Welcome to the chronological 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 the artifacts chronologically. Instead of ordering each artifact according to the date when it was made, we decided to organize them according to a temporal imagination. Chronology, as we imagined it, is not simply biographical information about an artifact: it is how the artifact imagines its position in time.

Based on this framework, we identified three categories: artifacts facing backwards to reimagine the past, those trying to shape the present, and those facing an imagined future. The chronological spectrum ran from the artifact looking into the deepest past to the one looking into the furthest future. This mapping does not rely only on overt mentions of pasts or futures; it is structured on the implicit understandings of time built into each artifact.

The artifacts identified as primarily occupied with imagining a deep past began with From Magma to Mankind and Borealopelta. Both artifacts are attempts to discover and theorize an ancient kinship network for present-day humans. With Banff Merman and Matter Transformed, each artifact combines natural elements and fictional narrative to create a meaningful and more recent history for people today. At Ghost Forests, the spectrum turns to the present: it represents our current moment as people watch climate change affect the landscapes they know well–in effect, watching the present become the past. Puritan Watch is also occupied with the present, though the watch itself was made around 1630. Its makers saw present time as something the watch wearer could control, using the hours each day for virtuous behavior that would secure them a future in heaven. From there, the spectrum shifts to the future. The myth-making that accompanied the Trinity Nuclear test emphasized the bomb and nuclear energy as the end of one time in history and the beginning of another characterized by accelerating scientific progress and industrial growth. This argument about the future continues in @I_sodope_’s view of the future merits of nuclear energy. Post-Natural History continues this meditation on technology’s role in moving from a before-time to an after-time in the anthropocene. Finally, The Golden Record is profoundly invested in imagining a deep future, in the company of unknown others from outer space.

What arguments about time are being made through different artifacts/texts? When is time an explicit category and when is it invisible?