The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has, for many years, produced and maintained a “Red List” of species which are either already extinct or in danger of being lost. The list currently includes some 28,000 species, not counting the thousands more likely lost before we even know that they’re there. The current extinction rate, it's suggested, is up to 1,000 times higher than “average”; we’re in the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history.
Simply-focused, undoubtedly sincere, and at least superficially impactful, Vigil is ultimately an extended exercise in awareness raising.
Bristol-based Mechanimal’s new production, Vigil, is a cry for attention, a protest, and act of remembrance in anticipation of an all-too-possible ecological collapse. Performed and directed by Tom Bailey, it’s main visual feature is the projection of names from the Red List on a massive screen in an otherwise empty space. African Wedgefish, Purple Marsh Crab, Pecatonica River Mayfly, each change accompanied by the crack of a projector changing slide, although equally it could be the firing of a gun: Mediterranean Pillow Coral, Spiny Dwarf Mantis, Delicatessen Salamander. There’s an unexpected poetry in some of the names.
Bailey, initially sat on a clear perspex box filled with animal bones, watching the names, eventually rises and starts moving around the room in an attempt to “impersonate” the listed species as best he can, although on occasions the staccato of names changes too fast for him to keep up. Later, he scatters the bones across the floor, in frustration and horror: “Everywhere I look, they’re disappearing,” he says. “All I see is their disappearance.” At one point, the soundtrack becomes that of the battlefield; is this suggesting humanity has, by its actions/inactions, declared war on life on Earth?
Simply-focused, undoubtedly sincere, and at least superficially impactful, Vigil is ultimately an extended exercise in awareness raising, but it suggests no solutions to combat the continuing growth of the IUCN Red List. Nor does it answer perhaps the most obvious issue: that planet Earth has already survived FIVE mass extinction events during its 4.5 billion year history. Doesn’t that mean there’s a good chance that life – though not necessarily human life – will ultimately survive?