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For over 60 years, scientists have been deliberately exposing plants and seeds to radiation in order to mix up their genetic material and speed up mutations. The results are unpredictable and only the mutated plants that show useful or otherwise desirable attributes (stronger, tastier, bigger, more resistant to disease, etc.) are reproduced, creating a mutant variety from the original one.

The technology is called radiation breeding. It emerged in the early 1950s, as part of Atoms for Peace, a program to develop "peaceful" uses of fission energy after WWII. So-called Gamma gardens were planted in laboratories in the US, parts of the former USSR, India, Japan and even in GMO-phobic Europe. A number of plant varieties were commercialized and some of their offspring can now be found in your local supermarket.

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A garden show featuring "super atomic energized seeds," 1961. Photo by Frank Scherschel for Life (via Pruned)

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, an art think tank that investigates food controversies and prototypes 'alternative culinary futures', was concerned by the lack of research on radiation-bred edible plants and their possible impact on our health and on the environment. CGG founders Zack Denfeld & Cat Kramer worked with Heather Julius to create a barbecue sauce that contains some of the most common radiation-bred ingredients: Rio Red Grapefruit, Milns Golden Promise Barley, Todd's Mitcham Peppermint, Calrose 76 Rice and Soy.

The peppermint is a mutation of Mentha piperita, it is able to resist a particularly nasty fungal disease and can be found in chewing-gum, candies and toothpaste. The modified barley is used to make beer and whiskey. As for the grapefruit, it was developed to produce the deepest red. Hundreds of mutation-bred varieties of soy and rice have been registered in the International Atomic Energy Agency database. Now the name of the sauce is a reference to Cobalt-60, the radioactive source gamma gardens are submitted to.

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Exhibition view at MU, Eindhoven, 2014. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Exhibition view at MU, Eindhoven, 2014. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Cobalt 60 Sauce is part of the exhibition Matter Of Life: Growing new Bio Art and Design at MU in Eindhoven. A big sauce dispenser is at the disposal of visitor who'd like to taste the recipe. It's very dark, very yummy and a bit sweet.

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Matter of Life | Growing Bio Art & Design exhibition at MU, Strijp S, in Eindhoven. The show remains open until 22nd February 2015.

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One of the thing that surprised me when i moved from Belgium to Italy all those years ago is that i suddenly found myself in a culture where the weather wasn't part of the conversation. The sky never changed much. Every day was mostly sunny and fairly dry. This is less the case nowadays. I'm living in London where the Summer has been boiling hot. Meanwhile, Northern Italy has been showered by torrential rains. The weather has decidedly taken a turn for the weirder.

Newspapers publish alarming and disconcerting articles about climate change and 'extreme' meteorological phenomena on a daily basis. It seems that no matter how much we cycle to work and recycle our trash, this is too little too late (becoming a vegetarian would have a bigger impact anyway.) Climate change is a phenomenon so complex and grim that most people feel powerless and inadequate even taking about it..

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

The exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the Future at the Science Gallery in Dublin gives a more human dimension to the issue. The show features 26 artworks that, each in their own way, act as springboards for new discussions and debates about the eccentricities of the weather.

The show goes from the very absurd (the Halliburton survivaball) to the very dark and dramatic. But the adjective that pervades the show is 'fun'. While visiting the exhibition, i've been drinking cloud, watched a 1959 film that speculates on how weather control departments would use satellites and met with little child mannequins in Hazmat suits in the most unexpected places.

Strange Weather is one of those rare shows that's never dull, never obscure, never preaching. A quick video walk-through of the exhibition will prove my point:

Given my enthusiasm for the exhibition, there's a lot i'd like to blog: all the ideas, all the works i've discovered. Being notoriously lazy, i'm going to bide my time and slowly publish stories about Strange Weather. Here's a first batch of artworks which explore clouds in the most poetical and critical ways:

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Karolina Sobecka collecting clouds near Dublin. Photo Jodi Newcombe

'Thinking Like a Cloud' by Karolina Sobecka as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Karolina Sobecka, Thinking Like a Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Thinking Like a Cloud' by Karolina Sobecka as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Karolina Sobecka, Thinking Like a Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Karolina Sobecka climbed to the Sally Gap in the Dublin Mountains to harvest clouds, decant them into little tubes and invited gallery visitors to consume them.

The artist built her own Cloud Collector, a device that is sent into the atmosphere attached to a weather balloon. Clouds condense on its mesh wings and flow into a sample container. These cloud samples are analysed for microorganisms and ingested by experimental volunteers. By combining the cloud microbiome with their own, the volunteers become part cloud and keep a cloud journal reporting their transformation.

Thinking Like a Cloud owes a lot to Aldo Leopold's land ethics motto 'thinking like a mountain'. It describes an ability to appreciate the deeps interconnectedness of all the elements in the ecosystems. By ingesting clouds, clouds become part of you and you become part of the atmosphere yourself.

'I Wish To Be Rain' by Studio PSK as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com  1.jpg
Studio PSK, I Wish To Be Rain. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Studio PSK, I Wish To Be Rain

I was strangely moved by Studio PSK's proposal for the ash dispersal of your loved ones. I don't care whether it is speculative or art or whatever, i want this project to be real.

I Wish to Be Rain suggests that after their death, people could literally become part of the weather by having their ashes used for cloud seeding, the dispersing substances into the air to trigger rain.

Following a funeral and cremation of a body, the crematorium will give the bereaved an aluminium vessel that contains their loved ones remains and a dormant aerostat. When the family are ready, the encapsulated ashes are sent skywards tethered to a weather balloon, to be dispersed in the macroscopic structure of a cloud. The capsule becomes increasingly pressurised. At the point it reaches the troposphere, the highest point at which clouds form, the capsule bursts, dispersing the ashes into the clouds below. When dispersed into the clouds, the remains get enveloped into a macroscopic structure far beyond the most grandiose human experience. But this is short lived, again they enter the domain of the miniature, falling back to earth as raindrops, before eventually finding their way back into the sea.


Matt Kenyon, Cloud 2014 (Dublin version)

'Cloud' by Matt Kenyon as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo University Times

'Cloud' by Matt Kenyon as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

One thing i noted when i spoke to people who live or used to live in Dublin is that they all have something to say about the fluctuating prices of the houses in the city. Matt Kenyon's Cloud therefore feeds into two concerns: real estate and weather. The artist turned the last 10 year of housing market into a stream of small house-shaped clouds that fly to the ceiling of the gallery, stick there for a while, lose stamina (and metaphorically value) and then fall down to the floor.

The viewers witness common house-ownership dreams disappear as fast as they materializes -- just as many saw the false promises of their homes disappear as they were quickly foreclosed upon during this period.

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
Previously: The Tornado diverting machine.

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

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POLSPRUNG

Yet another work i discovered in Riga when i visited Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, an exciting exhibition featuring artworks that challenge existing viewpoints, deconstructs social issues, and proposes positive visions for the future.

POLSPRUNG, by Erich Berger, explores the psychology and politics of disaster. The installation focuses on geomagnetic reversal, a change in Earth's magnetic field that makes poles switch ends with the magnetic north pole becoming south, and vice versa. Scientists believe that the reversal is cyclically and some have even calculated that the moment is long overdue.

Starting from (im)possible disasters during a polar reversal, an attempt is made to generally ask how we deal with threat scenarios and states of emergency. We are hereby especially interested in the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.

The POLSPRUNG installation features a series of instruments that measure the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal, register the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind and compare the data with the speculative disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal. A small reading space also provides information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation, a magnetite laboratory and a notebook in which visitors can write down their thoughts about disasters.

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

Interview with the artist:

Hi Erich! I've been looking online to understand the meaning of Polsprung and the more i googled, the more lost i felt: it is geomagnetic reversal and not pole shift, right?

In Polsprung I refer to the geomagnetic reversal, when magnetic north and south are reversing their position and earth its geomagnetic polarity. The German word for the geomagnetic reversal is POLSPRUNG and I use it because of "SPRUNG" - which means "jump" as substantive. A "jump" implies some form of time, something very short in our time experience. But a geomagnetic reversal has a duration of about 10.000 years - nothing we humans would consider a jump, it is only a jump considering geological time. I liked the idea of the jump which makes us think about different time scales.

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Appearance of magnetic field before and during a reversal (credit: Gary Glatzmaier/Los Alamos National Laboratory)

The other thing about frantically googling Polsprung is that it does look scary. Maybe worse than anything we might read about climate change (sorry for the link to that awful publication) Yet, it doesn't get that much coverage in newspapers. How do you explain that? Is it because we cannot yet feel the effects of the Polsprung?

True, from time to time we hear about a possible catastrophic scenario related to the polar reversal, but maybe it is not so popular amongst journalists, as the concept is not so easy to sell. And there are less "esoteric" scenarios around. This was also the reason I picked it, because it is rarely used in talking about catastrophes.

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

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POLSPRUNG, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Erich Berger

Could you tell us about the setting of the installation. It's very techy, with instruments that look scientific. Yet, the work explores 'the role of mass media in the production of a permanent state of emergency, as well as the social function and the possible exploitation of disasters for personal, economic and political purposes.' So what is the role of the instruments if the works explore the psychological and political dimensions of a catastrophe?

A constant flow of states of emergency produced through media was the starting point for me to work on POLSPRUNG. In the last years I saw myself constantly bombarded with possible catastrophes, the swine flue, the bird flue, climate change, global warming, peak oil, an asteroid hitting, super solar storms, you name it. Some of these scenarios are just briefly in the media, some stay for some weeks and month others are permanently with us.

It is a really interesting phenomena when you observe it for a while. Most of these scenarios never play out, or were totally disproportionate or are predicted for a future we are not part of. What they have in common is that they create states of emergency which create fear, keep us occupied and make us worry about our current life, our loved ones and our future. States of emergency are also perfect for enforcing measures which we could call unpopular, so I am also interested in the politics of these states.

So I thought to create a test environment, a laboratory, a vehicle to explore such a case. I was looking for a possible scenario which would not be possibly created by human impact like climate change or random (act of god?) catastrophes like an asteroid collision. My interest in geology lead me to the geomagnetic reversal. If we look at the reversal statistics of the last 5 million years then the next reversal is long overdue - so I found my perfect state of emergency. Now, the speculations of possible catastrophes related to a polar reversal range from nothing to a complete mass extinction event. One quite probably effect could be an increase in gamma radiation on the ground leading to a higher rate of mutation in biological organisms but also to unwanted interaction with the electronic hardware. The electromagnetic spectrum was always of high interest to me in my artistic work and so I settled for the gamma radiation increase as possible catastrophe. With this as basic setting the installations manifests itself in 3 parts:

* Disastrous test arrangement # 1: Polar Reversal Detector
A magnetometer measures the earth's magnetic field to detect a possible polar reversal and make the deviation of the pole from its "normal" position audible through sonification.

* Disastrous test arrangement # 2: Muon Telescope
A muon telescope permanently registers the gamma radiation caused by the solar wind, comparing the measured data with the speculatively disastrous gamma radiation data during a polar reversal.

These two arrangements are self build but functioning instruments which permanently detect the fluctuations of the earth magnetic field (magnetometer) and the related gamma radiation (muon detector). With enough patience and time at hand (a couple of hundreds to thousand years) one can observe the reversal process and gamma ray increase - I call that radical witnessing.

Though the instruments are built quite simple and open they still remain black boxes for the visitor and make it difficult to completely understand the whole process. The detection really happens but people also need to believe in it and need to make them believe to actually be able to create the state of emergency.

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Image courtesy of Erich Berger

* Disastrous test arrangement # 3: Reading and Feedback
Includes information about polar reversal research and disaster speculation. The disaster notebook invites spectators to give personal feedback on their fear of disasters.

The third arrangement is central, as here fears and personal catastrophes of visitors and witnesses are collected. A black book on a writing table invites people to write down their stories and thoughts. The book collects the stories of the different exhibition venues. I haven't seen the result from Riga yet, but in Hamburg, where POLSPRUNG was exhibited for the first time, people made intense use of it. At the same table you find literature to read regarding the polar reversal, the dynamic environment our earth represents when you look at it from a deep time perspective but also philosophy and ecology of geology and disaster sensationalism. For the more playful mind there is also a box where you can investigate and play with magnetic minerals.

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Curie's Children [glow boys, radon daughters] (Martin Howse and Erich Berger measuring radiation). Picture by Liisa Louhela during Case Pyhäjoki

"POLSPRUNG is the first installation in a cycle of the works that deal with the psychology and politics of disaster." Do you already know what the upcoming installations will be like?

I am currently working on the second work called INHERITANCE together with Finnish/Danish jewellery artist Mari Keto.

I already mentioned my interest in geology which specifically focuses on techno minerals, like uranium and thorium ores or rare earth elements, their origin, occurrences, mining, technologies and politics, etc. In one of my field trips quite close to my home I discovered native copper in the bedrock.

I knew this was exceptional and informed the geological research centre. To make a long story short, my sample also caught the attention of the researchers working for the Finnish nuclear waste industry. They saw the sample as physical evidence that copper is resistant enough as canister material for nuclear waste in Finnish bedrock. This was a rather
unforeseen and unfortunate outcome of my activities and the only sensible way for me to respond was to start to engage with the topic.


Into Eternity - Trailer

Finland currently builds the first permanent nuclear waster storage facility called Onkalo. There is a quite interesting film by Danish film maker Michael Madsen which I can recommend, called INTO ETERNITY which explores the facility and the people working around it. Also last year I participated in the excellent nuclear field lab Case Pyhäjoki organised by Mari Keski-Korsu which engaged with Finnish nuclear politics from an art and activism viewpoint. Anyway, nuclear processes are vast in time but also in their spacial and economical dimensions, and as such really difficult to grasp. I was thinking of ways how to make them more comprehensive and now we are working on sets of family jewellery which are rendered unwearable through their radionuclide content for quite a long time.

Family jewellery is perfect to inverse the logic of nuclear waste. Family jewellery is a vehicle for family identity and wealth into the future. With nuclear waste we in-debt the future. We have now researched the legal conditions we are working in and planned 3 different jewellery sets which will be presented as installations. Details are too early to
explain.

Another off-spin of this workings is the Curie's Children [glow boys, radon daughters] workshop which I developed together with Martin Howse.

Thanks Erich!

This is the last weekend to discover the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

Other posts about the Fields exhibition: Sketches for an Earth Computer, Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.

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The weather, that once innocent topic of conversation, now comes the bearer of fears and dark scenarios. Hurricanes, typhoons, flooding and heatwaves are more violent and frequent than ever and climate change has transformed our good old weather into 'extreme' weather.

An exhibition that just opened at the Science Gallery in Dublin brings together artists who investigate how this Strange Weather is intersecting with our daily life and culture.

One of the rooms in the gallery hosts a Tornado Diverter, a device built by artists Bigert & Bergström to intercept and stop a tornado. The sculptural machine radiates 100,000 negative volts and has the power to repel the positive charge of the tornado that causes twisters to touch down.

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Installation at the Science Gallery

The artists first read about such machine in a Wired magazine interview with Russian weather-modification scientist Vladimir Pudov. Bigert & Bergström met Pudov in 2007. He had then retired from his position at the the Institute for Experimental Meteorology and no longer had the means to develop his invention. The artists decided to step in, improve the scientist's drawings of the machine and "build it for him.'

In May 2011, the artists mounted the Tornado Diverter machine on a custom built trailer and, accompanied by Canadian meteorologist and storm chaser Mark Robinson, they traveled to the Midwest in the US to hunt down a tornado and place The Tornado Stopper in front of the approaching twister.


The Weather War, 2012, official trailer

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The Science Gallery is also screening The Weather War, a film in which the duo documents the increasingly hostile weather patterns and man's attempts to control them. I couldn't watch it until the end alas (i needed to take the bus to the airport) but 20 minutes of it were enough to convince me that the film is simply brilliant.

The documentary takes us on a historical and geographical journey into climate-management. The artists look at how the science of meteorology has advanced in line with military goals throughout history. They also interview people who build concrete shelters that can protect up to 50 (squeezed) people from violent tornadoes, Chinese scientists from the Beijing Weather Modification Office who fired rockets into the sky to seed clouds and make sure that it wouldn't rain over the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony, etc.

What makes the work so fascinating is that it gives a vision of how scientists are now attempting to control the weather. Should we put our trust into their hands? Or should such experiments be undertaken by governments? Are we sure they can also control the socio-political consequences of their experiments in climate control? Are we even entitled to modify the weather? And in the background of these questions lies the issue of global climate change:

How do we behave to meet those challenges? Do we adapt? Or do we wage war against increasingly aggressive weather phenomena? Bangladesh is building protective walls against coming floods. China shoots rockets into threatening clouds. And in Italy, anti-hail cannons are fired to protect the year's wine harvest.

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Tornado Protection Bunker. Image Bigert & Bergström

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Tornado Protection Bunker. Image Bigert & Bergström

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Joplin, Missouri, USA. On May 22nd, 2011, a FE-5 tornado destroyed large areas of the city. Image Bigert & Bergström

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Still from Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

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Still from Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

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Still from Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

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Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

Check out The Weather War , part of the exhibition Strange Weather. The show remains open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.

The date of the Scottish Independence Referendum is near. On 18 September 2014, people will be able to say whether or not they want Scotland to be an independent country.

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Prototype wave machine2. Photographer - Lou-Atessa Marcellin

A New Scottish Enlightenment, Mohammed J. Ali's Design Interactions graduation project, goes back to 1979 (the year of the Scottish devolution referendum which invited citizens to vote in support for a devolved deliberative assembly) to imagine what could have happened if the Scottish Independence Referendum had actually taken place 35 years ago and people had voted in favour of it.

Ali's counterfactual speculation proposes that the positive outcome for the referendum leads to the creation of the New Scottish Government. Scotland is a place known for its inventiveness and the independence invigorates the nation's creative spirit. A key policy of the government is to help citizen achieve personal energy independence, paving the way for a future liberated from the reliance of fossil fuels. The measure sees the prototyping of DIY energy generating machines, the re-purposing of abandoned coal mines, and even the discovery of the first self-sustaining fusion reaction. Furthermore, the success of the energy policy leads to the creation of alternative economic paradigms where different forms of exchange and economy are created based on distribution and sharing of energy.

The work A New Scottish Enlightenment describe the outcomes of some of the key pieces of legislation either on an individual, community or global level.


Timeline for New Scotland

A few questions to Mohammed J. Ali:

Hi Mohammed! The events you chart make our own present look extremely backwards. Why is your project located in counterfactual speculation rather than directly in an unspecified future?

One of the reasons I wanted to examine a counterfactual Scotland, was because on 18th September this year, there is a referendum for independence. There was a similar referendum in 1979 for a devolved government. Then, despite a Yes result of almost 52%, Scotland didn't eventually become independent. An addition to the Scotland Act 1978 stipulated that 40% of the entire voting public had to vote in favour. If that had actually happened, Scotland could have become an independent country. It's a bit more complicated, with a bit more politics than this but it all adds a layer of reality which would have been lost if I'd positioned it in another time/place.

In a twist to the real events, I propose Scotland actually becomes independent in 1979. We can then begin to imagine what might have happened given what we know has happened since then. An alternative Scotland is a way of perhaps holding a mirror to what could potentially happen after September 18th this year. The world might suddenly start to become a very different place.

I also wanted to look at what might happen to a modern, developed country which becomes independent, a unique event in modern times. The legislative, social and economic models of its former political partner/leader are replaced by those more sympathetic to the ideals of the new state. Scotland has historically been socialist, certainly left leaning; the map often turning red (the colour of the Labour Party) during general elections.

Perhaps one of the reasons why our current reality might look backwards in comparison to that in the counterfactual is because I imagined a country emboldened by independence and willing to try more extraordinary measures to bring individual independence to its people. I wanted to take advantage of the boom in research into alternative energy technologies which was happening during the seventies and early eighties resulting from an over-dependence on oil, coal and gas reserves mainly held by a minority of overseas nations.

The reality is that in the eighties, global research funding into renewable energy technologies was cut, as a result of the steady drop in the price of oil and its increased availability. I wanted to conceive a progressive nation where there was a realisation that energy was always a key component in humanity's evolution and that the current sources of energy were simply a staging post in the progress towards the next (hopefully better) one.

The Acts of Parliament of the New Scottish Government were simply tools to enable this to happen - think of Jimmy Carters National Energy Act 1978 and the later Energy Policy Acts in the US. The Legislative Acts in the speculation "A New Scottish Enlightenment" have some basis in the real world, from where they could be drafted into the speculation.

Important technological events such as the introduction of Napster in the late 90s meant that I could draw on peer-to-peer file sharing as a means of creating an analogue in New Scotland where surplus energy could be transmitted across a conjoined energy and information network.

The key was the creation of a country with the potential to be a blank canvas onto which I could paint a picture describing potential futures. In this respect Scotland was the perfect example. We don't know its future, but we can examine its past and describe the potentials of what might have been.

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Installation RCA June 2014. Photographer - Mohammed J Ali

Energy is a highly lucrative business. Why would a state (and the corporations that are closely linked to any government) have any interest in leaving it into the hands of the people?

The UK energy production and distribution sector were centrally controlled until the privatisation of the electricity and gas markets from the mid-80s. Historical precedents suggest that this new state could also have created a nationalised oil infrastructure similar to Iran's in 1951, which happened despite fierce British opposition, or Iraq's in 1972 to name but two. However, New Scotland continues to receive revenue in the form of taxation from oil production which it accumulates into a Sovereign Wealth Fund. This is used to ultimately make the people of New Scotland independent, in energy terms, through the creation of their personal energy infrastructures.

In your scenario, the New Scottish Government's first act is to create a sovereign wealth fund with the proceeds of North Sea Oil. What is this fund exactly?

Sovereign Wealth Funds are often the accumulated capital received from the tax receipts of oil production. They are usually invested in a portfolio of real or financial assets to enable them to grow. New Scotland as a result of independence would inherit the oil reserves within its national coastal boundary. It follows a Norwegian model by creating a fund to enable future projects or to be used in times of need.

The New Scottish Government decides to begin investment in energy infrastructures from 1985, which coincides with the period in which actual receipts from oil revenues were at their greatest.

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Could you explain the various 'inventions' you were showing at the RCA exhibition?

The first 'invention' is the creation of a home workshop inventor. Its basis is the Salter Duck developed in the 70s and early 80s by the scientist, Stephen Salter, at Edinburgh University. It takes the form of an energy harvesting wave machine. The picture shows the inventor in his workshop, working on the device. He received funding through the Public Energy Act 1985 from the Sovereign Wealth Fund. This Act was a means of creating the start of a personal energy infrastructure for the people of New Scotland. In our contemporary real world we see this more and more: the installation of solar panels, geothermal heat pumps and windmills. The Act was also a way for creative invention to take place following the repeal of energy intellectual property rights the year before.

By the year 2000, the New Scottish Government wants to halt conventional nuclear energy production. It also launches the "Third Millennium Prize". This is analogous to the Longitude Prize of the Eighteenth Century, where the government of the day tried to resolve one of the crucial impediments to progress of the time, the ability to travel across the oceans safely and directly. I also had in mind John F Kennedy's address at Rice University in Houston, Texas where he spoke passionately to the American people about the need to succeed in sending the first men to the moon. These were projects of national importance or pride.

In New Scotland, there is decreasing dependence on nuclear energy following the implementation of other energy creation/transformation methods. However, much of the rest of the world still needs access to substantial, sustainable and uninterrupted energy sources.

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The 'fusion reactor' is the culmination of research started in 2000, when New Scotland becomes the global hub for fusion research. This is backed by the Sovereign Wealth Fund, of course, enabling the research to flourish. Ultimately, as is often the case, a serendipitous scientific discovery creates a breakthrough illustrated by the fusion reactor pictured. In this instance research is encouraged by a hothouse environment not unlike Silicon Valley, but where intellectual property is no longer a barrier.

Government funded mega projects are not new. We've had many countries collaborate on a number of different fusion projects, and the European Space Agency, the ISS, CERN, NASA are all centrally funded by combined or single governments.

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Lochgelly Geothermal Mineworks. Drawing by Dimi Constantinides

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Poster Community Energy Act 1992. Assisted by Esa Matinvesi

In 1992, people realized that they could use the existing mine works, abandoned in the 60s, to generate geothermal heat in order to heat the town and provide the resources required to create new industry. How would that work? How can an abandoned mine provide energy?

I wanted to look at different scales, from the personal (Public Energy Act 1985), to the global (Third Millennium Prize 2000). The Community Energy Act 1992 made possible the implementation of intermediate sized, community wide energy infrastructures. What could happen if communities with a shared past, interest or skills were encouraged to work together?

Lochgelly is a former mining town in Fife, in Eastern Scotland. When coal mining stopped in the 60s, the town and its citizens were largely forgotten. Overlooked and existing infrastructures were important. How could we repurpose what we had already created? I wanted to explore the use of geothermal heat within the old infrastructure of the coal mines.

Geothermal heat pumps work on the same principle as our refrigerators, but in reverse. They take advantage of the constant temperature of the earth from 6m to over 100m below the surface. Cold water is pumped down and returned to the surface to have the geothermal heat extracted. Geothermal power can is an excellent source of hot water, which could in turn open the town to the possibilities of different types of industry. Food processing or the hotel trade for example both require huge amounts of hot water which the mines could produce in abundance. The possibility for extracting energy from other infrastructures also exists. True geothermal energy could be extracted from abandoned oil wells which regularly bore several kilometres through the earth. Perhaps disused fishing fleets could be retrofitted with wave energy devices allowing them to become floating electricity generators.

This element was also examining the relationship we have to energy in another way. We are so used to having electricity come to us from distant power stations, why not create infrastructures where people go to the sources of energy. It then opens a new set of questions: are cities abandoned and the countryside re-inhabited? Collaborations with architects and vehicle designers come to mind.

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Poster Public Energy Act 1985. Assisted by Biin Shen

I was very surprised by the Energy Intellectual Property Rights Act 1985 which would remove intellectual property rights for energy technologies. This is obviously very seducing but i don't see many signs nowadays of intellectual property rights being lifted. Why would it have been different in 1985?

You're quite right. This is a surprising step for a fledgling country. I didn't want to make this project a whole series of spectacular implausible revolutionary actions. That would have made the counterfactual story lose any element of believability, but this is bold move with perhaps just enough basis in fact to push the scenario forward.

The formation of free and open software pioneer, Richard Stallman's real life GNU Project in 1983 is a development that bleeds into the timeline of the New Scottish Government. They realise that independence from corporate control can encourage the development of technologies much faster than when they're chained to copyrights and patents. Open collaboration is the key.

The background was the concept of a shared human destiny found within alternative publications such as The Whole Earth Catalog or Mother Earth News. Stores such as Real Foods in Broughton Street in Edinburgh, were established in the mid-70s and promoted open, environmentally sustainable living which go hand-in-hand with the beliefs of organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Many believe that ideas are the property of humanity and they belong in the public realm, Sir John Sulston versus Craig Venter on DNA sequencing and exploitation, for example. Even Plato and Aristotle held differing views on the nature of property and ownership. A government whose major concern is the development of sustainable energy and energy independence would be more likely to also see the benefit of a greater distribution of knowledge. The New Scottish Government realise the importance of this wider, generational thinking and pushed through the implementation of this Act.

I had planned to have the Energy Intellectual Property Rights Act occur much later in the timeline, to reflect a wider public debate, but as it's so critical to the development and ethos of sharing, it had to happen as soon as possible after the creation of New Scotland.

Today, intellectual property rights are contingent on the creation of profit and the promotion of capitalism. This means keys technologies can be tied up for years making further developments take even longer.

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Poster Third Millenium Prize 2000. Assisted by Esa Matinvesi

Are you planning to push the project any further?

The next step is to take the project to V2 Test_Lab in Rotterdam. It has also been picked as a finalist in the RCA Sustain Awards during London Design Festival 2014, which coincides with Scotland's' Independence Referendum on September 18th.

I'd like to expand on the economic concerns, the creation of sharing economies within an energy and information peer-to-peer distribution structure and the energy currencies it creates. What happens to conventional economics when rather than trying to store the energy you've created, which is difficult at the best of times, you give it away? A different system of values start to play out. Economy changes from our obsession with the accumulation of resources, to one where we share. How do corporations function after 2021 when the Watt starts becoming an established global currency?

The expansion of the timeline is important too, but without making it didactic; there needs to be room for interpretation and discussion. I'd like to leave the prospects of Torness nuclear power station or the different relationship between a wealthy New Scotland and perhaps a weaker less influential England, up to the imagination of other peoples. Would the remains of the Union start adopting the measures pioneered north of the border? All sorts of other questions remain to be explored. How is the new nation affected by migration or by new or old alliances?

Much of this work allies with Frederic Jameson's paraphrasing of Slavoj Zizek, "It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism". This project is really about provoking thinking, about how we can foster alternative political systems which have a truly long term, globally inclusive philosophy. How do we create less damaging economic environments which fit better within our ecosystem, and how to give more exposure to one of the fundamental relationships that makes us human: energy, economics and politics?

Thanks Mohammed!

I see far more exhibitions than i can blog (i could but i'm fairly lazy, you see.) So this morning, i went through all the photos i took in London galleries and museum in June and threw them hastily in this almost laconic post in case you're in town and bored. Being bored in London seems to be my latest obsession but that's another story.

Here we go...

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Home-made apparatus to test if a detector would work on Mars, c. 1960s. Object no. 2012-125 © Science Museum, James Lovelock

The ever fabulous Science Museum has a small show about the work of scientist and inventor James Lovelock. I spotted this apparatus to test if a detector would work on Mars. Lovelock built it in his home lab in the 1960s while working on NASA's Viking Mission to Mars. It is made with an ordinary kitchen jar and lid. The detector was sealed inside the jar and air was removed via the valve on the left to replicate Martian atmospheric pressure.

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Check out the Exponential Horn while you're in the building.

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Paul Granjon, Biting Machine

Speaking of wild inventions. I caught the very last day of the Paul Granjon exhibition at Watermans. It was called Is Technology Eating My Brain? and it was very very funny. It's not every day that i laugh my face off all alone in an art gallery. The show was the result of the artist's residency in the art center. He had a couple of works in the gallery (including a magnificently visitor-unfriendly Biting Machine), the rest were works made by participants of Granjon's Wrekshop. They included a slicing photo booth and a geranium survival kit.

I spent far too long watching the videos of Granjon's fancy inventions and performances:


The antigravitational vehicle for cats

I watched this one three times:


Kicked by Furman

And I now need this book: Hand-Made Machines [Includes DVD]

The show's already closed alas! but here's a few images. And a video.

The Victoria and Albert museum was showing the short listed artists and the winner of the Prix Pictet. The theme was Consumption in all its disastrous relationship to environmental sustainability.

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Abraham Oghobase, Untitled

Abraham Oghobase photographed hand scribbled texts advertising the various informal services offered by people living in Lagos, a city of over ten million inhabitants and the commercial capital of Nigeria.

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Michael Schmidt, Lebensmittel

In Lebensmittel, Michael Schmidt portrayed the mechanized, industrialized food system of contemporary Western culture. From pigs standing skin to skin in a factory farm to piles of discarded food. Seeing the images one next to the other up on the wall was both shaming and mesmerizing. No wonder the series won the prize.

The exhibition closed a couple of weeks ago.

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Suzanne Treister, Post-Surveillance Art (POST-SURVEILLANCE ART POSTER/WORLD OPEN DAY), 2014

Suzanne Treister was investigating the rise of mass intelligence and data collection long before it became fashionable to do so.

Talking in the context of her Post-Surveillance Art series, she said that: "What has altered for me post Snowden, is not an awareness and negotiation of a changed condition, but the knowledge that now almost everybody else knows something which was clear as day if you did a bit of research, and it's great to no longer be called a conspiracy theorist."
 
The show closed a few days ago at Maggs Gallery. It was both dramatic and surprisingly humourous.

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I have no time for design products, except when they come with a Soviet aura. The GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design is showing all kinds of plastic toys, a dial-less Telephone, red velvet flags, retro futuristic vacuum cleaners, etc.

Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain is at the GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design until 24 August.

I also visited The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture during the press view. I can't say that was the show of my life. AT ALL! But there were a couple of works i was glad to see again....

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Maurizio Cattelan, Him, 2001

and discover:

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Katharina Fritsch St Katharina and 2nd Photo, 2007

The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture is at the Hayward until 7 September.

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GUN Architects, Rainforest

Gun Architects's rainforest-inspired pavilion at Bedford Square for the 2014 London Festival of Architecture.

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Ri Hyang Yon, 21, dancer in the Arirang Games, during a practice session in the car park, May Day Stadium, Pyongyang (Copyright: Nick Danziger)

Photojournalist Nick Danziger visited North Korea in 2013. He recorded the everyday life in the DPRK and was given rare access to cities outside Pyongyang. The story behind each photo is probably more interesting than the photos themselves. The subjects are doing very ordinary things (getting their hair done at the hairdresser, sunbathing by the sea with their kids, etc.) only it does look like the photos were taken in the past.

According to the British Council the exhibition is "the first cultural engagement of its kind" between the UK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Guardian adds that it opened in London with no advance publicity, for fear that the dire relations between North Korea and the west might sink the first cultural project of its kind.

Above the Line: People and Places in the DPRK (North Korea) is open at the British Council HQ in London until 25 July.

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I spotted this one in the street.

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