Plush volcanoes: triumph of the strange and curious

Source and conduit of telluric, chthonic creation and destruction, the volcano embodies the most fearful and exhilarating elements of the sublime for thinkers from Immanuel Kant to Anne Carson and everyone who falls between them. The volcano is nothing to toy with, which makes its taming into a cuddly plush plaything as strangely wonderful as it is.* 

The volcano, like the sea, represents the primordial and pre-human for the modern mind, existing prior to the formation of life on a young planet that is imagined as hostile and foreboding; a monstrous and fearful environment. A recent and worthwhile review of maps and monstrosity titled ‘Here be Monsters’ states that,

primordial monsters are hybrids defying nature. They belong to dark places, those underworlds under land and sea—volcanoes, ocean abysses—because they embody our lack of understanding, and mirror it in their savagery and disorderly, heterogeneous asymmetries of shape.

Another recent and worthy review titled 'Triumph of the Strange' riffs on the topics of wonder and curiosity and the resurgence of interest in odd polymaths such as Athanasius Kircher:

As museums were built for science and galleries for art, the curiosity cabinet went underground, resurfacing in 20th-century Surrealism... By the 1990s, curiosity cabinets resonated with the ambitions of interdisciplinarity in the humanities and, more specifically, the post-positivist turn in the history of science. If one no longer regarded the Wunderkammer as a bizarre pre-scientific foible, it became possible to ask what kind of epistemology it implied.

The plush volcano, then, is perhaps viewable as an interdisciplinary bit of surrealism in the commodified Amazon locker/cabinet of collections? The 'Triumph of the Strange' piece might give a more accurate description of its soft and squishy materiality as being more specifically that of,

"Untranscended materiality": this is how the anthropologist Peter Pels defines curiosities—as singularly unrepresentative things—things that almost point to other things, but ultimately only back at themselves, like the shapes in Roger Caillois's dreamily patterned stones...

To return to points brought out in the 'Here be Monsters' review, that which could be potentially dismissed as whimsy (Medieval cartographic sea monsters) or play (the lyric drama of Fishskin Trousers) is in fact indicative of a great deal more. Our envisioning of a primordially monstrous environment of the past is less fearful than that of a future bounded by environmental degradation and anthropogenic climate change. Our monstrous ignorance 'is no longer epistemological but ethical' and the true monstrosities of our high modern period are scientific overreach, cruelty, exclusion, and intolerance.


*This particular plush volcano comes with a set of resident dinosaurs who live in caves at the base of what appears to be an andesitic stratovolcano. While a dinosaur is a thing of wonder and fright, monstrous in form and size,  the volcano is more powerful than the dinosaur [though do see this app for some pterodactyl comeuppance].


2013-12-12 plush volcano.JPG

A particularly Earthly amalgam

Archaeology relies on fragments and hints and nuances we lump into the category of ‘data’ in order to create narratives of how life and the planet intersected in the past.

A computer model built by researchers at the Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin is pushing the gaze back substantially farther than an archaeologist can, though, to produce results that are speculative and striking.*

The model runs a ‘dead-Earth’ hypothetical context in which life – algae, lichen, and bacteria in the early case – never formed. In a ‘live-Earth’ setting, the life that became us does germinate.  All goes identically in the models when they start 4 billion years ago; by 2.5 billion years ago the early continental plates rise above the ocean in both cases. This is where things get really interesting.

In the live-Earth model the life forms ‘colonise the new land, erode it and dump masses of sediment into the ocean’ where it is subducted and then ejected to the surface in volcanic eruptions. The live-Earth becomes the one we know with roughly 40% of the planet covered in continental land.

The dead-Earth, with a dry mantle and little continental crust creation, would have been a global ocean punctuated by volcanoes. It would have been a true Waterworld, minus Kevin Costner’s Mariner.  

A great deal of environmental literature speaks of a hypothetical pristine Nature that never actually existed. What makes the results of the 'live-earth' model so fascinating is the concept that even the deepest, most inner core of the Earth potentially co-evolved with the life that the planet supports, ourselves being part of that life. We are all tangled, in essence, into a matrix that includes stone, water, plant, animal, and human to form a particularly Earthly amalgam. Geosphere and biosphere unite in the messy time of the Anthropocene.

*A hat tip to Chris Rowan @Allochthonous , whose tweet alerted me to this article I might have otherwise missed. If you don't read his blog, Highly Allochthonous, it's worth doing. 

'Deliberation' by Mario Sanchez Nevado www.aegis-strife.net   

'Deliberation' by Mario Sanchez Nevado www.aegis-strife.net 

clouds of artificial nature

The nature:culture binary admix of an 'artificial' 2013 ash cloud made up of ‘natural’ 2010 Eyjafjallajökull ash is delightfully tangled in all the best ways. Experimentation and prediction are all we have, as humans, to try and understand earth processes. When Katla or Hekla do break out of dormancy, though, rather than hope for a fully predictable eruption cycle it does make a great deal of sense for airlines to have the ash cloud radar described in this release.


photo credit: Jon Gustafsson/AP

photo credit: Jon Gustafsson/AP

life in the steaming maw

really, that was just a place holder title. I'm just trying out the push function to tumblr.... I will start adding to this blog in earnest with time. I thought this goat, which I shot in the mists and wafting sulfur gases of Iceland, was a nice way to start....

photo credit: Karen Holmberg

photo credit: Karen Holmberg