desalpes

Anthropocène | Technosphère | Créolisation

Category: English

Roman Roads

Roman Roads” by Sasha Trubetskoy: a subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD.

Based on the map produced by this designer, I focused on the Alpine region in order to highlight them. Of course, the decisions Trubetskoy has an influence (“here is no way I could include every Roman road, these are only the main ones. I tried to include cities with larger populations, or cities that were provincial capitals around the 2nd century.”) but it’s interesting to look at which Alpine cities were important at the time. See how Augusta Prætoria Salassorum (Aoste, IT), Vapincum (Gap, FR), Aventicum (Avenche, CH), Curia (Coire, CH) are present here, while Turicum (Zürich) is not.

Jller, a pebble sorting machinery

Jller – Prokop Bartoníček & Benjamin Maus:

Jller is part of an ongoing research project in the fields of industrial automation and historical geology. It is an apparatus, that sorts pebbles from a specific river by their geologic age. The stones were taken from the stream bed of the German river Jller, shortly before it merges with the Danube, close to the city of Ulm. The machine and its performance is the first manifestation of this research. A set of pebbles from the Jller are placed on the 2×4 meter platform of the machine, which automatically analyzes the stones in order to then sort them. The sorting process happens in two steps: Intermediate, pre-sorted patterns are formed first, to make space for the final, ordered alignment of stones, defined by type and age. Starting from an arbitrary set of stones, this process renders the inherent history of the river visible. The history, origin and path from each stone found in a river is specific to the location, as every river has a different composition of rock types. The origin of those stones is well documented. For instance, the ones from the river Jller derive from two origins. Some come from rocks, that are the result of erosions in the Alps and are carried in from smaller rivers. Other stones have been ground and transported by glaciers that either still exist, or existed in the ice ages. As the Alps and flats, that were once covered by glaciers, have shifted, even deeper rock-layers were moved and as a result, stones from many geologic periods make their way into a river.

Dan Holdsworth’s “A Future Archaeology”


(Photo by Dan Holdsworth)

A Future Archaeology (Musée des Beaux Arts Le Locle, 2016-2017):

For over 15 years, the British photographer Dan Holdsworth has been blending art, science and nature to produce photographs which challenge our perceptions and reinvent the notion of landscape. His twin interests in the environment and new technologies have led him to study many glaciers around the world, notably in Iceland, the Alps and more recently post-glacial rock formations in the Jura. The artist works together with a geologist, using high precision instruments to gather millimetre-perfect data. The latest photogrammetric and geo-cartographic innovations make it possible for hundreds of photographs taken from a helicopter or by a drone to be meticulously compiled and plotted using GPS coordinates. The result is 3D imagery of a mountain in an unprecedented level of detail. A Future Archaeology thus makes up a digital archive, a genuine witness to the current state of these rock formations. Each contour and relief fissure is made visible and available for dissection by the archaeologists of tomorrow. This exhibition has been made in collaboration with Galerie SCHEUBLEIN + BAK, Zurich and Audemars Piguet.

The banality of landscape change

In this strikingly insightful blogpost called “The Banality of the Anthropocene“, Heather Anne Swanson discusses what she refers to as one of the most troublesome and terrifying dimension of the Anthropocene: “the sheer number of people it fails to trouble”.

Relying on the case of Iowa corn field – what would be the Alpine equivalent? ski slopes from the mountains? – she describes people’s blindness toward recent changes such as the drop of aquifer levels, the high nitrate levels in drinking water, and the washing down of fertilizers down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

For her, one of the reasons for that is because “white middle-class American subjectivities are predicated on not noticing. They are predicated on structural blindness: on a refusal to acknowledge the histories we inherit.” The cornfields are perceived as “progress” producing “grain futures markets and cheap hamburgers”… but the privatization of the fields lead to the disappearance of American Indians (“who carefully tended the prairie through burning and bison management”) and the over-exploitation of the fields.

As an answer, she suggests the following, that I find quite interesting:

Can we imagine corollaries to Bible study meetings or consciousness-raising groups in which people would be encouraged to trace the histories of the landscapes they inhabit, a process that might draw them into new ways of seeing themselves and their worlds?

A “wildness creator”

Seen in this piece by Ed Yong in The Atlantic:

…landscape architect Bradley Cantrell, historian Laura Martin, and ecologist Erle Ellis have taken this ethos to its logical extreme, and ended up with what they call a “wildness creator”—a hypothetical artificial intelligence that would autonomously protect wild spaces. We’d create it, obviously, but then let it go, so it would develop its own strategies for protecting nature. Maybe it blocks out human-made light or noise. Maybe it redirects the flow of water or destroys litter. Maybe it deploys drones to cull invasive species. […] Meanwhile, other groups are developing drones that can plant trees, artificial pollinators, swarms of oceanic vehicles for cleaning up oil spills, or an autonomous, weed-punching farm-bot.

The Alps covered with/by satellites


(Photo by Annick Rivoire)

March 10, 2017, Lyon (France). Seen at the Mirage Festival, this installation from Quadrature called “Satelliten“… which covers the French/Swiss Alps in a very intriguing way:

Accessing this information [satellite presence] allows the drawing machine SATELLITEN to keep record of the sheer amount of satellite flyovers in regard to its own location. In a square of approximately 10cm², the machine traces their lines in real time until the far away object leaves our horizon again.

SATELLITEN uses its own position as starting point and old maps of the area as a base for its drawings. For a long time, maps and atlases used to be one of the only sources for geographical knowledge. Now the paths of the satellites start to form on top of the familiar neighbourhoods, thus setting the normally invisible traffic in relation to our usual habitat. But as time passes the lines of the satellites will obliterate the well-known streets and cities, overwriting not only the information the map originally contained but as well the marks left by the preceding satellites. In the long run only a black square will be left, it is the remains of this rather parasitic machine: a temporal window, showing the seemingly arbitrary but highly structured activities in lower earth orbit.

Trash or Treasure?


Not exactly about the Alps… but quite intriguing anyway. I ran across this poster wandering around Joshua Tree National Park in the pre-Trump era (at the beginning of January). As usual with such observations, I overlooked the text at first. I actually saw the poser on a toilet door, walked few meters and then walked back to peruse it more thoroughly.

The set of arguments is quite interesting wrt the nature/culture debate, especially in the context of a US national park… the paragon of pristine “n a t u r e”. Every sentence is relevant here, especially the mere definition of what constitutes treasure versus trash.

The reason why I add this on a blog about the Alps is simply that I wonder about the counterpart here: would it be OK to consider certain artifacts as treasures? Would radio/phone masts be OK? What about gondolas? Ruined ski lifts? Left-over skis? Hiking in the Alps you definitely find remnants of mines, former railways, wooden structures and it seems OK to leave them there (see below a former copper mine in Queyras)… but what about more contemporary ones? How do people decide?


(August 2005, Saint Véran, Queyras, France)

“Technosphere”

As described in this report from HKW:

Scientists and thinkers have introduced the term technosphere to describe the mobilization and hybridization of energy, material, and environments into a planetary system on par with other spheres such as the atmosphere or biosphere. The term emphasizes the leading role of the technological within this global system. At the same time this term encompasses the enclosure of human populations, forests, cities, seas, and other traditionally non-technical entities within systems of technical management and productivity

Origin: the geologist Peter Haff coined that term in an article called “Humans and technology in the Anthropocene: Six rules” published in 2014 in the Anthropocene Review.

Chocolated Alps

toblerone

Next Nature reports on the recent evolution of Toblerone chocolat bars after Brexit. The tumbling value of the British pound, lead to the surge of import prices. As a result, the company which produces this product had to reduce its weight:

“In a statement the company explained the changes were needed in order to compensate the higher cost of the ingredients and to avoid to raise the price of its bars. The 400-gram pyramid-shaped chocolate bars are now reduced to 360 grams and the 170-gram bars to 150 grams. The packaging, however, remains unchanged.”

The Toblerone bar, which was designed to mimic the Swiss Alps, now is a pale version of the glorious mountains it was supposed to represent.

Matterhorn (How to See Like a Machine)

trevor-paglen-s-matterhorn-how-to-see-like-a-machine-brute-force-descriptor-matcher

“Matterhorn (How to See Like a Machine) Brute-Force Descriptor Matcher; Scale Invariant Feature Transform” by Trevor Paglen (2016). A project that looks at machine-produced imagery. A described in this article, Paglen explains the following:

“We’re increasingly living in a world where most images are made by a machine for a machine and are not even seen by humans. What is the kind of dark matter of that visual landscape that is occurring? The project looks at all those ways that machines see images and what kind of information they extract from them and how that’s different from the ways those images are typically used. It strongly affects the way the world works.

A project commissioned for the 11th Gwangju Biennale “The Eighth Climate (What Does Art Do?).” Photo by Metro Pictures