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Floating Utopias for the Age of Rising Seas

Written by
BRIAN MERCHANT
@bcmerchant
brian.merchant@vice.com

May 14, 2014 // 07:00 AM EST

 

A two mile-thick ice sheet in Antarctica is collapsing, which all but guarantees at least 10 feet of global sea level rise. That’s grim news for the 44 percent of the world’s population living in coastal areas, who now face the dire prospect of preparing for the coming tides. Developing the necessary engineering solutions, as well as plans to anticipate some inevitable social and economic destabilization, will prove a daunting challenge for millions of communities worldwide. Which is why, along with the engineers, we’re going to need utopianists.

In 1962, haunted by the specter of nuclear annihilation, the sociologist Lewis Mumford penned a new preface to his book, The Story of UtopiasHe noted that utopianism tends to thrive when civilization is in turmoil, and that far from being useless pie-in-the-sky dreaming, our utopian myths, schemes, and fictions hint at what he terms society’s “potentialities.”  

“[E]very community possesses, in addition to its going institutions, a reservoir of potentialities, partly rooted in the past, still alive though hidden, and partly budding forth from new mutations, which open the way to further development,” Mumford wrote. In the face of utter destruction by the bomb, he said, there was nonetheless an opportunity to “renew in man himself the sense of his more-than-human potentialities.” 

Now, we’re faced with an existential crises of another stripe. Scientists have for the last few years considered a significant amount of global warming, and the sea level rise it brings with it, an inevitability. Now that we have a forebodingly certain baseline in place, it’s an apt time to look at some of the many utopian ideas that have quite literally—yeah, sorry—been floated to cope with the rising tides.

Image courtesy of Remizov

Floating Cities

I’ve been keeping a close eye on modern utopianism for the last couple years, and one of the most common themes is, unsurprisingly, floating cities.

Whether grandiose, or of the humbler variety, both sci-fi designers and urban planners are imagining how to raise our metropolises up to ride atop the rising tides. First, let’s look at what is maybe the most prevalent medium for modern utopianism on the internet—design fiction. You’ve maybe already seen some examples of the genre running through your feed; the self-sustaining, ark-like city designed to float in a globally-warmed world. 

This one, designed by Russian architect Alexander Remizov, is a “bioclimatic” ark—a self-sustaining, floating system designed to harbor insular communities of people in a disaster-ridden, high-tide world. It’s both apocalyptic and hopeful; we can keep our sleek modernist design and opulent lives, we modern-day Noahs decked out with smart tech, as the world ravages everything unfortunate enough to lie outside the walls we’ve built. 

According to Arch Daily, “Remizov envisioned this project as the house for the future which can be constructed quickly and withstand environmental disasters through its structural integrity.” Resilient, perfectly-organized floating domiciles aren’t just the focus of science fiction, though.

Image: NLE

In a poor neighborhood of Lagos, Nigeria—now Africa’s largest economy—local architects are trying to engineer an entire city to float. The first phase has been completed; the school is now essentially a moored boat. But the next phase of the African Water Cities Project is where the utopian planning begins in earnest.

According to Design Boom, “phase two includes the construction of floating housing units that can be interlocked or float independently… the houses will also contain a state-of-the-art device designed by Japanese company AIR Danshin Systems Inc that detects certain movements (such as earthquake tremors) and activated a compressor that pumps air into a chamber below the structure so that the dwellings may navigate safely over a flood plain.” It’s supposed to be completed by the end of this year, but as with most utopian schemes, it appears to be a bit behind schedule.

Floating Power

Nuclear energy was the original utopian energy source: boundless, clean, a triumph of science. To its advocates, it still reflects near-unlimited potential. So, to better suit our drowning world, MIT has made them float. These buoyed, modular reactors rise and fall with the seas; tsunamis ostensibly glance off them harmlessly, and they use the vast reservoir of ocean below them as a well for cooling water as they produce a font of clean energy.  Problems persist, of course; meltdowns or radioactive discharge are even more a terrifying specter at sea. 

Less controversial, but no less optimistic are other floating power sources; Singapore is getting ready to try out a pilot program for floating solar panels.

New Venices

If we cannot build utopian floating city-capsules, then perhaps we at least will be able to adapt our current infrastructure to the flood. Science fiction might offer some clues as to how.

The sci-fi historian Adam Roberts argues that “utopian writing becomes a sort of para-SF, entwining itself round the genre in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” Yet in traditional science fiction, it’s rare that irreversible climate change produces hopeful communities; Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 is the exceptional vision that does. 

“It was almost an ice-free planet now, with only Antarctica and Greenland holding on to much, and Greenland going fast. Sea level was therefore eleven meters higher than it had been before the changes,” Robinson writes. “This inundation of the coastline was one of the main drivers of the human disaster on Earth.” Pertinent words, those.

After a couple generations of terrible chaos, some degree of stability reemerged—as well as a New York City replete with Venetian canals laced between permanently submerged skyscrapers. Life, and its messy bustle, goes on: “A few parts of Manhattan’s ground still stood above the water, but most of it was drowned, the old streets now canals, the city an elongated Venice, a skyscraper Venice, a super Venice—which was a very beautiful thing to be. Indeed it was an oft-expressed cliche that the city had been improved by the flood.”

Floating Free Market Utopias

Image: Seasteading Institute 

It’s doubtful that libertarians like Peter Thiel are all that interested in fighting climate change; statistically speaking, most don’t consider it a pressing issue. But their long-gestating Seasteading communities, those floating free market utopias where the tech elite can innovate away without the burdensome shackles of government, incidentally appear primed to adapt to a high-tide planet.

Rising Prospects for Radical Change

From the beginning, Occupy Wall Street was a utopian project in the strictest sense—a leaderless, ultra-egalitarian activist community founded at the foot of its participants’ oppressor. Utopian projects are often most notable for how they illuminate the gulf between imperfect reality and their lofty aims, and the gulf OWS, was attempting to bridge was glaringly self-evident: Students, laborers, and average citizens couldn’t find work, while profits for the 1 percent soared. A radical adjustment to income equality was therefore in order.

When Hurricane Sandy, pulling from sea levels raised by climate change, washed over New York City, the movement’s ideals were again translated into action—and we saw a glimmer of how besieged coastal communities might organize to respond to crises. Decentralized, democratic, networked, and better organized than legacy aid efforts, Occupy Sandy empowered communities while delivering disaster relief. It proved Occupy could organize to provide shelter, health, food delivery, and other crucial services.

But, effective as it was, it also made the chasm to utopia again starkly evident, this time in the face of a harsh scientific reality—thousands of people are still without homes, and storms like this are going to keep coming. Occupy Sandy shows how far we need to travel before we’re ready for the disasters of the future—our institutions aren’t yet equipped to cope. 

That’s why we need to consider each of these utopian ideas (okay, maybe not the Steasteads). As Mumford says, even if the total vision they convey are ultimately impossible, they reveal the potentialities in our communities to first adequately imagine, then adapt, life beset by rising seas.

 

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10296174_476816305783975_1896722786469790853_o 10309337_1506298946265136_7694545771599548638_n 10339549_10154066985225316_1956882948861110285_nThis year has been going well for me in Athens with events unfolding from my time spent on the SNEHTA Artist Residency last Autumn.  This week saw the opening of Art Athina 2014.  SNEHTA used this art fair to showcase the second set of residents from their residency.

SNEHTA Press Release:

“Things are Different Now”
Snehta Resident Artists Annual Show (2013-2014)

15-18 MAY
Booth P13, Art Athina Platforms Projects, Faliro Pavilion (TaeKwon Do), 2 Moraitini Str., Faliron Delta

Participating artists:
Elliott Burns, Jack Burton, Catriona Gallagher, Boris Lafargue, Andrew Peter Mason, Dickie Webb

Organized by:
Irini Bachlitzanaki, Becky Campbell & Augustus Veinoglou for Snehta Residency, Athens

Things are Different Now brings together work by six artists who completed an artists’ residency at Snehta in
the past year and is the second annual show of residents. The works on show were either created in Athens
or shortly after the resident artists’ stay at Snehta. While they are the result of distinct artistic practices,
seen together they bring to the fore issues of location and dislocation, change and movement as well as the
experience of time and space and the way this is worked through and inscribed on an individual piece of art.

I made a new version of a work that I have continued to use as the basis of my thoughts since Athens, the work titled;

Concept of Since: 24 Options,

4 words

24 orders

Multiple meanings.

Merleau-Ponty described space, as having many meanings and it is only how it is phrased/spoken that gives it meaning.

The current Athenian landscape can be read in different ways by those who live/visit here. It has multiple meanings and like most cities and countries are hard to interpret. This work asks people to consider these short statements in relation to their current landscape, asking them to question their own experience of the here and now. Whilst some viewers will be hung up on the negative others will see opportunity in with each rendition.

Thanks for the SNEHTA team for organising this and making this a success.

Art Athina runs from 15th – 18th of May click here for the website.

Click here for SNEHTA website

 

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SURFACE_GALLERY

21st March – 15th May 2014

Access by appointment only

We present two films NOISE//01 and NOISE//02.

Each film take us on a series of orbits around a single, unedited, scan captured in Berlin in November 2013. The camera journeys through the droning spheres of error and cataclysmic arrays of inaccurate points.

A single edition of each film is available for purchase.

 

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ScanLAB Projects exhibition at Surface Gallery delivers an insight to the process of Matthew Shaw and William Trossell.  Their work which they produce under their name ScanLAB Projects.  I saw their work from a recent post on BLDGBLOG, here is what is said about these images.

Last week, Shaw and Trossell premiered a new project at London’s Surface Gallery, exploring where laser scanners glitch, skip, artifact, and scatter. Called Noise: Error in the Void, the show utilizes scanning data taken from two locations in Berlin, but—as the show’s title implies—it actually foregrounds all the errors, where the equipment went wrong: a world of “mistaken measurements, confused surfaces and misplaced three-dimensional reflections.”

The tics and hiccups of a scanner gone off the mark thus result in these oddly beautiful, almost Romantic depictions of the world, like some lunatic, lo-fi cosmology filtered through machines.

Frozen datascapes appear like digital mist settling down over empty fields—or perhaps they’re parking lots—a virtual Antarctica appearing in the middle of the city.

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Matt Calderwood – Interrupted Projections sees 3D and 2D meet with direct prints taken from 3D and presented in 2D.  A simple yet effective translation which creates a dialogue between the two dimensions.  It is however the decisions and errors in this translation that intrigue me, like with a lot of visual attraction its the flaws that have the detail and interest.  This exhibition for me portrays this in a straight up fashion, with such simplicity leading to so much more.  The 2D prints deliver new narratives and readings of what came before.
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Matt Calderwood
Interrupted Projections

opening Saturday 1 March 2014, 6–9 pm
exhibition 2 March – 12 April 2014
Wednesday–Saturday 11 am – 6 pm and by appointment

Sommer & Kohl are pleased to present the first solo exhibition of new works by British artist Matt Calderwood (*1975 Northern Ireland).

The title of the exhibition Interrupted Projections refers to mapmaking processes which translate the curved, three-dimensional terrestrial surface onto a flat, two-dimensional plane. No map projection can preserve shape and size simultaneously, and the larger the mapped area, the more pronounced the total distortion. Interrupted maps were developed in order to represent specific map characteristics more accurately or to achieve the best possible compromise for certain sections of a map.

Calderwood is interested in the fact that compromises are necessary when transferring a three-dimensional surface onto a two-dimensional plane. Where does the space between a sculpture and its flat representation get lost? Recently the artist has been producing printed images from a range of rubber and plywood sculptures using printers ink and household gloss paint on large sheets of paper. These works have always recorded one side of the sculpture resulting in something like a drawing of the object.

For Interrupted Projections, Matt Calderwood deals with the object’s entire surface. His central theme, how to follow the logic of objects with an economy of means, is always present in the background. For the exhibition, the raw plywood form is painted on all sides with gloss paint, placed onto a tyvek sheet and wrapped on all sides with the material. After a few moments the now gloss printed wrapping is removed and both it and the sculpture are left to dry. This process is repeated several times. The sculpture hereby becomes subject, tool and object for the image production.  At the same time the images resulting from this process are like a set of maps for the sculpture. Like a cartographer’s interrupted projection where there are cuts in the image to allow the flattening of the globe’s surface with minimal distortion, the necessary folds in the fabric as it negotiates the three-dimensional surface create similar interruptions and compromises within the prints.

Matt Calderwood lives and works in London. 2013 he had solo exhibitions at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill On Sea (UK) and at Baltic 39 in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK).

For further information and/or images please contact Sommer & Kohl.

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I am drawn to the works by Pablo Valbuena by the way he allows the viewer to straddle both the real and virtual/digital realms.  His subtle carefully placed interventions are eloquent and respond to the existing patterns of the architecture whilst break and ask the the viewer to build understanding through their own experiences.

Here is the article written on the Creative Application website:

Created by Pablo Valbuena, Time Tilings are four site-specific interventions created for Artefact festival, STUK Kunstencentrum. Leuven, BE in 2013. Like in most of his projects, time tilings is about time, space and perception. He explores the overlap of the physical and the virtual, the generation of mental spaces by the observer, the dissolution of the boundaries between real and perceived, the links between space and time and the use of light as prime matter.

Time Tilings includes projection mapping onto existing surfaces that are physical patterns in themselves. The projections add a new dimension of time where the projected geometries are carefully and precisely mapped over the physical ones. The installation is site-specific each time, formulated as a direct response to the perceptual qualities, physical conditions and surrounding influences of a certain location or space.

Architecture is judged by eyes that see, by the head that turns, and the legs that walk. Architecture is not a synchronic phenomenon but a successive one, made up of pictures adding themselves one to the other, following each other in time and space, like music. — Le Corbusier. Modulor I.

Project Page | Pablo Valbuena

See also quadratura and para-site [mattress factory]

Pablo is a visual artist with an architectural background. Born in Spain and currently based in the south of France (Toulouse), his work has been presented internationally in public and private institutions, biennials and galleries as exhibitions and site-specific commissions. He has developed large-scale interventions in the public space in locations across Europe and America.

 

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re:post from http://we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2013/07/thermal.php

Written by Regine on July 26, 2013

One last project exhibited a few weeks ago at the Sight + Sound festival in Montreal. You might remember that a while ago I interviewed Arthur Heist about the workshopAnalyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets. Before that, i talked with Nicolas Maigret about The Pirate Cinema.

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Organic polymers

This time, i had an exchange of emails with Mario De Vega to talk about Thermal, a performance in which he uses microwave ovens to alter the molecular composition of different materials. The work also uses custom-built hardware to sonify the electromagnetic activity produced by the overheating of the content of the ovens.

Hi Mario! Thermal is an audio-visual performance in which several objects are modified using a microwave oven. Now I’m sure you’ve been asked that questions many times but isn’t it dangerous to put objects inside a microwave? The photos from the performances look a bit on the hazardous side to me. Do you have to take certain precautions?

I over-expose danger and confront human vulnerability through a frontal situation. Security advices are given before the performance starts and audience are free to leave the room. I give information and advice of possible danger.

Of course, by overheating a device which development comes from radar technology research from WWII, confronts a complex paradigm: the oven could explode during the performance, gases are highly toxic and electromagnetic activity aim to be materialized thorough acoustic pressure.

Thermal is a confrontation with our own vulnerability using an electronic device that mainly everyone can recognize, a device that modified nutritional facts, social interaction and climate. The action has a political content itself without intending being political as principle. It confronts and intimidates through presence, ambiguity, over-exposed information and acoustic pressure. It also has a visual aim. I’m interested in how electronic devices or arrangements suggest context through ambiguity, in other words, I’m interested in producing events and situations in which codes are visible but not completely “readable”. We could be able, in this case, to recognize an object (microwave oven) but our understanding of things reduce our approach, resulting in a situation with dislocated semantic structure in which things are there, frontal and visible and more over we can not understand what is happening.

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Polyurethane

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During the performance, you put materials such as wax, ceramic, magnesium, carboxylic acid, pvc, etc. inside the microwaves. Could you describe how some of them react? Did any of the material you used react in a way you did not expect?

This has mainly a sculptural mean; with Thermal I’m interested in research materialization, irritation and modification as main topics. I modify materials, amplify, expose the process and materialize the results through different outputs. Technically, by irritating the molecular composition of matter, microwaves reflection change by absorption. We can think this in terms that certain materials absorb more than others, and here absorbing means less reflection and less dynamic range in an audio event.
We can understand amplification through four semantic layers.

The first one has the aim to amplify electromagnetic activity, high frequency mainly into the 2.4 GHz range. For this I use SNUFF and LIMEN, electronic devices based on logarithmic detectors used to demodulate high spectrum electromagnetic signals into a human audible ranges.

The second later is luminal activity. Using mainly a custom amplifier (BABEL) to convert lumens into sound.

The third part is electro-mechanic, using mainly a contact microphone to amplify friction and mechanic activity produced by the oven, rotating plate movements, for example.
The forth and last is probably the most dynamic part, reduced in a switch. On / Off. I turn on and off the device in order to maintain tension and produce a dynamic event.

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Window of the microwave oven during performance

More generally, could you describe what is going on during the performance? What can the audience see, smell and hear?

What you hear is mainly activity that in a normal situation humans would not be able to codify as acoustic pressure. I use electronic media to demodulate, amplify and over expose highly toxic electromagnetic pollution produced by an electro-domestic device used by 40% of the population worldwide. Burnt plastic and overheated corrosive materials are toxic; smell is an important issue for Thermal.

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Moscow Biennale, Moscow, 2009

If I understood correctly, the main instrument for this audio-visual performance is the microwave oven. Did you have to modify the household appliance for the work?

No, the ovens are not modified. This would be a very complex and even dangerous task. For me it’s even more interesting to use the devices as they are, I just simply amplify its activity.

Any upcoming project, event or research field you’d like to share with us?

Probably I should then here expose deeply my apologizes to delay this interview so long. I’ve been working in a solo exhibition in Mexico City during the last two years (SIN); the opening was on the 20th of June in a Museum located downtown namedLaboratorio Arte Alameda. It’s composed by 6 site-interventions, curated by Carsten Seiffarth and a retrospective salon curated by Michel Blancsubé.

An upcoming publication compiling 10 years of my work will be published this month, and an editorial project about thermal must be finished this year, as well as a vinyl edition with artkillart.

Thanks Mario!

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If you’re curious about Mario’s work, head to Berlin Art Link, they recently visited the artist’s studio.

Other works exhibited at Sight and Sound, a festival produced by Eastern Bloc in Montreal: Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets and The Pirate Cinema, A Cinematic Collage Generated by P2P Users.

Photo on the homepage: © Kimberley Bianca / transmediale. All other images courtesy of the artist.

 

Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon: ‘It blew my mind!’

Fifty years ago, Morton Subotnick inadvertently invented techno with his ‘electronic music box’, the Buchla synthesiser. Now, he’s revisiting the piece for the Adelaide festival.
Milton Subotnick

‘I wasn’t on drugs when I make it’ … Morton Subotnick with a re-creation of the Buckla synth.

In 1967, the American composer Morton Subotnick released a record called Silver Apples of the Moon. It was the first electronic album ever to be commissioned by a classical record label, and it is still revered among synth gurus for containing the seeds – or possibly the pips – of techno.

Now 80 years old, though looking at least 20 years younger, Subotnick has flown halfway round the world, from his home in New York to Australia, to perform Silver Apples of the Moon in its entirety at theAdelaide festival. But what he’s really excited about is a new app he has created that enables kids to create their own electronic compositions on an iPad.

The app – called Pitch Painter – could be seen as the fulfilment of Subotnick’s prophecy, made in the 1960s, that one day every living room would contain a synthesiser. Having downloaded the app, I’m eager to play him the jaunty little electro-nursery rhyme I’ve come up with. “That’s very good,” he says. “A three-year-old could have done it,” I reply.

“That’s exactly the point. It’s a way of enabling kids to create music intuitively, without standard notation getting in the way. You wouldn’t prevent children from expressing themselves in paint before they’ve learned to draw, so why shouldn’t they be able to compose without reading music?”

Subotnick himself studied music at Mills College in Oakland, California, where his fellow students included future minimalists Terry Riley andSteve Reich. He was all set for a career as a clarinettist, but his interest in electro-acoustic music led to the establishment of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre in 1961, with fellow musician Ramon Sender. The two men dreamed of creating compositions with sounds no conventional acoustic instrument could produce. So, with a $500 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Subotnick commissioned electronics wizard Don Buchla to build an “electronic music box”.

For his performance of Silver Apples of the Moon, Subotnick will be using a modern re-creation of the first Buchla synthesiser (the original is now in the Library of Congress). It looks more like a miniature telephone exchange than an instrument, which may explain why it never really caught on. Shortly after it appeared, Robert Moog debuted an alternative that was adopted by the likes of Pete Townshend, Micky Dolenz and Wendy Carlos, whose Switched-On Bach, recorded on a Moog, became one of the biggest-selling classical releases of all time. Not that Subotnick was impressed. “I could never see the point in playing old music on a new invention,” he says. “If I’m going to play Bach, I’d rather use a harpsichord.”

The Buchla might not have caught on, but that didn’t stop Subotnick making full use of it. Almost 50 years on, Silver Apples of the Moon still sounds arrestingly contemporary. The piece is in two parts: the first is slower, moodier and full of profound, synthetic sighs, like a robot in despair; then in the second half, something extraordinary happens – the music suddenly develops a pulse and climaxes in the frenzied hammering of proto-club rhythms.

This had simply never been heard before. Early electronic compositions were mostly about sine waves, oscillations, timbre – all devoid of rhythm, by and large. Yet, says Subotnick, his discovery of beats happened almost by accident. “In the early days, it took a long, long time – sometimes even days – to programme a sequence. Quite unintentionally, I found I had created this pulsating rhythm. I started grooving with it – and it blew my mind.”

And quite a lot of other minds, too. Silver Apples swiftly became an essential psychedelic soundtrack. “I certainly wasn’t on drugs when I made it,” he says. “I was working too hard. But I’d been staging multimedia performances with dance companies using projections and coloured oils since the early 60s, which was several years before psychedelia is supposed to have started.”

Even the album’s trippy title is perhaps a little less trippy than it appears: Subotnick took it from Yeats’s poem The Song of Wandering Aengus: “The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.” As Subotnick says, “It doesn’t really mean anything. I just liked the sound of it.”

More innovations followed. Subotnick’s 1994 work All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis was the first interactive concert to be conceived for CD-Rom. And in 1995, he produced the first of his children’s works, Making Music, which might be described as the young person’s guide to the sequencer.

But it’s Silver Apples he will always be most closely associated with – and that suits him fine. “It’s not a bad little piece,” he says. “It’s like a jazz composition. I’ll start out with some of the familiar riffs, then just improvise. It keeps on changing whenever I perform it.”

• Silver Apples of the Moon is at the Adelaide festival on Friday, 7 March. The festival runs until 16 March (adelaidefestival.com.au). Alfred Hickling’s flights were provided by Emirates.