The Prism Species Project is a partnership of creative engagement, programming, and publishing and a potential exhibit with the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Comparative Zoology Collections created by author Terry Tempest Williams and visual artist Christina Seely. Through an in depth communion with specimens of non-human life, these physical collections of minerals, plants, and animals will be transformed from inert objects to storied presences that have much to tell us about the past and the present in the face of climate collapse. What if these ‘cabinets of wonders’ could speak to us from the future? What qualities might they show us as necessary for our survival?For example, in the wake of a retreating Great Salt Lake, brine shrimp cysts can become dormant for fifty years and burst forth alive when conditions for life become favorable once again. This is a Prism Species.

If we can develop a practice of being attentive to the skins, stories, and life cycles of another species, how might this liberate our thinking when it comes to unexpected ways of adapting to the climate crisis? Evolutionary speaking, the animals have been here before facing former ice ages and droughts, heat waves and meteor strikes that changed weather systems and brought on extinctions. Within the leaves and coats and scales of many colors – we believe we can find a new source of mentor-ship through the location of these “prism species” that will help us find new adaptive strategies and stories to help us move forward with grace and spiritual acuity as we face climate change together in the name of all species, not just our own.

The foundation of the project will be built out of the research and development of this experiential exhibit made up of a constellation of artworks using sound, sculpture, photography, video and storytelling. For example, using a sculptural arrangement of specimens of different species that amplifies adaptive relationships in an ecology of place. A slow moving video of the textural surfaces of specimens in their archival spaces, still lives in motion, with a storyteller’s voice creating new myths of wisdom and understandings in relationship to climate collapse. We can imagine a sonic composition made up of bird, animal and insect calls activating a deeper sensorial relationship to our more than human kin. We also imagine a conversation between photographic renderings with literary expressions across the spectrum of the non-human and human realm, alongside the scientific and spiritual realms of knowing and unknowing. The exhibition will build a language out of interrelated pieces that consider the ecological and existential implications of what it means to be a singular adaptable species woven into a complex tapestry of many living energies working together to survive planetary changes. As in any tapestry each thread pulled or adjusted distorts and eventually affects the clarity and stability of the weave.

These encounters with “Prism Species” will ideally hold many lenses of considerations, multiple interpretations: information discovery, destructive forces, loss, disappearance, erasure, extinction, metamorphosis, revelation, renewal, continuity, and a window into The Sacred – allowing us to sit with and befriend both the synchronous and the unknowable uncertainty of these times.

Prism Species have something to teach us – liberating us from a staid way of viewing museum collections. They are so much more than merely a survey of life on the planet. They are a catalogue of consciousness, even our own. They offer us a chance to remember what we have forgotten – that even in times of loss and uncertainty, the world is still so beautiful. The world we thought dead is alive with possibilities and wild wisdoms when re-imagined, listened to, and dreamed into another way of being. We can begin to see the world differently through a sensory experience of engagement with other species. We are a part of nature, not a species separate from other species. We are intrinsically bound as fellow beings on Earth, the only home we will ever know. To be close with ‘the more than human world’ is our innate desire to relocate a kinship we once had, a kinship that remains among Indigenous Peoples.