As planetary-scale computation enables us to measure the inner dynamics of Earth, calculating its past, present, and future, we see the dissolving of the outside/inside mythos—the “out there” is actually “in here.” Produced by the participants of The Terraforming research program at the Strelka Institute, Moscow, these video works cover a range of topics—from space and sci-fi to artificial food, landscaping, and geo-engineering—occupying the interstitial space between speculative design proposal and experimental filmmaking.

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BACKCASTING KARDASHEV ONE

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KOSMOS LAW

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TO BURY THE SKY

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PHARMAKON LANDSCAPE

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GREEN MILITARY NEW DEAL

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BLACK ALMANAC

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DALEKO

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VEHA

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CASSANDRA

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Words by BENJAMIN H. BRATTON

 

It has been said that planetary-scale computation caused “the disappearance of the outside”: an act of spatiocide resulting in a monocultural globalism from which there is no escape. But perhaps instead it revealed that there never was an outside to begin with.
More specifically, it undermined a particular idea of the outside as the mysterious Nature on the other side of the border from the domesticated Culture. That border could be a fence, a wall or a door, but each similarly reinforced a notion of separation, with culture on the inside while nature remained “out there.” No more. We’ve come to realize that exteriority was a matter of perspective, and sometimes an illusion. A world made up of linear borders and horizons can be deceiving.
The dissolving of this particular outside/inside mythos has come from how the planet now senses itself, measuring its dynamics from the surface, underwater, in low-earth orbit and on the skins of things that populate it. How the world is perceived changes how we see what the world is. Just as the microscope forever changed how we see surfaces, and telescopes forever bent the horizon into the arc of a long curve, the development of a planet capable of sensing itself, sensing its own environment, calculating its past, present, and future, has and will continue to change how we (and it) understand planetarity, which is a very different thing than “nature.”
This planetarity has everything to do with climate change. In fact, the very idea of “climate change”—as in the calculation of a statistically significant shift in geochemistry and median temperature—is itself a direct accomplishment of planetary-scale computation. Without a big sensing and calculation apparatus through with the planet monitors itself, the current concept of “climate change” does not exist. In truth, the most important implications of planetary-scale computation may be epistemological and philosophical, not just technical. It changes not just how we think, but how the planet thinks through us.

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The research of The Terraforming think tank at Strelka Institute begins with this presumed planetarity, which becomes not just a frame of analysis, but also the basis for design. The terraforming we speak of is not the terraforming of other planets to make them viable for Earth-like life, but rather of ensuring that Earth will be viable for Earth-like life. It considers what is called the “Anthropocene” as a headless terraforming gone wrong. We are living in the structured debris of that terraforming. We recognize that whatever happens next, human culture will continue to terraform Earth and its ecologies. It’s not a matter of if, but of how. For us, “how” means, a reorientation to planetary thinking that is in contrast with those predicated on pre-Copernican hangover concepts of nature, ground, identity, and place. This is decisively different than “the global,” for which the planet is a static object for gridded overview. The planetary, by contrast, is multi-scalar and multi-temporal; it moves from atomic to atmospheric scales and back again without privileging the human-scale as the normative in-between point.

We look at the shambolic response to COVID-19 as evidence of what not to do. Falling back on post-colonial citizenship as default mechanism to re-sort, re-divide, and encircle naturally mobile population swarms shows just how under-matched our geopolitical traditions are by the epidemiological reality of our shared biological circumstance.  It is anarchy in the worst sense of term, and shows how the evangelically horizontal planlessness of the neoliberal era has failed. Ad-hoc community care networks are nice, and market-discovered vaccines will be going in my bloodstream as soon as the Illuminati decree it, but neither is a sufficient replacement for a viable and ubiquitous planetary-scale healthcare regime.

If the projects of The Terraforming speak to “speculative design,” then it is of a specific kind. It works with (and sometimes as) a cold realism that cuts through comfort zones, including our own. The research is hyperfunctional, and so seems outlandish and unlikely, which has the effect of making whatever is most likely appear absurd. The planet should be open, and the multiplication of species should continue. To be “outdoors” is not be outside of the larger inside. Doors are only one kind of shelter. Our project is to remake the inside—and be remade by it—in ways befitting this, the only planet within light years capable of hosting complex biological intelligence.

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The Terraforming 2020
Program Director: Benjamin H Bratton
Program Design Tutors: Nicolay Boyadjiev, Lisa Dorrer
Strelka Institute for Media Architecture and Design

 

Benjamin H. Bratton is a design theorist whose work spans philosophy, art, design and computer science. He is the Program Director of The Terraforming at Strelka Institute.

 

BACKCASTING KARDASHEV ONE
TEAM: YEVHENIIA BERCHUL, YULYA BESPLEMENNOVA, STUART TURNER, IANI ZEIGERMAN
backcasting-kardashev.one/

 

BLACK ALMANAC
TEAM: ANDREA PROVENZANO, PHILIP MAUGHAN, NIKOLAI MEDVEDENKO
almanac.black/

 

CASSANDRA
TEAM: LAURA CUGUSI, CHIARA DI LEONE, ANASTASIIA NOGA
cassandra-futures.ru/

 

DALEKO
TEAM: ELEANOR PERES, ANASTASIA SINITSYNA, TIGRAN KOSTANDYAN, TIM NOSOV
daleko.space/

 

GREEN MILITARY NEW DEAL (GMND)
TEAM: EDUARDO CASTILLO VINUESA, IULIIA GANKEVICH, ANDREY SHEVLYAKOV
gmnd.org/

 

KOSMOS LAW
TEAM: VLAD AFANASIEV, LUIZA CROSMAN, ELENA DARJANIA
kosmos-law.com/

 

PHARMAKON LANDSCAPE
TEAM: ANDREY TETEKIN, LUCIANO BRINA, YU GONG
pharmakon.land/

 

TO BURY THE SKY
TEAM: MARINA DUBOVA, PIERCE MYERS, BRYAN WOLFF
toburythesky.ru/

 

VEHA
TEAM: ANI DALAL, LIUDMILA GRIDNEVA,
TATIANA LYUBIMOVA
veha.network/