In my thesis year I intend to further a body of work which explores new narratives of automation. I’m interested in automated systems and infrastructures and that forcefully mold natural processes to fit human comfort and desire. Areas in which I notice this happening are in agricultural practices, water management, and time keeping. More specifically I am interested in pivot irrigation systems, the man-made rivers of the American West, and metronomes. I have recently begun to think of these systems and maintenance as Terraforming Earth. Terraforming refers to the process of altering an alien planet’s terrain or climate to make it like Earth, so the terraforming of Earth, for me, describes the way in which these automated processes mimic natural ones, but alter them in ways comfortable for humans. Clocks and international time standards ignore variations in the Sun’s movement to simplify the coordination of society. Rivers have been forced to flow backwards and are shoved through deserts to meet the water needs of Los Angeles, and unsustainably irrigate farmland. We have designed these automated systems to feel natural or universal or sustainable, when they are not. Next year, I hope to make work about these subjects that, though automated, embraces subjective experience, confronts universality, and facilitates maintenance.
One way I plan to explore this area is by designing installations my own automated drawing systems that develop over extended time spans. So far in MDP I’ve experimented with procedural drawings that represent the ecosystems in which these automated infrastructures exist. These projects include Pivot, pivot.AI, and City of Siphons. I find it to be a surprising, frustrating, and very rewarding medium to experiment with and use. I do think it is important however, for code or its output to be physicalized in some way, whether that be with sensors and actuators, or with pen plotters. The interface between the digital process and the physical world, along with its uncertainties, is the area I find most rewarding. I hope that the aesthetics of these drawings and machines can identify and explore some of these new narratives of automation, while still remaining relevant to the ecosystems, like farms, that inspired them. Where these drawing systems are installed, who interacts with them, and how they can interact are questions that will allow for a wide range of experimentation and speculation. My Chaos Metronome project imagines an installation on Mars, for example, that accompanies an actual installation of it at Chichén Itzá.
Recently my work has been inspired by Anthony Aveni, and his historical and anthropological approach time and time keeping. Shannon Mattern’s writing about prioritizing maintenance over innovation, and Jenny Odell’s writing about the productivity of doing nothing are also very helpful in designing systems that resist solutionism. I like the idea of complex automated systems that achieve ‘nothing’. Often adjacent to these ideas are Marxist theories and critiques about capitalism - E.P. Thompson’s writing, “Time, Work, and Industrial Capitalism” - is one that I have found useful and full of terms like ‘task-oriented time keeping’ which have directly influence my projects. I also really appreciate the Milford Graves’ poetic thinking about nature, rhythm and improvisation, and hope to achieve a poetic aspect to my programming.
This idea of Terraforming Earth is admittedly a grand one, but I think it matches the absurd expectations that often accompany the automated solutions of the future. I am critical of these expectations and solutions, and hope to make work which challenges them, and instead uses design to propose automated systems that instead embrace subjectivity, specific context, and maintenance.