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Hypnerotomachia Naturae – an architecture for the Chthulucene 


The Sphinx, monster of Greek mythology; Groot, humanoid tree trunk by Marvel Comics; C-3PO, the humanoid robot brought into “our” world by the authors of Star Wars; Arcman, a super hero created by students of the Faculty of Architecture of Innsbruck as part of a studio at the department for architecturaltheory; as well as the winged eye (a symbol used by man and women, including Alberti) are the only “creatures” with humanlike traits featured in Hypnerotomachia Naturae. Despite those, the only “natural” living beings are the animals on the base, carrying the planet earth on their back, and possibly the coral-like structure that encompasses all. The term "natural" is in quotation marks because at the end of this text it hopefully becomes evident that here the boundaries between artificial and natural can no longer be clearly defined.


Hypnerotomachia Naturae is a vertical world without humankind. It imagines a world beyond the Anthropocene or Capitalocene – a world where the borders between human and animal, and human and machine vanish. It is the embodiment of an era that Donna Haraway calls the Chthulucene: the era of the non-human. An era for creatures and species other than human beings. It describes an era that for a very long time does not focus on the human and its impact on the planet earth. The scenario is inspired by numerous science fiction novels in which extra-terrestrial forms of live inherent god-like power. Haraway tunnels the Chthulucene in her theory. She is interested in the spaces of it and how different forms of live – figures of symbiosis, natural or artificial – survive within it. [1]


The Sphinx, a figure from the Greek mythology, killed numerous unknowing men with her riddle. Daughter of Typhon and Echidna, with a body of a lion, a tale of a snake, wings of an eagle and the head of a women, was send by Hera to Theben as a punishment for its citizens. Her seemingly unsolvable riddle cost the lives of many men and – as well-known – only the heroic Oedipus could defeat her. The myth of this female monster haunted humans till Romanticism, if not even today. This uncanny figure appeared already 429 BC, and yet – as one of the oldest examples of symbiosis between human and animal – it could not be more contemporary if not even futuristic, today. 


Uncanny, a term introduced by Sigmund Freud about a hundred years ago, was picked up by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori to describe human-like machines, who frighten us because of their intriguing resemblance with us as human beings[2]– such as C-3PO does. C-3PO is not a cyborg, it does not inherent biological material, it is through and through machine, and yet it has not only the appearance of a person, but also adopts human-like behaviour. However, Hypnerotomachia Natura does not only take up the connections between human/animal, human/machine, but goes one step further and depicts an example from pop culture in which human and plant amalgamate and integrates Groot, an extra-terrestrial tree trunk with human features, including feelings and the ability to express those.


At first sight it appears as if those outlined beings were embedded in “true” nature. But what gives the impression of corals may be more than “just that”. The white concrete-marble surface of Hypnerotomachia Naturaeallows only speculations. 

To stay in Donna Haraway´s theory it could be akin to the Crochet Coral Reef Projectby Christine and Margaret Wertheim, which is – according to her – a form of Chthulucene activism. Furthermore, it could also be derived from the bio-art project An Ecosystem of Excess by Einar Yoldas, who broached the issue of the transformation of the ecosystems of the oceans, triggered by the consequences of capitalism. Natural and artificial components cannot be distinguished anymore, and new forms of life, such as Stomaximus, arise. The artwork Stomaximusappears to look like a coral but has the unique ability to metabolize plastic.[3]


On the other hand, it could be a tribute to what it looks like at first glance: a coral, one of climate catastrophe´s greatest victims. 


Anyway, Hypnerotomachia Naturaecan be read as anatura naturansamong the protagonists of the Chthulucene, celebrating a world transcending the one of humankinds, turning the structure into an architecture after the Capitalocene.




[1] Cf. Haraway, Donna (2016) Making Oddkin in the Chthulucene. Lecture in the Anthropocene Consortium Seriesby the Evergreen State College. Available at: 29.08.2019)

[2] MAK (2019) Uncanny Values: Künstliche Intelligenz & Du. Available at: 29.08.2019) 

[3] Reichle Ingeborg (2019) `Bio-Art: Die Kunst für das 21. Jahrhundert`, Kunstforum International, 258 (Jan.- Feb. 2019), pp. 86-95.

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