THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

CRYOGENIC FREEZER DEPOSIT BOX

photo of a cryobox

In the midst of declarations of an Anthropocene era marked in part by massive species extinctions, the nature and role of the biological archive are shifting. Today, rather than display wondrous objects in curio cabinets or taxidermied animals in dioramas as if to give them immortal life (Poliquin 2012), scientists are more likely to bank blood samples, DNA, and stem cells in cryogenic freezers. These animal specimens are extracted not only from their natural habitats, but also from their embodied forms. The reductionist abstraction of life to its constituent parts creates an opening for its manipulation according to engineering principles (cf., Brand 2009). Archives not only encapsulate longing for the past, but also condition the future. What might emerge from "frozen zoos"? Will re-animated wooly mammoths bend prehistory into the present, shattering the finitude of mortality? Might genetically spliced chimeras like Margaret Atwood's "rakunks" (2003) emerge as living twenty-first century mermaids or jackalopes that refold evolutionary histories? If natural history cabinets generated curiosity because of the unusual objects put into the archive, cryofreezers generate curiosity - as well as significant ethical and political questions about our desire to play god and the future worlds we seek to create - because of the possibilities of what might emerge.

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