PluteusAction by Bradley Allf
In "The Rule of Opulence," poet Khadijah Queen writes of a grandmother who has, for nine decades, "seen every season stretch out of shape" on her Connecticut farm. The speaker has always disbelieved such permanence, "newness a habit,/ change an addiction..." The magnolia roots thick and furrowed in the soil, a warning. Yet those roots disguise a richness of movement. Her uncle chainsawing "hurricane-felled birches," yellow jackets burrowing into the basement. Even the flagstone path through the yard is cracked, the earth shifting invisibly under the surface.
Humans experience ontological changes in their perception of permanence, from youth to the end of life. But these changes are nothing compared to those experienced by the sea urchin. The young urchin is a rebel known as the pluteus. It too is addicted to change. Formed in the open ocean by the stochastic joining of sperm and egg, the pluteus from its first gastrulation knows to point its funnel mouth in only one direction: away. It floats and pulses. It is vibrant. It moves with purpose. Contained within every pluteus is rage sustained by its abhorrence of the farm. The young urchin books its ticket to Chinatown on the Megabus never to return, thumbing its chalky rods at the other commuters on 95 the whole way.
Yet, in one of the most dramatic shifts in all of developmental biology, every urchin that makes it to adulthood sinks to the bottom of the water column. They change into a sessile form. They nearly becomes a plant. Where once was an arrow, now is a directionless disc. The pluteus just settles into the neighborhood. It grips tightly to the rock and sand. Why would it do such a thing?
PluteusAction confronts the viewer with what happens after the Rumspringa. Do we grow to lack all direction? What change sustains the settled life? Do you give up the dream when you settle on a different one?
Many images in the video were lifted with reckless abandon from research papers written by members of the McClay developmental biology lab at Duke University for their aesthetic value alone. Most other photos were taken by Raymond Allen, a member of the lab. This work was originally created as a collaboration between myself and the McClay lab for "The Art of a Scientist," an art exhibit in Durham, North Carolina. The video was composed entirely in Microsoft PowerPoint. The music is by Senator Jaiz.