Symbiotic Encounters at Treehouse in Amsterdam

We are all familiar with the nuclear explosion; the tidal wave that sweeps away the city. Fire and flood; unbreathable air; a distant sky blocked by looming mushroom cloud; these are the accepted images of the end of the world. When we picture it, we do not think of the subtle but irrevocable destruction that is taking place, the countless species that are slipping into extinction every year, the fact that there are many human populations who already live among ruins. This, crudely summarised, is the idea behind Lullaby for a Slow Apocalypse, a musical artwork performed by Show Pony at Treehouse’s recent two-day festival, Symbiotic Encounters. 

Speaking to Laura Nygren after her performance (the singer and co-writer, along with Tatiana Rosa, of the piece), I was told that her inspiration came from a reading of Katrina Sidarova’s essay A Slow Apocalypse, which argues that, ‘The apocalypse has turned out to be of a different kind than has been predicted. This apocalypse is not sudden and unforgiving, but slow and trackable.’ Show Pony attempts to capture this realisation in its music which combines Ms Nygren’s double-bass with the harp of Beate Loosntra plus a small army of wind-chimes. Prior to performing her final song, she handed out some of these ceramic chimes to members of the audience with the instruction to strike the instruments as forcefully as they could. Nygren’s voice – jumping up and down in both volume and pitch – seemed to deliberately mimic the volatility of the surrounding instruments, so that there was a wonderful uneasiness to the music. 

Artworks addressing the climate crisis tend to have an accusatory tone to them: look at how hideous we are, how profoundly we have perverted our environments. The entire human race is herded into one tent, as if an impoverished child in Bangladesh and the chief executive of a major oil company somehow deserve equal blame for the melting of the polar icecaps. Part of the point of Sidarova’s essay is that when contemplating the apocalypse, we focus too much on humans. She writes: ‘even in the wildest sci-fi fantasies it is hard to imagine relating to a non-human species, admitting their right to be themselves.’ This concern is again reflected in Lullaby for a Slow Apocalypse. In the song Zoo, Laura Nygren tunnels back into the prehistoric world, adopting the perspective of the first organisms to emerge from lava. I cannot think of the last time I saw an artwork so conceptually ambitious, so formally arresting.    Jacob John Shale   16th October 2022

 

Lullaby for a Slow Apocalypse was a collaboration between Tatiana Rosa, Simon van Steenis and No Compliments. It was sponsored by Amsterdam Funds for the Arts (AFK).

Symbiotic Encounters was a two-day art festival consisting of eight performances conceived by Treehouse’s international artists-in-residence specially for the event, as well as an exhibition and an evening of live music.