“Helping to change the world and how we relate to it”: The speculative design project impregnating the earth’s crust with genetically modified chicken remains
Approximately 60 billion chickens are killed every year leaving a trace of the Anthropocene behind. Nonhuman Nonsense tell us how this mind-boggling research developed into a speculative design project asking us to question our impact on the earth.
- Jyni Ong
- 3 November 2021
Imagine a world where all the chickens are genetically modified so their bones and feathers are coloured pink. This is the concept behind the Pink Chicken Project by the research-driven design and art studio Nonhuman Nonsense. Founded by the Berlin-based Linnea Våglund and Leo Fidjeland, the pair operate in the realms of speculative design and art to challenge our central systems in society. The Pink Chicken Project is testament to this. The ambiguous proposal is predicated on the suggestion that chicken bones are a primary identifier of our time, the Anthropocene. In turn, the intervention of colouring all chickens pink would impact the future record of fossils, creating a geological trace of the present human era through the colour pink.
Chickens are the world’s most common birds and approximately 60 billion are killed every year for food, leaving a distinct trace on the earth’s crust (the strata). With this in mind, Nonhuman Nonsense considered how this consumption of chickens can mark a new geological age. It considers how the genetically modified chickens could contain a gene from the insect cochineal to produce a pigment that will be fossilised when combines with the calcium of the bone. Then, in just a few years, the gene would spread across the species, permanently altering the chicken race on a global scale, and impregnating the earth’s crust with a pink tinge.
“We see our work as an attempt to open the public imagination of how the world could be different,” the duo tells us, “but not necessarily how it should be.” Through a fascinating speculative practice, the pair tell stories that lie somewhere between utopia and dystopia, akin to Donna Haraway’s idea of ‘staying with the trouble.’ Contradictions, paradoxes and humour merge to create original stories which unfold before the viewer’s eyes; digging deep into the underlying ethical and political issues that underpin society’s power structure and the “current narratives of inevitability.”
The studio continue, “We are trying to redirect focus to the ‘why?’.” As endless distractions attempt to grab our attentions from all angles, Nonhuman Nonsense understands that there are “great forces” designed so consumers forget troubling issues at hand. But projects such as The Pink Chicken Project ask us to look again, to delve a little deeper and ask ourselves the scary questions that lie lurking beneath the surface.
The pair came to speculative design as a way to make change. While Linnea studied art and industrial design, Leo, on the other hand, has a background in science and technology. Speculative design “felt meaningful”, like it could stir advancements and challenge the systems at play. “We feel that what underlies many of the planetary problems that we are experiencing in these turbulent times is our relationship to the nonhuman: animals, objects, ecology, technology, and the spectres between or beyond these categories.” Nonhuman Nonsense’s aim, as a result, takes stock of what is happening at this current moment in time; examining the narratives that we live under and the societies that are shaped. “It’s about openly exploring how, for example, human exceptionalism and extractivism leads to destructive ways of relating to the Earth, other people, and other beings.”
The studio is interested in the embryonic stages of system transformation. It uses social dreaming and elements of world building to consider speculative hypothises. “Unlike the use of scenarios in business, military of climate science, our scenarios don’t try to bound uncertainty of the future,” says Nonhuman Nonsense, “but rather unbind certainty of the most probable future.” Aimed at members of the general public, its projects aim to enable more people to take part in discussions around what kind of societies we want, encouraging people (not just wealthy philanthropists, experts of policy makers) to realise they too have a say and an impact on the planet’s future.
As for the future, Nonhuman Nonsense is working towards publishing a book on The Pink Chicken Project and its surrounding discourses. Other than that, Linnea and Leo are working on a new project, Planetary Personhood, A Universal Declaration of Martian Rights! An interplanetary campaign seeking radical space decolonisation, the project “proposes independent personhood for the entire planet Mars, and considers the possibility of solidarity with the entities already there – the stones!” Investigating the idea of planetary ethics and how it doesn’t have to be entered around the concept of ‘life’, we can’t wait to find out more about the studio’s fascinating new findings and most importantly, how it makes us question about our own actions and impact in turn.
GalleryNonhuman Nonsense: The Pink Chicken Project (Copyright © Nonhuman Nonsense, 2021)
Response & Responsibility – Cop26
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Nonhuman Nonsense: The Pink Chicken Project (Copyright © Nonhuman Nonsense, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.