Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Posthuman cities

...unevenly distributed.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, following an unknown event, mankind disappears from the planet. Nature gradually regains its rights over urban areas, giving birth to a new landscape.
At a time when we have become aware of the fragility of nature, and are increasingly concerned about ecology, global warming, and the future of the planet, I wondered how all these man-made super-structures would evolve in time. Angkor is sublimely poetic, overgrown by the forces of nature and evoking a long lost human civilisation….why not Dubai, Shanghai, New York, Rome, Paris next?… What will become of these urban landscapes, these megacities, this civilisation of ours, now possibly at the height of its strength, but one day vowed to disappear, as did the Mayans or the Khmers?

This is by no means a pessimistic end-of-the-world type vision. On the contrary, it is the vision of a world that is quite idyllic, a new-found Garden of Eden, full of life, colours, shapes and poetry, where the freedom and unpredictability of nature has supplanted the hierarchy of angles and organized spaces.

The quote comes from an artist statement by French photographer Chris Morin, introducing his collection of posthuman cityscapes entitled "Once upon a time… tomorrow", which opens next week in a Paris gallery.

This strain of colourful post-collapse imagery (clearly located well after the last-human-gasp sepia of The Road or Children of Men, but with a dash of 12 Monkeys whimsy thanks to the displaced zoo animals) has a soothing, explicitly Edenic quality that by now feels familiar (see Related Posts below).

But I'm never quite sure what to make of it. Is an emerging interest in the delightfulness of posthuman landscapes better read as a sign of adaptation, or one of resignation? Or, perhaps the significance is more in the spectacle of its stabilisation and recuperation as yet another aesthetic genre being bundled off to market. (In case you're tempted, these images, ten of each in giant prints of 1m x 1.5m, are selling at €3000 apiece.)

This ideational territory has seen a fair bit of traffic in recent years, since Alan Weisman's 02007 non-fiction [sic] bestseller The World Without Us, and shortly before that, Collapse by Jared Diamond. It's not clear to me if M. Morin realises that this ground has been covered before -- a google search for the artist's name together with the Weisman book title (in English, and also in its French edition, Homo Disparitus) currently yields zero hits. However, it's curious to see this meme making the rounds, and although most of the international images in this set (such as those below) to me veer well into a sort of new age, post-collapse kitsch, Morin's Parisian visions (see above) seem to have more to say.

Then again, it may be that I'm responding less to a difference of content than to a difference of tactic, the very localisation of images of the future. Certainly I think that, as with imagining impacts of climate change, place- and community-specific appropriation, exploration and concretisation of otherwise abstract futures propositions circulating globally is a key part of what these conversations need in order to move forward.

[Via Rue89. All images and the quote above from Chris Morin's website.]

Related posts:
> Posthuman New York
> Post-apocalypse Tokyo
> The Afterlife of Buildings
> London after the rain
> Not drowning, thriving
> Second Nature
> Climate change for fun and profit
> Mapping c-change
> Oil and water

The Tao of Steve

Or: Utopia as a direction, not a destination.

This is a video of a talk about utopian activism by United Statesian artist, activist, and friend-of-this-show Steve Lambert, whose work has previously featured at The Sceptical Futuryst. (Remember the New York Times Special Edition? That's the stuff.)

There's a lot that I like about this talk, about the approach and sensibility it describes, and most of all about the practice it's based on.

I like the idea of eliciting and making vivid representations of urban experts' images of the future, digging past their reflexive responses -- "more trees, more transit" -- to engage deeper and more unexpected notions.

I like the use of absurdity and humour inviting audiences to rationalise or problematise for themselves proposals offered up playfully, so as to have them "participate in dreaming these different solutions".

But above all, I like the approach which says that activist efforts should engage people "where they are, and in language they understand" -- "spanning out" of galleries and art culture into pop culture. This is a pragmatic creativity in communication which sees all media, and any ingenious way to highjack the semiotic stream with an infusion of goodwill and imagination, as fair game.

Why do I like it? Because I agree with the rationale behind it.

We need to do this because marching and saying 'no', and 'don't', and 'stop' aren't working any more. We live in a culture, and we need to participate in that culture. We need to work with other groups, work together, in order to use culture tactically.

The tactical recruitment of cultural and psychological affordances to "recalibrate our sense of reality" around the potential realisation of the futures we prefer is powerful, necessary and overdue.

It is also more fun, as well as more ethical, than putting up with the crappy way things are.

Related posts:
> Dreampolitik
> Guerrilla futurists combat war on terror
> San Francisco's awesome future
> Sponsors of Utopia
> Sometimes it doesn't belong in a museum
> An experiential scenario for post-revolution Tunisia