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Weaponising Weather [Talk]

The Space Keet. Image by Dennis de Bel.

Talk given as part of the Space Keet programme, during the Zero Footprint Campus festival, University of Utrecht. Statement and pics below:

In the mid-20th century, the practices involved in the task of weather forecasting were undergoing a transformation. This transformation–surmised as a shift from the “art of forecasting” to the “science of meteorology”–is bound with the broader turn towards rationalism, systems-thinking, and digital technology in American post-war science. In the context of the tense geopolitical order of the Cold War, the capacity to accurately forecast the weather offered the possibility to perhaps control it, raising the question: would it be possible to employ it as a weapon in war? For some, the answer to this question lay in the new technology of the satellite.

Drawing on declassified administrative documents, operations reports, and technical manuals, this talk will provide an account of experiments in satellite technology and weather control research in the United States during the early decades of the Cold War. In doing so, I ask: What interests were involved? What were the political connotations of the satellite during this era? And what was the legacy of this research?

Weaponising Weather talk. Image by Dennis de Bel.

Satellite image collected by the Space Keet.

The Future is (not) a Problem [w. Niall Docherty]

Article written with Niall Docherty as part of the Network Diagnostics research project on the subject of the future visions of Big Tech, published on Furtherfield. Extract below, and you can read the full text here.

Techno-fixes are big business. Taking a quick look over the Financial Times’ list of the world's largest companies, it might not surprise us that five of the top spots are occupied by corporations dealing in Information Technology. The looseness of this term connotes the production and dissemination of hardware, software and data, yet increasingly such companies are moving beyond this operational remit and have begun selling a vision of how life in its totality could—and should—be lived. Over the last decade, these so-called ‘Big Tech’ companies—Apple, Alphabet (Google's parent company), Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook—have sought to fashion bespoke technological ‘fixes’ to particular global crises, with the aim being no less than shaping the future of humanity itself. Facebook's Aquila solar drone project, for instance, will help four billion people in disparate regions of the globe ‘access all the opportunities of the internet’. Meanwhile, Alphabet's experimental X subsidiary is developing Project Loon, a competing network infrastructure powered by a fleet of solar balloons. Which connected future do we want: one with networks of balloons or drones? Or, more to the point: one filtered through the prism of Google's or Facebook's algorithms?

Network Diagnostics workshop, Furtherfield 10th June

New collaborative research project with Niall Docherty, focused on using technical models of “troubleshooting” as a mode of critically engaging with digital culture.

The workshop will take place at Furtherfield in London on the 10th June, from 2-5pm, and is presented in the context of the New World Order exhibition and the AntiUniversity programme.

Read about the workshop below, or click here to book a place.

As demonstrated by the works in the NEW WORLD ORDER exhibition at Furtherfield Gallery, blockchain technologies and cultures display a remarkable capacity to embody the interests of diametrically opposed political ideologies. Manpowertop looks more widely at the subject of Silicon Valley companies and how their promotional media envisions "the future" of their technology's role in society.

The recent publication of Mark Zuckerberg’s open letter, titled Building Global Community, has drawn debates about the accelerationist politics of Silicon Valley into the public sphere once again. The seductive message of the manifesto itself is unsurprising, and is typical of the glossy promotional media released by other tech companies: We are told that new technologies can facilitate greater social inclusion, foster democratic grassroots political movements, and allow us to be more productive in our labour and leisure. While such media are often renderings of some notional “future” existence, what might they reveal about the ways we delimit our understanding of the present? Additionally, what would have to happen between “now” and “then” for these visions to be fully realised?

Manpowertop is a workshop that takes these questions as a starting point, challenging participants to diagnose the power relations in these branded visions of the future. Participants will adopt “troubleshooting” as a critical framework for enquiry, and produce diagrammatic readings of these speculative technologies, the networks they interlink with, and their associated politics of usership. In doing so, we will collectively identify what is left out of these visions, and explore how these omissions might offer an insight into the power relations that exist between users and technological platforms in the present.

Rhythm of Life, w Thought Collider at STRP Festival

Rhythm of Life is shown as part of STRP Festival in Eindhoven. See below for project statement:

What if you could listen in on the chemical communication within your body? What would it sound like? In 2015, Thought Collider, and Dave Young built an intriguing kinetic sound installation around a Photon-Multiplier Tube (PMT). The PMT is an experimental medical device designed to measure biophoton emissions from the skin. Biophotons, or ultra weak light emissions, are used in cell-to-cell communication in plants, bacteria and animals. Invisible to the naked eye, they belong to the electromagnetic spectrum. Placing their hands in the PMT, visitors could listen in on the electro­chemical messages transmitted by their bodies, hearing their emissions as complex percussive rhythms. Yet in doing so, they agreed to donate their personal body data to scientific and artistic research.

At STRP Biennale 2017, the data performances of the original 56 participants were replayed publicly for the first time. STRP visitors were given the opportunity to select and playback these anonymised performances. Doing so, questioned to what extent visitors sense themselves within the audio data they heard, thus interrogating the ways in which we attribute meaning and value to body data.

The Rhythm of Life is a collaboration between art / design research practice Thought Collider, media artist Dave Young and Leiden University.

ReReadMe

ReReadMe is an ongoing research project taking the form of a series of essays, each oriented around an extract from an administrative document collected from US defense and intelligence agency archives. The historical and political contexts of reports, memoranda, technical manuals are unpacked and analysed as instruments of institutional power, "illuminating the often recessive yet impactful role they play as mediators".

Many of these documents, formally declassified ordinarily after a period of at least 25 years, offer us an opportunity to both re-examine historical events and perhaps test out theories of how the institution conducts itself and its personnel in specific scenarios. With this in mind, the intention for this blog is twofold: to excavate extracts of "forgotten" grey media for rereading within their historical context; and subsequently, to subject them to a renewed critique that is explicitly of-the-present.

The project can be accessed via rrm.dvyng.com.