Archive for October, 2011

Linda Vigdor, University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana

Visualizing Imaginaries of Territory and Cosmos through a Techno-Artistic Imagination

This paper reports on how large-scale computational data of cosmological and hurricane events are transformed, through art and technoscience collaborations, into grand edutainments for immersive planetarium dome shows or IMAX films. Based on six months of organizational ethnography with the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputer Applications, I examine how collaborative ventures across art and science visualize and construct imaginaries of phenomena such as black holes, colliding galaxies, and Hurricane Katrina by appealing to an aesthetic of the sublime that depends on fidelity to scientific, computational data.Through visual, ethnographic analysis of the products of scientific and artistic methodologies in the 3D visualization of terrestrial and cosmic events, I examine how art-science collaborations contribute to artistically informed technoscientific imaginaries both earthbound and extraterrestrial. On the one hand, AVL’s approach foregrounds an adherence to data-rich models of contemporary computational science, yet this data fidelity is mediated by the affordances of 3D technologies; interdisciplinary collaborative quests for new, digitally-derived scientific knowledge; and public expectations of grand, immersive stories with views not previously seen. My paper will focus around representative animations and storyboards constructed from stills analyzed in relation to “real-time” photos and scientific simulations as well as the social discourses of art-technoscience collaborations. I argue that popular planetarium dome shows and science-based IMAX films not only bring science to the public, but also help to constitute contemporary technoartistic imaginaries of this scientific data and our terrestrial or cosmological “reality.”


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AAG 2012

The artsci geog team organized several sessions for the annual Association of American Geographers meeting in New York, February 24-28, 2012.

Following are the description and abstracts for the micro session:

Inhabiting the Micro

 Organised by the Art/Sci Team, Universities of Aberystwyth, Arizona and Wisconsin-Madison

Hiding somewhere between one millionth and one billionth of a meter, the ‘micro’ has long been recognized as a key ‘zone’ of study in the physical sciences. More recently, social scientists and others have come to recognize it as offering powerful points from which to ‘see’ the world, evoking a series of spatial concepts: the detailed, the textured, the complex, and the close up. In contrast to the massive and the multitudal, it poses the miniscule and the pre-individual. For geographers, familiar concepts such as the local threaten to be thrown into confusion at the revelation of micro worlds existing – sometimes quite literally – underneath our noses. In the affairs of Others, the micro has been the site of intimacies (a freckle, a follicle, a pore) and has just as often harbored the traces of infidelities, in viral exchanges and creatures of indiscretion. The entanglements of governance and medicalized life – since Pasteur – have been blurred by the micro, and it is increasingly a focus of public attention in new micro-technologies, disease epidemics, and discoveries of the microbial world.

It is no small exaggeration, then, that the micro offers geographers a wide and fertile epistemic and ontological terrain. In this session we invite geographers from across the discipline to engage – methodologically and conceptually – with what it means to inhabit the micro and what it means for the micro to inhabit us, looking to bring to light how such senses of ‘inhabitation’ challenge and/or enable spaces.

Submitted Abstracts: 

Pathologies of the Micro in Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’

John Paul Jones, University of Arizona jpjones@email.arizona.edu*
Deborah P. Dixon, University of Aberystwyth dxd@aber.ac.uk

Academic debates on and relating to ‘the micro’ have proliferated in recent years. Included in these diverse strands of philosophy are Latour’s Actor Network Theory, Harman’s object-oriented philosophy, and various Deleuzean flat ontologies. These strands of theory not only open spatial thought to the micro, they also open up new combinatorial conversations… with efforts to view neurological difference in relation to capitalism; with intensified forms of precautionary hygienics (annual flu shots, disinfectants); and with decidedly anti-romantic takes on touch and intimacy as we all learn to ‘think germs’. Together, these developments suggest new forms of subjectivity produced by a hyper-vigilance and fear over the microbiological. This micro-consciousness of the pathological has a history in popular culture (e.g., “The Andromeda Strain”). Most recently, its practical and affective effects have been the object of representation in Steven Soderbergh’s wildly popular film, “Contagion”. The movie feeds once again a contemporary public’s imagination over the monstrous irruption of an uncontrolled virus. In this paper, we examine a handful of the many themes brought forth in “Contagion”, including: the technological mediation of fear; the materiality of the unseen; new corporeal vulnerabilities; and a heightened awareness of the liveliness, and harmful capacity of, all manner of everyday objects. How, we also ask, does the film speak to our romantic flirtations with touch and intimacy?

Doing-cooking : The Performance of Flour

Emma Roe, Geography and Environment, University of Southampton.

This paper builds on existing studies of transformation and mobility in agro-food geographies (Atchison et al 2010), and Cochran’s (2011) ‘object-orientated cookery’ to study the ‘affective outline’ (Phelan 1997) of matter’s micro process of transformation. The substance at the centre of this project is ‘flour’. Flour’s performative geographies enact ‘intra-active[ly] and intra-ontical [ly]’  (Haraway 2007) with human practices and non-human matters. Through the study of video footage of people cooking with flour, this paper examines the practices of ‘doing-cooking’ (de Certeau 1999) to ask what we can understand about flours relations to others? The incorporation of flour with other substances and gesture in the mixing bowl, carries an intent to generate a new object – liver’s gravy, or a raspberry muffin. Where Atchison et al’s (2010) study superbly shows that throughout cereal’s transformative processes a capacity to be harmful to human ceoliac sufferers is retained, here the focus is more on what we might understand about micro nonhuman-nonhuman relations and where they take us in ongoing work to articulate the politics and ethics of matters and materialities (Coole and Frost 2010; Braun and Whatmore 2010). 


Nick Rush-Cooper

Making the incomprehensible sensible in the radioactive playground.

Radiation disrupts distinctions between the animate and inanimate, body and environment, material and immaterial. Extra-sensory and yet capable of genetic-level alteration, these disruptive, uncanny qualities are experienced as material effects, psychic tensions and sensory confusion (Masco 2006). Whilst touring the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation visitors encounter this uncanny existence of radioisotopes. Visitors engage in processes of making sense(sible) this encounter, whereby disrupted boundaries are questioned, bolstered and re-made through networks of radiometric technologies, scientists, guides, cartographic representations, stories and myths. Drawing on the cartographic practices that represent the variable abundance of radioisotopes in the Zone this paper will take the form of a dynamic map of the amusement park in the ruins of Pripyat which combines radiometric technologies with ethnographic data and visitor accounts collected during fieldwork with tourists and guides in the Zone. Through this I will explore the disruptions of scale, across spaces and between bodies and place. An examination of visitors’ responses to these disruptive molecular, (im)material worlds of radiation illuminates a range of embodied and discursive practices which – confronting the possibility of inhabitation by radioisotopes – attempt to bolster the body. At the same time, attempting to inhabit, however tentatively, the world of radiation, which bears little concern for the skin, individual selves or easily comprehensible models of agency may prove fruitful in producing new understandings of bodies, worlds and materiality.


Micro-Structures, or, the finite vanishing point of scale

Ulf Strohmayer, School of Geography & Archaeology, NUI Galway, Ireland

Following a decade of fruitful debates centred around the (im-)possibility of using scale as a stable feature organising empirical research in Geography it now appears to be time to approach at least one of its apparently logical endpoints.  Faced with the daunting task of thinking, let alone approaching, infinity, its opposite other, ‘the micro’ appears to offer a more intuitive invitation for fruitful engagement.  In contrast to ‘infinity,’ ‘the micro’ seems to offer a shape and a life — in short: a materiality that scholars can engage with.  ‘The micro’, in other words, seemingly offers a condition of possibility for both ‘identity’ and ‘difference’ — or ‘intimacy’ and ‘infidelity’ — to materialise, to be and to matter.  In this paper, I argue that such a conceptualisation of the ‘micro’ unnecessarily burdens a newly emerging scale of inquiry with expectations of order and sequence.  In its stead, the paper explores a parataxic conceptualisation of ‘the micro’ and its uses for a progressive form of geographical inquiry.  Drawing on the aesthetic work of Jacques Rancière, it explores egalitarian aspects potentially conjoined with the notion of ‘the micro’ to differentiate more productively between the related concepts of ‘the micro’ and ‘the event,’ both of which have made appearances in recent geographical debates.  The paper closes with a short reflection on the kind of community created by and around ‘the micro’ as a kind of, in the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, “non-equivalent affirmation”.

Politics of Art and Alchemy at an Abandoned Gas Station, Chicago

Mrill Ingram, University of Arizona

Phytoremediation, broadly conceived, pertains to a wide variety of stabilizing, transformative, and rejuvenating interactions, typically occurring at a micro-scale between plants, roots, and the soil around them.  These interactions might be represented as physics, as alchemy, as microbiology, and perhaps less typically, as biogeographical politics.  In this paper I consider the work of sculptor Frances Whitehead and her project with the City of Chicago, Slow Cleanup, which investigates phytoremediation as part of a sustainable approach to remediating abandoned gas stations.  Involving a soil scientist, a brownfield specialist, a horticulturalist, environmental studies students, back-to-work program participants, and a diversity of nonhumans, Whitehead’s project has created a new assemblage of at times unruly actors, whose inter- and re-actions offer opportunities to consider “the matter of politics” (Braun & Whatmore 2010). In this paper I investigate Whitehead’s work as another kind of alchemy, what Stengers (2005, 1001) has described as an emergent mode that “gives the issue around which they are all gathered the power to activate thinking, a thinking that belongs to no one, in which no one is right.”

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