“We ask a simple question: Is the tick a machine or a machine operator? Is it a mere object or a subject?” — Jakob von Uexküll.
‘The Tick Memorial Library’ follows the bibliography of a small tick.
The story goes like this: the tick, using only its sense of touch and temperature, climbs to the end of a branch and perches there indefinitely, waiting for a warm-blooded animal to pass. Only when the tick registers the smell of a mammal’s skin does it jolt awake and fall from its branch, hoping to land directly onto a dog (or a human leg) as it is running past. If it is successful, the tick finds the mammal’s skin, sucks its blood, and then falls to the ground to lay its eggs and die. This discrete perceptual system makes up the tick’s umwelt (environment, or ‘surround world’) – the elements that the tick perceives to have meaning in its world. The power of this perceptual system is such that the tick has been observed to wait up to eighteen years to register the correct biochemical trigger (butyric acid) and fall to eat its first and final meal.
The story of the tick, first told by the biologist Jakob von Uexküll in his 1934 text A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, is a key illustration in Uexküll’s theory of biosemiotics. Since then it has found its way into a wide range of philosophical reflections on the fundamental concept of the environment, from Heidegger’s phenomenology to Canguilhem’s epistemology of science.
The library will bring together a cross-section of texts that draw on Uexküll’s origin story of modern environmental thought, creating a kind of temporary monument, as well as an index of the tick theory.
The project is currently on view in the form of a temporary outdoor reading room at The Magic Hour in Twentynine Palms.
The Tick Memorial Library
29 September to 2 December 2018
On view at The Magic Hour