The Extinction Gong is a ceremonial automaton for the Sixth Mass Extinction, the 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.


The Extinction Gong pictured at The World as Forest

DATA SOURCES

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 two.


Extinction Gong installed in the Tieranatomisches Theatre, Berlin, as part of The World as Forest (travelling exhibition, 2018). Photo by Michael Pfisterer.
Extinction Gong installed in the Tieranatomisches Theatre, Berlin, as part of The World as Forest (travelling exhibition, 2018). Photo by Anexact Office.
Extinction Gong detail (right-to-left): circuit with solid-state relay, 12v to 5v DC/DC regulator/converter, Beaglebone Black embedded computer (running Debian GNU/Linux), USB hub with sound and network adaptors, 12v electromagnet and permanent magnet attached to mallet, audio transducer and amplifier

AUDIO

A stereo recording of a single strike of the Extinction Gong, recorded on site at CeNak, Hamburg.


EXHIBITIONS

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REFERENCES

Entering the sixth mass extinction - Cebellos, Ehrlich, et al

Biological annihilation signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines - Cebellos, Ehrlich, Dirzo

Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? - Wake, Vrendenburg

Why do extinction rates vary so wildly? - Yale/Fred Pierce

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies - Guardian

Earth's sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn - Guardian

60% global biodiversity loss due to meat-based diets - WWF

Where have all the insects gone? - Science Mag

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas - Hallman, Sorg, Jongejans et al

Link list at Center for Biological Diversity

On the diversity of Life - E.O. Wilson