CAConrad on George Finlay Ramsay and Alexander Hetherington’s 'CASTOROCENE'

Part of ONE WORK

A 16mm still shows a close up of a grey-brown branch, the background is out of focus and we can see the rough textures of the tree’s bark. On the branch sits a yellow-orange organic form, a kind of fungi. It’s wiggles and curves are almost alien-like in appearance. Beneath the organic fungi form is yellow san serif italic text, which reads ‘what is this thing?’
George Finlay Ramsay & Alexander Hetherington, CASTOROCENE, 2021. Courtesy of the artists.

ONE WORK is a series of online discussion events to think more deeply about how an artwork came into being. Focusing closely on a single work, these generous discussions provide space for an artist to present a recent work and talk through the work’s creation. The events are accompanied by a month-long online screening and specially commissioned written response published on the LUX Scotland website.

George Finlay Ramsay and Alexander Hetherington took part in a ONE ARTIST | ONE WORK event with us in September 2021, presenting and discussing their work, CASTOROCENE (2021), a 16mm film that shifts between essay and semi-fictionalised nature documentary dedicated to one of nature’s great architects. You can read Alexander’s text from the event here

We commissioned writer CAConrad to respond to CASTOROCENE. We are delighted to publish CAConrad’s response below.

CAConrad has been working with the ancient technologies of poetry and ritual since 1975. They are the author of AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration (Wave Books, 2021). Other titles include While Standing in Line for Death and Ecodeviance. The Book of Frank is now available in 9 different languages. They received a Creative Capital grant, a Pew Fellowship, a Lambda Literary Award, and a Believer Magazine Book Award. They teach at Columbia University in New York City and Sandberg Art Institute in Amsterdam.

Pity those with the softest fur, fleece, or down; they will wish their camouflage was computerized, a fortified-digital pelt to escape the terrifying top predator humans. A baby beaver wanders among the trees her parents felled before they were shot and stuffed into bags marked for the haberdashery. Rescued by a family of human campers, she now gathers pencils, passports, toilet paper, books, socks, and wallets to stack against the front door each morning to the sound of giggles over breakfast.

I deepen my voice when signing in. Trans and queer people are still forbidden to sell blood or plasma in some parts of the United States. Only heterosexual blood is dollar-worthy. The nice nurse in the nice hospital carefully finds the vein in my left arm. My right arm is for the other place across town, and it is bruised by the scary man stabbing me more times than I believe he needs to; this is the place playing Return of the Jedi. I mean all the time, the DVD playing on a continuous loop. The bleeding room,” I call it, watching your blood fill a container, then spin to separate the plasma. When the door in the waiting room opens to the bleeding room, the soundtrack and Luke Skywalker can be heard, and a woman next to me shakes her head, Oh my god, I hate that fucking movie! I dream that goddamned thing nearly every night!”

Watching TV with the family, the baby beaver sees a cow fitted with a harness, airlifted by a helicopter over the mountains of Switzerland. That night in a dream, the cow flapped magnificent and enormous wings above the beaver, telling her, Like my before Jedi, a father you’ve failed. I am me your Highness.” She shook her head, No.” The cow said, My Highness, am I like a father before me. You’ve failed your Jedi.” She shook her head No,” again. You’ve failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” She nodded and smiled, ending her scrambled egg dream scene.

Wealthy top predators learned how to remove just enough precious liquids from the bodies of the poor without killing them. $25 for an hour in the bleeding room. Three days later, $25 more from the other place across town. $50 a week, as long as you don’t mind being lightheaded for an afternoon. If I were dizzy and fainting on the escalator, you would take me out for drinks. I would talk about the sex I had with the man who runs the bleeding room where queers are not even allowed, which is why it was so exceptional. Semen and blood loss, I need a piece of toast and some juice, please.

The beaver gnawed the bedpost until it collapsed in the middle of sex; she was upset, We were in the middle of a good one!” He nodded, Yes, but her parents were murdered, and we are the top predators destroying everything she breathes, drinks, eats.” She laughs, Come here, YOU LOVE MUFFIN; we can do it on a 3‑legger!”

Our blood is us. It holds our memories. While the tube is draining blood out of me, I write a list of things I enjoy. Write about a sad memory, a few happy ones. I’m vegan, so that goes on the list, and the time I caught my mother having sex with my babysitter Marcy. I like my car, and I write that down. Later, I will ask the nurse to please put the list with my bag of plasma because the person receiving it should want a list of recollections to know about the source of the liquid. The nurse will smile, she knows I’m a dirty queer, but it’s our secret, folding my list and carrying it away with a bag of liquid that was recently inside me. Does she think about how warm it still feels when opening the refrigerator filled with shelves of identical bags of human liquid?

There are 3 cats in the human house, and they make a nest with the baby beaver each night. All 3 take turns grooming her fur before falling asleep together. The cats quote Jabba the Hutt to her as she drifts off, Oohh shoodah.” One after the other, Oohh shoodah.” The baby beaver goes to sleep in the embrace of 3 cats, Oohh shoodah.”

After the plasma is separated, the machine moves in reverse, pushing your red blood cells back into your arm. At no other time in your life will your own blood reenter your arm like this. The force of your thick liquid going back into yourself — deep breaths — feel the heart go beat-beat-beat-BEATBEAT valves flap open and gulp. When I returned home to my apartment, there were 9 cats in the bathroom. My neighbor is a cat hoarder; hundreds of them fill her rooms. These 9 found a hole in her wall and a loose grate leading to my bathroom. I stood there, absentmindedly caressing the bandage on my arm from the needle in the bleeding room. When I walk to the bedroom, all 9 follow. When I get into bed, I let them cover me, these many lungs motoring their purrs, and I feel joy being an animal covered by other sweet and gentle animals on planet Earth. Visit us please, we need your missed, beautiful self.

Audio Version

CAConrad's response to George Finlay Ramsay and Alexander Hetherington's 'CASTOROCENE' (2021).

Part of ONE WORK

ONE WORK is a series of online events that focus closely on a single work. These generous discussions provide an opportunity for an artist to present a recent work and talk through how the work came into being. Each work is available as a month-long online screening, followed by a specially commissioned written response that serves as documentation of both the work and the discussion.

Learn more