Conference "Traces of Extinction: Species Loss, Solastalgia, and Semiotics of Recovery"  

June 5–7 2024
Oecologicum at the University of Tartu, Juhan Liivi 2, 50409 Tartu

European mink. Photo: Tiit Maran

The sixth mass species extinction is one of the greatest ecological threats of our time. This conference focuses on cultural, subjective and semiotic approaches to extinction. A subjective approach to extinction may raise the question of how we experience extinction in the shared lifeworld or semiosphere. At the same time, artistic research seems to open fresh perspectives in combining cultural creativity with environmental decline. Extinction also reduces biocultural diversity and the resilience of ecocultures. By taking a perspective through naturecultures and cultural-ecological systems, we treat extinction as the degradation of such combined systems. 

This perspective raises questions about cultural strategies that are effective in adapting to extinction, supporting endangered species, and overcoming trauma:

How is extinction perceived subjectively, both from the point of view of the dying species and the humans who witness it?
What cultural strategies can be used to raise awareness of extinction?
What means do individuals and communities have for reducing and avoiding species extinction? 

Keynote speakers

David B. Rothenberg (New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA)
Sonic Species Memory
Extinction in a world beyond mechanical reproduction

Someday soon everything may be saved as media while nothing in the wild survives. Let’s hope it doesn’t get that bad, but there are plenty of images and sounds saved of creatures that no longer walk this Earth or fly in these skies. Musicians and artists can easily make music together with these ‘extinct’ sounds. What happens when we conjure to life the solastalgic music of beings that no longer exist? Can such reconstitution of the missing help us save the nature that remains? With listening and exploring, let’s see if we can find out.

Linda Knight (RMIT University, Australia)
Mapping the multispecies cosmopolitics of extinction

Contemporary discourses on extinction pinpoint factors such as biodiversity loss, ecological breakdown, end times, ecocide, as well as conservation, cloning and cryogenics. Given the rich detail of this research, what can art practice bring to the subject of extinction, and how might artistic explorations be both a practice of investigation and learning as well as a mode for commentary and dissemination? 
Oma kunstipraktikas kaardistan ma ebaefektiivsusi, mida teostan joonistamise ja nõelumise kaudu. Kaalun erinevaid vaatenurki teiste liikide väljasuremisele  ning kuidas need teadmised ühiselt mõjutavad arusaamu ja ideid ohustatud ja ohustatud liikide kohta. Ma uurin, kuidas väljasuremist võiks käsitleda kosmopoliitiliste häirete kontseptsiooni kaudu, kui energia ja mateeria pidevuse õõnestamist, ning et pidevuse häirete puhul on tegemist kosmopoliitiliste protestiaktsioonidega või sellega, mida James D. Ingram (2013) kirjeldab kui “poliitilist tegevust altpoolt” (lk 258). Väljasuremistest kui kosmopoliitilistest õõnestustest mõtlemine kutsub üles uurima üleinimlikku kodanikuksolemist ja kodakondsust ning seda, kuidas mitmeliigilises kosmopoliitikas on tööl erinevad kodanikualgatused.

Mapping Extinction is a collection of works that references bodies of data to counter-map species loss across global contexts: the impacts of the Australian bushfires in 2019-2020 on native biodiversity loss, and the ongoing impacts of land clearing and development in the United Kingdom, on native wildlife. The big news stories of extinction, such as the ones covering the catastrophic Australian bushfires often focus on the loss of easily recognisable animals such as kangaroos and koalas. In Mapping Extinction my experimental approach does not attempt to represent Big Data statistics on extinction, rather, I counter-map the vulnerability of species lesser-known by the public to accentuate the plight of 'minor figures' of British and Australian native wildlife, including insects, reptiles, molluscs and small mammals. My examinations of multispecies civics maps the cultural politics and mainstream preferences for particular stories of extinctions, and how the continuity subversions of minor figures are a cosmopolitics at play.
Image: White-clawed crayfish / austropotamobius pallipes. 2023. Pencil on Arches. Linda Knight

The conference is organised by the Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu in cooperation with Cost Action “CA20134 - Traces as Research Agenda for Climate Change, Technology Studies, and Social Justice (TRACTS) and Nordic-Baltic Transdisciplinary Research-Creation Network.

The conference is funded by the Estonian Research Council’s grant PRG1504 “Meanings of endangered species in culture: ecology, semiotic modelling and reception.” Conference is part of the Creative Nature Festival programme organized by University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden and partners. The festival belongs to the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 programme and is supported by SA Tartu 2024.

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