Cultural Activism Ontological Politics Requiem for a Passing Age

A Modern Caterpillar reflecting on its metamorphosis

Last year, I contributed to an online festival. What an incredible movement to be part of: to reimagine what the future holds and what it means to be a human being.

But somehow as the days unfolded and the workshops took place I found myself more and more disturbed without quite knowing why. I was witnessing a strange collage taking place before me, like Dada 2.0. I held back my skepticism and powered forward with my faith while a dystopian picture arose. Many others seemed satisfied, clapping and smiling. I wondered “Am I the only one who sees the horror of these futures imagined before me? There is nothing new in the vision of what is possible for humanity, it just looks like bad sci-fi, a mindless recomposition with no real conscious direction”.

A discomfort burned in me where both my heart and mind was telling me something was off. I was invited to read a piece of poetry generated by a robot and my “looking good and people pleasing” took over me and I accepted. As I read the piece of poetry breathing into it every bit of life in me so that it may sound alive, my heart broke. I was complicit in a deep tendency in modernity: the desire to outsource our humanity to AI and avoid taking responsibility for our consciousness. 

I cried for two days. For me this issue is not an abstract game, I know that the life of many children, humans and other living beings depends on our capacity to reinvent ourselves. I naively believe that we would get it right in the first go, that we would start to imagine a different future, one worth transmitting as a legacy to my child.

But nothing revolutionary appears in one go. It is a fantasy to think we would come out of modernity with a clean cut, with a nice beginning, a good middle and a defined end. Forgetting that everything is in constant movement, that although there is the defined form of a caterpillar and the defined form of a butterfly the process in between is mysterious and that transformation works by the act of repetition.

So instead of being so harsh at the result of this first collective attempt to re-imagine the future, taking actions this way allows us to see where we are currently sitting. We are still in modernity because postmodernity is still modernity. We don’t know what the next thing is and what it really looks like. I do know that we won’t get there in one shot, that it will take many attempts, iterations, failure, reflection, completion and more actions to bring forth what the future is demanding of us. 

So maybe I am just a part of that modern caterpillar consciousness reflecting on its metamorphosis, disappointed to not yet be a butterfly and realising that transformation is a messy process. 

I am now clear that the future can not look like a Dada collage of narrative of what was known, that the new world is not born yet, and that it requires far more awareness.

I do know that it must integrate its past and transcend it, I do know that we must move forward into a holistic interconnectedness. I see new faith and spirituality will appear, ones that will transcend child-like narratives.

Finally, I also know that  if we don’t transcend modernity, humanity will dissolve with modernity. So I hope the modern caterpillar will not die before the end of the metamorphosis process and the as yet unnamed butterfly appears. 

Sylvie is exploring how we can nurture this metamorphosis in a new initiative entitled “Requiem for a Passing Age”. Find out more here

By Sylvie Shiwei Barbier

Sylvie Shiwei Barbier is an Artist and Co-founder of Life Itself