The idea of the human as a stable entity is a relatively recent invention. Since the Enlightenment, the definition of humanity has relied on the exclusion of whatever has been deemed nonhuman: plants, animals, and inanimate objects, as well as, for instance, people who aren’t white or male, people who lack money or land, people who fail to exhibit reason and rationality. The category may have become more expansive and inclusive, but has continued to serve a minuscule number of individuals, who have established themselves as the default protagonists of historical and fictional narratives. Recently, though, the plot of these narratives—and any sense of natural, unending progress—has become untenable, and the interdependence of all species has become clear, as Elvia Wilk observes in her essay collection Death by Landscape (2022). Looking to utopian artworks, sci-fi novels, interspecies romances, horror movies, biological experiments, and role-playing games, Wilk seeks out forms of storytelling and modes of being for the age of ecological catastrophe and asks how the willful isolation of humanity might be undone through both imagination and action.
For Escape from Humanity, Wilk will be joined by Alexandra Kleeman, Adam Khalil, and Bayley Sweitzer for a discussion and screening. They’ll talk about how humanity might be redefined and reoriented without indulging in back-to-the-land fantasies, fetishizing indigenous lifeways, or trading brains for neural networks. Facilitating the conversation, Wilk will consider some of the (real and fictional) encounters between humans and nonhumans that she recounts in Death by Landscape. To Wilk, these are alternatives to the template of Western literature, which she describes as “the story of a person against the backdrop of the world.”
Kleeman will draw on her latest novel, Something New Under the Sun (2021), and a novel-in-progress that stages multiple “evolutionary experiments” involving isolated groups of people that are compelled to change how they live, from the production of food to the exchange of goods. In Something New Under the Sun, the relationship between humanity and the earth has broken down, causing some people to flee to eco-communes that reject consumerism and ritualistically mourn dying species, while others hoard water so as to avoid WAT-R, the suspicious branded liquid that hydrates Californians amid endless drought. Kleeman asks how to envision responsibility to the planet when all actions seem to be compromised, when humans seem to be an invasive species with an unsustainable lifestyle (and without the will or capacity to evolve).
After speaking with Wilk and Kleeman, Khalil and Sweitzer will introduce and screen their short film Nosferasta: First Bite (2021), which reimagines Western culture as a dehumanizing infection—and, as such, a product of interspecies incursions. Arriving in the so-called New World, the vampire Christopher Columbus savagely bites an enslaved African man who has been shipwrecked, transforming him into a bloodthirsty, supernatural creature. The unlikely duo goes on to spread the disease across the continent for five hundred years, until the vampire has an awakening, embraces Rastafarianism, and identifies the connection between colonization and bodily transformation. Nosferasta asks: “How can you decolonize what’s in your blood?” After the screening, Khalil and Sweitzer will take questions with Oba, the cowriter and star of the film. The evening will conclude with drinks to celebrate the publication of Death by Landscape.
Escape from Humanity is free and will be livestreamed. RSVPing is not mandatory, but we encourage you to register in advance in order to receive updates on the event and the link to the livestream.
COVID-19 Protocols, Seating, and Accessibility
All attendees are encouraged to wear masks unless otherwise indicated. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis (even for those who have RSVP’d). The doors will open thirty minutes prior to the event and attendance will be limited, given safety concerns and the capacity of our venue.
Triple Canopy’s venue is located at 264 Canal Street, 3W, near several Canal Street subway stations. Our floor is accessible by elevator (63" × 60" car, 31" door) and stairway. Due to the age and other characteristics of the building, our bathrooms are not ADA-accessible, though several such bathrooms are located nearby. If you have questions about access, please contact email@example.com in advance of the event.
This public program is made possible through generous support from Jane Hait, a founding member of Triple Canopy Director’s Circle; the Stolbun Family; Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in cultural critics of color cofounded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Ford Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
- Elvia Wilk is a writer living in New York. She’s the author of the novel Oval (2019) and the essay collection Death by Landscape. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, the Nation, the Atlantic, Frieze, Artforum, Bookforum, n+1, Granta, and the Baffler, among other publications. She has held editorial positions at Rhizome and transmediale and, since 2019, has been a contributing editor at e-flux journal. She is the recipient of the Andy Warhol Arts Writers Grant and a fellowship at the Berggruen Institute.
- Alexandra Kleeman is the author of the novels Something New Under the Sun (2021) and You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine (2015), as well as the short-story collection Intimations (2016). She is the recipient of the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and Guggenheim Fellowship, among other awards. Her fiction has been published in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Zoetrope, Conjunctions, and Guernica, and her essays have appeared in Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, n+1, and the Guardian.
- Adam Khalil , a member of the Ojibway tribe, is a filmmaker and artist from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Khalil is a core contributor to the group New Red Order and a cofounder of COUSINS Collective. Khalil’s work has been exhibited and screened at the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), Sundance Film Festival, Walker Arts Center (Minneapolis), Lincoln Center (New York City), Tate Modern (London), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Toronto Biennial, and Whitney Biennial. Khalil is the recipient of fellowships and grants including the Creative Capital Award, Herb Alpert Award, Sundance Art of Nonfiction Fellowship, Jerome Artist Fellowship, and Gates Millennium Scholarship.
- Bayley Sweitzer is a filmmaker living and working in Brooklyn. His practice revolves around repurposing narrative film in order to convey radical political possibilities. His work has been shown at Lincoln Center (New York City), International Film Festival Rotterdam, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Museum of Modern Art (New York City), Tate Modern (London), Berlinale, Anthology Film Archives (New York City), Bozar (Brussels), Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Other Cinema (San Francisco) and Artists Space (New York City). Sweitzer is the recipient of a Creative Capital Award and has received commissions from the Park Avenue Armory (New York City), Gasworks (London), and Spike Island (Bristol).