The Cute and the Useful (2019-2022)

It seems hard for the West to accept the decline of its power and its ideas. Among them, the concept of nature. Nature has vanished long ago, if it ever existed. Nonetheless, the void it left is hard to accept: although in the middle of a mass extinction, our imagery and culture are saturated by hyperrealistic representations of virgin landscapes and anthropomorphic animals. Everywhere we go, we are reminded that somewhere, wild animals roam freely in uncontaminated landscapes. The Cute and the Useful are the two categories of animals most likely to survive the current mass extinction because of their connection – emotional or economical – with the human species. The project, developed in partnership with Careof and supported by the Eighth Edition of Italian Council, is composed by a film and a publication.
The short film describes the South African policies of fauna conservation, based on the collaboration between private and public entities in a context of free market. Well described by the expression “conservation by utilisation”, this strategy ensures the protection of wild species turning them into assets. In the last forty years, this system has produced a 400% increase in the numbers of wild animals in South Africa, allegedly becoming the most effective conservation method in the world.
The short film tells a fictional story. Walt, an English diamond dealer purchases a property in South Africa to be destined to ecotourism. The film focuses on the short time span preceding and following the last step in the process: a wildlife auction where Walt plans to get the wild animals for his project. His busy agenda obliges him to follow the auction online, Walt is enclosed between the walls of a luxury apartment in Milan, an highly artificial environment contrasting with the warm and breathtaking nature of South Africa. In order to achieve his goal, Walt must confront his father and sister, who try to dissuade him from the investment.
The publication accompanying The Cute and the Useful is conceived as a theoretical compendium. Curated by Alberta Romano, designed by and published by NERO Editions, it includes contributions by economist Jason W. Moore, journalist Fred Pearce, scholar Ashley Dawson and researcher T.J. Demos, whom essays focus on the key topics of the film: the dynamics behind wildlife industry; how a certain idea of nature has become a capitalist paradigm; greenwashing and the role of cuteness in contemporary society.