Slide from Timo Arnall’s talk. Courtesy of Scott Smith.
Slide from Timo Arnall’s talk. Courtesy of Scott Smith.

Improving Reality 2013


10 June 2015

Natalie Kane attended Lighthouse's annual conference on September 5th, and found seams were loosened and realities thrown into contempt.

Reblogged from medium.com

In light of the recent PRISM findings, never has there been a more pressing time to bring invisible infrastructures and systems into the light of day, and make them tangible, physical, and visible. This year’s Improving Reality was a carefully curated collection of thinkers that examined the hidden systems we exist within, sourcing solutions and highlighting new, unfathomable problems. This was nearly impossible to sum up into an article without creating a whole catalogue of ideas, running through the #ireality twitter feed mapping networks of conversation. This is not a review, but a processing of ideas.

The day was curated, and opened by Lighthouse’s Artistic Director Honor Harger, who called into proceedings an urgency to interrogate these systems, and imagine how they might evolve in the future. This questioning has been central to Lighthouse’s recent curatorial direction, which is intent on the unveiling of the unseen, and has included the work of James Bridle, Mariele Neudecker, Trevor Paglen and most recently Timo Arnell and team. You can currently see Immaterials at Lighthouse until the 13th of October 2013. We also had tiny talks from Tom Armitage, creator of the Literary Operator, and hide and seek’s Holy Gramazio, who introduced their specially created Tiny Games for Brighton Digital Festival.

Our physical inability to chart and monitor digital systems has become a concern that needs translation. Timo Arnall, Creative Director of BERG, spoke on his work to reveal the immaterial mechanisms and technologies that imprint themselves upon our lives, and how seamlessness can become pervasive. This world of Wifi, RFID, GPS and mobile networks dictates a new set of materials to communicate, a term we have neglected to use when talking about networks of signals. RFID becomes an enabler of frictionless capitalism, unseen, and barely recognised as money. Controversial technologies that Arnall examines to dispell the myth of digital immateriality.

‘We have lost the idea of materials as they become invisible’ — Timo Arnall

Arnall presented that a better understanding of the invisible digital world allows us to see a closer, more examinable connection between culture and technology, environment and materials.

Infrastructure spaces are, inevitably, highly contested spaces. Keller Easterling, architect and professor at Yale University, used her time to present us with the ‘retinal afterglow of the soupy matrix, of details and formulas that make space in the world.’ I’d like to admit my ignorance as not being aware of Easterling’s work before Improving Reality, however, I’m looking forward to next week’s post.

As Easterling detailed at a frighteningly hypnotic pace, Infrastructures are ‘more than a grid of wires, microwaves, more than shared standards, more than an internet of things’. Infrastructures exist as spatial, reproducible products. Talking on the visibility of hidden networks, Easterling shows how cities themselves are an invisible technology, and we no longer make cities by constructing buildings, or physical spaces. Active forms dictate infrastructure space, not physical structures, and it is this space that becomes the secret weapon of the powerful, monetized and mobilised into ‘recipes, and formulas’. Infrastructure space is a ‘wilder mongrel than any of our leviathans’

‘Infrastructure spaces orchestrate activity that remains undeclared, capable of outpacing law’ — Keller Easterling

Flowing quickly into the introduction of Free Trade Zones, Easterling detailed terrifying projections of future, imagined cities like Astana, ‘a capital that has turned itself into a lawless zone. It’s in ‘paleo-Genghis competition with Dubai’, another city complete with ‘mirror tiled skyscraper entry ports’. produced as an ideal, and product of capitalism.

Through her presentation of Kenya’s current, and predicted, wifi networks which take priority over physical access, Easterling asked questions of development, and how to control it without razing communities. No longer is this about roads, but invisible seams and systems that connect people, and reveal their relationships.

To read the rest of Natalie Kane’s blog on her experience of Improving Reality follow this link.


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