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…………………………the research base of jon goodbun

Steps to an Ecological Aesthetic in the Atacama

Here is the text I prepared for an workshop event co-hosted by the Atacama Foundation and Royal College of Art Lithium Triangle research project, held in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile last week.

Steps to an Ecological Aesthetic in the Atacama

Good afternoon. I am Dr Jon Goodbun. I am a part of the four year RCA Lithium Triangle research project.

I have a background in architectural theory, design research and practice, which over the last two decades has focused ever more on environmental and ecological research and practice, and what this means for how we think about space. or spacetime, as a semiotic mediating field of material, biological and mental worlds. This has led me to work with ideas and thinkers who present challenges to some of the very premises of modern science, and the divisions between both the natural, social and political sciences, and between the sciences and humanities… divisions which are the legacy of western enlightenment thinking. I have pursued this work both in mainstream academic institutions such as the RCA, but also non-orthodox institutions such as Schumacher College, the Pari Institute and Burning Man, as well as in activist political arenas, and a series of independent educational and research initiatives. I mention this both by way of introduction, but also as it will become relevant to my brief discussion here.

This afternoon, following Godofredo Periera and Adrian Lahoud’s ’s introduction of the Lithium Triangle research project, I want to present briefly some notes on the kind of methodological issues that are present, and some of the epistemological questions that emerge from this.. This is a brief reflection upon what is at stake in thinking about the environment, with reference to two ‘case studies’ (narrated through two theorists: Gregory Bateson and F. David Peat) and will be followed by short presentation by Nikos Katsikis who will introduce more specifically some of the GIS-based and other techniques of analysis and speculation deployed by the studio.

Before I start I should point out that the ‘aesthetics’ in the title does not refer to the search for a style. Rather, I am using the term in the philosophical sense… aesthetics as the study of structures of feeling and perception.. how we perceive what we perceive… how we empathise with, or feel alienated from, the patterns and processes which connect us all. (Remembering that in Hegelian aesthetics the concept of ‘empathy/einfühlung’ was developed to explain spatial experience as the specific form of ‘alienation’ by which we project ourselves into and recognise the geist (which in German usefully means both mind and spirit) present in the objects that surround us.)

SLIDE human and animal footprints in the desert

Ecological questions fascinate me as they involve thinking about the extended fields of socio-environmental relations, within which and through which human life is enfolded and expressed, as a part of much broader biological, geological and historical landscapes, combining large scale mineral and energy flows, and in communication and interaction with both networks of other life-forms and other economies and peoples. All (human) modes of existence are always both a part of a broader web of life, but are also apart from it! To say that our emerging understanding the more-than-dialectical complexities of these political ecologies and environmental histories requires the development of new concepts and multi-disciplinary working methods is an understatement. The environmental question, not just here in the Atacama but all over the world, forces us to think through issues of value, difference and of communication, in a way that no other question does.

So what are the kinds of tools, techniques, technologies and processes are required to undertake an extended socio-spatial ecological project like this, and what are the issues involved?

There are of course various kinds of spatial mapping practice… and these involve the use and manipulation of Geographic Information Systems produced through satellite mapping technologies, but also on the ground surveys, observations and measurement of all kinds of conventionally-understood environmental variables, including documentation of ecosystems, mineral resources, hydrological cycles, but also social rhythms and practices. It includes of course urban analysis, and an understanding of the local microclimates and extended regional climates.

To synthesise this mix of disciplines and knowledge requires a trans-disciplinary practice, and the creation of a meta-space which can bring together very different forms of knowledge and practice. We bring together in this project a multi-disciplinary team, and draw upon all kinds of specialists.

Even on a conventional/normative basis, building up these kinds of representations is far from simple, whether at a technical level, or even more so at a conceptual and as we shall see epistemological/ontological levels. There are questions regarding the ownership activation of information, and the  political histories of the social practices, technologies and indeed the scientific concepts deployed.

And of course the affordances and potentials that this project might uncover, in a context where there are large corporate and commercial interests which work through global, state and local laws and agreements, is full of complexity.

How to qualify and quantify an environment is a political ecological project in the broadest sense (way beyond the institutionalised academic discipline of Political Ecology)…We ask you: What we should be looking at? What qualities and what values need to be quantified, measured and managed. And indeed what qualities and values should never be quantified and measured, as to do so is to bring them into a system of logic an control which will only ever ultimately destroy them? Whilst there is no ecological project which is not political, even the more critically aware forms of political ecology all too often fail to reflect upon the abstractions of modern science. It is clear that one of the things that is needed today is a radicalisation of the ecological idea… an ecology of ecology… a second order ecology, as the act of observing is always an act of performance, and the act of representation is always a mode of participation, and must always be an act of collective collaboration.

Nonetheless, of course, in a context like this there are all kinds of defensive uses  to which this work might legitimately be put by local Atacamenian communities, to counter representations produced by other actors – specifically the extractives industries active within this environment. So on one level we need to work with the language, concepts and epistemological objects produced by the state and by the various multi-national mining companies, and of course other international organisations such as the ILO (International Labour Organisation).

However, as well as defensive project, there is a much more active and positive project implicated within this work… a project which in fact demands a complete re-imagining of modern western concepts of science and objectivity.

SLIDE networks of internal and external relations

The epistemology of the modern scientific project acts as if, or pretends to be, a neutral observer: an invisible and objective measure.

This is not true, and in fact is what the ecological anthropologist Gregory Bateson described as an epistemological error, or an epistemological pathology.

What the methods of modern science actually tend to do is to take the complex differentiated dynamic unfolding and indeed semiological whole which is the cosmos, and CUT IT UP. Normative science acts as if its acts of cutting are neutral, inevitable, fundamental and so on, but this is only true within the context of the specific techno-scientific practices themselves. As the quantum physicist turned ecological theorist (and Bateson student) Fritjof Capra described the observations of quantum physics:

‘… in modern physics, the image of the universe as a machine has been replaced by that of an interconnected dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interdependent and have to be understood as patterns of a cosmic process. In order to define an object in this interconnected web of relationships, we cut through some of the interconnections – conceptually, as well as physically with our instruments of observation – and in doing so we isolate certain patterns and interpret them as objects.’

SLIDE CERN ‘observatory’

Ecological thought and systems theory, in its broadest conception, tends to challenge the biases and reductive quantitative methods of modern science, even whilst it also uses and deploys these methods. The reductive methods of physics, chemistry, biology and so on, are so successful precisely because of their reductive search for fundamental objects and concepts (atoms, quarks, cells, genes and so on). But if you cut up a dog to study it, you kill the dog. You can no longer observe and participate in its morphogenetic unfolding within a field of more-than-doggy relations. Thus in parallel with the reductive sciences emerged a series of more holistic systems disciplines: ecology, cybernetics, dialectical materialism, tektology etc. (In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, a particular conception of architecture emerged in renaissance Florence which acted as the paradigm for holistic systems thinking in general… but that is another story..).

What is at stake here then, is a challenge to the specific abstractions of objective science and the kinds of objects it produces, and the possibility of reframing the construction of ideas, concepts, objects and worlds.

It presents the possibility of a practice which adopts subject positions other than the ideology of third person objectvity.

In fact, it demands the formation of an ecological aesthetic… by which, as I’ve already said, I don’t mean some ‘style’, but rather an aesthetic project in the sense of the practical-theoretical study of how we perceive through a living engagement with a world (where, in the words of the young Marx ’the senses become theoreticians in their immediate practice’) … I mean the exploration of an entire structure of feeling (to develop a concept from the Marxian cultural theorist Raymond Williams) of the ecology of mind (to develop a concept from Gregory Bateson) which allows an empathetic relation with an environment… in fact what the Atacameni describe as a Cosmovision.

So to conclude this section of the paper, yes the local Atacameni communities need to both engage with, and contest, the techno-scientific methods and metrics of the global extractivist corporations, and we can help with that. But that isn’t the end game… that is just the start.

The mining companies and the mines, and indeed the San Pedro tourists, are now a part of (and dialectically apart from) the ecology of the Atacama… there is no simple going back in evolutionary ecological systems… However the environmental history and practices of the First Nations communities are also still alive and active too… the interesting question now is how to radicalise this field… how might a confrontation/conversation between industrial techno-science and First-Nations cosmovision be productive and transformative for us all…

SLIDE David Peat Blackfoot Physics book cover

At this point I am reminded of a series of conversations that I had with another renegade quantum physicist – F David Peat – when I was fortunate enough to spend a short period as a scholar-in-residence at his Pari Institute for New Learning a few years ago. David Peat was a collaborator with David Bohm, an extraordinary thinker who similarly was pushed through his understanding of quantum theory towards the development of a theory of enfolded developmental systems (his classic text is ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order). Amongst other things, Bohm developed the thesis that many of the apparent paradoxes of quantum theory (such as wave/particle duality, and the apparent effect of the observer on quantum events) were more epistemological than ontological. Specifically, he argued that the processes that could be well described in mathematics (a much more process based ‘language’), were incomprehensible when described in our noun-based language which endlessly divides the world up into subjects and objects. He speculated that if only we could create a verb-based language which might be better equipped to engage with a world of mutually implicated processes of observation and performance, then many of the paradoxes of quantum theory might take on a different appearance. He called his imagined language the rheomode (Greek: flowing mode). In a seminar one time with Bohm and Peat, a student whose family were from the Blackfoot Nation suggested that their language might be of interest, as it was indeed largely verb based. Bohm died before he could explore this line of enquiry, but Peat took it up, and his engagement with Native American cosmologies produced amongst other things his book ‘Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Universe’, and when I was working with him we spent some time talking about this. Of course, he showed to a Western academic audience that there was a sophisticated, rigorous and coherent cosmology here (this was the 1980s remember!), which indeed was more of a rheomode. More importantly for this discussion, he told me a series of stories about how some of the Blackfoot language had been recovered or regrown, through a mindful embodied engagement with various socio-spatio-ecological practices.. in particular building things and moving through landscapes… there are surely lessons in this case study for what an Atacamenian Physics might be?

I want to close these thoughts with a return to Bateson and the idea of an ecological aesthetic and the reformation of science that he called for. Bateson claimed to have trained his sensorium and widened his field of perception, through both rigorous and sensitive observation methods, and his students have supported all kinds of socio-participatory scientific projects (such as observing changes in ones own environment). For Bateson the incorporation of multiple perspectives was key to any ecological aesthetic, as an ecological aesthetic requires an abduction of affordances and empathic relation to the higher order patterns that connect multiple perspectives.

And on that note I will leave you with two quotes, two perspectives, which seem relevant to thinking about the situation and possibilities here in the Atacama, even whilst remembering that something much bigger than the Atacama is at stake here. The abstractions of modern science and technology are not just affecting the First Nations… these effects of our epistemological error are creating a pathologically schizophrenic planet, and is damaging the eco-mental systems within which our and other species beings and becomings unfold… the project of an ecological aesthetic involves us all.

‘You decide that that you want to get rid of the by-products of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that the eco-mental system called Lake Erie is a part of your wider eco-mental system – and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger system of your thought and experience.’

Gregory Bateson

‘for Marxists, there can be no going back, as many ecologists seem to propose, to an unmediated relation to nature (or a world built solely on face to face relations), to a pre-capitalist and communitarian world of non-scientific understandings with limited divisions of labour. The only path is to seek political, cultural and intellectual means that ‘go beyond’… The emancipatory potential of modern society, founded on alienation, must continue to be explored. But this cannot be, as it so often is, an end in itself, for that is to treat alienation as the end point, the goal. The ecologists’ and the early Marx’s concern to recuperate ‘in higher form’ the alienation from nature (as well as from others) that modern day capitalism instantiates must be a fundamental goal of any eco-socialist project. The idea of ‘re-enchantment’ with the sensuous world through a more sensitive science, more sensitive social relations and material practices, through meaningful labour processes, provides a better language than that of alienation with all of its essentialist overtones.’

David Harvey

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Filed under: ecology, research, teaching, ,

Mud and Modernity, in Arena Journal for Architectural Research

What is concrete? Loved and loathed in equal measure, this building material, as soon as we try to define it, to specify it, to describe it, becomes, well, not very concrete at all, but rather fluid and surprisingly abstract! Concrete is a material which has been going through an interesting intellectual and practical renaissance in recent years, in no small part driven by the convergence of several different kinds of technology-driven manufacturing changes – ranging from computer aided manufacturing of formworks, to photograph etching, to engineering software, to nano- and bio-chemistry to 3D printing – which have opened up new worlds of realizable, expressive and performance optimised form. The demands posed by anthropogenic climate change, energy use, resource scarcity, and the environmental question more generally, have equally transformed the technologies and industries that are now feeding into developments in this material. On its own though, that is not enough to understand the revival in interest. In this paper I will argue that there are indeed profound relationships between capital, modernity and concrete. However, I will suggest that in order to really start to grasp these relations, we will need to explore some ways of thinking about concrete that have not been developed so far within the recent literature on the material. Notably I will develop an ecological approach to thinking about what concrete is, and in so doing redefine this material as a particular form of mud, or mudcrete: a material which is deployed by both human and non-human builders. I will note the ecological energetics and extended materialities of mudcrete, and will reflect upon the conceptual ‘forms’ or ‘patterns’ of this matter as a particular modality of the production of nature. Mudcretes always internalise in particularly interesting ways I argue, their external relations, the extended networks of materials, skills, labours and energies that go into their production. Mudcretes frequently stage fascinating bio-semiotic performances, whichever species or processes are dominant. But when the mudcretes in question are the product of human labour, they always act as social media.

Full article available here: http://ajar.arena-architecture.eu/articles/10.5334/ajar.6/

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching

Jon Goodbun, Benedict Singleton and Nick Srnicek in conversation, June 2016

JG: we are holding this interview in the context of our studio at the RCA. This year we explicitly took on the question of Post Capital, referencing in particular both your book, and Paul Mason’s. It’s been interesting so see how hard it’s been for students. Looking at what we produced this year, there is an interesting mix of hyper-capitalist and post-capitalist projects…
BS: haha
JG: .. which isn’t a new thing to the studio.. the studio is a mix.. there’s bits of Marx, bits of surrealism and constructivism, cybernetics… re your own work Nick, the mix of Marx and systems thinking is shared, and indeed cognitive mapping.. a lot of the work that we do charts tendencies that are either explicit or implicit in the world around us, and exaggerate them.
I first came across your work in the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics in 2014, which I enjoyed enormously.. in your more recent work you have stopped using the term accelerationism…
NS: haha yeah. So why is that the case? The project we are trying to undertake is a counter-hegemonic project, which means convincing people and changing people’s common sense. And it means a flexibility with the sort of terms we are using, which is why we prefer post-capitalism over communism and socialism, because those terms have so much baggage. If you want to be talking about ending wage labour and things like this, and if you talk in terms of communism you have twenty battles before you get to that point, whereas if you talk about post-capitalism you can just go there. So rather than fight needless battles we chose post capitalism. Same thing with accelerationism. It has so many varied resonances, and apparently in New York it just means ‘vote Trump!’, so rather than try to explain to people every single time, no that’s not what accelerationism means, we just decided drop the term, and actually drop any branding – the work can stand on its own.
JG: In terms of the emerging discourse around post capitalism, how do you position yourselves re other theorists?
NS: Some people have rather silly ideas about what post capitalism means. I like a lot of Paul Mason’s stuff, I think he’s a bit too naive about the power of open source software, free information etc.. I don’t think that leads to post capitalism  I think it will be recuperated by Apple etc … similarly with the peer to peer economy .. some people describe this as post capitalist, I tend to think it is not really post capitalist in a meaningful sense. Indeed actually, there isa qualification that we make in the book, which is that the post work economy that we describe in the book is not post capitalist, but it is a stepping stone towards being post-capitalist.. I think this is an important point to make.
JG: can we talk more about technology.. ideas around technology seem central to post capitalist thinking.. what are some tools that can help us think here..?
NS: Broadly when you look at the philosophy of technology there are two poles. Firstly determinism, where technology determines society, and social constructivism, which says that society can completely choose how technology functions, how it is developed, what effects it has on society. I think both of those are wrong. I think what technology does is it opens up possibilities, it opens up connections. It makes certain things easier to do, other things harder to do, and given the way that society is formed at any particular moment, the technology will get taken up in a particular way. So there is a deterministic aspect, in that it is concretely changing the possibility structure available to society, but whether it gets taken up or not is up to society itself. So there is flexibility, but there is also determinism involved. Now when that plays into something like post capitalism it is a matter of saying we have the technology today to do things like infinitely reproduce music and informational goods at marginal costs. That’s a possibility, although I don’t think this will be taken up, there are too many ways to recuperate it, to make that function political effective. But there is also technology that can automate a lot of labour, and that’s a new possibility available to society, the question is can we build a political movement that takes advantage of this?
JG: What do you see as the relationship between some of the technologies just alluded to, and, in the broadest sense, the question of planning – both economic and urban-infrastructural – and the relation of planning to any conception of post capitalism? How do these technologies change the how we need to think about planning? In the manifesto at least, you refer to Stafford Beer’s Cybersyn project in Allende’s Chile for example…
NS: So I think some form of planning is absolutely necessary, for a proper post capitalist economy, because we don’t want a free market, and we don’t want anarchist communes effectively creating a free market between themselves.. I mean I am not sure how we are supposed to get rid of the free market with anarchist communes interacting with each other… and if we want a relatively sophisticated and technologically advanced society, we have to have the capacity to get resources where they are needed in an efficient and effective manner, we need some sort of planning. Now, there is a famous socialist economic composition problem, which is how do you determine what the relative values of different goods and resources? And it was thought that it was impossible to do. Today arguably it is perhaps possible to do with computers, although I’m not fully convinced of that yet. I think that there are certain fundamental technological limits that just mean that no matter how advanced our technology gets, it will never be able to immediately price everything, and that ultimately the kind of God’s eye view of planning is never going to work in the way that we want it to. What this means is that I think we need to have some kind of decentralised planning, and this is where Cybersyn is quite interesting, because it was at least theoretically an attempt to have the input of workers on factory floors, have the input of middle management,consumers the input of government, collectively coming together.. today there is an interesting possibility put forward by someone like Nick Dyer-Witherford, using the technology we have today to build an economic model, where you set out basic condition in the economy that you want.. you determine the maximum level of inequality that you are ok with, the maximum level of carbon emissions etc.. and you compute the kinds of economic plans that are possible on that basis, and you can vote..
BS: so like an economic parametricism…
NS: exactly, and it seems like this is an interesting way of getting some kind of decentralised planning, enabling the complexity of the societies that we have, and of dealing with the question of cognitive mapping.. i.e. how do you get a complex system into a manipulable framework…
JG: It often seems to me that there are two things that are under-discussed in these kinds of conversations. One is the extent of planning which goes on in the current economy.. not just of course that every business has a plan.. it is very difficult to raise capital without a plan, and of course today at the largest scales those business plans are phenomenal things, individual corporations running planned economies many times the size of the old Soviet Union! So there is the question of the extent of planning going on today, which might suggest that the task of post capitalism is in part just a question of democratising existing planning… and there is a job to do in just opening this up.. seeing what kinds of planning tools capitalism has already developed that might be deployed in other ways.. and this is all tied to a second issue, which concerns the ideology of free markets.. so one of the things that neoliberalism tends to do ideologically, as well as obscure the kind of planning already going on, is that it also tries to naturalise the notion that markets are a capitalist idea.. yet of course markets in a general form we can find historically in all kinds of economic forms… there are historical examples of non-capitalist markets… so in general, it seems that we need to think more about capitalist planning and non-capitalist markets!
NS: I’ll start with non-capitalist markets, and I’ll start with Robert Brenner’s arguments here. Brenner argues that what is unique about capitalism is that people become dependent upon the market. if you want to survive you need to sell your labour in the labour market. If you are a capitalist you need to buy and sell on the market.. everyone becomes dependent on the market, and that changes the social dynamics and the technological dynamics. So yeah you had markets beforehand, but people weren’t dependent upon them. And you can have markets after, so long as people aren’t dependent on them. It is a question of dependency. So this is what I like about post-work. You are no longer dependent upon the labour market to survive, so starting to undercut one of the key aspects of what capitalism is. Ok, so now on capitalist planning. Again yes. Someone on the left needs to write the book on how Walmart and Amazon and all these companies do economic planning, every single day, in incredibly sophisticated ways, tracking goods across the world in much more detailed ways than the Soviet Union ever had… study how are they doing this, what are they doing, and the communist potentials of it… yeah this is really interesting, and nobody really does that yet..
JG: another job for you guys! Ok.. you’ve mentioned post-work a number of times. I’d like to reflect upon this more. I guess one of the key transitional policies or platforms that you have identified in your book in this regard is UBI: Universal Basic Income. Interestingly, even in the short amount of time since you published your book, we’ve seen an amazing acceptance of this concept in more mainstream thinking.. i wonder if you have had any further reflections upon UBI.. for example, to what extent do you think this is a sign of the contemporary crisis of capitalism, the fact that after years of QE and zero percent interest, there is still a need to pump western economies, and is UBI becoming seen as a vehicle for this by more far sighted capitalist strategists, as well as radical for very different ends?
NS: well one thing that has changed actually, is for us a de-emphasis on UBI, precisely because it has been taken up by so many people. Also, our book is not one demand, it is four demands: 1. full automation, 2. reduced working week, 3. UBI, end the work ethic… and it is all of them together … if we had to narrow it down to one demand, it is the demand for a post-work society. UBI is a step towards that. However, UBI can be set in a narrative suggesting that UBI is a way to cut down on government bureaucracy, and that can play into a right wing narrative very easily. We think that UBI needs to be set in a narrative of we want to reduce work, that there is not enough good work to go around, so how do we support people in the face of that?
JG: yeah, one of the things that students had difficulty conceiving was post-work. An example I gave them was the kind of thing that you see happening at some festivals for example, where in certain situations you see people contributing all kinds of labour for free, building things, putting on side shows, etc etc. In these kinds of examples you have a very definite kind of labour going on, but it is not commodified at any stage of the process.
NS: yeah, we would more accurately describe it as post-wage-labour than post-work, but it doesn’t run off of the tongue so well!
BS: We’ve mentioned cognitive mapping .. a pre-capitalist form of mapping totalities is the mythic, and one of the things that interests me is the mythic potential of acceleration, or should we say post-acceleration…
NS: [laughing] are we post-acclerationists now!?
BS: Yeah, and it was said here first haha

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Join Derailed Lab study trip on Trans-Siberian Express

One of the pleasures of being ‘amongst other things a Marxist’ is that it is possible, or even necessary, to occupy apparently contradictory positions simultaneously, confusing non-dialectical thinkers 😉

And one of the pleasures of capitalism is in taking something to the market and seeing if it floats. I’ve launched a number of companies, products, ideas etc over the years, some worked, some didn’t. Most recently I launched with Raluca Cirstoc a new initiative, Derailed Research Lab LLP – a vehicle for a new kind of nomadic school. We launched a few months ago with a planned trip on the Trans-Siberian Express this summer… and I’m happy to say that we have had hundreds sign up to our newsletter and we have an interesting group joining us for the trip itself. Due to a couple having to withdraw we have a couple of places available – but contact us asap if you are interested! info@derailedlab.org

We will meet in St Petersburg on 17th July, and will visit the Baltic docks, Hermitage and other sites, before travelling to Moscow for a couple of days, where we will tour the revolutionary constructivist classics with the Strelka Institute and other contacts. We then join the Trans-Siberian railway proper, for a 24hr train ride to our first stop, Perm, the most eastern European city at the foothills of the Ural mountains. We spend a couple of days in Perm before re-boarding the express, this time for a three day train ride… this will be interesting ;).. much vodka, cards, chess and regional food bought from locals en route awaits 🙂 before our second stop at Irkutsk, next to the world’s largest body of fresh water – Lake Bakal. We will spend a four or five days in this region (including Ulan Ude). There is some great hiking around the lake, and a number of Buddhist sites and the like to explore. We the rejoin the train for the final epic three day leg. While some trains head south from Ulan Ude to Beijing, we keep going east along the Russian-Chinese border to Vladivostok, a city just north of Korea which, as home to the Russian Pacific fleet had been off limits to westerners until recently. The militarisation of Vladivostok means that the historic city is well preserved, for now at least, and co-exists with massive docks and a new emerging casino city. We have a few days to explore this city which relatively few have visited, before flying back to Moscow for a presentation of our expedition at the Strelka Institute on 6th August.

I guess I have a bit of a reputation for leading memorable study trips ;), with the Polytechnic Studio at Westminster back in the day (inc a number of US road trips and Moscow), or more recently the Department of Ontological Theatre at the RCA (inc the Pearl River Delta of China earlier this year, and Cuba and Beijing in recent years). This will be up there with the best of those…. 

check out www.derailedlab.orgderailedemail

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Another good year for my students!

In 2015 my students have received a few accolades, I am once again pleased to say. Both Natalie Barton and Sam Douek from the Department of Ontological Theatre (ADS5 DOT) won awards from RIBA at the RCA, whilst Isis Nunez Ferrera, who I co-supervised with Jeremy Till as a part of the EU HERA Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment research project, was commended on her excellent PhD in the RIBA Research Medals.

And Boni Yuen, again from ADS5 DOT, was listed by Wallpaper magazine in their  ‘world’s hottest new talents’ list http://www.wallpaper.com/graduate-directory/2016

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What is at play in Environmental Design?

envdesposter1k

What kinds of research are required to understand the forms of the human-environmental relation today? What kinds of environmental practitioners might we need in the future? In this symposium we bring together a group of leading researchers who will be making short presentations on their work, and discussing these questions and more… This symposium is open to all, and as a part of the University of Westminster School of Architecture Play Week.

Contributors include:

Claudia Dutson, Jon Goodbun, Susannah Hagan, Karin Jaschke, Torange Khonsari, Shaun Murray, Mirko Nicolic, Godofredo Pereira, Isis Nunez-Ferrera, Peg Rawes,
Andreas Rumpfhuber, Doug Spencer, Victoria Watson

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ADS5DOT Brief 2015-16

 

ADS5 was founded and has been led by Dr Jon Goodbun since 2011. The studio took on the name DOT: Department of Ontological Theatre in 2012, and was joined by Dr Victoria Watson that year and Dr Benedict Singleton in 2014.

The studio’s work explores the tensions between the planetary and the personal, between geo-ecological politics and neuro-ecological aesthetics.

 

DOT POSTCAPITALIST POTENTIALS:

PLATFORMS, STRUCTURES AND SPACES

     Global capitalism is haunted by a spectre, the spectre of post-scarcity society. All human society to date has been organised around an over-arching logic of scarcity – around the need to socially, economically and spatially manage the production and distribution of a surplus within the context of an overarching condition of ‘natural’ scarcity. That is to say, resources (money, goods, services etc) have always been limited and finite in their supply, whilst demand has been potentially infinite. But today we find ourselves in a deeply paradoxical condition. In order to perpetuate the social forms of contemporary society, it can be easily shown how contemporary ‘markets’ artificially create scarcities. This might be at a micro-level, where commodities of all kinds are designed to need replacing after an artificially short life, or at a systemic level, where the mis-managment of our ecological condition is objectively returning us to a context of absolute scarcity (in for example the collapse of fish stocks, or any number of other examples of ecological collapse). Yet as some of the more optimistic commentators have observed, we are today actually within reach of a post-scarcity condition, of – as at least one set of post-capitalist theorists hope – cyclical and managed resource flows combined with large sections of the industrial economy moving to near full automation.
     Bubbling away within capitalism there have always been enclaves of other futures, short-lived spaces of radical imagination. Technology, science and the arts have always had a complex degree of at least partial autonomy from their economic conditions of existence. Indeed the technological development of industry, in particular when overlaid with the logic of the network as an organisational form mediating information technologies and communications, has reduced the need for human labour and work as traditionally understood.  A post-scarcity society of abundant goods and services, managed by new forms of democratic and techno-ecological management which transcend old models of top-down planning or market driven emergence is a real near-future possibility, and would be based upon massively increased leisure time as the basis of new human social and aesthetic reality.
     However, whilst capitalism has never existed in the pure abstract forms described those who saw its inner workings most clearly (as described in Marx’s Capital for example), but has rather always grown within specific historical and geographical realities which have shaped its uneven development, the pure abstract model does nonetheless describe a typological strange attractor of sorts. Similarly, it is inevitable that post-capitalist potential futures will unfold in a similarly uneven manner. Nonetheless, the articulation of the logical possibility of the kind of typological post-capitalist ideal (even if in no simple way achievable) condition briefly outlined above remains an important political task facing our age.
     However, we are living through an historical moment that might take take many different routes into the future. In fact maximising, as far as it is possible to simulate and predict, the future possibility spaces available to us is itself an important political imperative. There is a strong structural tendency within the capitalist system of production to perpetuate and create scarcity and crisis, environmental destruction and social inequality, mental illness and cultural banality. It is inevitable that we are facing a future of resource wars, terrorism, mass migrations and both regional and, at least in part, systemic ecological collapse. As such post-capitalist potentials are co-evolving within a field occupied by other embryonic geopolitical forms already appearing within the collapsing order: the guns, dollars and drugs ‘post-misery’ doctrine of South American narcomarxist cartels, the engagement (if not yet the marriage) of liberalism with violent neoluddism, the fascist mutations of nazbol in Russia and Islamic State’s digital medievalism… In such a situation we need new means of making sense of things: new paradises and hells; new mythologies and archetypes to populate them; new tools, physical and cognitive; and new ways of understanding what architecture and urbanism can be and do in these scenarios.
DOT is a post-capitalist research lab. We take post-capitalism to refer to the conjunction of full automation with universal basic income in a generalised disappearance of obligations to work––and its implications (not least for design and architecture)
DOT researches and engages with realities, problems and opportunities that can be found within contemporary capitalist global economic order.
DOT researches the transformational effects that contemporary economic and technological developments have upon the human body and mind, perceptual faculties and imagination
DOT is oriented towards near futures that are very different to our recent pasts
DOT is researching potential transition routes and platforms of change which are open to a post-capitalist future
DOT believes that architecture and art schools are well placed to map, visualise and engage with the real inter-disciplinary complexities and abstractions of contemporary society.
We will organise the first semester around a seminar series designed to provide the studio with relevant conceptual equipment to tackle these questions, across contemporary politics, cybernetics, strategy, and aesthetics.
We will organise the first semester around a series of ‘workshops’, tasks, and scheduled research presentations, the most important of which are:
1. pick a contemporary material/technology and research it and its network of relations and flows.
2. pick a  contemporary organisation and research it and its network of relations and flows.
3. pick a means of production and master it (learn new software, techniques etc etc)

Filed under: research, teaching

Some notes on the anthropocene (or, welcome to the pre-anthropocene!)

These brief notes were given by me at an event on the anthropocene at the University of Westminster on Tuesday 25th November 2014. (see http://instituteformodern.co.uk/2014/the-anthropocene-cities-politics-law-as-geological-agents)
I should probably start by saying that I claim no particular expertise in this area. The anthropocene is a concept that I have to deal with… mostly in the context of students who want to use it. Occasionally I use it myself, though generally in a heuristic sense, to explore the ways that the concept is being deployed, the political stances and potentialities that it contains. The following is a series of notes that have emerged from my engagements with the concept (in teaching both design studio, and history and theory, as well as recent research projects that I have been involved with, notably the scarcity project, and more recent work around questions of energy)). Hopefully this will provide some material to discuss what is at stake in the concept. how is the concept being deployed today and by whom, and perhaps most importantly for us this evening, whether the concept of the anthropocene might actually be conceived in such a way that it has useful conceptual structure that we can all do some work with, in our different fields.
The basic proposition of the concept of the anthropocene is a simple one: that the collective productive labour of the human species has become a global, geological force. The evidence can seem compelling: humans move more rock and earth than all of the Earth’s glaciers and rivers combined, we fix more nitrogen in the soil than microbial activity does, we consume in various ways vast quantities of the biological, material and energetic resources of the planet, and of course, we have our own sedimentary layer, what has become known as ‘Anthropocene rock—the concrete, steel and bitumen of the planet’s cities and roads’.
One of the biggest problems encountered with the anthropocene concept is that it is too easily adopted in a simplified form, as simply referring to this quantitative aspect, often all too enthusiastically by those who seem to take a rather adolescent male delight in the idea that at last (or once again) mankind has overcome his imagined nemesis in mother nature. We might start by saying that this is by far the most trivial and conservative reading of the term, and one which none of the initial authors (Paul Crutzen 2002) or primary users of the concept actually deploy. Nonetheless, one often encounters this kind of boosterish reading  – which of course, is particularly ironic, given that the anthropocene – should we chose to accept the term – could well be the geological era in which humanity becomes extinct! Paradoxically, we need to be careful that the anthropocene concept does not in fact naturalise, in terms of political ideology, our current way of being in the world.
But one of the problems with the concept is that it can seem to promote a naive and one-dimensional mode of Prometheanism, there are other problems too. Its is, it is hardly worth saying, a anthropocentric concept. Yet one wonders what it even means to say anthropocene when we learn that only 10% of the cells in the human body contain human DNA – is it already anachronistic, a legacy of outmoded ways of thinking about life. Concepts such as anthropocene often obscure as much as they illuminate, making us forget that every other living process on the planet also feeds into the anthropocene, and that this is an unfolding process that that ecological systems theory tells us we can in no viable way control.
There is perhaps also a danger that the concept acts to underplay more important categorisations. It might be more useful to think in terms of the difference between a biotic and abiotic planet, or a pre and post language planet. The anthropocene concept can act to compound our broader difficulty in recognising the complexity of other forms of species-life and who knows, other forms of species-being that are in the world.
One often hears that the anthropocene designates the first time that a single species has had such a global effect. Again, this is dubious.
We are certainly not the first species to have had a transformational geological affects at the scale of the planet. We might note for example that the Earth’s atmosphere is a non-equilibrium mixture of 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen, and 1% other gases (mostly argon), including the all important carbon dioxide which makes up a mere 0.4%. However, 2.4 bn years ago the Earth was a very different place, there was no free oxygen in the atmosphere, and a great deal more carbon dioxide. This condition was transformed into the kind of atmosphere that were have today through what is known as the Great Oxegenation Event – the fundamental transformation of the oceans and atmosphere brought about through the photosynthetic activities of phytoplankton, such as cyanobacteria in the ocean, which produced sugars from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, with oxygen as waste.
In this process the anaerobic life forms that had existed on the planet were wiped out in the first great mass extinction event, but which opened the way to the explosion of oxygen based life that we have on the planet today (well..) . Right now, 98% of the oxygen in our atmosphere is produced on an ongoing cyclical basis, through the photosynthetic labours of plants, trees and still primarily sea based organisms.
If we are impressed by our sedimentary activity in anthropocene rock, then we might do well to remember how much of our own landscape here on this island was directly produced out of the bodies of other species, producing limestone, and granite.. materials that we might think of as geological, but which are absolutely organic too. These materials of course, have provided the basis for our own anthropogenic building activity, both directly in the form of stone structures and claddings, but also indirectly as concrete.
Nor do we have the biggest structures on Earth. There is an ant colony that stretches 6000km from the Iberian peninsula through France to Italy in what National Geographic journal has described as ‘the largest cooperative biological unit ever discovered’.
And we would do well not to forget the global production of soils by microbes… I could of course go on…
So on one level, the concept seems to mark the last gasp of a particular mode of anthropocentric thought, the end of a way of thinking. However, beyond the trivial claim that human activities have changed the planet, there is a bigger, and more interesting claim, which doesn’t depend upon sedimentary activity, but is rather a question concerning consciousness. For example, we might concede that yes, many species have had, and continue to have, as profound a geological and atmospheric impact upon the planet as we have, but, as Marx famously noted, what distinguishes the worst of architects from the best of bees is that the human has a plan. Now, we might look at the world today and wonder ‘where’s the plan’, but in a sense, this is precisely the point in what I think is a more useful construction of the conception of anthropocene.
In fact, right from the start, the concept is tied to our emerging understanding of complex systems theories, of the material-energetic complexity of physical and natural systems, and humanities metabolic relations with those systems. Rather than an adolescent Promethean glee, the anthropocene can offer a more of a sober acknowledgement of both the real complexity of our inorganic body in ‘non-human’ nature, and accepts and works with the reality of our ecocide practices. Perhaps the most important, though still problematic intended use of the concept was to foreground an attempt to create a new kind of ecological literacy, and a global subject capable of perceiving its interdependencies with other life forms and systems, in the words of Paul Crutzen, one of the co-authors of the term.
Dipesh Chackrabarty developed an influential post-colonial critique of Crutzen’s formulation, focusing on the kind of universal human subject implied. Chackrabarty was also significant in pointing out how the concept had the potential to entirely reorganise the task of historiography, and called for a new kind of history writing that would work through the old distinctions of natural and human history… work which became useful in thinking about a lot of the practical and written work that has been developed in architecture schools in recent years. And more recently, a new wave of work on the anthropocene has taken the consciousness question further… Ben Dibley’s work on Marx’s conception of species-being and the anthropocene is particularly suggestive I think.
The concept of species-being is introduced by a young Marx in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, and although it reappears in various forms in his later writings it remains a concept that has caused some controversy of interpretation, which I do not have the space to go into here. But we can say that for Marx species-being is a potential, the potential of human existence to consciously reflect through practice on its own conditions of life as a mode of life, or in Marx’s words: ‘making life activity itself an object of will and consciousness’. However for Marx we do not yet experience life as species-being… we are as yet alienated from it:
‘The universality of man manifests itself in practice in that universality which makes the whole of nature his inorganic body, (1) as a direct means of life and (2) as the matter, the object, and the tool of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body – that is to say, nature insofar as it is not the human body. Man lives from nature – i.e., nature is his body – and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature … Estranged labor turns . . . Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him . . . It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect’
So if for Marx the natural world is our extended body, but one which is alienated from us. I will conclude these brief notes by suggesting (following Dibley) that the progressive reading of the anthropocene – framed as a question of raising our self-consciousness of our deeply implicated order with the non-human world – might be rethought through species-being. But I would have then to conclude that today we live in the pre-anthropocene. We could of course move into the anthropocene, but this would be a necessarily revolutionary act. To paraphrase the young Marx, to do this, we would need to make ourselves, including our extended body in nature, the historical subjects of the anthropocene, as the form of our species-being.

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching,

SCIBE on Kindle

The kindle edition of the collected works of the Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment research project is available here. I have 4 articles in there.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/SCIBE-Scarcity-Creativity-Environment-ebook/dp/B00D3OG216/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370114136&sr=1-2

scibenewspaper

Between 2010 and 2013, the project Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment (SCIBE) explored how conditions of scarcity might affect the creativity of the different actors involved in the production of architecture and urban design, and how design-led actions might improve the built environment in the future. Research was based on the analysis of processes in four European cities: London, Oslo, Reykjavik, and Vienna. For more information on the research project, visit   www.scibe.eu   and   www.scarcity.is

This collection brings together some of the essays and reports produced by team members on the conceptual and on-the-ground work around scarcity, creativity and housing in the four respective cities and elsewhere in the world. Contributors include Barbara E. Ascher, Isis Nunez Ferrera, Jon Goodbun, Deljana Iossifova, Michael Klein, Arna Mathiesen, Andreas Rumpfhuber, and Jeremy Till.

SCIBE is financially supported by the   HERA Joint Research Programme   which is co-funded by AHRC, AKA, DASTI, ETF, FNR, FWF, HAZU, IRCHSS, MHEST, NWO, RANNIS, RCN, VR and The European Community FP7 2007-2013, under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities programme.

Filed under: research

Radical Theatre: Staging the Dialectic of Emergence and Planning

makingarchitecturepolitically

In the last few weeks I have had some great discussions around questions of planning, architecture and, for want of a better term, ecological urbanism. I have attempted to give two long lectures on the subject – at Umea in Sweden 2 weeks ago, in Vienna last week. In both cases the following seminars and discussions were good, even if my lecture keeps overrunning. I have just given a couple of short papers which inevitably touched on similar issues at the

We live in paradoxical times. We are told that we are dominated by free markets, yet multinational corporations such as Tesco and Wallmart are organising planned economies at level of scale and sophistication that the old Soviet Union could barely have dreamed of. The problem of course, is that these privately planned economies are obscure, undemocratic and unsustainable. Yet at the same time many on the left appear to have abandoned any talk of planning at all, and have become spell-bound by systems-theory-based conceptions of ‘self-organisation’, ’emergence’ and ‘flat ontologies’. Yet these concepts, whilst powerful, in many respects embody neoliberal ideology, and need to be treated with some caution. The very concept of planning at an urban and democratic-economic level, has it seems, never been weaker, even whilst what is at stake in planning – especially regarding ecological justice etc – has never been greater. In this session I will reflect upon these questions, and the role that architecture can play in self-consciously staging a dialectic of emergence and planning.

This is the very clear text from Roemer van Toorn for the Umea lecture series:

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of Eastern European communism, the emergence of Third Way politics, and the subsequent rise of neo-liberalism, society became post-political. Discourses and practices of architecture not only suffered, but also enhanced this culture of de-politicization. The problem today is clearly not to make political architecture – neoliberal architecture is everywhere –, but to make architecture politically.

Now that the current economic crisis acts as late capitalism’s moment of truth architects should develop new visions, and help create projects that activate emancipation, surpassing the failure of neoliberalism. What we look for is a new beginning, an optimism – not another pessimism – of the architect as public intellectual that engages the optimism of the will and opens doors towards new social practices.

Architecture cannot, of course, conduct parliamentary politics. Spatial constellations can deliver no advice on how to vote or convey messages about social and political problems, but architecture is political precisely because of the distance it takes from these functions. Architecture is political in the way in which, as a space-time sensorium, it organizes being together or apart, and the way it defines outside or inside. Architecture is political also in the manner in which it makes the many controversies of reality visible by means of its own spatial and aesthetic syntax, and can enacts new spatial and aesthetic formations of sociability from within.

What we need in order to make room for the civil in our society is, according to Ariella Azoulay, ”the capacity known as political imagination, that is to say, the ability to imagine a political state of being that deviates significantly from the prevailing state of affairs“ What kind of political imagination – rethinking the political – can the practice and theory of architecture mobilize when it makes architecture politically is the focus of the UMA Spring lecture series of 2013.

Filed under: ecology, research, teaching, , ,

About

rheomode is the research lbase of Dr Jon Goodbun
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I have a background in architectural theory, design research and practice, which over the last two decades has focused ever more on environmental and ecological research and practice, and what this means for how we think about space. or spacetime, as a semiotic mediating field of material, biological and mental worlds. This has led me to work with ideas and thinkers who present challenges to some of the very premises of modern science, and the divisions between both the natural, social and political sciences, and between the sciences and humanities… divisions which are the legacy of western enlightenment thinking. I have pursued this work both in mainstream academic institutions such as the RCA, but also non-orthodox institutions such as Schumacher College, the Pari Institute and Burning Man, as well as in activist political arenas, and a series of independent educational and research initiatives.

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Contact

You can reach me:
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jcgoodbun (a) mac.com

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