What is the Synthetic Sacred?

Yellow/beige background with orange graphics with project name Nero

The Synthetic Sacred is an action-research initiative exploring pathways for ecological restoration amidst hybridity.

The combination of synthetic and sacred might seem jarring in an ecological context, but our ecologies are increasingly synthetic - to illustrate, in 2020 the weight of human-made mass surpassed that of all global living mass. How do we make sense of this?

In contrast to the idea of a pristine version of nature - which tends to dominate cultural and environmental discourse - the Synthetic Sacred recognises the existence of synthetic and natural ecologies. Using art practices, philosophical inquiry and interdisciplinary dialogue, the Synthetic Sacred initiative grounds ecological discourse within our lived experience of increasingly synthetic ecologies. It explores what it means to embody ecological values and practices in day-to-day life, the ambiguities and complexity that are inherent in this.

The notion of the Synthetic Sacred, is both a provocation and attempt to forge sustainable narratives and practices. Weaving together posthuman and Indigenous knowledge systems, it explores the sacred as a means to transform fractured relations with nature and resist capitalist-colonialist extraction and alienation. It proposes the sacred as a framework to guide and detoxify our synthetic creations, ensuring all ecologies flourish.


AI generated robot on sand Mythmachine von Sahej Rahal. Foto: Rob Harris © 2022 BALTIC

Statement from the curator

To date, art and cultural programming have tended to sit on two sides of the coin when it comes to thinking about our relationship with nature. On the one hand, there is a set of practices that foreground a notion of restoring a pristine idea of nature, pre-industrial ecologies, and often draw on indigenous cosmologies and decolonial practices. On the other hand, there is another set of practices that explore post industrial and technological hybridity, and post-natural states of being. Actually this binary is common in other sectors too, such as environmentalism.

For me, the idea of a pristine state of nature is romanticised and actually is often something that only a privileged few can access. Likewise, the idea that technology will solve climate change is an illusion while the frameworks that it is developed within are still extractive.

With the Synthetic Sacred, I am trying to build a bridge across these binaries. Looking at our planetary materiality, what I saw is that the hybrid states of being in emergent synthetic ecologies actually have a lot of similarities with the ways of describing states of being in pre-modern knowledge systems. For example, when chemical waste re-codes genetic structures of our bodies it is impossible to see ourselves as individual entities separate to and even superior to the rest of life. Instead, we are entangled in an ever unfolding web of intra-relations. A new kind of animism emerges that points to Indigenous knowledge and an understanding of the role of humans in nature - as givers of gratitude, stewards and cultivators.

This offers a framework for being and operating that shifts the compass for development away from the extraction and exploitation of life and towards restoration, kinship and flourishing. Without doing this, my fear is that we entrap life in scientific and technological innovations that continue the extraction.

Words by Lucy Sollitt