top of page
  • chahaleden

With sensors made more accessible - we could have access to dimensions of our surroundings that we are not naturally equipped to measure. The example of air pollution given in the text of Jennifer Gabrys and Helen Pritchard is a significant model that has been developed by artists through different mediums and variations.

It is difficult for me to say how it relates to my practice, for I haven’t used these tools yet, but it made me curious to discover projects that I found extremely interesting.

Digital atmosphere, Studio Above&Below

Studio Above and Below are digital artists based in London. With the work Digital Atmosphere, shown below, they used mixed reality to create an AR sculpture that is controlled by a pollution sensor, shaping it in real time.

“Even if the air looks clear, it is certain that you will inhale tens of millions of solid and liquid particles, travelling from one side of the planet to the other. These ubiquitous specks of matter are known as aerosols, which are invisible to the eye, however not invisible to our lungs. With Digital Atmosphere we are investigating a future in which clear air may be a reality through giving nature a voice. The impact of air pollution on our bodies became especially clear throughout the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

Studio Above&Below

Beyond the pleasing estetical aspect, I find the approach of revealing dimensions that we don’t have access to very appealing, and it is something that I would like to explore within my practice. They are giving shape to something that our senses don’t allow us to see, through a technological extension to the body through mixed reality glasses, in real time, and with no impact on the physical world.

Another significant exemple is the installation of chinese designer Huachen Xin, Pollution Ranger and Smoke Shade. This minimalistic circular sculpture monitors and visualises the air pollution levels in cities.

This example involves an additional political layer, for Huachen Xin works within the context of chinese cities, with air quality data can only be accessed through government published data. He questions the authenticity of this data, and through his work calls for alternative sources : "Lack of alternative sources of verified national and local data not only violates the basic rights of citizens but also serves as an abuse of power," said Xin.

Smoke Shade installation, Huachen Xin

We could imagine that if accurate sensors were democratised it could bring awareness, but also bypass official communication, and the storytelling/lobbying it sometimes carries. A citizen led answer can be a motor, and even an act of resistance. But it could also in some contexts lead to a proliferation of many different storytellings, with an extreme version possibly contributing to a populist system - the fact that a project is citizen led is not an ethical stamp.

Moreover, at an individual level, a case where we would be personally carrying or constantly reminded of, in this case pollution and more broadly climate change, can also have a negative impact. It could enforce a sense of guilt, and face people with the fact that they are helpless to answer those problems.

  • chahaleden

Dernière mise à jour : 27 janv. 2021

In 1988, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky published Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. They developed an analysis on the media system in the United State, showing how it is an instrument serving a dominant ideology, to the service of liberalism and legitimising US political decisions. For them it doesn't constitute a counter power, but conveys a propaganda, following a model that they summarised in 5 main "distortion filters", or biases:

- Size, ownership, and profit orientation:

- The advertising license to do business

- Sourcing mass media news

- Flak and the enforcers

- Anti-communism/war on terror

This analysis was published more than 30 years ago, and it is likely to have precursors. Its authors are far from being Trump activists.

I found the introduction to the call of Hertz - Disobedient Electronics, that describes the means of their approach problematic for several reasons.

First because they date Trump’s election as the beginning of a post truth era that they describe like an established fact. Did we live in an era of absolute truth before 2016? Is there really an absolute truth, or were medias, owned in the US by big corporations, as depicted by N.Chomsky, already contributing to serve a dominant thought? Populisms are growingly drawing a binary world, to their profit. I found the way that the call is written also feeds this perception.

Their five points of what they are aiming at:

1-”Building electronic objects can be an effective form of political protest.”

2-”(...)in some senses, populism can be seen as the rise of the DIY non-expert.”

This feels like a shortcut that could have many other meanings. The DIY culture could also be spreading because of a need for people to have tangible meaning to what they are doing, by pursuing very concrete work, by touching matter, for the pleasure of building physical objects…

3- “Critical and Speculative Design (Dunne & Raby) are worthwhile approaches within industrial design, but perhaps not adversarial enough to reply to contemporary populist right-wing movements (Brexit, Trump & Le Pen).“

4- “If we are living in a post-truth time, we should focus on trying to make progressive ar- guments and facts more legible and engaging to a wide and diverse audience.”

Post Truth is presented again as a given, irreversible fact.

5-”The fad of ‘Maker Culture’ is over. Arduinos and 3D printers are fascinating things, but the larger issues of what it means to be a human or a society needs to be directly confronted.”

Why should Maker Culture not be suitable to contribute to the debate of what humans or society needs?

It is understandable to lean toward a feeling of radicality, but I couldn’t read it without being disturbed. It is not so much about nuance in the meaning of not having a clear point of view and edulcoring it, but it is about building a complex radicality.

  • chahaleden

Dernière mise à jour : 20 janv. 2021

“Today there no longer exists any distance between the natural world and the artificial world, because the latter has become a second nature….When I bring nature up against technology, I do not seek to reconcile myself with nature, but to reconcile myself with technology, by transferring into it this great plankton of mixed materials in which we live.”

- Andrea Branzi, Branzi, ed. Burkhardt and Morozzi

These ideas seemed directly connected to the ones developed by Bruno Latour.

Andrea Branzi, Animali Domestici

I had come over the work of Bruno Latour when studying architecture and in particular while specializing in topics related to the study of cities, in the same frame as studying about Branzi’s work. Within this focus, he was highly regarded as a promoter of complexity, and I had tried reading his essay We have never been modern. Those theories were taught to us as an approach to urban design, directing it towards a bottom up view to a discipline that is very difficult to grasp, due to its scale and complexity. Latour’s work would be a support to view each element of cities as a part of a network that exceeds them.

Each even banal object, that doesn’t usually enter into account when thinking of planning, is part of a mesh that, when traced, can become a starting point for a project.

If I encounter a bottle of water thrown in the street, if I try to trace what it relates to, and build up its network, this can give me massive information about : local and international transports, commercial facilities, resources extraction, access to facilities, sustainability…

The discussions in class and in the text about the actor-network theory were not easy to fully understand, maybe because to do so requires grasping many theories and methodologies that it is built in opposition to. It is very interesting to see the same author, on the same theory, but presented in the frame of a totally new domain. It probably says something about the (desired?) versatility of this thinking. Though I still don’t get all of it, it adds layers of understanding, and opens new perspectives.

If the limit between human and non human becomes blurred by technology merging into bodies, will the opposition that Latour and his colleagues deplore still hold?

bottom of page