Category Archives: buoys

Of Plankton and Plastic

In the wake of recent research documenting the transformation of the world’s oceans into plastic soup, we turn to artist-scientist Mandy Barker, who writes:

“The aim of my work is to engage with and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction along with the subsequent message of awareness. The research process is a vital part of my development as the images I make are based on scientific fact which is essential to the integrity of my work. The impact of oceanic waste is an area I am committed to pursuing through visual interpretation and in collaboration with science, hoping it will ultimately lead to positive action in tackling this increasing environmental problem which of current global concern”

In her most recent project, Barker uses John Thompson’s 19th century research into plankton as a conceptual template for proposing a new class of organism, “hatched” from degrading plastic debris. As Barker notes, plankton actually ingest plastic microfibers, thereby entering the food chain. We are what we eat.

 

 

 

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For more on microfibers, we urge consideration of the below video, from the producers of The Story of Stuff:

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Forgeries of the Self

Now comes Henry Farrell, in excerpts from an essay exploring key themes wired from the brain of Philip K. Dick, an essay that is included in the Global Dystopias issue of Boston Review. Our title descends from an essay by PKD himself, in a passage cited by Farrell:

Images are from the fecund studio of Senga Nengudi.

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In the midst of the Sixth Extinction, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that the future looks absolutely splendid: for the forgers of the self.

I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM


Strange Loops

Here in New England, home base for DP navigations, we have gyrated in recent days from weather conditions one would expect in mid-July two days ago to yet another “once-in-a-generation” Nor’easter snow dump. In Northern Europe, our correspondents report near-Arctic conditions, while in the Arctic scientists record temperatures a full thirty degrees above the norm.

All of this loopy, weird weather represents what climatologist Jason Box referred to in a recent interview  as a “signature” of climate change:

The greenhouse effect has been enhanced by human burning of fossil fuels. That’s elevated atmospheric CO2 almost 50 percent now. OK, so that’s heating the planet. And it’s the Arctic that is warming at twice the rate of areas to the south as a consequence of this.

And there are feedbacks that allow the heat to stay in the Arctic. And when the sea ice, which has lost half of its thickness in the last 50 years, moves away from the shore, we have an ocean surface that is about 30 degrees Celsius warmer than the surface would otherwise be of the ice. That releases heat into the atmosphere. And there’s something called the lapse rate feedback, which allows that heat to get trapped near the surface in the atmosphere. It allows it to warm up further.

So, there’s an interaction between the loss of Arctic sea ice that’s been retreating—it’s now at record low, it’s about the area of Alaska below its average—the interaction of that heat release with warming in the lower atmosphere, that reinforces the slowdown of the jet stream, the polar vortex. They’re the same thing. And what’s normal is the jet stream, polar vortex, to have a circular shape around the Arctic. But the warmer it gets, the Arctic, the more wavy that structure becomes, and the jet stream starts to meander more. And those meanders, they get locked in. This is a signature of climate change, a more persistent wave pattern, which is now driving extra heat into the Arctic, that wasn’t possible before, and allowing more heat out.

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Now comes philosopher Timothy Morton. In an essay contributed to the exceptional research/art organization Sonic Acts, Morton sketches the outlines of a well-riddled theory for our twisted present. An excerpt below, with a painting from the wonderfully weird imagination of  Kristine Moran.

YOU USED TO BE ALRIGHT, WHAT HAPPENED

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THE CLOCK TICKS MORE LOUDLY IN THE STRANGE LOOP


Pepper Loves You

Who is Pepper? From the SoftBank website, we read:

Pepper is a human-shaped robot. He is kindly, endearing and surprising.

We have designed Pepper to be a genuine day-to-day companion, whose number one quality is his ability to perceive emotions.

Pepper is the first humanoid robot capable of recognising the principal human emotions and adapting his behaviour to the mood of his interlocutor.

To date, more than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan are using Pepper as a new way of welcoming, informing and amusing their customers. Pepper also recently became the first humanoid robot to be adopted in Japanese homes!

Wow! Japanese homes! Yet there is even more to gush over:

Pleasant and likeable, Pepper is much more than a robot, he is a genuine humanoid companion created to communicate with you in the most natural and intuitive way, through his body movements and his voice.

Pepper loves to interact with you, Pepper wants to learn more about your tastes, your habits and quite simply who you are.

Pepper can recognise your face, speak, hear you and move around autonomously.

You can also personalise your robot by downloading the software applications that take your fancy, based on your mood or the occasion. Dance, play, learn or even chat in another language, Pepper adapts himself to you!

Your robot evolves with you. Pepper gradually memorises your personality traits, your preferences, and adapts himself to your tastes and habits.

 

PEPPER LOVES YOU!

What could possibly wrong?

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Last week saw the release of a report on potential malicious uses of AI, the result of a collaboration among fourteen institutions and twenty six distinguished authors. We urge careful review of the entire report; the conclusion is excerpted below.

THIS DOG DOES NOT LOVE YOU!

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Our own view on the dangers of AI will be familiar to longtime DP readers. Our ability to invent clever technologies accelerates while the development of moral consciousness and empathic conscience degrades, resulting in an ever-deepening discrepancy that, if left to its own lethal devices, will eventually terminate in a world without us. In the words of Gunther Anders:


Erasure of the Unseen

Now comes the estimable Rebecca Solnit elucidating how degrees of power shape, distort and often obliterate what experiences, and whose experiences, become publicly visible and acknowledged. The entire essay is worth close consideration; a couple of brief excerpts below, with images from the studio of Lesley Dill.

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I ENVY LIGHT

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Though Solnit focuses mostly on sexual abuse of women by more powerful men, we would suggest that the identical dynamic applies to a more distant form of violence. Jill Stauffer, author of Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Being Heard, directed us to a remarkable analysis of drone warfare in an essay titled Phenomenology of a Drone Strike, in which Nasser Hussain traces how the military power to obliterate “unseen” civilian bodies becomes inscribed within the perceptual parameters of the weapon itself:

“We have become too accustomed to seeing from the air, which violates all the familiar geometry and perspective of our mundane, grounded vision. The exhilaration of the bird’s-eye view, or the god’s-eye view, so palpable in early accounts of flying, stems from the possibility of outstripping human limitations. But in another respect, aviation is very much tied to the modern mode of seeing, because from the very beginning it has been linked to photographic and cinematographic representation. Shooting a film, or focusing on a target, are not cheap puns, but reminders of a shared genealogical origin. Indeed, this way of looking is so naturalized that we forget that seeing through an aperture produces a particular and partial visual construction.

Aerial vision at once expands the range of view and hones in on a perceived target. But this focus inwards, this claim of precise aim, is not just one among other ways of looking. Rather, the accuracy of the drone’s eye structures more than vision; it shapes the way we think about, talk about, and evaluate a bombing. We focus on the target, the moment of impact. We dispute how contained or collateral the damage was, how many civilians died alongside the chosen target. These questions begin to eclipse all other questions about the global military apparatus that makes the strike possible or about civilian injury that goes beyond body counts.”

EXPLODING WORD HORSE

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“Inequality makes liars of us all.”

 

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Words In Freedom

We lament the silencing, in this world at least, of that infinitely playful and protean voice named Ursula Le Guin. From her A Few Words to a Young Writer:

 

 

From her 2014 acceptance speech at the National Book Foundation:

 

 

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The Fierce Urgency

 


Under the Ice

As in 2016, we close our 2017 navigations with a few words that bear repeating, offered by composer John Luther Adams in his 2003 essay, Global Warming and Art. Emphasis in bold added by DP.

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What does global climate change mean for art? What is the value of art in a world on the verge of melting?

An Orkney Island fiddler once observed: “Art must be of use.” By counterpoint, John Cage said: “Only what one person alone understands helps all of us.”

Is art an esoteric luxury? Do the dreams and visions of art still matter?

An artist lives between two worlds – the world we inhabit and the world we imagine. Like surgeons or teachers, carpenters or truck drivers, artists are both workers and citizens. As citizens, we can vote. We can write letters to our elected officials and to the editors of our newspapers. We can speak out. We can run for office. We can march in demonstrations. We can pray.

Ultimately though, the best thing artists can do is to create art: to compose, to paint, to write, to dance, to sing. Art is our first obligation to ourselves and our children, to our communities and our world. Art is our work. An essential part of that work is to see new visions and to give voice to new truths.

 

IN A WORLD ON THE VERGE OF MELTING

 

Art is not self-indulgence. It is not an aesthetic or an intellectual pursuit. Art is a spiritual aspiration and discipline. It is an act of faith. In the midst of the darkness that seems to be descending all around us, art is a vital testament to the best qualities of the human spirit. As it has throughout history, art expresses our belief that there will be a future for humanity. It gives voice and substance to hope. Our courage for the present and our hope for the future lie in that place in the human spirit that finds solace and renewal in art.

Art embraces beauty. But beauty is not the object of art, it’s merely a by-product. The object of art is truth. That which is true is that which is whole. In a time when human consciousness has become dangerously fragmented, art helps us recover wholeness. In a world devoted to material wealth, art connects us to the qualitative and the immaterial. In a world addicted to consumption and power, art celebrates emptiness and surrender. In a world accelerating to greater and greater speed, art reminds us of the timeless.

In the presence of war, terrorism and looming environmental disaster, artists can no longer afford the facile games of post-modernist irony. We may choose to speak directly to world events or we may work at some distance removed from them. But whatever our subject, whatever our medium, artists must commit ourselves to the discipline of art with the depth of our being. To be worthy of a life’s devotion, art must be our best gift to a troubled world. 

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And finally, a link to Adams’ composition, Under the Ice:

 

Onwards to 2018……


Obedience and Dictatorship

As plutocracy gradually transitions into the full-blown tyrannical kleptocracy which Trump both signifies and embodies, we have been reflecting on an essay by Hannah Arendt written in 1964, shortly after her witnessing of the Eichmann trial. Images are from a 2014 installation by Wilfried Gerstel.

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NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO OBEY

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In A World Thus Diminished

While politicians obey their corporate masters and cheat future generations through the sale of oil, mining and other rights within public lands and national monuments, we turn to Eileen Crist and her brilliant illumination of the heavy price we pay when we think of the natural world as a “resource” to be used by humans, excerpted from a longer essay.

Images are from the exquisite portfolio “Endangered”, by master photographer Tim Flach.

LICHEN

 

PolarBearTracks

POLAR BEAR TRACKS