Welcome to the geometric 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.

In this pathway, we were free to arrange the artifacts in any manner. We started by examining each artifact and allowing their qualities to prompt discussion. This method drew us to the subject of rituals. Rituals include a variety of meaningful events and social formations, including in the digital sphere. Though they are flexible and varied processes, rituals do have something in common: they create kin-like attachments between the entities involved, which includes people, deities, and sometimes other species. This pathway therefore organizes artifacts based on how each one ritualizes kin-making: is it through creation or destruction, doing or undoing?

The loose geometric pattern emerged after we identified a basic grid in which “DOING” and “UNDOING” form the vertical access and “DESTRUCTION” and “CREATION” form the horizontal one. Destruction is not always bad: certain types of “undoing” productively open up new ways to think about each other and our world. Likewise, “doing” is not always good. The artifacts at the top of the vertical axis (DOING) are forms of surveillance–a type of ‘god’s eye view’–that imposes meaning on others (Colonial Gaze) and constrains their actions (DNA Surveillance). Moving down the axis toward UNDOING, the artifacts begin to loosen these constraints as prophets and gods guide us away from human hubris (Diviner/Watcher, Portraits, She Unnames Them). Moving horizontally toward DESTRUCTION, we find protests that emerge from violence (Digital Rituals#BLM, Suppression of the Courses), along with performances or narratives that seek to destroy inherited truths (Couple in Cage, Post Natural). Moving horizontally toward CREATION, the artifacts emphasize new types of kin with plants, magma, animals, and dinosaurs.

Since TERA acknowledges a debt to mainstream science, while also creating space for other types of expertise, we bookended the pathway with two well-known scientists from the United States, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and astronomer Carl Sagan, each of whom speaks in a prophetic voice about possibilities for kin in world-making endeavors–the atomic bomb (DESTRUCTION) and space exploration (CREATION).

Would you arrange the artifacts differently based on their kin-making capabilities? Could you arrange artifacts according to the feelings they generate in ritual moments? If the geometric pattern is flipped or rotated, does it affect the patterns that emerge?TERA-Elonda-Clay-Geometric.mp3