But stop for a second. In the 4.5 billion years that the earth – a coagulation of particles following the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago – has existed, seventy millennia of human progress is nothing. An analogy might help: if the creation of universe were a 24-hour clock, human life occurs at 23:58:43. For such a tiny fragment of time, humanity’s achievements are undeniably remarkable – but the flipside of all this progress? With knowledge comes realisation, and responsibility begins to weigh on 7.53 billion shoulders. The fact that we hold the Earth's future in our greedy fists is a revelation that is only just beginning to seep into political, social and individual consciousness – and at a rate slower than the icecaps are melting at that. For years, scientists have been screaming that we urgently need to give back to our planet; to the mother from whom we were born and who has nurtured us, even as humankind has pillaged her resources. We’re still wilfully blind to the consequences of our actions – sure, landfills are bad, but have you seen my new trainers?
It’s an ecological and social reality that Camille Henrot is all too conscious of. In her work, mapping out the past reveals anxiety over an uncertain future. Henrot’s audio-visual installation (Grosse Fatigue, 2013, one of more than 20 in the exhibition) appears suddenly in the velvety darkness of 180 The Strand, the bright light of the screen a shock after the black of sinuous corridors. Through a series of film clips, Henrot questions humanity’s future by means of a methodical, almost obsessive, diving into the past. Darwinian in its attention to minutiae, Grosse Fatigue shows snapshots of biological specimens and trays of taxidermy that are drawn from the highly organised catalogue of institutions and museums. Henrot’s residency at the Smithsonian is brought into sharp focus as parrot feathers, butterflies and bones are displayed, examined and then returned to their carefully archived existence. The message is clear: these physical, inanimate and meticulously labelled systems of knowledge are capable of recording only a fragment, a singular facet of life’s prism. We’ve been complacent in our cataloguing, as though to label something is to solve it.