prosthetic landscapes in a time of acceleration – mammoth // building nothing out of something

prosthetic landscapes in a time of acceleration

[Levee between two containment cells on Craney Island, summer 2013.]

I’m speaking this Saturday, 28 Feb, at an interdisciplinary arts event in Amsterdam, the Sonic Acts Festival, whose theme for 2015 is “The Geologic Imagination”.

My talk is in a session that starts at 10:30 am, entitled “Landscape Transformation”. The session also includes geologist and author Michael Welland (whose book, Sand, was an early influence on our work in the Dredge Research Collaborative) and film-maker/photographer Jananne Al-Ani (who will be presenting work related to the development of flight and aerial representation — also of great interest here).

I’ll be talking about what I’m calling the “prosthetic littoral”:

The tools are both prosaic and bizarre. Sensate geotextiles. Miniscule tracking sensors embedded in flowing streams of silt and sand. Turbidity curtains. Slumping geotubes. Confined disposal facilities, slowly-shifting landscape machines that occupy entire islands. The polypropylene apparatus of engineered erosion control. Flotillas of suction dredgers. Concrete tetrapods, armoring countless kilometers of coastline.

With such instruments, humans are radically reshaping the pedosphere, the thin skin of active soils that covers the earth. These landscape prosthetics alternately speed up and slow down the movement of sediments, producing an anthropogenic counterpart to familiar natural cycles like the rock and water cycles: the dredge cycle. Within this cyclic whirlwind of accelerated erosion and forced uplift, strange new landscapes are formed and reformed at ever faster pace. Roving the coasts of North America from New York to Virginia to Louisiana, this talk is a tour of such landscapes, the instruments that shape them, and the unexpected design opportunities that may lie within them.

The event is much bigger than just our participation, as it also includes a range of talks from speakers like Liam Young, Smudge Studio, and Benjamin Bratton, music, art installations, and much more. If you’re not in Amsterdam, there is a livestream for the conference.

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