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The Lab and the Field, the Image and the Instrument

October 8, 2021 Leave a comment

I was kindly commissioned this short text about Su Yu Hsin’s frame of reference video installation at the Alexander Levy gallery (Berlin). Originally published by the gallery, here’s the text below as well alongside links to the work.

See here for the Online viewing gallery.

See here for a video sample.

The Lab and the Field, the Image and the Instrument

Su Yu Hsin’s frame of reference (I and II) consists of images about images. The recursive story of environmental data offers a literal frame of reference about images that are captured in multiple windows. These moving images are nested inside other moving images. This assembly of views – scientists in action, rivers in flow, aerial views, simulations, and graphs – comes out of a patchwork of instruments of sensing that also have be nested somewhere on the field in order to transport data somewhere else. Not that the field, the lab, and data are considered separate. Any situated knowledge does not imply stand-point stability but the existence of relations, vectors of movement, and the painstaking work of trying to think what scales, what does not.  Questions of proximity and distance become reversed so that any objective set of views cannot start as uninvolved distance. Instead, they have to share a terrain and be somewhere, sometime, and for some duration. The intimacy of scientific practice can be breath-taking.

These are some of the visual dilemmas of the Anthropocene landscapes that are not modelled anymore based on the genre of the landscape painting but abstract art: intensities of color, variation, and pattern that become epistemically meaningful for specialist analysis.

The composition of carefully crafted scenes is cinema about instruments. The scenes could be narrated as featuring scientific practice but there’s more at play as you can imagine. It is not that frame of reference is only about scientific practice of measurement and the critical zone of life that covers the planet but that the images become instruments that start to compose the space they are in. They are involved. They are based on but also feed forward observations.

These involved observations are, as Su Yu Hsin tells us, on the ground as the surface layer of life, but they are also off the ground; these spaces are seen through the capacity of the instruments which allow the space to lift from a specific place onto a (data) server across the planetary surface. Instruments that specify place, images that are composed in that space, and yet data that is circulating much beyond those locations. Planetary sensing, and planetary circulation of data are tightly interlinked.

frame of reference is a story of patchy images: particular views in particular time, composed and stitched together after being captured. At this particular time a certain strength wind was passing through this landscape. This patchiness is not mere limitation, but a condition of their own existence as partial views to any site and sight. It is only through the dynamic patchiness of any landscape, field, and observation that a pattern can be spotted; a systemic property determined by a heterogeneous ground.

Gradually, live shots make way for data-views; lidar imaging, simulations, satellite sensing and more. Any view taken is taken twice: first as moving images, then as moving data; first as recording of light and other signals, then as model and simulation composed of those signals. The proliferation of patchy images also makes us realise the change in what sort of images we are watching.

Change and flow are one example of the patches in motion, concretely visible on the image surfaces in Su Yu Hsin’s work. The centrality of flowing water as well as submerged views is one indication of circulation too. Any location of a patch is not necessarily contained by its site of observation and the hydropoetic moving images in frame of reference make a point about this aspect of knowing through means of aesthetics. None of this is about a stable thing but a process of composition: a river flow, atmospheric chemistry, soil composition, landscape migration. Only the scales of composition and change vary.

On the ground, in the air, and under water; the images are involved in the elemental mix. The environment is one of material capacity to be sensed as well as already sensing. Su Yu Hsin captures the double-aspect why we are drawn to it: the epistemic and the aesthetic as the two sides why a surface measurement of the Earth can become both data and sensation, measurement and affect. As such, the videos exhibited could easily be seen as perfect illustrations of the past years of art and science work with a special attention being paid to the posthumanities of environmental scales, the material agency of not only the scientists but also the landscapes, and the intensive site of the field that is immanent to the lab also the voice-over speaks of.

But more than illustration, frame of reference becomes a collaborator in all of those endeavours; alongside the field, the lab, and the database, also the image and the studio, the frame and its aesthetic references as a site of participation.

Further reading:

Horton, Zachary (2021) The Cosmic Zoom. Scale, Knowledge, and Mediation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna; Mathews, Andrew S., and Bubandt Nils (2019) “Patchy Anthropocene: Landscape Structure, Multispecies History, and the Retooling of Anthropology” Current Anthropology Volume 60, Number S20, https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/703391

Weather Engines in progress

September 29, 2021 Leave a comment

Here’s the first public, online glimpse to our work-in-progress curatorial project Weather Engines. Commissioned by Onassis Stegi (Athens), Daphne Dragona and myself are curating an exhibition as well as a range of activities of public talks, workshops, and more on the theme that is not merely about the technicalities of weather – such as weather modification/geoengineering – but about a wider sense of embodiment and environments of weather as techniques, affects, and politics.

We have also edited a little glossary of a book Terms of Weather to go with the exhibition with contributions from so many exciting writers, theorists, artists, and architects addressing core terms for this expanded understanding of weather. The book will be out in late 2021 already both in English and Greek.

The exhibition takes place in Athens in Spring 2022.

Grounding

September 10, 2021 Leave a comment

Our video piece Seed, Image, Ground is on display until October 18 at the Grounding exhibition in St Petersburg, at the Dokuchaev Soil Museum. For us, that institutional and narrative context is perfect, considering the book on Vegetal Images we are writing with Abelardo Gil-Fournier features occasional appearances of Dokuchaev, Vernadsky, and others.

Furthermore, the video is featured currently in an exhibition on air/atmosphere in Shenzen, in this one on soil/grounding in St. Petersburg, and next year in a context that adds another elemental twist to the contextualization of Seed, Image, Ground (that was originally commissioned by Fotomuseum Winterthur for their series “Strike/Situations”.)

Lost Islands at the Helsinki Biennial: a conversation with Samir Bhowmik

August 16, 2021 Leave a comment

I had the pleasure to be an advisor for Samir Bhowmik’s art and performance project Lost Islands (2021) that was commissioned by the Helsinki Biennial. Here’s a talk/conversation we did with Samir as part of the public talks program of the Biennial – we discussed the Anthropocene, performance arts, the island and infrastructure, and other themes stemming from the Lost Islands (as well as Samir’s own art-research work).

Lost Islands

Lost Islands, a performance project by Samir Bhowmik (and co-choreography by Esete Sutinen) is on now at the Helsinki Biennial. Book your place if in Helsinki, but have a look at the trailer video for a glimpse of the themes: anthropocene, infrastructure, architecture, etc.

Lost Islands is a series of expeditions tracing the route of an imaginary subterranean and underwater cable through the island of Vallisaari, with the artist serving as tour guide and narrator. The expeditions venture into the island’s topography, forested pathways, waterways, historical buildings, ruins and bunkers. Along the way, visitors are engaged and immersed in installations, film, theatre, contemporary dance, song, and experimental music. The expeditions will take place as a series of events staged on the island from June to August.”

For more info on the work and credits, see also https://helsinkibiennaali.fi/en/artist/samir-bhowmik/ .

Vibrating Clouds

Our Seed, Image, Ground video (2020, with Abelardo Gil-Fournier) is currently installed and on show in Shenzen at the Vibrating Clouds exhibition curated by Yixuan Cai and her team for the Design Society. The video was also part of the Reprogramming Earth exhibition curated by Daphne Dragona at NEME in Cyprus and it will feature in a couple of other exhibitions in the coming 12 months too.

For a short overview of the exhibition in Chinese, see here. Other artists and architects in the exhibition include Tomas Saraceno, Karolina Sobecka, Philippe Rahm architectes, Janine Randerson and others.

For Abelardo and me, it’s a special pleasure to know that it is finally installed in actual physical space alongside good audio that allows the sound design by María Andueza Olmedo to stand out.

Eight Fragments on Eight Stones – CORES

September 27, 2020 Leave a comment

Rick Silva and Nicolas Sassoon’s new art project CORES is launched online. With Elise Hunchuck, we had the pleasure of writing the text, “Eight Fragments on Eight Stones”, to accompany the digital animations based on rock scans. See below an excerpt and check out the whole piece online!

“Here, on the lithosphere, where the earth meets the sky, there exists a long history of how rocks and stones can be seen as images and can be read as texts. A multitude of worlds has been interpreted through surfaces of stones as they depict worlds. Imaginary or not, they reflect historical events — a vertiginous array of scales, landscapes, and — sometimes — ruined cities. But they also include abstract forms and lines that offer geological points of origin for questions, including those of art and aesthetics. From the poetics of stones to the geological, we are nowadays more likely to count, classify, and catalogue than romanticise: geological surfaces and stratifications are measured and mapped such as in the cartographic codes for lithographic patterns. From sandy and silty dolomite to sandstone and shale, quartzite and granite to igneous rock the surface and subsurface are a slowly-unfolding inscription of different minerals.”

Read and see the rest on CORES website.

Seed, Image, Ground

August 25, 2020 Leave a comment

The new video essay Seed, Image, Ground is the most recent example of our collaborative work with Abelardo Gil-Fournier emerging from our project on vegetal surfaces and media aesthetics. Launched today, the video was commissioned by Fotomuseum Winterthur as part of their cluster Situations/Strike. Below the introduction text and the video! Please contact me or Abelardo for any queries related to possible video installation versions of the piece.

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Seed, Image, Ground (2020)

Seed bombing is a technique used in forestry, agriculture, and environmental restoration where biodegradable containers filled with seeds and soil nutrients are dropped from flying aircrafts to the ground. Conceived after WW2 by an RAF pilot, its use has been fostered during the last decade, linked to the increased deployment of robotic aerial vehicles in environmental monitoring.

Seed, Image, Ground works with selected promotional images and videos related to seed bombing. It combines them with footage showing the movements of seeds and leaves, and the growth of plants. The video essay concerns the link between images, seeds, aerial operations, and transformation of earth surfaces into data. It acknowledges how the history of botanic knowledge and visual surveys of green surfaces is a history of images, and how the latter is also a history of circulation, speed, and motorised aircraft. Such images operate much beyond visuality.

Seed, Image, Ground offers an alternative way of understanding “the strike.” From metaphors of war to guerrilla farming, from agricultural techniques and reforesting to the automation of airspace and environmental management, the observation of growth of vegetal surfaces unveils connections to parallel histories of the logistics of military perception.

Sound design by María Andueza Olmedo. Research for the video essay was supported by the project Operational Images and Visual Culture, situated at the department of Photography at the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague. The project is funded by Czech Science Foundation project 19-26865X.

 

A Recursive Web of Models: Studio Tomás Saraceno’s Working Objects

My article on Studio Tomás Saraceno’s work is now out in the Configurations journal.

Screenshot 2020-07-23 at 14.39.37

The text follows up from the Palais de Tokyo show On Air (curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel) and I’ve tried to articulate these points in the article in a couple of different contexts. While there is clearly lots (more) to be said about questions of artistic practices with animals (including multispecies ethnography), and what that implies for the field of environmental humanities, I am here a tad more focused on the question of the image, the model, and the exchange between art and science. Admittedly, “art and science” is a rather low res description of many of the actual workings of what happens in such practices, which is also why I have mobilised the term working objects (hat tip to Daston and Galison) in this context (while I acknowledge that so much more could be said). And keep your eyes open for Sasha Engelmann’s work on Studio Saraceno’s work btw.

In the meantime, see also the video “Studio Visit with Tomás Saraceno“.

Geologie médií

March 22, 2020 Leave a comment

The Czech translation of A Geology of Media is now out and available with Karolinum publishing house (Prague) as Geologie médiíAlso the Czech translation of What is Media Archaeology? is forthcoming (probably 2021) as well as a book focusing on my work (planned to be out in 2021).

Screenshot 2020-03-22 at 14.12.44