The Epitaph is an art project by Belgian conceptual artist Boccanegra. The project consists of an aluminum disc with an engraved message in case of a Human extinction. On 13 October 2018, the disc was secretly placed by the artist himself on top of one of the Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, using a drone.
The Golden Record
The Epitaph is inspired by the Golden Records that were attached to the two Voyager space probes that were launched by NASA in 1977. These discs contained sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. Intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form who may find it. “Although I like the idea of leaving messages for whoever is out there, I didn’t like the way that this disc portrayed our species”, the artist says. “It’s just not a good representation of the human race. It would also take tens of thousands of years before we would get a response, if there even is something as extraterrestrial life. I’m convinced that by then we won’t be here anymore, so I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to also leave a message here on Earth. Just a simple and short message, written with the assumption that we will go extinct, that basically says what happened to us.”
The Human Extinction
The premise of The Epitaph is that Humanity will eventually destroy itself. When and how the artist does not specify in the text. “I deliberately left this part open, so people could think for themselves. Some might think about war, others about global warming or artificial intelligence”. However, it does mention what (according to Boccanegra) will ultimately stand in the way of our survival: our own human nature. “Let us not forget that we humans are still animals. Intelligent animals, yes, but also selfish, short-sighted and greedy ones. Not by choice, but because it’s in our nature. It’s what brought us this far, and I believe that it’s what will keep us from getting further.”
A Fool’s hope
Going through the text it becomes apparent that it lacks any form of positivity or hope. “Hope is something that people use to feel better about themselves. But it’s not based on rational thinking or science, it’s psychological. The time of hoping should be over by now, we need to start acting instead”. Asked about possible solutions for our imminent doom the artist replies: “In my opinion the only way out of this downward spiral is if we transcend our human nature. If we start working together, across borders and races. But the moment I start talking about solutions I realise that the chances of that happening are extremely slim. But despite all of that, I still have hope myself. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the risk to complete this work. we need to stop thinking like countries and start thinking like earth”.
The Great Pyramid
Once the message was finished and engraved in a small aluminum disc, the artist asked himself where on Earth he could put the disc to give it the biggest chance of ever getting found in case of a Human extinction. “I asked myself what would happen to Earth if you’d take away humans. The conclusion was that Nature would reclaim Earth very quickly. Without armies of gardeners and repairmen, our cities and structures would become overgrown in no time. However, there’s one human structure that cannot collapse or become overgrown over time: the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Massive monumental stone structures that have been there for about 4500 years and will still be there long after we have perished. Or as the Arab proverb goes Man fears Time, Time fears the Pyramids.” Asked about possible negative reactions the artist replied. “After my first visit to the Pyramids I was very disappointed. There was trash everywhere and people (Egyptians and tourists) were Climbing them as if they were a big jungle gym. Compared to that I wouldn’t call what I did disrespectful at all. Although I do realise that it may appear that way.
In order not to damage the Pyramid a drone was used to put the disc on top. When asked about the legality of this whole operation the artist replied: “Due to the military regime in Egypt I didn’t bother asking permission since they would have said no anyway, and I would have revealed my intentions at the same time. So I took my artistic freedom, well aware that they couldn’t care less about that in Egypt, and took a personal risk in trying to complete this artwork. To minimise the risk for myself and others I decided to fly at first daylight, when there are no tourists in the complex. I was fully aware of the possible consequences for myself if something would go wrong.”
(Photo by Jordan Vanschel for ‘The Epitaph documentary’ by Justine Cappelle)