Hi Harri, thanks so much for offering to do an interview for Wunderkammer. I recently did a post on your series "The Dodo and Mauritius Island: Imaginary Encounters." I wonder if you'd tell us a little bit about your experience creating that series, which you worked on for several years. Have you had a long standing interest in the dodo? Dodos are definitely enigmatic and fascinating creatures, but could you tell us what in particular drew you to use them as a subject for your photographs?
As a child, I was fascinated with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Many years later I reread it, and I found the dodo to be a great character. I couldn’t help laughing when I looked at it - somehow it was hard to believe that there had been something like the dodo really out in the world at one point. I became fascinated with the idea of actually building dodo models and seeing how they would look in the real world. In order to be able make work of the extinct dodo birds in modern Mauritius Island landscape I needed to use photography to reinvent the past. “The Dodo and Mauritius Island, Imaginary Encounters”, is a reconstruction and photographic study of the long extinct dodo bird. Based on extensive research, I produced life-size sculptural reconstructions of the bird myself. The project culminated in photographic reconstructions of the dodo bird made with the models in their natural habitat of Mauritius Island. I created my photographic work in the very same locations where dodos went about their daily activities. The resulting photographic work is a visual interpretation of the dodos in the actual locations where they once lived — an imaginary encounter between the viewer and the dodos on Mauritius Island. I also wanted to recreate the kind of moments that must have occurred when the settlers arrived and the birds encountering people for the first time. My idea was not so much to create a scientific reconstruction of the birds, but instead to somehow put the Alice in Wonderland dodo, a character that is faithful to it’s appearances in art history, in the landscape on Mauritius Island — to create a character that is part myth and part real.
Narrative and fantasy play a strong role in your work. This is true in my own work as well, and I believe holds true for many other artists making work about the natural world. I think that this may in part be due to a cultural longing to reconnect with something that we have lost. Do you have any insight to offer on the co-mingling of dreams and desires with a contemporary look at human beings' relationship to nature --- in your own work, or in general?
From the point of view of geological deep time the whole foundation of modern human culture, the oversized brain resulting in conscience intelligence is a freak accident. The final realization for the importance and place of human culture in the natural world is that we are not supposed to be here. From the perspective of life as such on this planet humans are not important. Humans are not highest possible outcome of billions of years of evolution rather a tiny accidental side path in a vast tree of life. Ever since Copernicus started to put humans in their place telling that earth is not the center of the universe, followed by Charles Darwin telling us how closely related we are with the rest of the animal kingdom, not separate, not special, not above, humans are having harder time to keep the idea of human superiority over nature together. As science is continuing to open new perspectives to the world humans become more and more aware how closely integrated we are with the nature regardless of all the efforts to distance ourselves from the rest of the Animal kingdom. A good example is the fact that one quarter of our body weight is consisting of bacteria. Bacteria has been around over 3.5 billion years on this planet, humans as species have been around about 200 000 years or so. Bacteria will be around just fine after human culture has expired itself. Life on this planet will be just fine.
Your work seems to me to be reverent of the natural world while simultaneously taking a tongue-in-cheek view. Your Lepidoptera Portraits show us a surprising and sometimes funny beauty hidden in some of nature's overlooked creatures, while the dodo series humorously and touchingly elaborates on a creature lost from the world due to human actions. Through these strategies of beauty and wit, one thing your work deals with is the way that we humans look at and relate to nature. Why do you think that this has become a major theme in your work? Following from this theme, do you consider your work to be addressing environmental issues?
Like I said above I don't see humans separate in any way from the rest of the nature. I feel like the term environmental is used in somewhat misleading context. I feel like the term environmental is referring to the age old idea of humans being separate from nature somehow exploiting the resources from a distance, Us (humans) and them (nature). The fact is that we are digging a hole for ourselves as well. The fact that humans are a species who created enough nuclear weapons to end most life as we know it on this planet, including ourselves, is our most extreme environmental (un)achievement. The accelerating technological progress is putting even more responsibility into human hands with the budding new Bio, A.I. and Nano technologies. The next phase of potential disaster creating technologies is very near with self replicating nanorobots, maybe resulting in so called "Grey Goo" scenario where uncontrollably reproducing tiny nano entities consume all organic matter stopping only where gravity holds them down. Or perhaps the whole planet is just going to disappear in a black hole created by the Large Hadron collider when it is put to work later this summer in CERN. I am fascinated what a bizarre world humans have created and disturbed how much diverse life is discarded everyday to make room for the needs of the ever expanding human population.
Thanks so much for your time Harri, I appreciate you giving us greater insight into your views and work. Harri Kallio's website can be seen at: http://www.harrikallio.com
I agree with Harri about the pervasiveness of the idea of a hard line existing between human beings and the rest of the natural world, and I also agree that it's getting harder to defend this viewpoint. I'm not sure that this is an idea that people will want to let go of gracefully, however, despite that fact that there is definitely a wide-spread damaging effect that framing our relations with our environment as "human vs nature" does to the integrity and usefulness of many disciplines: economics, philosophy, policy-making, and certainly to environmentalism. I don't believe that this dualistic point of view can be backed up by an objective scientific view of the world and evolution. It is a view based on a long cultural history of treatises on human superiority and domination over nature --- and it's about time, in my opinion, for it this self-aggrandizing and destructive idea to "go the way of all things" (i.e. expire).
Certainly, we humans are special in many ways, but a rain forest ecosystem can be seen to be equally complex and wonderful. Moreover, how would our existence as a species and culture(s) be severely maligned if we let this destructive mentality of nature "for use value only" progress to it's inevitable end? To me this 'dividing line' is more truly a fuzzy and nebulous time-line of progressive evolutionary change made up of beneficial mutations and the selection for those traits --- not unlike the gradation between the great apes and monkeys. While we are different from other animals in certain respects (though not as many as people may think) --- we, and the world we create, is in some fundamental way still to be considered as a part of this continuity of Darwinian selection, like all other life on this planet. To quote Jared Diamond from the opening of his book The Third Chimpanzee :
"It's obvious that humans are unlike all animals. It's also obvious that we're a species of big mammal, down the the minutest details of our anatomy and our molecules. That contradiction is the most fascinating feature of the human species."...a contradiction that certainly bears more elaboration and investigation --- one thing that art-makers are very good at.