The Extinction Gong is a ceremonial automaton for the Sixth Mass
human-induced process of planet-scale biological annihilation first formally recognised by
scientists in 2014.
Taking the form of a large traditional 'Chao Gong' its rear-face is fitted with
a mechanism that beats to the rhythm of species extinction, estimated by eminent
biologist E.O. Wilson to be about 27000 losses a year, or
once every 19 minutes. The significance of this figure (and those like it by
other scientists) cannot be overstated: for millennia the average 'background
rate' of (plant, animal and insect) species extinction has been between 1 and 5
a year, right back to the 5th Extinction that took the dinosaurs 65M years ago.
Should biologists declare a new species extinct while the Extinction Gong is
active it will receive an update via a 3g link and perform a special ceremony:
four strikes in quick succession alongside a text-to-speech utterance of the
Latin Name of the species lost, resonating through the gong.
Seen at its front, the Extinction Gong hangs in a large metal frame and bears
the stark neo-primitivist image of the Extinction Symbol, the official mark of
the Sixth Mass Extinction. Seen from the back however it is a work of
engineering, complete with mallet, electro-magnet, audio transducer, embedded
computer and 3g downlink. This diametric expresses a brutal and contradicting
irony - while advances in science and technology augment the devastating impact
of human endeavours over wild habitats, so are they our best means of studying
and understanding it.
The Extinction Gong is a 2017 project by Crystelle Vu
and Julian Oliver.
Selecting the period of gong strikes was not trivial, given the extreme
variation of estimates as to the rate of extinction within the scientific
community. The Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment, drawing from the expertise
of more than 1000 scientists, put it at 24 extinctions a day, whereas more
recently the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded "Every
day, up to 150 species are lost" a rate much higher than that of E.O. Wilson's.
Perhaps more confusingly, the official list of extinct and endangered species,
the The IUCN Red List, has a
widely-criticised lack of completeness, or latency, largely due to the fact they
only reevaluate all categories of species every 5 to 10 years, a cycle seen as
too slow given the accelerating changes in habitats observed by scientists.
Our decision to select E.O. Wilson's metric was largely due to it being
considered a conservative estimation, and so as such the gong may miss a beat or