Sodden from the waist down, breathless as the red queen, a weary Heraclitus is in the creek doing fieldwork. The brackish water courses past his thin legs, foaming against great rocks which will one day be pebbles, a blur.
For now, a young herring lays 30,000 eggs behind a rock to save them from hungry predators. Its genitals have recently grown to over a fifth of the animal’s total weight. The eggs sink to the riverbed, where they stick in layers or clumps to gravel, seaweed, or stones, by means of their mucous coating, or to any other objects on which they have a chance to settle. Soon, they will hatch into transparent larvae. Incubation time is about 40 days at 3 degrees Celcius, 15 days at 7 degrees, or 11 days at 10 degrees. Eggs die at temperatures above 19 degrees.
Michel Serres offers an image of homeorhesis: one always swims in the same river, one never sits down on the same bank. The flow of the river is not news, but the erosion of its shores that shapes the structure of its movement will inexorably alter the river and the life that surrounds it. Meanwhile, movements in other, distant flows will introduce levels of salinity intolerable to its plant communities, further deconstructing the fragile binds that hold this entity we call a river in its discreteness, temporally as well as spatially. Serres invokes kneading, folding, weaving, and braiding in his image of time, eschewing linearity for the reforming of relations through embryological involutions.
More than mere change, mutation is also a question of coming to terms with the loss of identity, species – whether political or genealogical – in terms fixed over the centuries by naturalists and statesmen in a war against the pollution from outside. Mutation, after all, is an »error« from the perspective of the gene, in which background noise overcomes the self-replication protocol, a failure in the persistence of structure that leads to speciation: sometimes at the sudden cost of a function, other times over a gradual genetic drift. There are multiple ways to slice up a structure, just as it takes many hands to build one up. Even in the era of genetic sequencing, species are curated and recategorized as taxonomists demur over the difference that makes a difference.
Lewontin’s Paradox, named after the American evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, describes the unexplained observation that while genetic diversity ought to increase with population size, this is not the case. While population sizes vary widely, the range of genetic diversity remains narrow. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in populations of Emiliania huxleyi, a microscopic phytoplankton that forms incalculably vast blooms covering more than 100,000 square kilometers, so populous as to be visible from space, owing to the reflective plates that cocoon its body. And yet, despite rapid mutation in such abundance, genetic variation amongst its populations is low, perhaps owing to selective sweep, the spread of a dominant mutation that »purifies« the genetic population in its wake. Along with its phytoplankton cousins, E. huxleyi accounts for more than half of global oxygen production, as well as the release of aerosols into the atmosphere, seeding
clouds over the oceans in which they bloom, reflecting solar radiation in the process. Half a century ago, it was this planetary metabolic role that partly inspired James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’s Gaia hypothesis, which proposed that the earth was a self-regulating, geobiophysical organism. Today, it remains little known how E. huxleyi will evolve under warming temperatures; over the past two decades, blooms have already drifted towards the poles. Earthly conditions continue to be shaped by its capacity to persist.
Ittah Yoda is an artist duo consisting of Kai Yoda and Virgile Ittah, living between Berlin, Paris, and Tokyo. Their practice combines traditional processes with digital technology as a vector for cross-cultural creative collaborations, with a focus on deep time, archaic heritages of humanity, and the collective unconscious.
Gary Zhexi Zhang is an artist interested in unstable knowledge. His forthcoming solo exhibition, The Long Run, explores operative fictions of land, nature and speculation, and will open at Bloc Projects and Arts Catalyst, Sheffield, in June