Taking the atmosphere as its object of study, this project delves into an investigation of the present notions of nature intertwined with social and technological systems. It maps the layers and flows of the infosphere, tracing the immaterial work of social systems inscribing themselves into the materiality of the planet, and remaking it. It explores the notion of science as able to understand, predict, model and perhaps even control natural processes.
The project is carried out by constructing and deploying devices and participatory practices that probe the knowledge, technology, ethics and ideologies of our culture. Public interventions demonstrate intricacy of interactions of social and natural systems and encourage public dialogue about atmospheric disruption. They range from organizing citizen observers to create a crowdsourced image of the sky that is equal and opposite to the image taken by a satellite at the same time, to founding a biotech startup which proposes the use of biosphere for data transfer and storage, to modifying the atmosphere one cloud at a time, to designing practices for employing body and senses in regulated athleticism which trains us for the impending transformation and the acute uncertainties associated with it.
“Instead of having the designer think through all the moral and political implications of technology use before it reaches users, an impossible task, we must find a way to get users to do some of that thinking themselves,” – writes Evgeny Morozov, pointing to ‘an aesthetic of friction’ that can engage the public in new ways. This project’s task is to generate such friction by designing new artifacts that interact with existing systems – legal bounds, social conventions, ideological regimes – exposing their gaps and inconsistencies and upending the perception of their inevitability.
“The goal of meteorology is to portray everything atmospheric, everywhere, always,” read a 1960 proclamation that captured the excitement of expanding scientific and technological capabilities enabled by the nascent field of information processing. That excitement ushered-in an era of an engineering mindset, of conceptualizing nature through the lens of information science, which lead to today’s big data and remote sensing applications capturing all manner of natural and social phenomena – in attempts to represent, predict and control them.
The prevalence of these intangible and seemingly immaterial flows of the infosphere combined with the simultaneous awareness of the atmospheric disruption, has called for a meteorological turn in aesthetics, critical theory and design, a transition to what can be called an ‘atmospheric’ worldview – a fitting phase change following the transition from a ‘solid’ to a ‘fluid’ worldview associated with modernity. This shift, underway as we’re teetering at the limits of planetary resources, informs the focus on materiality of the intersecting techno-, bio-, and info-spheres.
The Matter of Air is created by Karolina Sobecka and is a Creative Capital project, with additional funding from Princess Grace Foundation and V2_ Institute for Unstable Media. You can contact Karolina at info at amateurhuman dot org.