of objects. Particular objects. Biological objects, living, ephemeral.
The colour. The light. Sepia clouds.
He can give form to those clouds, he can emit light, activate the bioluminescence of his body. Certainly, he uses it to escape his predators. But most importantly, to transmit information.
This information aims at deceiving its receiver.
It’s rape of another, aiming at the immortalisation in another — art as a strategy of rape, hate; art as trickery, as fiction, as a lie; art as a deceptive appearance, and so asbeauty– the whole in an orgastic atmosphere.
(Vilém Flusser, Vampyroteuthis infernalis [1981-1987], trad. de l’allemand par Christophe Lucchese, Bruxelles, Zones Sensibles., 2015, p.61, traduction personnelle)
Our world filled with objects is a perfidious world. The object resists information: the marble remains a marble. And the marble is destroyed over time. Human art is not the incarnation of the beautiful. Art is the realisation of an individual’s experiences in an object. All at once: his knowledge, his values and his sensations.
It's a way to dialogue with the eternal.
Yet the vampy doesn’t bind himself to objects and isn’t fulfilled through them. For Vampy, eternity is acquired in otherness. Tentacles, chromatophores, sepia clouds, bioluminescence go beyond objects. The vampy doesn’t rub against the resistance of materials but those of the spirits that reside in others.
What’s happening today while our information is stored in cybernetic programmes? Whats happening now that biological information can be purposely manipulated by design?
The Vampy is the incarnation of the convergence of molecular biology and cybernetics. His world is populated by biological information, ephemeral. And already, its conduct is one of a programmer. The vampy plays with the conscience of its peers. He lures them with biological information, he tricks them. His art is pernicious.
The programmes appear to us. The Vampy lives already in this world of programmes. He knows. He doesn’t try to oppose himself against cultural, genetic, computational relational programmes. In his anatomy, the world is a network of information of a diverse nature. To survive these programmes, he becomes a programmer himself, a player, and manipulates living information. He is at the same time totalitarian power and resistance. The vampy has agreed to the absurd nature of existence. He doesn’t try to make sense of it. Neither should we look for meaning in his actions.
Art becomes intersubjective and immaterial.
With the automation of machines, the object becomes a piece of junk. A merchandise. A consumer product. But, the machine, the device, for the Vampy becomes the organism itself. What exo-somatic devices will we use to orient us in a world populated with invisible and intersubjective conscience?
We live in the world with our values, we inhabit it with our situated vision: our perspective is already a point of no vision. The microscopes and the telescopes open up to us new worlds, through giving us new devices of perception. Uniqueness no longer makes any sense.
We are thousands of living beings, micro-organisms, external forces and dynamics which live in symbiosis. Wanting to give a single meaning to life and to think that we can take control of it, is absurd.
Must we negotiate? Make new arrangements? The art of the object is substituted by an art of meeting and arrangement. Performances and installations.
Imaginary warriors, dualists, of conquest, that of the good guys versus the bad guys, friends or enemies, order or harmony. The weak or the strong. The submissive and the dominant. the master and the slave. The pawn and the player. These imaginations kill us. There are only particular situations, layouts that offer us new ways of being in the world. There is no big battle card of the living to conquer and submit to our laws.
The genius doesn't exist.
We are programmers as much as we are programmed, the players and the pawns. Our art has to become an art of meeting.
Make no mistake:
We are not Vampyroteuthis and will never be.
We don't live in the abyss, the black darkness of an eternal night.
We are bipedal, who think about the world with our hands.
We must search in him the ambivalence, contradiction and immersion that the surface is keeping from us.
Act 3 : Our Vampyroteuthian World
At thousands of meter deep, the abyss houses an octopodal being.
And, if it is possible today, by science, to synthesize an artificial Vampyroteuthis or to design a hybrid human-Vampyroteuthis, that is not the interest of this fable…
We walk on the surface of the oceans. The fossils of vampy found in the Voulte-sur-Rhône reminds us of this. The vampy was here long before us, squated in the depths, and he’s beginning to leave the abyss. He goes back through geological times and mingles with our digital habits.
The vampy’s world is our own.
We are, ourselves, bodies being vampyroteuthized, constantly on the alert of immaterial information, ephemeral, intersubjective. Our critical apparatus must grab at a fluid and centripetal world. We must learn from the Vampyroteuthis.
Right now, you are subject to total vampyroteuthising. We are the ones who are being raped by the spirits. We, humans being of the twenty first century, would be on the verge of being vampyroteuthized.
This may appear strange to you.
He lives thousands of meters deep.
At this distance, the pressure is huge.
Night is eternal, but sound travels very well.
At this distance, only few animals survive due to the lack of oxygen and acidity of the environment. However.
These abysses are also our own.
Let’s think of the contemporary situation, at least the western one, loaded with all kinds of sensors and probes: cameras, geolocation devices, etc.
Let us also think of the masses of information circulating on the communication networks. Bombarded with notifications, e-mails, solicitations, information and misinformation of all kinds, we find it increasingly difficult to find our way around in a world entirely built up of digital data. The technical environment of digital technologies, that of computing and computer programming languages, is a world of the invisible, prey to the worst manipulations, but also open to forms of creation that are still largely unexplored.
Like the Vampyroteuthis, we are immerge in this environment.
Splashing around in data like fish in a small pool of water, we don't know anymore how to
filter what goes on in us, which infiltrates our subjectivities without us realizing it.
Think of the great collapses of the living happening and those to come. Their hunt, their provision of an immoral and irrational design… Think of the exploitation of animal, vegetal and human life. We must try the experience of living as a bird, as a wolf, as a forest, as a coral reef, as a pigeon, as an octopus, like a jellyfish, an algae: the vampy will be our bioluminescent lighthouse in this quest. We must, we humans, designers, artists, scientists, come back to things themselves. Don't tempt the omniscient eye, don't try to lock the living into a big battlefield where we would be the winners.
We are looking for new metaphors and new stories to understand the real.
And that's where the octopus of the abyss comes in, whose geographic and temporal remoteness acts as a mirror of our contemporary condition. We have to go down into the abyss.
Without light, at thousands of meters deep, maybe even further, the ocean region where the Vampyroteuthis infernalis lives, is an environment with poor oxygen. This darkness, this condition of the invisible, is comparable to the fascination we feel for
black boxes, technological devices which are shaping our daily lives. Henceforth, could we learn from the octopus how to
navigate with ease and elegance in this rain of plankton? Could he teach us to
sort out what is unintelligible to us?
To seek in the octopodal model, a new way of telling the world that flows in us.
To seek in his deception ways to guide us in this world. We need to create other para-natures,
methods parallel to the natural sciences, but which advances in the other areas of the real.
We could create other ways of perceiving the world. The Nature that we see is a nature of modern biology and natural sciences. It's a unique nature. This uniqueness doesn’t exist.
We need to create new entities, new stories and new images.
Writers : Élise Rigot and Anthony Masure
Narrator : Wayne Blackwood
Editor : Élise Rigot
Soundtrack : Epliglottis - Tranquility, Radio Phaune - Metamorphoses : Frog, Radio Phaune - Metamorphoses : Water, Robertina Šebjanič - Aquatocene, Cheryl E. Leonard - Confluences, Epliglottis - Yell, FountainPainPot, David Toop - Dry keys echo in the dark and humid early hours, Radio Phaune - Metamorphoses : Starfish .
Picture : Lumanter Phusagrion © Louis Bec, D.R., excerpt
First broadcast : Radio <FMR>, Toulouse, France, June 9th 2020, 9h AM