10/40 LASCAUX21

I’m often asked about the meaning of “LASCAUX21”.

To start, a quick note on pronunciation, as incredibly even some of my French speaking friends mispronounce it. The sound of the word is “lass + koh” (as in “co-operation”).

I was about 20 years old when I first came up with this moniker. I had grown up in Germany where my parents had a Time Life book set called “The Emergence of Man”. From a very early age I can remember being fascinated by early humans, and I was apparently known for showing up at friends’ houses saying “let’s go play Australopithecus!” Later in life, in the very early days of the internet, I needed a nickname for an early email address – “lascaux21” spontaneously presented itself.

The “Lascaux” part refers to the famous cave paintings of Lascaux in France. There is still some debate as to the true age of these paintings, and even more debate on what they represent and why they were made.

In a future posting, I would like to talk about “what is art?”, or “does art have value?” What strikes me about the cave paintings of Lascaux is that from the point of view of daily life in this ancient era, the paintings don’t seem to serve any practical purpose – they don’t seem to be a manual to help you hunt, they don’t magically make food appear, they don’t seem to be plans for making a better atlatl. This is what is so amazing: the paintings are a pure expression of an inner life that has been stimulated by events in the material world. They are among the first signs of the self reflection of a self-contained intelligence. The material pool had existed for 4 billion years, and finally a mind looked and saw something reflected on the surface.

Across thousands of years, the significance of this place in its highly magical and charged form still resonates. We don’t know the individuals: a sort of signature was left by blowing paint over an outstretched hand, but we can’t read it as a name like we can “Rembrandt” or “Hasegawa Tōhaku”. Somehow because of and in spite of this, the work stands out as a gift uncluttered by ego or ambition. The work is functionally anonymous and consciously or unconsciously given to the ages. It does its work without claim to fame or demand for recognition. No one would “like” it on Facebook, no awards given. In fact, very few, and maybe none, other people would see it.

The “21” in LASCAUX21 refers to the 21st century, which is the era in which I find myself. 20,000 years of linear time separates me from the man or woman crawling sometimes tens or hundreds of metres into a dark cave with nothing but a torch, some charcoal, and ochre because of something that burned inside and compelled external expression. From impression to expression – a cyclic link between two entirely different worlds made real. JG Bennett called it the creation of Adam. Carl Sagan called (human) intelligence the universe’s way of coming to know itself.

So, for me, this particular combination of cells, bones, neurons, and experiences called “Tim Gerwing”, LASCAUX21 is a way of reminding myself of my mission: to connect worlds, to be conscious, to know itself.

One thought on “10/40 LASCAUX21

  1. Hi Tim,

    I continue to enjoy reading your thoughtful and thought-provoking writings.

    In the event you have not yet seen it, I highly recommend Werner Herzog’s recent documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which is about the Chauvet Cave in southern France.

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