Welcome to the chromatological pathway

You identified the item we have called as and selected the question:

There is no right answer to this question. Maybe you already knew that. Each theme on this website—technology, ecology, religion, and art—is a socially constructed category. All four themes intersect. They are unstable, emergent, and creative.

Complexity can be difficult so we often simplify information by sorting it into familiar categories. For instance, the academic study of religion was built on the categories of sacred (religious) and profane (secular). The Periodic Table groups chemical elements into blocks with similar characteristics. The Dewey Decimal System organizes books according to pre-selected subjects. And in the natural sciences, Carl Linnaeus’ taxonomy subdivides living things based on morphology.

How we categorize the world matters. It structures how we create knowledge and make ethical decisions. Common categorical systems inherited from Europe and its settler colonies laid the groundwork for democratic states and legal human rights, along with new medicine and sciences. But these systems also ranked people along an evolutionary scale, obscured some forms of knowledge in favor of others, and encouraged a division between humanity and nature.

As scholars and artists in the TERA collective, we wanted to experiment with new organizational systems. Together, we asked: What if we refuse to accept inherited classifications as natural? What if we become knowledge makers and shapers? What if we organize our world differently?

Over a year, we gathered dozens of “artifacts” related to technology, ecology, religion, and art. We included all manner of things: texts, recordings, photos, and objects. Then we mapped our artifacts to classify them in new ways. And then we did it again. And again. Those experiments inspired the pathways that structure this site.

We invite you to think along with us.

Follow one attempt at reclassifying through the pathway by clicking here. Or you use the button below to learn more about the pathway.

This pathway began with a prompt to organize artifacts based on color. It immediately presented a difficulty: the artifacts were represented by black-and-white print outs. As a result, we pivoted away from arranging each artifact according to its colour and instead began to think more broadly about the colour wheel.

An abstract representation of the relationship between colours, the wheel is organized according to hue as a way to clarify the interaction between what are often called primary, secondary, and tertiary colours. This method of organizing is another form of taxonomy, though we may not often think of it as such. The wheel inspires us to recognize porous boundaries–how colours (or artifacts) blend into one another. It also leads to a circular arrangement–a shape often missing in scientific taxonomies dominated by the vertical/horizontal lines of the “tree” or graph.

The wheel’s spokes are categories that run through the center of the wheel to emerge on the other side. A primary spoke is HUMAN/NON-HUMAN. Another spoke runs from ENERGY to CATASTROPHE. Artifacts related to coal, oil, and big data define one end, while their afterlives define the other. Sometimes the link between energy usage and ecological catastrophe is obvious, such as the connection from OIl Relics to Unbearable. A fifth spoke is “BODIES,” emphasizing human bodies on one axis and carrying through to our relations with non-human bodies. There is also a blank axis, which invites viewers to add their own theme.

Many artifacts could have been the wheel’s hub so the selection of those closest to the center is somewhat arbitrary, however we viewed artifacts nearer to the center as more clearly entangled with the other radial lines. Specific artifacts aside, the center is a space of possibility where all the colours, and themes, meet and blend. One might think of it as a rainbow or as an abyss of total darkness: in art, black is the presence of all colours. At the convergence of darkness and possibility, new ideas flourish.

Could you arrange artifacts by colour if you could only see them in black and white? What would you place in the center of the colour wheel and on the blank spokes? Does it make a difference to think about taxonomies in wheels instead of trees or graphs?