At the turn of the previous century Henri Bergson suggested that sympathy offered
a way to understand interspecies relationships. Samuel Butler took Bergson’s ideas to
an absurd extent by mixing them with readings of Charles Darwin and claiming a vital impulse
for machines. By interspersing a story of humans and machines with insect life, Butler
pointed to a broad imaginative web of interspecies and machinic relationships. Contemporary
artists Pierre Huyghe, Ann Lislegaard, and Hayden Fowler use video and installation art
to explore interspecies relationships in time and space. In very different ways Huyghe, Lislegaard,
and Fowler use the art gallery to demonstrate how humans might sympathetically engage
with ecological transformation, and thus the confronting possibility of our own extinction.
In looking back at Bergson and Butler through contemporary art, I suggest that the art
gallery gives us a sympathetic space in which we can encounter the knowledges of Bergson and
Darwin, temper them with the imaginings of Butler, and ground them with the transformative
living machines created by Huyghe, Lislegaard, and Fowler. By entering the spaces of the art
gallery and locating ourselves in the place of others, sympathy read alongside machinic evolution
suggests a new approach to the ecological disaster of species extinction.