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Earth/Sky exhibition in San Diego

February 4, 2019 1 comment

I am happy to announce that our exhibition Earth/Sky opens in San Diego, at Calit2 gallery in March! Curated by me and Ryan Bishop, the exhibition features works by Heba Y. Amin, Femke Herregraven and Susan Schuppli. Please find below a longer curatorial note and a schedule of the opening seminar we are organising in conjunction of the launch party (March 7th).

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EARTH/SKY is an exhibition of environmentally-informed artistic engagements with the intersection of vertical and horizontal planes. The art works explore the myriad ways in which the juxtaposition of earth and sky metonymically evokes a range of X/Y axes that allows for material and immaterial interactions between horizontal and vertical planes. The ground of the earth is also the ground that delineates when air becomes sky. The cinematic image and the calculated image are a further part of defining how the vertical and horizontal, the earth and the sky link up as realities that can be measured. The images that are presented in these works are also in such a way technical forms of measurement – from climate science to the political control of territories. From climate change to contemporary finance and migration, the pieces set environmental questions and environmental perspectives into a dialogue with contemporary global politics that always, however, is situated across particular regions and sites: from aerial views of oil slick simulations to bird flock and drones in desert landscapes of Egypt and on the fictional landscapes of swamps and shorelines, images conjure territories and territories are conjured up landscapes on the X/Y axis.

Three artists included in the exhibition are Susan Schuppli (London, UK), Femke Herregraven, an artist based in the Netherlands, and Heba Y. Amin, a Berlin-based Egyptian artist. Schuppli’s installation “Nature Represents Itself” is an oil film simulation and hydrocarbon composition that documents both the initial surface slick as well as subsurface plumes resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Produced in 2018, this simulation is exhibited in conjunction with audio detailing the lawsuit ­led on behalf of the rights of nature against BP. While satellite transmissions, the underwater video feed, and even Public Lab’s activist mapping project all combined to document the aftermath of the disaster, the slick was already operationalizing an independent mode of media itself. Oil spills are literally slick images that find their cinematic origins in petroleum production. Schuppli presents the oil spill in its legal and aesthetic form to propose the ecological site as a material witness fully capable of representing its own damaged condition.

Herregraven’s “Sprawling Swamps,” was shown at transmediale 2018. An ongoing multimedia project begun in 2016, “Sprawling Swamps” is a series of fictional infrastructures dispersed within the cracks of the contemporary financial geography that operate on a technological, legal and social level. The infrastructures are located in specific locations from swamps to shorelines but also engage with the immaterial economies of value. The piece attempts to engage with infrastructure as it relates to the turbulent dynamics of nature – itself a crucial part of the current discussions about landscape that is determined across technological and ecological questions.

The third piece in the show, Amin’s “As Birds Flying”, provides a view of the sky in flight and as flight, but in so doing comments on politics, surveillance, paranoia and environmental manipulation. A self-conscious mediation on the aerial view and its erasure of the geometry of perspective inherited from the Renaissance, Amin’s work explore the political absurdity generated by an obsession with the televisual mastery of the air and ground. Taking an incident from 2013, in which a stork fitted with an electronic device for migratory research was mistaken for a non-human source of surveillance and thus taken into custody by Egyptian officials, Amin’s cinematic response then becomes a meditation on migration of birds in parallel to human migration and the control of also rural territories. “The short, allegorical film is constructed out of found drone footage of aerial views of savannas and wetlands, including settlements in Galilea – sweeping views that seem to be taken by the ‘spy’ stork in the above story. ‘Seeing the country from the top is better than seeing it from below’, the soundtrack says, with footage of a bird soaring in the air. Funny, absurd and disconcerting, the video’s suspenseful cinematic soundtrack contains the reconstructed audio sequences of dialogue from Adel Imam’s ­lm Birds of Darkness.”

Each of these three works explore how the intersection of earth and sky is imagined, realized, subverted, represented and manufactured within complex ecologies of time, finance, science, technology, aesthetics and power. The ineluctably inextricable dimensions of ecological and environmental influence of sky on earth and earth on sky become the foundations for aesthetic, scientifi­c, technological and political examination provided by these three artworks.

The exhibition is accompanied by an artistic-academic panel that addresses the topic of earth and sky as examined by considerations of the earth’s surface and its vertical, media technological determinations.

We are also screening Susan Schuppli’s vertical cinema piece Atmospheric Feedback Loops as part of the opening event.

Earth/Sky
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Time: 5:00pm-7:30pm

5:00 Calit2 Auditorium; Atmospheric Feedback Loops Screening
5:30 Panel Discussion with Ryan Bishop, Jussi Parikka, Susan Schuppli, and Femke Herregraven, Moderated by Jordan Crandall
6:30 Reception and gallery open

The show will run March 7-June 7, 2019, with gallery hours 12pm-5pm Monday-Friday.

The events are free and open to the public

http://gallery.calit2.net
http://qi.ucsd.edu/events/event.php?id=2974 

For the opening, RSVP requested to galleryinfo@calit2.net

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On Air, Inhale

December 17, 2018 Leave a comment

I had the pleasure of contributing to Tomas Saraceno’s new show On Air at Palais de Tokyo with a short text for the publication as well as with a talk as part of the seminar on December 14th, which was organized by Filipa Ramos. The show itself moves from spiders and webs to air and balloons, from entanglements of the Anthropocene to the light materials of the Aerocene combining speculative design, investigation of materials and beautiful installation structures.

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My short text for the catalogue was titled “Inhale”:

Inhale and you engage with history, not metaphorically, nor poetically but literally. Inhale the air of a city and you inhale its industrial legacy, its current transport system, its chemistry built at the back of technological progress. There’s more in the air and the sky than meets the eye. On the level of eyes, nostrils and skin, the city and its surroundings, it becomes  a touch. It is inhaled, enters the body as haptic environment. It is the haptic environment in which one sees and encounters the surroundings as a large scale Air-Conditioning Show. It is history carried forward as chemistry. It is technology breathed in as minuscule particles. The air is the environment we have to somehow learn to address as one way to invent a breathable future.

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Slow Violence – No Man’s Land

My short essay-booklet A Slow Contemporary Violence came out in 2016 in the Sternberg Press series The Contemporary Condition that is continuing in full swing. Below is a short excerpt from my contribution to the series. The excerpt is the passage on Güven İncirlioğlu’s photograph installation touching on the 100th anniversary of WWI. One can consider it still as rather apt timing, including how it speaks about the war that never ended and in its own way, continuing themes that relate to Rob Nixon’s thesis about slow violence which is also one of the reference points for my whole essay.

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***

I want to address the idea of temporal conglomerations and deep times of contemporary geopolitics as slowness or long term durations that unfold as not immediate for the human perception. I want to start by way of photographic art.

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Fig. 1: A close up of “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land” by Güven İncirlioğlu. Used with permission.

As part of a selection of works from the 3rd and 4th Çanakkale Biennial in Turkey,Güven İncirlioğlu’s installation piece “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land” from 2014 is one of the many art and culture commentaries about the Gallipoli campaign, also known as Dardanelles Campaign, that took place on Turkish soil during the First World War. The events have been commemorated over the past times on many occasions and by many institutions from official governments to universities to cultural institutions. The war and its relation to modern Europe and global geopolitics has multiple narratives, and for historians of media and technology, it has been marked as a turning point of the twentieth century. The war was also a mobilization of new technologies including the wristwatch and different solutions for wireless communication on the front line; the media connections were important in military operations, but they also started to enter the private sphere of the domestic life. In addition, the chemical technologies presented a more efficient way of destruction from the air both as planes and as chemical warfare, which was employed on the European front effectively; such also formed the backbone of the pesticide-enhanced agriculture of the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Many of the military operations and events took place on the outskirts of our current version of Europe, including Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. A hundred years after the war, and a hundred years after the start of the naval assault by Britain and France, on 25 April 1915, the digital photographs in the installation tell a partial historical story about what remains after the war and its devastation. The images do not, however, feature the usual iconography of human memory: of old photographs juxtaposed with other objects of memories; of faces as souvenirs of the old grainy image era transported in photography. It is a story not so much of faces but of landscapes of war and technology, of chemistry and destruction.

The photographic installation is a mini-landscape that occupies one wall. The images commemorate the First World War as an event of technological warfare of massive ecological scales. But it also becomes clear that the commemoration works in alternative ways; it is less as a celebration of the Ottoman victory than a subtle sort of a monument that entangles social history and natural history, and acts as a conglomeration of different temporal regimes. Even this distancing from the nationalist narrative is worthwhile noticing in the midst of the years of strong religiously tuned nationalist rhetoric and policy measures of current day Turkey. But the temporal politics of the images works differently. Enhanced by the atmosphere of silence surrounding the digital images placed on the walls of the Depo-gallery, İncirlioğlu’s piece is described as a commentary on the two times of “human life and the time of nature,” as the accompanying text on the wall informs. A usual historical narrative builds the memory around the 100 year milestone from the events, but the piece reminds of the multiple ways of narrating and recording time — not a passing of time, but a slow chemical sedimentation of time; it reminds how time is not merely a passing of events, but a milieu of multiple ways of accounting for it in the midst of human and non-human agents. It expresses a landscape of time, but not a landscape of the usual mastery through which we have been accustomed to think of nature in art history. It is a landscape, which we are still involved in.

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Fig. 2: Installation view at Depo Gallery of “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land”. Used with permission.

The title “No Man’s Land” refers to the contested zone between the trenches that during the long months until January 1916 changed occupation many times. It brings to mind the various historical narratives of human misery that the existential non-space of the trench meant — both in terms of anxiety of waiting, the deadly warfare and also the stink of diseased bodies.

For material stories of the war, writers have addressed “bunker archaeology”5 as the architectural legacy of war that transforms into the concrete aesthetics of the Cold War that still lingers on in port and other towns bombed down during the latter of the two world wars, and replaced by Brutalist building blocks in many of their central quarters. But İncirlioğlu extends from the social and human history of ruins to what lies beneath the architectural as its ground, the soil and the seabed. His photographic installation talks of the invisible chemical traces of dead bodies, body parts, barbed wired, gun shells, mines, dead trees, and flora — a natural history of the intensity of the war localized back then in Çanakkale but one that seems in its own way planetary. The geopolitical aim of landing through Çanakkale to reach Istanbul never succeeded according to the plans, but the geophysical legacy of such warfare in the age of advanced machinery left its concrete trace in the soil. İncirlioğlu’s meditation is not, however, only about that particular piece of land, the landing site and its territories formed of trenches, blue waters giving way to the war ships that connected to the supply routes, distant ports in England and other places, and many other operations; it also includes a global perspective.

He continues by way of a short biospheric meditation of technical war: “Today, it is possible to say that the global state of war that also encompasses the biosphere has been going on for a century.”6 İncirlioğlu continues referring to the annihilation of masses in the Middle East, Africa, Asia — an extension of the continued war; on the other, the “total destruction of human habitats, rivers, forests and the biological-mineral world is being processed on by the neo-liberal policies worldwide. In this context, today’s Istanbul’s northern forests, quarries, African gold mines, vast territories of fracking in Canada and all other sites of destruction […] resemble the scene of a ‘no man’s land’.”7

The story told was not after all a commemoration of a war that ended but the war that never ended ; the war that facilitated an entry of new sorts of technical forms of control,  regulation, production of chemicals and more — an apt theme considering we are living in a sort of a continuous Cold War8 defined by territorial claims, energy wars, realpolitik of terrorism entangled with geopolitics, movements of biomass that expresses itself as the human suffering of forced refugee movements. Beginnings and endings become only temporary markers for narratives that are insufficient for the complexity of this time. The sort of a war we are addressing does not lend itself to easy stories of ideological oppositions but to complex networks, which entangle strategies and tactics with environmental realities and the finitude of the world of energy and materials. These sorts of wars are geopolitical in the fundamental sense, and do not involve just the two sides of troops in trenches. Indeed, it moves the focus from the human actors, soldiers, tragedies of personal, family and other scales to those of soil, the ground, the air — an elemental tragedy that is the backdrop in which a drama of the Anthropocene might unfold. It is also a tragedy that comes out clearest in its slowness.

Antropobsceno

The Anthrobscene, the short booklet originally published by University of Minnesota Press, is now available in Spanish. Published by the Centro de Cultura Digital (in Mexico City) as Antropobsceno it is also now available as free e-pub download. The booklet was published in Portuguese in Brazil earlier this year.

Here’s Nora Khan’s earlier review essay about the Anthrobscene.

 

Narratives of a Near Future: Air

February 13, 2018 Leave a comment

In December 2017, I gave one of the invited talks at the Geneva art school, HEAD. Under the main rubric of Narratives of Near Future, we were invited to address the Anthropocene. Mousse magazine wrote a review of the event and m y talk on air (and featuring a bit of Talking Heads) is now online and found here:

The Anthrobscene in Portuguese

November 14, 2017 Leave a comment

The short booklet the Anthrobscene has been translated into Portuguese in Brazil. The essay that  was a sort of a single release of the later A Geology of Media now features as part of the Open Access collection Configurações do pós-digital: arte e cultura tecnológicas, edited by​ Pablo Gobira & Tadeus Mucelli. The book’s foreword is written by Lucia Santaella.

With the new translation, I was also again left thinking  the title, the neologism it carries. Besides the obvious Baudrillard-connotation that was not supposed to be the main thrust of the term, an alternative link that I was reminded about today comes through Ian Sinclair’s discussion of the fringes of London as obscenery instead of scenery. In Esther Leslie’s description, Sinclair’s obscenery is somewhat rather apt concerning also the Anthrobscene picking up on the wastelandscape imageries: “..contained in that word [obscenery] is the sense of being off-scene, off the stage, out of sight and out of mind. Sinclair describes places of no memory, forgotten places, places where memory is expunged in waves of rebuilding, re-destroying, places of transit, places, such as the London Orbital motorway, the M25, designed to pass through and keep moving.” (Leslie, in Synthetic Worlds.)

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You can download the book here.

Recently another Brazilian collection included some of my writing (as well as other translations and texts by Brazilian colleagues) on media archaeology. You can find more information about A(na)rqueologias das Mídias online.

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Insect Media, the Polish Translation: Owady i media

With a beautiful yellow cover, Insect Media comes out as a Polish translation: Owady i media! The translation is published by the Krakow based press Księgarnia Akademicka and the “Interpretations” series focusing on cultural studies, performance studies and new historicism. The series has published books such as Hans-Thies Lehmann’s “Postdramatic Theatre”, Erika Fischer-Lichte’s “Transformative Power of Performance”, Judith Butler’s “Antigone’s Claim”, Thierry Bardini’s Junkware and Freddie Rokem’s “Performing History”. A massive thanks to the series editors and the translators professor Małgorzata Sugiera and Dr. Mateusz Borowski for their work on the translation!

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Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology (2010, University of Minnesota Press) is part of the trio of books that came out in English between 2007 and 2015, including also Digital Contagions (2007, 2nd. new edition with a preface by Sean Cubitt in 2016, Peter Lang Publishing) and A Geology of Media (2015, University of Minnesota Press). Insect Media won the 2012 Anne Friedberg Award for Innovative Scholarship (Society for Cinema and Media Studies, SCMS). Eugene Thacker kindly wrote about the book: “With Insect Media, Jussi Parikka offers a theory of media that challenges our traditional views of the natural and the artificial. Parikka not only understands insects through the lens of media and mediation, he also unearths an insect logic at the heart of our contemporary fascination with networks, swarming, and intelligent agents. Such a project requires the ability to interweave cultural theory with a deep understanding of the sciences—something for which Parikka is well-suited. Most importantly, Insect Media reminds us of the non-human aspect of media, communication, intelligence. Insect Media is a book that is sure to create a buzz.”

Some earlier reviews of Insect Media:

Theory & Event
Mute Magazine
Rhizome
WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly [PDF]