I feel the need to share this rumination by San Juan, Puerto Rico-based artist, Nathan Budoff, on the intersections of our shared existence. [Don’t forget to check out Nathan Budoff’s blog and portfolio.] Here is “A Walk after Maria” (posted March 30, 2018).
i have been reading and thinking about the idea of intelligent life, and how we imagine it. One of the big questions is our own intelligence, the nature and limits of it. While we have proven able of understanding many aspects of our world an we have produced extraordinary objects, monuments and cultural works (think of music, literature, fashion), there is something disillusioning about our inability or unwillingness to confront injustice and to treat each other and our world better. Often this is ascribed to our animal being, to an instinctive, individualistic part of our selves, but I think that metaphor has proven false. Animals, and the natural world tends to be less brutal, less absolute in its destructiveness, than humanity. So I have thought about this question of the selfishness and shortsightedness of my species, and I have also thought of the nobility and mystery of life around us.
I don’t know much about cephalopods and octupuses, I think even researchers still have great lagunas in their knowledge. We can feel pretty sure that they have not built cities or written novels or composed symphonies (for that kind of activity we have to look to the whales). But they have an amazing way of being, dissimilar to our mammalian construction. The wild fluidity of their bodies, as the change form and color, the fact that the large quantity of neurons in their bodies are not unified in their brains but rather located through their arms as well, so that recognition and even cognition may not be centralized. All of this is connected to my very strong feeling that in our simple thinking we vastly underestimate the being who share this planet with us.
I will admit the influence of “Arrival,” and its portrayal of aliens as a variant of cephalopods, but at the same time, I have thought about this for many years, as I watched Star Trek and other science fiction productions–Why do we think all the aliens will look like people wearing masks? Why do we think they will walk on two or even four legs? Whey do we not spend more time talking with elephants, orangutans, ravens and octupuses?
This drawing is a casual conversation, some business man, not a biologist or an academic, on a stroll with this other intelligence. And they are walking by one of the curious, re-formed post-Hurricane trees that abound in Puerto Rico: trees that are vital and full of life but lacking branches. It doesn’t have to be an octopus, it certainly doesn’t have to be a businessman, but maybe it should be a lot more of us who appreciate, protect and spend time in the proximity of other species.