Vanesa Cvahte

On the Existence, Disappearance and Saving of the Species

In his video installation, Kracina has "revived" the extinct Tasmanian wolf THYLACINUS CYNOCEPHALUS (by way of editing a 16-second television recording, he virtually prolonged the wolf's life to a few minutes on the monitor), thereby archiving it for future generations of mankind. Of all his works, which almost exclusively deal with problems concerning animals (the extinction, extermination, exploitation, fetishisation, and manipulability of animals), this is the one that urges me most to deal with eco-philosophical questions: in general, we consider the extinction of a biological species something deplorable, but this feeling is far from answering the question why this should be the case.

It is tempting, and also plausible, to start out from an approach which is only oriented towards man's own interests according to which other species are seen as instrumental goods which are there to serve man's interests. From this point of view, it does not seem to be so tragic altogether if one species becomes extinct while various others that are "biologically close" to it live on. Furthermore, given the current state of bio-molecular development, man now even has the potential to "raise a species from the dead" - be it in an entirely synthetic way, by means of genetic engineering, or through the storage of deep-frozen genetic material. The extinction of a species would therefore not be final in any way.
But we may, and have to, go further than this: by applying the idea of value, since species not only have a purely instrumental value - for man -, but they are also valuable per se. It would be too simple to deny nature any value of its own and to solely attribute a value to it from the perspective of human desires, thereby denying any other species the intrinsic value we claim for our, i.e. the human, species. We might call these values metaphysical in the sense that they refer to the innermost part of existing things, to their "raison d'?tre."

In his reflections on being, man tends to classify being - not only in relation to himself (in an anthropocentric way), but also in relation to being as such. This necessarily influences the way man acts and deals with being: being (and therefore also the species) is normatively devided into priority levels. This reminds me of Aristotle: in physics, he admittedly orders the types of things being in successive grades, but he also attributes to every type of thing a usefulness of its own, ranging from the biggest to the smallest, from the "highest" to the "lowest" of things. This Aristotelian approach is to be found again in Saint Thomas Aquinas: "Although in absolute terms, an angel is better than a stone, two natures are nevertheless better than just one, and this is why a universe containing angels and other things is better than a universe containing angels only." In this sense, the disappearance of certain animal species is a loss within the "universe according to Aquinas", a deterioration in the world's diversity, and in the diversity of the values of being.

One does not exactly have to be interested in metaphysics to understand what Kracina tells us, among other things, through his longstanding preoccupation with different (extinct, endangered, fetishised, tormented or "just" existing) species of animals: The existential values of the various types of animals are neither to be defined along aesthetic lines (inasmuch as these might e.g. have to do with creating "pleasure" in contemplation, as has been true for some products of art), nor along moral lines (inasmuch as they are directly connected to the evaluation of human actions), nor are they to be seen from a purely pragmatic point of view (inasmuch as they relate to use, consumption or "pleasure"). They concern the pure existence of animal species themselves, not necessarily just the area of human purposes and interests.

Vanesa Cvahte