My philosophy, which would eventually lead to drumming furiously on and slinging paint and sand wildly at canvases, began suddenly on a morning in April 1989 as I was walking up Fifth Avenue in NYC to my then-job as a photographer for Tiffany & Co. In the middle of 40th Street I had a realization (some might say a vision – others might say I was breathing too much exhaust): our species is acting as a terminating parasite on the life of our planet. I had to sit on the steps of NYPL, beneath Patience and Fortitude, and write things down – something I continued to do each morning for months.
Since that day I have often tried to imagine if it would even be possible for people to live in a non-destructive way, in complete non-harm to earth and life; using only that which replenishes or is returned in kind. With topsoil unencrusted, covered with vegetation. The lands, waters and air unpoisoned, and all species thriving. We are so very far from that now that the idea is almost impossible to imagine. It would be a very different way of life than the one we have developed – but I can’t help but feel that if we had started this way we could have produced a quite comfortable life for our species.
In 1989/90 I created a couple of books in very small numbers exploring the idea. One was a crude linocut (I cut the linoleum after hours in the Tiffany photo studio) edition of 25, sent to friends; the other was an edition of 200 printed offset. Very few survive. Of course the idea seemed totally primitive, as it was essentially restarting the human relationship to earth and life. Considering human intelligence, I felt these ways could have been developed over time to create a comfortable life for us, without the accompanying harms to the planet. Reluctantly, however, I have had to admit it seems our species is enthusiastically tackling what it may well be “designed” to do: take out life (including our own), acidify the oceans, change the climate and leave behind poison, radioactivity and a “reef” of hard materials.
The works of my series Revisions are painted on the pages of an old bible for emphasis, but believe me, I am far from being religious in any traditional “civilized” sense. If I worship anything it is simply the universe, our planet and all the life on it. I see organized religions as having been invented by various groups to justify our parasitic and unbalanced changes to our planet and its life. (A guy on a cloud told us “You are special! Feel free to take it all.”) Through these actions our species brings about the massive extinction currently underway. This tendency of mankind has become more acute with the current political situation in the US and around the world.
It is my opinion that current human intelligence, activities and beliefs prescribe extra-basic comfort to individuals, groups of people and our species at the expense, not just of other people, but of life and earth itself. Considering these things, it has been my feeling that homo sapiens might alternatively have started off by asking what I call “The Question” prior to undertaking every daily action, and judging whether to continue by the answer. The Question being: “Does this action harm Earth and life?”
I feel that we would probably have created a quite comfortable (though quite different) lifestyle for our species over time within The Question. However, we have not followed that course, nor does it appear likely that we will metamorphose to such a lifestyle before we lethally damage the current ecosystem of our planet. Indeed, this seems to have already happened. Any banker will be happy to explain the end results of endless withdrawals with no matching deposits.
Still, I could be wrong and we could move toward and into balance. Perhaps we are caterpillars munching away before becoming butterflies. With oversize brains like ours, we could easily visualize a species restart in non-harm to the planet, and then through stages virtually advance the philosophy to our time. Tools of imbalance, while they exist, could be used to shortcut a return toward balance.
I am fully aware of the strife and intense harms coming from groups of people overwhelming others. At the other extreme there have definitely been those groups who walked much more lightly on the planet than others. But to me it seems that given the opportunity and without the guidance of something like the Question, all branches of our species will proclaim themselves “special” and take from Earth and life to the limit of their ability. And human ability has consistently been shown to be lethally extreme across the board. I feel at this time that the only recourse for our species to continue for more than a very short additional time is to suddenly understand and embrace the Question, or something like it. It would have to be species-wide and immediate. I have extreme doubts, to say the least. We arose in the blink of a geologic eye and, as is becoming more and more likely, will be gone in the same.
In any event, eventually we will all be contained in a thin line in the sandstone. La suerte. It is our destiny. See you there.