World’s Largest Carbon Capture Plant Comes Online—With Negligible Effect

“Despite its size, the project is only capable of removing less than one percent of the annual emissions of a single coal-fired power plant. That’s the same amount of greenhouse gas emitted by around 870 cars each year.”
Vice’s Audrey Carleton, on the world’s largest carbon capture facility, Orca, coming online in Iceland. Operated by the Swiss engineering startup Climeworks, the ‘direct air capture’ plant filters CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it deep underground.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis’ ‘ONE TREE ID’ Generates a Perfume for Communicating with Plants

Focusing on stewardship, eco-aesthetics, and inter-species communication, “gREen” opens at Munich’s Muffatwerk. Curated by Jens Hauser and featuring Adam Brown, Thomas Feuerstein, and Agnes Meyer-Brandis, the show is presented as a garden, foregrounding climate politics in the art-science space. Meyer-Brandis’ ONE TREE ID (2021, image) allows visitors to don a perfume synthesized from a tree’s unique Volatile Organic Compound signature and, once scented, engage in biochemical conversation with plants.

Geneticists Identify Gene Responsible for “Spots, Stripes and Everything in Between” on Cats’ Coats

For the New York Times, James Gorman profiles a geneticist team led by Christopher B. Kaelin and their recent findings in cat coat pattern formation. An instance of reaction diffusion (formulated in Alan Turing’s 1952 paper “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis”), embryonic analysis of 200 kitten litters identified Dkk4, the gene that acts as an inhibitor to create “spots, stripes, and everything in between,” and how tissues lay the groundwork for those patterns—before hair or hair follicles appear.

Sophie Hughes on (English) Language as an Instrument of Control

“English is the sharpest of all instruments of control in a world where narratives are the building blocks of history and history is weaponized by hegemonic powers.”
– Translator Sophie Hughes on what is lost to the global anglophone publishing machine. “We need writing translated,” she writes, “Yet, in a world dominated by the English language and anglophone culture, translating into English increases the risk of original works being not just transformed, but traduced.”

Alex Schweder’s “The Sound and the Future” Grooves Out to Slowed Down Techno

Alex Schweder’s “The Sound and the Future” opens at Clifford Gallery in Hamilton, New York. Its name borrowed from its lone work, the exhibition offers a fun glimpse into Schweder’s world of “performnace architecture”—dynamic architectural and sculptural forms. Here, a made-to-order very Detroit installation, first shown at Wasserman Projects (2016, image) sways again; a homage to Motor City’s dance music genre, silvery nylon inflatables undulate, animated by blown air, to a slowed down techno soundtrack.

Indestructable Santa Luzia Meteorite Becomes De Facto Mascot for 34th Bienal de São Paulo

A phoenix rising from literal ashes, the 34th Bienal de São Paulo kicks off. As described in an e-flux announcement, its curators were inspired in resilience beyond COVID-19: a 2018 fire that burnt Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro to the ground. Drawing on an artifact pulled from the museum’s ruins completely intact, the 2 metric ton Santa Luzia iron meteorite has become a de facto biennale mascot, and it sits prominently at the entrace to the flagship exhibition “Though it’s dark, still I sing.”

4156: “Larva Labs Made the ‘Citizen Kane’ of NFTs”

“I really see Larva Labs as having defined the form—they made the Citizen Kane. But they made it three or four years ago and there hasn’t been a project that’s pushed the state of the art since.”
– Pseudonymous NFT collector 4156, tipping his hat to Larva Labs and citing Cryptopunks (2017) as the precedent for his recent Nouns DAO project, which rethinks the governance, economy, and duration mechanics of on-chain avatar communities

Sarah Friend Hatches NFT “Lifeforms” that Require Care

Canadian software artist Sarah Friend hatches her latest blockchain-based social experiment called Lifeforms, a series of NFT-based entities that, “like any living thing, need regular care in order to thrive.” If not given away within 90 days of receiving it, a lifeforms will die and no longer appear in wallets. The first batch is currently in foster care at Kunstverein Hamburg as part of the “Proof of Stake” group exhibition. “After this, these lifeforms will continue their perilous journey through many hands.”

How Interdisciplinary Practice Offsets Hyperspecialization

“There is a cultural shift that acknowledges that hyperspecialization—the trend towards narrower fields of expertise—is not going to answer all of our urgent questions. We know we need better understanding between specialisations, too.”
– Artist and environmental activist Kat Austen, on the emergence of interdisciplinary practice “as a means of creating otherwise inaccessible knowledge” needed to affect people’s decision and policy making

EPISODE 08—Benjamin Bratton

The MUTEK Recorder
Episode 08: Benjamin Bratton
Claire L. Evans
Benjamin Bratton
Benjamin Bratton
Benjamin Bratton is Professor of visual arts at UCSD in San Diego, and author of The Stack (2016) and The Revenge of the Real (2021), which, respectively, schematize systems of scale and governance after Big Tech, and consider what politics in a post-pandemic world could be. Bratton is also the Program Director for The Terraforming, an initiative at Moscow’s Strelka Institute that tasks design students with tackling the radical transformations required for Earth to remain a viable host for life.
“Planetary, or planetarity, implies many different things. One of them is the scale of the astronomic condition of the earth—the 4.7 billion years or so over which biomes and ecologies, species and phyla have emerged. This includes us, and our peculiar capacity for sapience. And our peculiar capacity to construct machines that mimic that sapience. All of that is part of what a planet does.”
Benjamin Bratton, defining ‘planetarity’
“Recording for me is, like most writers, being a packrat of ideas that get gathered and sorted, and rearticulated. Like jokes, they get told over and over until they are just right and then you move onto other ones. And they get arranged and sequenced, and become books.”
Benjamin Bratton, on how ideas are collected, iterated, and ‘exorcised’
Benjamin Bratton’s follow-up to The Stack (2016), The Revenge of the Real (2021) is a polemic about the abject failures of governance that we’ve witnessed during COVID-19. Drawing on the rise of populism and the resulting ‘mask wars’ that politicized what should have been uncontestable science-driven policy, Bratton argues for a global polity that does not reject ‘reality’ but honours it through a compassionate collectivism that transcends the borders of individual countries. Looking beyond the pandemic, he critiques the prevalent knee jerk response to surveillance culture and challenges us to think beyond data ‘extraction’ from our lives, and instead harness planetary computation to build and, crucially, act on new communal archives (and models) to mitigate the climate crisis.
“What we call ‘planetary scale computation,’ all of the satellites and data centres and capacity for modelling and simulation, have provided another kind of epistemological accomplishment: the understanding of climate change as a concept. It requires the recording, and archiving, of millions and millions of data points that become a model, that can be interpreted.”
Benjamin Bratton, on how the concept of climate change emerged from computation
The Blue Marble
Taken on December 7, 1972, by Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Ron Evans while en route to the Moon, The Blue Marble is one of the most circulated photographs in history. Benjamin Bratton notes “what Frank White called the Overview Effect—it preceded Yuri Gagarin, it preceded not only the Blue Marble but humans in space. It was conceived and announced in advance in the 1940s and ‘50s.” Even before we had the iconic image we had an idea about how it would stir our imagination about planetary unity.
“It’s important to understand planetary and planetarity not as a metonym for the global, but as something multi-scalar: the molecular matters as much as the atmospheric in scale. Unlike the logic of Eames’ Powers of Ten, where all the scales stay in the right place as you zoom in, reality has scales that penetrate one another and overlap.”
Benjamin Bratton, on how the interrelations between different ‘levels’ of reality are what makes it so complicated
A film “dealing with the relative size of things in the universe,” Powers of Ten might be Charles and Ray Eames most enduring contribution to visual culture. Capping a multi-year collaboration with IBM, the film was completed in 1977 and produced to help (better) establish a sense of understanding of the magnitude of known existence—from the subatomic through the “limit of human vision,” a zoomed-out view of the universe “where whole galaxies of stars are seen as one.” Starting from the human scale of an idyllic Chicago picnic the camera zooms out light years to the macro, and back down to the micro—perhaps the most ambitious cinematography in the history of film.
“I feel like The Blue Marble image has lost a lot of its power. Flat earth conspiracies, climate denial, evangelicals—we know the age of the planet and yet plenty of people refuse to believe it. Could a sapient planet have the will to refuse to look at itself?”
Claire L. Evans, on the tactical ignorance that is unfortunately so common today
“The paradox of this moment is that the models of reality we have are unable to act back upon reality because other models of reality that we have deep cultural investment in are hogging all the oxygen in the room. And we have a body count to prove it.”
Benjamin Bratton, on the undeniable COVID-19 metric that measures our collective shortcomings