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The Smooth Handfish – a sea dweller with bulging eyes, a mohawk on its head, and hand-like fins that allowed it to walk on the seabed – was once so plentiful in the Tasman region, it was one of the first fish species to be documented in ‘Australia’. In July, 2020, it was declared extinct. What we know of its collective story – within the limits of human cognition of its existence and loss – feels so relevant to where we find ourselves today.


For many people, the last two years in particular, have given multiple pauses to rethink the question, ‘What does it take to survive?’

These are difficult times, in the midst of multiple crises with a variety of profound losses occurring each day.

The frantic pace of the type of world and systems much of humankind are expected to navigate has meant that over the years many important personal and communal rituals have been misplaced and / or usurped. Spaces for meaningful philosophical discourse have been lost. As well as spaces for connection with living companions – human, non-human, across earth, ocean, freshwater, ice...
To reckon with this, The Parallel Effect – a collective of creators and thinkers – have curated a Vigil for the Smooth Handfish. The intention is to provide a space for a congregation, to contemplate loss, grief, the parameters of care, the interconnectedness of conservation, love, ritual and “collaborative survival”. This pre-recorded two and half hour congregation, first shared in November 2020, features 27 unique contributions by renowned artists, musicians, scholars, scientists and First Nations speakers from communities across the globe including 'Australia', India, Turtle Island, UK, Germany, Morocco, Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine. Contributions take on a multiplicity of forms: music, spoken word, performance, film, animation, academic papers and video essays Many have been developed collaboratively between contributors as the Vigil creates a space to foster reflexive interdisciplinary multimodal works at the nexus of art, politics, science and geography.


Australian First Nations man, Chris Bonney, shares a 130,000 year old Ngarrindjeri Dreaming story about sustainability; biological anthropologist, Dr Barbara J. King presents some of her research documenting grief and bereavement across the animal kingdom; filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour confronts the parameters of care; Afghan artist Kabir Mokamel — joining us from his home in Kabul — questions the egalitarian nature of grief, articulating the relationship between time and daily tragedy in a war-zone; and grief scholar and somatic educator, Camille Barton, unpacks the relationship between colonisation, empire and misplaced rituals and healing customs. 

As each uniquely mourns the loss of the Smooth Handfish, in communion they offer a collective expression and reflection of grief and survival in an increasingly complex, and often far too difficult, world.

Unfortunately due to limited resources, Vigil for the Smooth Handfish is conducted in the English language only.

The event is captioned and transcripts are available upon request - please see our accessibility guidelines.


In preparation for the Vigil for the Smooth Handfish, The Parallel Effect has compiled this musical playlist which we would like to share with you.

These are tunes that take up a soulful space for us and our friends. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather an offering of songs which soothe, heighten and heal, and remind us of the transformative power of music.


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