ecodao is very proud to present five works by the artist Wendi Yan, “Primordial Vision: 02021,” alongside an original essay Yan has written on the work. A speculative artist whose work often floats freely in liminal spaces between the organic and synthetic, science and science fiction, the utopian and dystopian—and occasionally the slimy and the sublime—Yan maps geographies of futuristic worlds in which the human has devolved into nature. Even that distinction may be a bit dubious, however, given the ways that Yan shows nature is, well, never quite natural itself.
Each of these pieces also holds a talismanic weight as the first ever released by ecodao, and as such, they’ll entitle holders to additional powers as well. Each will be a passport into the ecodao community that will offer owners the right to first purchase of ecodao’s token if they’re holding when ecodao decides to tokenize—pending, yes, legal confirmation and tokenization.
More immediately, each will also be a passport to ecodao’s first party, late-night on November 5th, at a secret location in Williamsburg DJed by BRUX. Once you’ve collected a work, you’ll just need to pull it up in your wallet at the door to get automatic admission. Just head to our Discord here when the work hits your wallet, and we’re excited to welcome you to our own little alternate universe—and, we hope, to meet next week.
Oh, and: when you collect, 50% will go to Yan, 25% will go to the Rainforest Foundation, which supports indigenous communities with land rights and reforestation to fight climate change, and 25% will go to ecodao to support events, art collection, tech development, and what we hope will be the first artist UBI—and first web3 museum. You can read more about our vision here.
With extreme gratitude for helping make ecodao what it is, and in the spirit of speculative futurism, for enabling it to be all it will be. — ecodao
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In elementary school, I tried to imagine myself as a goldfish.
What would it feel like to be a goldfish, with a few seconds of memory, no linguistic capabilities and maybe no specific mechanism to differentiate objects? Of course, I would never actually be able to imagine a goldfish's experience, but the thought experiment always took me to a visual field in my mind where the boundaries of “objects” dissolve, everything is alien to me, and I don’t even have a self-awareness to observe through.
Creating this series was in some way a form of invoking that state of existence—or rather that experience I call “primordial vision.” It is seeing before language, and even before distinguishing ‘things’ apart. What lies within this visual field is alien, unknowable and unknown—not least because there is not yet a power dynamic between the perceiver of the vision and what is perceived. There is a suspension, a gasp in our processing--
I started thinking and reading a lot about nature and biology this year. My initial exploration of olfactory arts and technologies shifted to reading about fungi, algae and alternative food systems—I began musing on a future of fungal technological systems—and to reading Donna Haraway and Timothy Morton. I started taking a bioengineering class. Recently I read about biofabrication and synthetic biology, and picked up A History of Biology.
Looking back, it was a logical reaction to the pandemic. After spending the majority of my waking hours clicking and typing in front of multiple screens for a year, I was ready to exercise my sensory muscles more dynamically and immerse myself in both nature and learning about nature.
Growing up in a city of 20 million people in China, I compartmentalized nature as either a “thing” outside the zone of human existence—like the mountains my dad would drive hours to take me to hike during the breaks—or the patches of carefully assorted trees and flowers in the fancier neighborhoods. It took me a while to realize that “nature” as I understood it was a concept constructed just a few centuries ago.
We are standing at the cusp of some paradigm shift with biology. So much of what biologists are doing in real life today, I, an artist, could not have imagined in my wildest mind. We can take a gene from a single-celled algae species to make a blind man see shapes. We can make xenobots that treat DNA as a cellular hardware implementing rewritable physiological software, which means genome editing isn’t the only way for programming species. We can 3D print tissues like brain organoids, from a real human cell, to test drugs on mini brain models for more precise medicine. There’s a new CAD software that scientists use to perform de novo whole-genome design of new cells from any species. Recently synthetic chemists and synthetic biologists worked together to create interactions that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.
The way I created Primordial Vision: 02021 was very much like a combination of alchemy and 3D printing. In the software, I layered images, gave them varied heights and roughness, mixed their colors and opacities, stacked them in specific orders, and added weathering or other natural effects. The result is these orbs, floating in a slightly tinted void that even I, the “creator”, don’t completely understand. I view them with the same fascination as an interested audience, perhaps just like how biologists today must feel about their own field.
Primordial Vision: 02021 is my intuitive imagination of future relationships amongst materials, regardless of their “alive-ness.” But more than that, I want to bring back a sense of magic. Before the 16th century, magic and science were very much the same. The “things” around us seemed to have some intrinsic nature that enchanted us precisely because we could not place it. Today, we linger in the vertigo from the naive illusion that we were close to knowing everything, which we briefly held a century or so ago. In a time when value has long decoupled from fact, we simultaneously suffer from being directionless, due to the lack of a guiding ethos, and having a dangerously singular direction, because of the technological determinism too many people in power hold.
Modern science brought us to an increasingly mechanistic view, with great precision, of our relationships with ourselves and the world around us. We’re now able to code genes and synthesize novel chemical reactions, which makes it all the more urgent for us to restore an organic understanding of technology. I’d like to quote the contemporary philosopher Byung-Chul Han: “It’s not objects but information that rules the living world. We no longer inhabit heaven and earth, but the Cloud and Google Earth.”
How do we live through rapidly evolving technologies and sciences, and thus constant updates to our model of the world, while retaining an organic view of the universe and remaining enchanted and awed? I find myself grappling with this question through all my intellectual and creative explorations this year.
When the framework of the Anthropocene was proposed in 2000, it made us urgently aware of our species’ capacity to significantly alter our environment that’s co-inhabited by countless other organisms. We seem to have immense power over nature. But the climate crisis is a crisis precisely because it poses a near-existential threat upon us: the power we felt was an illusion, and we are still very vulnerable within nature.
These days we talk, or joke, nervously, a lot about the end of the world. It doesn’t require a lot of technical knowledge to become acutely aware of the many ways in which we face near-existential or existential risks. The atomic bomb opened the first chapter of our serious thinking on extinction, though it seems a small harbinger of the risks we were yet to conceive. Thomas Moynihan, an Oxford historian of ideas, observed: “the discovery of human extinction may well yet prove to have been the very centrepiece of that unfolding and unfinished drama that we call modernity.”
While we are standing at the mesmerizing cusp of unlocking new understandings of the natural world in a degree of complexity and precision unimaginable to us not too long ago, we are also just beginning to live with the idea of our death. I use 02021 to denote this year in the work’s title, to hold a more expansive timeline of humanity. But more importantly, we need to collectively instill a long-term worldview that includes all sentient beings.
This is where artists come in, in cooperation with other thinkers: to reimagine a future encompassing the terrain past human sight and reason, a terrain that nevertheless already surrounds us on this earth. After all, so many crises come down to our models of what we are, and how we relate to other “things.” We are not ever gods, and we need to intentionally walk away from an instrumental view of nature as objects to tame, or manipulate, for our own enjoyment and survival.
Maybe you could look at these orbs as planets. Not as planets we will inhabit or that Earth will become. But as planets inhabited by some aliens that have different ways of moving and interacting with the substances around them. What is their nature, what is their technology, and what, frankly, is the difference? — Wendi Yan