Historians have long appreciated the cultural necessity of gathering oral testimonies about the past from those who experienced it while we still have the chance. Brooklyn-based artist Rachel Sussman has spent 10 years applying this same principle to the natural world, and the fruits of her extraordinary labours have now been published in a stunning new book. The Oldest Living Things In The World is exactly what it sounds like; a photographic documentation of 30 of our planet’s most enduring natural phenomena; featuring lichens and shrubs, fungi, coral and Apsen trees all of which have been around for more than 2,000 years (and in the case of the Apsen trees, a mind boggling 80,000 years).
In the trailer below, Rachel says: “The work spans disciplines, continents and millennia. It’s art and science, has an innate environmentalism and is underscored by an existential joinery into deep time.” What’s great about it is that the photographs themselves are terrific, impressive enough before you delve deeper and discover the jaw-dropping truth behind the subjects. Essays from Hans Ulrich Obrist and Carl Zimmer contextualise Rachel’s work in the broader artistic and scientific themes on which it is built.
And naturally the project raises certain questions about our attitude to the world around us, and our responsibilities as its fleeting custodians.