Maybe We Have Evolution All Wrong

The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens recently hosted a show titled Because We Are Together by the artist Mikhail Karikis. Among his several works featured was Children of the Unquiet,

a video installation realized in collaboration with children of former employees in the first geothermic power factory in the world built in 1904 and still functioning in Larderello, Tuscany. In the video, the children, guided by the artist, visit the ruins of an industrial village, abandoned after the automatization of the factory. By playing, reading together, and mostly singing, the children revitalize the space, giving form in an alternative version of the present perhaps where the village is still inhabited and the workers did not lose their jobs or their homes. In their song, the children imitate with their voices the sounds of the environment: the earth, the factory, insects, and steam.

During this inconspicuously powerful work of art, the children read excerpts from the book Commonwealth by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, including a passage about “certain orchids” that are pollinated by wasps. Bees more commonly fulfill this role thanks to a mutually beneficial relationship with the orchids. A variety of orchids, however, trick wasps into the task with flowers shaped like female wasp sex organs. That is, these flowers evolved over thousands of years to entice wasps into doing something that (to the degree they are conscious of it) seems in their best interest, but whose ultimate purpose is hidden from them AND in fact against their nature. Though the wasps do get something out of the process, they don’t produce anything of value.

The conflation of roles, the pollinators’ motives, the orchids’ deception, the value created or not created—these all go toward illustrating Hardt and Negri’s prescription for reimagining power relations in today’s world. Karikis having children read their work aloud puts another spin on this view.

Neither Karikis, nor Hardt and Negri, are interested in the orchid’s deception or the evolutionary steps needed to craft the deception so well. Art inspires questions beyond the artist’s control, however, and the mere mention of the orchids’ deception, given to us via Italian children reading in a second language, inspired some beauties.

What if we have our role in evolution all wrong? What if, perhaps, humanity has a relationship to the greater forces of nature that is similar to the relationship the wasps have to the orchids? Rather than being the world shapers we fret we’ve become, or the world conquerors the juveniles among us gloat about, maybe all of humanity is a pawn whose purpose and tasks not only eludes us but is unseeable and unknowable.

What if we evolved to fulfill a part in the universe, or even with this humble Earthly corner of it, that is beneficial to a purpose completely separate from us, and perhaps even at odds with our own future?