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Earth/Sky exhibition opening talk

With Ryan Bishop we wrote the following short oral presentation as part of the opening panel of the Earth/Sky exhibition that is on at the Calit2 gallery at UC San Diego! Please visit the show if you are in the region and for those interested, below the short opening introduction.

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Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka

March 7, 2019, UC San Diego

Earth/Sky exhibition – introductory remarks

Where the vertical X line meets the horizontal Y line in the X/Y axis is called the origin. Although we are not going to pursue myths of origins in this panel, that intersection is certainly the origin of inspiration for our exhibition and the works that comprise it.

What is the relationship between the X/Y axis and the horizon? Where is the horizon in the X/Y axis and how is it constructed, reconstituted, erased, or negated by the visualizing technologies these artists deploy, explore, exploit and query? The question of the horizon in relation to technology emerged in its contemporary guise in the aftermath of WWII and remains with us, cast by Martin Heidegger as “the age of the world picture “. The telecommunications technologies developed to provide constant real-time surveillance of the earth necessary to conduct the Cold War and enforce the Truman Doctrine simultaneously converted the earth into a globe (a bounded sphere visible at all times) as well as into a flattened world without horizon (due to the use of “over the horizon” visualizing technologies and complete surveillance of the entire planet all at the same time).

It found visual form in two works produced about the same time as Heidegger was writing: Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map, and Jasper Johns’ large-scale painting for the Montreal Expo ’67 inspired by Fuller’s map (and installed in Fuller’s massive geodesic dome erected there for the expo). The multi-pieced and multi-shaped canvas painting measures more than 30 feel long and over 15 feet high. As with Fuller’s cartographic vision, the icosahedron Dymaxion map created by Johns could be disassembled or assembled at will. Fuller’s map could be folded together to create a sphere or unfolded, origami-like, to be a flat two-dimensional object. Co-created with Shoji Sadao, Fuller’s map provided the model for the interactive, data-driven version used in his real-time teletechnological teaching tool called the World Game. Fuller and Sadao’s map moved easily, then, between 3-D and 2-D representations of the earth’s continents. These were represented in size based on population distribution and resource usage instead of the standard cartographic nod to physical coverage. While Fuller’s optimistic vision of the map’s pedagogical elements was at odds with Johns’ more pessimistic view of the geopolitical agonism that marked the moment, the map mimetically reproduces fully “the age of the world picture”. The globe as stage for Fuller-inflected neighbourliness also became a site of contiguous land masses locked in Johns-depicted animus: 3-D holistic vision coupled with 2-D Cold War strategically-generated economic inequities.

The cultural politics of Heidegger’s interpretation of modernity’s generated metaphysics can be charted in the capacity for representation to equate with both experience and the real, for the map to create the territory and the technological means for cartographic representation to become the tools for human crafting of the earth as globe, as flat observable plane or, as Fuller termed it, Spaceship. The visualizing teletechnologies on display in the Dymaxion Map, as well as the works in our exhibition here, are just such tools, for they chart a trajectory in which the world travelled from being construed as plane to orb to globe to flat, surveilled entity again. Our capacity to see and render the planet whole erased the horizon of the world and made it capable of being held in our collective teletechnological grasp. This is the “negative horizon” theorized by Paul Virilio: the conversion of the surface of the earth to pure surface, pure plane, to salt flat deserts and “mineral cemeteries” (141), a screen for projections and visions, a platform for unfettered terrestrial and aerial acceleration and optical realization. The age of the world picture is evoked in these maps made by Fuller and Johns, and it is so in the means by which we have enframed, delineated and curtailed potential futures, realized or not.

This leads us to our works on display in the exhibition (as well as the one screened as part of this opening panel, Susan Schuppli’s vertical cinema piece Atmospheric Feedback Loops). Schuppli’s audiovisual installation “Nature Represents Itself” presents the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in its legal and aesthetic form to propose the ecological site as a material witness capable of representing its own damaged condition. This auto representation of environmental disaster posits a new medium unique to the components of the disaster; in many ways, it is a visual analogue to Reza Negarestani’s philosophical fiction writing that fabulated the non-human revenging force of petroleum in Cyclonopedia. Furthermore, it taps into the multiple camera angles of the Anthropocene: the live feed of the underwater oil leak, the aerial view of the region as a massive size oil painting (as Ubermorgen, art group, coined it), the cultural politics of TV footage, the scientific imagining, and so forth.

Concerns about the horizon are omnipresent in the name of the documented disaster: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, with its connotations of X and Y in itself as well as the dimension of depth as the passage to the underwater realms that link from Jules Verne’s fictional Captain Nemo’s megalomanic world tour to the as megalomanically disastrous seascapes of drilling and deep sea mining. While the melting arctic ice that will flood vast coastal areas and towns presents its own new northern passages as well as oil and mineral opportunities, we are left with the archive of disasters that already took place across the petrocultural century. Deepwater is one where the various axes are again brought together both as its spatial coordinates and as part of visual culture of disasters.

The Gulf of Mexico was made an unintentional canvas of human intervention and failure, as seen in the many images of the disaster taken by NASA’s pertinently named Terra satellite. The visual register on screen in Schuppli’s work is that of the accident, which is a recurring feature of that axis where visual culture and technological infrastructure and political decision-making meet. As Paul Virilio reminded us, the invention of any technology is also the invention of its failure, of its accidents. The technology in its operation and its failure provide equally fodder for planning, speculation and aesthetic production. This also applies to the speculative side in more ways than one: not merely inventing technologies, but inventing their accidents around which technological systems can be laid out as large scale systems. Virilio in fact posited that the history of technology could better be queried and understood through a Museum of Disasters than our usual technolophillic celebratory institutions. If such a site were to be built, Schuppli’s work could take a proud place there as one example of the long term legacy of petroculture as itself an invention of an accident around which modern culture takes place, from transport to industry, from lifestyle to the variety of materials that sustain our sense of the everyday.

Another kind of an accident lurks in Herregraven’s “Sprawling Swamps,” a series of fictional infrastructures dispersed within the cracks of the contemporary financial geography that operate on a technological, legal and social level. Herregraven’s focus is on the littorals, the ambiguous shifting zones where sea and land interact, the port and the portal interface. These ambiguous and ambivalent spaces, gaps between economic and environmental certitudes, speak to Paul Gilroy’s arguments for a “critique at sea level”. Picking up from Gilroy, Francoise Verges asks: how do we develop cultural theory that starts from water, the sea, the oceans – from the middle passage, but then also the northern passages, the various forms of colonial and other kinds of disasters, including contemporary ones that take place across liquid and swampy landscapes? What is sea level in the current moment and in this moment of warming currents? Increasingly land can become water, arable land can become desert, etc. in the weird mixes of the classical four elements; as Gary Genosko puts it, these four elements are not however anymore the stable sort of earth-water-fire- air. A longer quote from Genosko (in the Posthuman Glossary) gives a clear picture of the new synthetics of elements:

The new fundamental elements… EARTH : dust; WATER : blood; AIR : lethal fogs; FIRE :flammables. Wrapped around these elements is the planetary phylum, a great tellurian cable bunch with its own products: EARTH : electronics; WATER : liquidities like water bottled in plastic, which throws forward diagrammatic intensities in the explosion of plastic debris; AIR : gases (green house); and FIRE : smouldering car tyres, slashed rainforests and seasonal wild fires in the great northern forests. However, as we have seen, the new elements combine both in existing directly – blood mixed with dust in the extraction of conflict minerals and oil fields, or methane, a flammable unnaturally mingled with the water supply, and which contributes to the green house gas effect – and by means of especially communicative matters, like microscopic fragments of plastics that perfuse the oceans and get into the food chain, and constitute fine dusts that affect respiration, settling among the fogs, gases and lethal clouds.

The Ovid-like metamorphoses of nature, of bodies changed, operates in pre-socratic thought in relation to the elements with the universe composed of these elements battling or playfully transforming into one another, as Empedocles theorized. But from Empedocles, we should move further to the chemical period of the past 200 years of chemistry and its multiple forms of interaction and escalation of planetary deposits. What we are witnessing now is a rapid reshaping of the elements of the planet, some by design but most not, some by human actors and some by technological systems working autonomously or in tandem with others in unintended ways. The dynamic nature of matter, and of nature, finds form in precarious legal, financial and governmental infrastructures poised along the liminal littorals. Nonetheless urban human forms as a guiding set of imaginaries are seemingly impervious to the vicissitudes of unstable ecologies, in spite of high winds, hurricanes, typhoons, floods and drought.

Visualizations of the XY axis rarely show the air or the sky. The seeming transparency of atmospheres is however a source for another sort of “light media” and “sky media” that is often crystallised in technological figures such as drones or satellite infrastructures or then in the toxic legacies such as smog. It also includes the longer legacy of the aerial perspective – sightlines lifted from the ground.

We most often see the earth as surface (with the X line being the literal line of sight). The horizon is usually implied, what we know lies beyond the frame. Heba Amin’s lyrical and witty projection piece, “As Birds Flying,” allows views of the sky, the earth, the horizon, savannahs and wetlands, settlements and aviary migrations, which in turn allude to human migrations on the rise throughout the world. Her use of found footage and non-human surveillance techniques, in this case mistakenly believed to be strapped to a migrating stork, reveals horizons of visualization, tracking and the continual geopolitical struggle for contested terrain. This view is not stable but one in movement; a survey of landscapes and velocity, of movement and tracking, of cinematic visions projected onto daily existence.

It is worth noting in closing that the aerial views on view in the show now are visible by humans but the majority of the images of the earth’s surface being produced today are by machines for machines: they are not representational but informational and automated; this is what Harun Farocki coined as the world of operational, or operative, images, which also includes an increasing amount of environmental imaging. These are also a dominant strand of the Earth/Sky and X/Y axis visualizations of the present that expands from aerial views to soil analysis, and to interplanetary visual cultures as with the recent Mars Rover images too. These images as measurements are used for their data despite the at times glamorous views we get a glimpse of. That which isn’t visible can be translated into data visualizations that help feed a vast machine of charting, control and most importantly prediction.

In so doing the X-Y axis extends to include the Z axis, and enters into predictive temporalities: planning, investment, policing, and so forth. The role of AI techniques of prediction in the futures markets results in manipulation and prediction that links governmental sovereignty to data visualization technologies and their capacity to shape and generate financial systems and markets. The particular surfaces that are catered as massive datasets are the past archive for the hypothetical future-nows that open up a new horizon. Questions surrounding the large-scale production of premediated near-future predictive strategies linking geomedia to algotrading speeds up the earth as the manipulation of its materials for control and gain set the data-gathering agenda in spite of the many admirable and altruistic projects that may complement it. In this way, the images and the predictive data scraped from them replicates bureaucratic tools of domination past. Sean Cubitt writes: “That trinity of fundamentally bureaucratic media—databases (filing cabinets), spreadsheets (ledgers) and GIS (maps)—still operates, not least at the level of companies and institutions, where it continues to provide the backbone of a residual early-modern biopolitics.” These instances of administration , Cubitt continues, “were the dominant media of the early 21st century, because they were the media of domination.” The techniques and technologies have changed but the larger cultural technics and their ontological rationale have not.

The origin of the X/Y axis remains literally and figuratively in place, if not accelerated and exacerbated by our visualizing technologies.

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Post-Anthropocene Fashion

February 28, 2019 Leave a comment

“…fashion cycles now follow the rate of Moore’s Law … ” — Liam Young on the Hyperface project (Hyphen Lab + Adam Harvey). This article features in the Machine Landscapes publication; I am thinking about this in the context of our Archaeologies of Fashion Film project which while being mostly focused on early cinema, has an angle to questions of post-cinema of fashion too. Hence, one cannot avoid how the question of movement of images has shifted to include aspects of data and not merely how the image is something we watch, but something that watches back, reverses the assumed order of address; hence, also, textiles as digital surfaces feature into this lineage as part of an alternative “archaeology” of cinema as part of apparatuses of surveillance and military, of targeting and camouflage.

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The Hyperface scarf

Library’s Other Intelligences videos

February 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Our show Library’s Other Intelligences is on at Oodi in Helsinki until March 10th and we have now our videos of the three featured pieces! Please find links below:

Jenna Sutela: nimiia ïzinibimi

Jenna Sutela’s nimiia ïzinibimi is a unique book based on an invented new language representing those who lack first-hand access to, or the ability to produce, “natural” language.

Samir Bhowmik & 00100 ENSEMBLE: Memory Machines

Samir Bhowmik’s and 00100 ENSEMBLE’s Memory Machines is a performative art project that explores the infrastructure of the Central Library Oodi

Tuomas A. Laitinen: Swarm Chorus

Tuomas A. Laitinen presents Swarm Chorus. He composed a performative installation and a sound piece with generative tools that are interpreting the construction of medieval musical canons. The work as a whole is likened to an ecosystem of circulating substances, with its words, inspired by ecological science fiction, functioning as fictional recipe poems describing and decoding an alchemistic combination of matter and meaning.

In addition,  the Code, Craft, and Catalogues: Arts in the Libraries-seminar will take place in New York on March 9th. It is also part of the Mobius fellowship program.

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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

On Paul Virilio

September 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Paul Virilio (1932-2018) passed away recently in September. We wrote a short piece with Ryan Bishop about him – Blitzkrieg Baby.

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Machine Learned Futures

September 6, 2018 3 comments

We are with Abelardo Gil-Fournier writing a text or two on questions of temporality in contemporary visual culture. Our specific angle is on (visual) forms of prediction and forecasting as they emerge in machine learning: planetary surface changes, traffic and autonomous cars, etc. Here’s the first bit of an article on the topic (forthcoming later we hope, both in German and English).

“’Visual hallucination of probable events’, or, on environments of images and machine learning”

I Introduction

Contemporary images come in many forms but also, importantly, in many times. Screens, interfaces, monitors, sensors and many other devices that are part of the infrastructure of knowledge build up many forms of data visualisation in so-called real-time. While data visualisation might not be that new of a technical form of organisation of information as images, it takes a particularly intensive temporal turn with networked data that has been discussed for example in contexts of financial speculation.[1] At the same time, these imaging devices are part of an infrastructure that does not merely observe the microtemporal moment of the “real”, but unfolds in the now-moment. In terms of geographical, geological and broadly speaking environmental monitoring, the now moment expands in to near-future scenarios in where other aspects, including imaginary are at play. Imaging becomes a form of nowcasting, exposing the importance of understanding change changing.

Here one thinks of Paul Virilio and how “environment control” functions through the photographic technical image. In Virilio’s narrative the connection of light (exposure), time and space are bundled up as part of the general argument about the disappearance of the spatio-temporal coordinates of the external world. From the real-space we move to the ‘real-time’ interface[2] and to analysis of how visual management detaches from the light of the sun, the time of the seasons, the longue duree of the planetary qualitative time to the internal mechanisms of calculation that pertain to electric and electronic light. Hence, the photographic image that is captured prescribes for Virilio the exposure of the world: it is an intake of time, and, an intake of light. Operating on the world as active optics, these intakes then become the defining temporal frame for how environments are framed and managed through operational images, to use Harun Farocki’s term, and which then operationalize how we see geographic spaces too. The time of photographic development (Niepce), or “cinematographic resolution of movement” (Lumière), or for that matter the “videographic high definition of a ‘real-time’ representation of appearances”[3] are part of Virilio’s broad chronology of time in technical media culture.

But what is at best implied in this cartography of active optics is the attention to mobilization of time as predictions and forecasts. For operations of time and production of times move from meteorological forecasting to computer models, and from computer models to a plethora of machine learning techniques that have become another site of transformation of what we used to call photography. Joanna Zylinska names this generative life of photography as its nonhuman realm of operations that rearranges the image further from any historical legacy of anthropocentrism to include a variety of other forms of action, representation and temporality.[4] The techniques of time and images push further what counts as operatively real, and what forms of technically induced hallucination – or, in short, in the context of this paper, machine learning – are part of current forms of production of information.

Also in information society, digital culture, images persist. They persist as markers of time in several senses that refer not only to what the image records – the photographic indexicality of a time passed nor the documentary status of images as used in various administrative and other contexts – but also what it predicts. Techniques of machine learning are one central aspect of the reformulation of images and their uses in contemporary culture: from video prediction of the complexity of multiple moving objects we call traffic (cars, pedestrians, etc.) to satellite imagery monitoring agricultural crop development and forest change. Such techniques have become one central example of where earth’s geological and geographical changes become understood through algorithmic time, and also where for instance the very rapidly changing vehicle traffic is treated alike as the much slower earth surface durations of crops. In all cases, a key aspect is the ability to perceive potential futures and fold them into the real-time decision-making mechanisms.

The computational microtemporality takes a futuristic turn; algorithmic processes of mobilizing datasets in machine learning become activated in different institutional context as scenarios, predictions and projections. Images run ahead of their own time as future-producing techniques.

Our article is interested in a distinct technique of imaging that speaks to the technical forms of time-critical images: Next Frame Prediction and the forms of predictive imagining employed in contemporary environmental images (such as agriculture and climate research). While questions about the “geopolitics of planetary modification”[5] have become a central aspect of how we think of the ontologies of materiality and the Earth as Kathryn Yusoff has demonstrated, we are interested in how these materialities are also produced on the level of images.

Real time data processing of the Earth not as a single view entity, but an intensively mapped set of relations that unfold in real time data visualisations becomes a central way of continuing the earlier more symbolic forms of imagery such as the Blue Marble.[6] Perhaps not deep time in the strictest geological terms, agricultural and other related environmental and geographical imaging are however one central way of understanding the visual culture of computational images that do not only record and represent, but predict and project as their modus operandi.

This text will focus on this temporality of the image that is part of these techniques from the microtemporal operation of Next Frame Prediction to how it resonates with contemporary space imaging practices. While the article is itself part of a larger project where we elaborate with theoretical humanities and artistic research methods the visual culture of environmental imaging, we are unable in this restricted space to engage with the multiple contexts of this aspect of visual culture. Hence we will focus on the question of computational microtime, the visualized and predicted Earth times, and the hinge at the centre of this: the predicted time that comes out as an image. The various chrono-techniques[7] that have entered the vocabulary of media studies are particularly apt in offering a cartography of what analytical procedures are at the back of producing time. Hence the issue is not only about what temporal processes are embedded in media technological operations, but what sounds like merely a tautological statement: what times are responsible for a production of time. What times of calculation produce imagined futures, statistically viable cases, predicted worlds? In other words, what microtemporal times are in our case at the back of a sense of a futurity that is conditioned in calculational, software based and dataset determined system?

[1] Sean Cubitt, Three Geomedia, in: Ctrl-Z 7, 2017.
[2] Paul Virilio, Polar Inertia, London-Thousand Oaks-New Delhi, 2000, S. 55.
[3] Ebenda, S.61
[4] See Joanna Zylinska, Nonhuman Photography, Cambridge (MA) 2017.
[5] Kathryn Yusoff, The Geoengine: geoengineering and the geopolitics of planetary modification, in: Environment and Planning a 45, 2013, S. 2799-2808.
[6] See also Benjamin Bratton, What We Do Is Secrete: On Virilio, Planetarity and Data Visualisation, in: John Armitage/Ryan Bishop (Hg.), Virilio and Visual Culture, Edinburgh 2013, S. 180–206, hier S. 200-203.
[7] Wolfgang Ernst, Chronopoetics. The Temporal Being and Operativity of Technological Media, London-New York 2016.

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.