By samotar, 13 July 2021
By samotář, 22 September 2018
By samotar, 20 July 2018
By samotar, 22 November 2017
By miloš vojtěchovský, 24 November 2016
By samotař, 4 October 2016
By , 11 September 2016
By samotař, 31 July 2016
By samotar, 12 March 2016
By Stanislaw, 7 February 2016
By , 25 December 2015
By Michal Kindernay, 21 December 2015
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By Samotar, 17 October 2015
By John Dee, 11 October 2015
By Samotar 10 October 2015, 10 October 2015
Od kláštera Osek na Selesiovu výšinu, k Lomu, Libkovicům, Hrdlovce a zpět/From The Osek Cloister to Lom and back
By Samotar, 27 September 2015
By ll, 25 September 2015
Bruno Latour: Love Your Monsters, Why We Must Care for Our Technologies As We Do Our Children
In the summer of 1816, a young British woman by the name of Mary Godwin and her boyfriend Percy Shelley went to visit Lord Byron in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. They had planned to spend much of the summer outdoors, but the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the previous year had changed the climate of Europe. The weather was so bad that they spent most of their time indoors, discussing the latest popular writings on science and the supernatural.
After reading a book of German ghost stories, somebody suggested they each write their own. Byron's physician, John Polidori, came up with the idea for The Vampyre, published in 1819,1 which was the first of the "vampire-as-seducer" novels. Godwin's story came to her in a dream, during which she saw "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together."2 Soon after that fateful summer, Godwin and Shelley married, and in 1818, Mary Shelley's horror story was published under the title, Frankenstein, Or, the Modern Prometheus.3
Frankenstein lives on in the popular imagination as a cautionary tale against technology. We use the monster as an all-purpose modifier to denote technological crimes against nature. When we fear genetically modified foods we call them "frankenfoods" and "frankenfish." It is telling that even as we warn against such hybrids, we confuse the monster with its creator. We now mostly refer to Dr. Frankenstein's monster as Frankenstein. And just as we have forgotten that Frankenstein was the man, not the monster, we have also forgotten Frankenstein's real sin.
Dr. Frankenstein's crime was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology, but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself. When Dr. Frankenstein meets his creation on a glacier in the Alps, the monster claims that it was not born a monster, but that it became a criminal only after being left alone by his horrified creator, who fled the laboratory once the horrible thing twitched to life. "Remember, I am thy creature," the monster protests, "I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed... I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous."
Written at the dawn of the great technological revolutions that would define the 19th and 20th centuries, Frankenstein foresees that the gigantic sins that were to be committed would hide a much greater sin. It is not the case that we have failed to care for Creation, but that we have failed to care for our technological creations. We confuse the monster for its creator and blame our sins against Nature upon our creations. But our sin is not that we created technologies but that we failed to love and care for them. It is as if we decided that we were unable to follow through with the education of our children.4
Let Dr. Frankenstein's sin serve as a parable for political ecology. At a time when science, technology, and demography make clear that we can never separate ourselves from the nonhuman world -- that we, our technologies, and nature can no more be disentangled than we can remember the distinction between Dr. Frankenstein and his monster -- this is the moment chosen by millions of well-meaning souls to flagellate themselves for their earlier aspiration to dominion, to repent for their past hubris, to look for ways of diminishing the numbers of their fellow humans, and to swear to make their footprints invisible?
The goal of political ecology must not be to stop innovating, inventing, creating, and intervening. The real goal must be to have the same type of patience and commitment to our creations as God the Creator, Himself. And the comparison is not blasphemous: we have taken the whole of Creation on our shoulders and have become coextensive with the Earth.
What, then, should be the work of political ecology? It is, I believe, to modernize modernization, to borrow an expression proposed by Ulrich Beck.5 This challenge demands more of us than simply embracing technology and innovation. It requires exchanging the modernist notion of modernity for what I have called a "compositionist" one that sees the process of human development as neither liberation from Nature nor as a fall from it, but rather as a process of becoming ever-more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of nonhuman natures.
At the time of the plough we could only scratch the surface of the soil. Three centuries back, we could only dream, like Cyrano de Bergerac, of traveling to the moon. In the past, my Gallic ancestors were afraid of nothing except that the "sky will fall on their heads."
Today we can fold ourselves into the molecular machinery of soil bacteria through our sciences and technologies. We run robots on Mars. We photograph and dream of further galaxies. And yet we fear that the climate could destroy us.Everyday in our newspapers we read about more entanglements of all those things that were once imagined to be separable -- science, morality, religion, law, technology, finance, and politics. But these things are tangled up together everywhere: in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in the space shuttle, and in the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
If you envision a future in which there will be less and less of these entanglements thanks to Science, capital S, you are a modernist. But if you brace yourself for a future in which there will always be more of these imbroglios, mixing many more heterogeneous actors, at a greater and greater scale and at an ever-tinier level of intimacy requiring even more detailed care, then you are... what? A compositionist!
The dominant, peculiar story of modernity is of humankind's emancipation from Nature. Modernity is the thrusting-forward arrow of time -- Progress -- characterized by its juvenile enthusiasm, risk taking, frontier spirit, optimism, and indifference to the past. The spirit can be summarized in a single sentence: "Tomorrow, we will be able to separate more accurately what the world is really like from the subjective illusions we used to entertain about it."
The very forward movement of the arrow of time and the frontier spirit associated with it (the modernizing front) is due to a certain conception of knowledge: "Tomorrow, we will be able to differentiate clearly what in the past was still mixed up, namely facts and values, thanks to Science."
Science is the shibboleth that defines the right direction of the arrow of time because it, and only it, is able to cut into two well-separated parts what had, in the past, remained hopelessly confused: a morass of ideology, emotions, and values on the one hand, and, on the other, stark and naked matters of fact.
The notion of the past as an archaic and dangerous confusion arises directly from giving Science this role. A modernist, in this great narrative, is the one who expects from Science the revelation that Nature will finally be visible through the veils of subjectivity -- and subjection -- that hid it from our ancestors.
And here has been the great failure of political ecology. Just when all of the human and nonhuman associations are finally coming to the center of our consciousness, when science and nature and technology and politics become so confused and mixed up as to be impossible to untangle, just as these associations are beginning to be shaped in our political arenas and are triggering our most personal and deepest emotions, this is when a new apartheid is declared: leave Nature alone and let the humans retreat -- as the English did on the beaches of Dunkirk in the 1940s.
Just at the moment when this fabulous dissonance inherent in the modernist project between what modernists say (emancipation from all attachments!) and what they do (create ever-more attachments!) is becoming apparent to all, along come those alleging to speak for Nature to say the problem lies in the violations and imbroglios -- the attachments!
Instead of deciding that the great narrative of modernism (Emancipation) has always resulted in another history altogether (Attachments), the spirit of the age has interpreted the dissonance in quasi-apocalyptic terms: "We were wrong all along, let's turn our back to progress, limit ourselves, and return to our narrow human confines, leaving the nonhumans alone in as pristine a Nature as possible, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa..."
Nature, this great shortcut of due political process, is now used to forbid humans to encroach. Instead of realizing at last that the emancipation narrative is bunk, and that modernism was always about attachments, modernist greens have suddenly shifted gears and have begun to oppose the promises of modernization. Why do we feel so frightened at the moment that our dreams of modernization finally come true? Why do we suddenly turn pale and wish to fall back on the other side of Hercules's columns, thinking we are being punished for having transgressed the sign: "Thou shall not transgress?" Was not our slogan until now, as Nordhaus and Shellenberger note in Break Through, "We shall overcome!"?6
In the name of indisputable facts portraying a bleak future for the human race, green politics has succeeded in leaving citizens nothing but a gloomy asceticism, a terror of trespassing Nature, and a diffidence toward industry, innovation, technology, and science. No wonder that, while political ecology claims to embody the political power of the future, it is reduced everywhere to a tiny portion of electoral strap-hangers. Even in countries where political ecology is a little more powerful, it contributes only a supporting force.
Political ecology has remained marginal because it has not grasped either its own politics or its own ecology. It thinks it is speaking of Nature, System, a hierarchical totality, a world without man, an assured Science, but it is precisely these overly ordered pronouncements that marginalize it.
Set in contrast to the modernist narrative, this idea of political ecology could not possibly succeed. There is beauty and strength in the modernist story of emancipation. Its picture of the future is so attractive, especially when put against such a repellent past, that it makes one wish to run forward to break all the shackles of ancient existence. To succeed, an ecological politics must manage to be at least as powerful as the modernizing story of emancipation without imagining that we are emancipating ourselves from Nature.
What the emancipation narrative points to as proof of increasing human mastery over and freedom from Nature -- agriculture, fossil energy, technology -- can be redescribed as the increasing attachments between things and people at an ever-expanding scale. If the older narratives imagined humans either fell from Nature or freed themselves from it, the compositionist narrative describes our ever-increasing degree of intimacy with the new natures we are constantly creating. Only "out of Nature" may ecological politics start again and anew.
The paradox of "the environment" is that it emerged in public parlance just when it was starting to disappear. During the heyday of modernism, no one seemed to care about "the environment" because there existed a huge unknown reserve on which to discharge all bad consequences of collective modernizing actions. The environment is what appeared when unwanted consequences came back to haunt the originators of such actions. But if the originators are true modernists, they will see the return of "the environment" as incomprehensible since they believed they were finally free of it. The return of consequences, like global warming, is taken as a contradiction, or even as a monstrosity, which it is, of course, but only according to the modernist's narrative of emancipation.
In the compositionist's narrative of attachments, unintended consequences are quite normal -- indeed, the most expected things on earth! Environmentalists, in the American sense of the word, never managed to extract themselves from the contradiction that the environment is precisely not "what lies beyond and should be left alone" -- this was the contrary, the view of their worst enemies! The environment is exactly what should be even more managed, taken up, cared for, stewarded, in brief, integrated and internalized in the very fabric of the polity.
France, for its part, has never believed in the notion of a pristine Nature that has so confused the "defense of the environment" in other countries. What we call a "national park" is a rural ecosystem complete with post offices, well-tended roads, highly subsidized cows, and handsome villages. Those who wish to protect natural ecosystems learn, to their stupefaction, that they have to work harder and harder -- that is, to intervene even more, at always greater levels of detail, with ever more subtle care -- to keep them "natural enough" for Nature-intoxicated tourists to remain happy.
Like France's parks, all of Nature needs our constant care, our undivided attention, our costly instruments, our hundreds of thousands of scientists, our huge institutions, our careful funding. But though we have Nature, and we have nurture, we don't know what it would mean for Nature itself to be nurtured.7 The word "environmentalism" thus designates this turning point in history when the unwanted consequences are suddenly considered to be such a monstrosity that the only logical step appears to be to abstain and repent: "We should not have committed so many crimes; now we should be good and limit ourselves." Or at least this is what people felt and thought before the breakthrough, at the time when there was still an "environment."
But what is the breakthrough itself then? If I am right, the breakthrough involves no longer seeing a contradiction between the spirit of emancipation and its catastrophic outcomes, but accepting it as the normal duty of continuing to care for unwanted consequences, even if this means going further and further down into the imbroglios. Environmentalists say: "From now on we should limit ourselves." Postenvironmentalists exclaim: "From now on, we should stop flagellating ourselves and take up explicitly and seriously what we have been doing all along at an ever-increasing scale, namely, intervening, acting, wanting, caring." For environmentalists, the return of unexpected consequences appears as a scandal (which it is for the modernist myth of mastery). For postenvironmentalists, the other, unintended consequences are part and parcel of any action.
One way to seize upon the breakthrough from environmentalism to postenvironmentalism is to reshape the very definition of the "precautionary principle." This strange moral, legal, epistemological monster has appeared in European and especially French politics after many scandals due to the misplaced belief by state authority in the certainties provided by Science. 8
When action is supposed to be nothing but the logical consequence of reason and facts (which the French, of all people, still believe), it is quite normal to wait for the certainty of science before administrators and politicians spring to action. The problem begins when experts fail to agree on the reasons and facts that have been taken as the necessary premises of any action. Then the machinery of decision is stuck until experts come to an agreement. It was in such a situation that the great tainted blood catastrophe of the 1980s ensued: before agreement was produced, hundreds of patients were transfused with blood contaminated by the AIDS virus.9
The precautionary principle was introduced to break this odd connection between scientific certainty and political action, stating that even in the absence of certainty, decisions could be made. But of course, as soon as it was introduced, fierce debates began on its meaning. Is it an environmentalist notion that precludes action or a postenvironmentalist notion that finally follows action through to its consequences? Not surprisingly, the enemies of the precautionary principle -- which President Chirac enshrined in the French Constitution as if the French, having indulged so much in rationalism, had to be protected against it by the highest legal pronouncements -- took it as proof that no action was possible any more. As good modernists, they claimed that if you had to take so many precautions in advance, to anticipate so many risks, to include the unexpected consequences even before they arrived, and worse, to be responsible for them, then it was a plea for impotence, despondency, and despair. The only way to innovate, they claimed, is to bounce forward, blissfully ignorant of the consequences or at least unconcerned by what lies outside your range of action. Their opponents largely agreed.
Modernist environmentalists argued that the principle of precaution dictated no action, no new technology, no intervention unless it could be proven with certainty that no harm would result. Modernists we were, modernists we shall be!
But for its postenvironmental supporters (of which I am one) the principle of precaution, properly understood, is exactly the change of zeitgeist needed: not a principle of abstention -- as many have come to see it -- but a change in the way any action is considered, a deep tidal change in the linkage modernism established between science and politics. From now on, thanks to this principle, unexpected consequences are attached to their initiators and have to be followed through all the way.
The link between technology and theology hinges on the notion of mastery. Descartes exclaimed that we should be "maîtres et possesseurs de la nature."10 But what does it mean to be a master? In the modernist narrative, mastery was supposed to require such total dominance by the master that he was emancipated entirely from any care and worry. This is the myth about mastery that was used to describe the technical, scientific, and economic dominion of Man over Nature.
But if you think about it according to the compositionist narrative, this myth is quite odd: where have we ever seen a master freed from any dependence on his dependents? The Christian God, at least, is not a master who is freed from dependents, but who, on the contrary, gets folded into, involved with, implicated with, and incarnated into His Creation. God is so attached and dependent upon His Creation that he is continually forced (convinced? willing?) to save it. Once again, the sin is not to wish to have dominion over Nature, but to believe that this dominion means emancipation and not attachment. If God has not abandoned His Creation and has sent His Son to redeem it, why do you, a human, a creature, believe that you can invent, innovate, and proliferate -- and then flee away in horror from what you have committed? Oh, you the hypocrite who confesses of one sin to hide a much graver, mortal one! Has God fled in horror after what humans made of His Creation? Then have at least the same forbearance that He has.
The dream of emancipation has not turned into a nightmare. It was simply too limited: it excluded nonhumans. It did not care about unexpected consequences; it was unable to follow through with its responsibilities; it entertained a wholly unrealistic notion of what science and technology had to offer; it relied on a rather impious definition of God, and a totally absurd notion of what creation, innovation, and mastery could provide. Which God and which Creation should we be for, knowing that, contrary to Dr. Frankenstein, we cannot suddenly stop being involved and "go home?" Incarnated we are, incarnated we will be. In spite of a centuries-old misdirected metaphor, we should, without any blasphemy, reverse the Scripture and exclaim: "What good is it for a man to gain his soul yet forfeit the whole world?"
1. Polidori, John, et al. 1819. The Vampyre: A Tale. Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones. (back)
2. Shelley, Mary W., 1823. Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus. Printed for G. and W.B. Whittaker. (back)
3. Ibid. (back)
4. This is also the theme of: Latour, Bruno. 1996. Aramis or the Love of Technology. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (back)
5. Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage. (back)
6. Nordhaus, Ted, and Michael Shellenberger. 2007. Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (back)
7. Descola, Philippe. 2005. Par dela nature et culture. Paris: Gallimard. (back)
8. Sadeleer, Nicolas de, 2006. Implementing the Precautionary Principle: Approaches from Nordic Countries and the EU. Earthscan Publ. Ltd. (back)
9. Hermitte, Marie-Angele. 1996. Le Sang Et Le Droit. Essai Sur La Transfusion Sanguine. Paris: Le Seuil. (back)
10. Descartes, Rene. 1637. Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings. Translated by Desmond M. Clark. 1999. Part 6, 44. New York: Penguin
Living Through the Landscape
The Norwegian part of the project will encompass a 10-day expedition/workshop with artists from all three participating countries in the county of Finnmark in northern Norway from 20 to 30 September, 2015.
The focus of the expedition will be on mining activity in the region and its effect on the local landscape. Both the current and previous Norwegian governments have funded initiatives aimed at surveying mineral deposits and their suitability for mining ventures, resulting in heated debates regarding a renewed interest in the exploitation of minerals, especially in the north.
Recently, plans to allow the waste from a proposed mining operation to be deposited in the Førde fjord in the west of Norway have made headlines in both the Norwegian and international press. Elsewhere, such as in Biedjovággi in Finnmark, the ecological damage from open-pit mining is still being felt 40 years after the closure of mining operations. Plans to once again start mining in Biedjovággi as consequence of soaring gold prices highlight the complexity of issues relating to the exploitation of minerals and a globalized economy, covering intersecting social, economic and ecological concerns.
Similar debates have arisen in regard to the Reppar fjord, also in Finnmark. Waste from nearby underground mining was dumped into the fjord in the early 1970s, causing damage to fish stocks, thereby affecting the livelihoods of local fishermen. Renewed interest in mining copper in the area has started new debates on the environmental impact of depositing waste in the fjord.
On one hand, mining companies need to keep costs down to stay competitive, and rural communities are often in dire need of jobs and investment to bolster the local economy. On the other hand, such initiatives have frequently caused extensive environmental damage and infringements of the rights of indigenous populations. By visiting the region and meeting with locals as well as experts, the Norwegian portion of Frontiers of Solitude aims to contribute to a public awareness of environmental and cultural issues that are both local and globalized.
Frontiers of Solitude is an extension of Atelier Nord’s previous engagement with issues related to the north of Norway in the video program Beyond Horizons.
Oslo departure - arrival in Alta/Alta Airport (ALF)
from Kautokeino to Karasjok
Visit to Sami Center for Contemporary Art
Kvalsund - Repparfjord depot
from Kvalsund to Hammerfest
Visit to Windmill development site
Evening program in Hammerfest Art Association/artist talks
Visit to Snøhvit petroleum field
from Hammerfest to Alta
program: Ivar Smedstad
Gunhild Enger, Iselin Linstad Hauge, Vladimír Merta, Alena Kotzmannová, Elvar Már Kjartansson, Monika Fryčová
- Strategy for the mineral industry – Second Stoltenberg government, 2013 (Norwegian only).
- gruve.info – Website about the environmental impact of mining in Norway, maintained by Svein Lund (Norwegian only).
- Artic Gold – Mining company campaigning for renewed activity in Biedjovággi.
- Nordic Mining – Mining company looking to deposit waste in the Fjørde fjord.
- Nussir ASA – Mining company campaigning for copper extraction in Kvalsund/Reppar Fjord.
- Article in the British newspaper The Guardian on the proposed dumping of waste in the Fjørde Fjord.
- Norges Naturvernforbund (Friends of the Earth Norway)
About the Frontiers of Solitude project
When: 1 May 2015 to 30 April 2016
We will then enter what poets and scientists alike may choose to call the Eremozoic Era — The Age of Loneliness.
Edgar O. Wilson
Commodity frontiers may roll onwards, but only to a point. Capitalism not only has frontiers; it is fundamentally defined by frontier movement. The conceit of early modern cartographic revolutions was to conceive of the Earth as abstract space rather than as concrete geographies. The latter, abolished (or at least controlled) in theory, would continually reassert itself, as geographical particularities (climates, soils, topographies, diseases) entered into dynamic tension with bourgeois fantasies of abstract space. The great advantage of mapping the world as a grid and nature as an external object was that one could appropriate the wealth of nature in a fashion profoundly efficient for the accumulation of capital. The very dynamism of capitalist production is unthinkable in the absence of frontier appropriations that allowed more and more materials to flow through a given unit of abstract labor time: value’s self-expanding character depends on an exponential rise in the material volume of production without a corresponding rise in the abstract labor implied in such production.
Jason W. Moore
This project focuses on current transformations of the landscape and the close connections between our post-industrial civilization and nature. These themes are elaborated in terms of the cultural geography and morphology of three specific areas of central and northern Europe. The project includes residencies and workshops in selected areas of the Czech Republic, Iceland and Norway.
The aim of these activities is to foster collaboration and an exchange of experiences between individual artists, researchers and initiatives, and to explore and interpret recent and long-term transformations of the landscape, described as follows:
Current changes in the industrialized landscape around the city of Most (northern Bohemia), especially the loss of historical continuity, transfers of geological layers and social structures, transition towards the post-carbon economy and a current discussion on the abolition of territorial limits which potentially may lead to further degradation and exploitation of the landscape by extensive open pit coal mining (Into the Abyss of Lignite Clouds, September 2015).
Two workshops will take place in parallel: one in Finnmark, a county in northern Norway (Sound of Melting Ice, September 2015), and another in Seyðisfjörður on the east coast of Iceland (Field Work and Ecology, August 2015). These workshops take place in areas where the effects and traces of industrialization have been felt, for the most part, in recent decades.
Iceland, with its strong investment in geothermal and hydroelectric energy, appears to be in a different situation with regard to the intersection of ecology and energy resources, than is continental Europe, which is still dependent on fossil fuels. However, the harvesting of “green” energy also comes at a price for the country’s local and trans-local ecologies, and a closer investigation for what purposes this “clean” energy is used reveals a web of economic dependencies and strategies that is rather similar to those of more heavily industrialised countries in mainland Europe. The participants in the Iceland expedition will visit, among other sites, the Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric dam, ranking among the largest industrial structures in Europe. Expedition participants will work together with Icelandic colleagues and experts, focusing on environmental issues and the activities of transnational corporations in Iceland.
The Norwegian part of the project will include an expedition and workshop focusing on mining activity in the region and its effects on the landscape. Both the current and previous Norwegian governments have funded initiatives for surveying mineral deposits to assess their suitability for mining, which has resulted in heated debates over this renewed interest in the exploitation of minerals, especially in the north.
The outcomes of the project, in which artists from the Czech Republic, Norway and Iceland will participate, will be presented at the beginning of 2016 at an exhibition at the Školská 28 Gallery in Prague. Documentation, new art works, interpretations and the results of workshops will be presented. An exhibition catalog will include documentary videos and sound recordings, texts on contemporary art, ecology and the environmental sciences.
Participating artists: Finnur Arnar Arnarson, Karlotta Blöndal, Peter Cusack, Gunhild Enger, Þórunn Eymundardóttir, Iselin Linstad Hauge, Monika Fryčová, Elvar Már Kjartansson, Alena Kotzmannová, Vladimír Merta, Pavel Mrkus, Greg Pope, Kristín Rúnarsdóttir, Ivar Smedstad, Miloš Šejn, Vladimír Turner, Robert Vlasák, Diana Winklerová, Martin Zet.
The project is a joint initiative of the Školská 28 Gallery (Deai/setkání), the Atelier Nord, and the Skaftfell Center for Visual Art, and is supported by grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants.