Alisa Andrasek's biothing: Architecture beyond Descartes with Radiohead and Thrice

Alisa Andrasek's biothing : Ecological Architecture and the Materiality of the Digital between Thrice and Radiohead

Jacob Henry Leveton (Art Institute of Chicago/Northwestern)

Current project draft (Winter 2020): Contact author at jleveton@u.northwestern.edu to offer suggestions for revision, or for permission before citing.

[1]

 

For many working outside the "ecological digital humanities," the domains of "the digital" and "the environmental"may appear as antinomies [See Cohen and LeManager 2016, 340-346]. In 1866, when the German biologist Ernst Hæckel coined the term, ecology stood for the totality of all relations in the material world [Haeckel 1876, 354]. Hæckel's philosophical source was Hegel, but his guide was observation and experience of the natural world. In Hegel's preface to Phenomenology of Mind, the German romantic philosopher articulated his key guiding theoretical notion: "the truth is the whole" [Hegel 2015, 14]. Hæckel mobilized Hegel's conjecture to argue for a "totalizing conception of the entirety of relations between organisms relative to one another and “the surrounding outer world, to organic and inorganic conditions of existence; the so-called ‘economy of nature’, the correlations between all organisms living together in one and the same locality"[Hæckel 1876, 354]. If, for Hegel, an attempt to apprehend everything as an entirety constituted the sole necessary and the only sufficient presupposition for a truth claim, in Hæckel this became a means of seeking to understand being within a natural environment as predicated upon all relations between individual members of species, their others, and the world in which they inhabit—including both inanimate and animate entities.

[2]

 

The digital is often considered conceptually contrary to such a Hegelian/Hæckelian holism. It's understood to stand for division, withdrawal from the natural world into the virtual, the non-real, the domain of “ones and zeros.” Yet as the contemporary French theorist François Laurelle has effectively argued, and his American interpreter Andrew Galloway has recently affirmed, the underlying reality of "the One"—denoting the essential indissociability of Being and Otherness—devastates an apprehension of digitality predicated upon division as a preliminary assumption [Laurelle 1999, 138; Galloway 2014]. A contemporary artistic illustrative analog of Laurelle's critical thought might be located in the contemporary American environmental artist Andrea Polli's 2015 iteration of her Particle Falls installation which appeared at the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris ahead of the landmark United Nations COP 21 summit (Fig. 1).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the artist herself argued, the work makes visible material but usually invisible forms of pollution, namely threatening kinds of air and waterborne particulates. Through the interplay of projected, contingent, and changing images on architecture something of beauty becomes created from a situation of precarity [Polli 2013]. The artist's installation visualizes, in real-time, carbon emissions and projects the data in blue hues onto the built environment on which the artwork appears. Polli's work upholds a unified holism of humans, nonhumans, and the more-than human environment. 

[3]

Along similar lines, digital design and architecture, operating alongside similar experiments in film and music, impel us to think otherwise and imagine alternative environmental futures. The contemporary British architect Alisa Andrasek’s biothing project—as viewed alongside the American post-rock outfit Thrice, the British alternative rock pioneers Radiohead, and the British filmmaker Steve McQueen’s and American conceptual artist Mark Dion’s work—connects digital frontiers of critical experimentation with material-ecological effects in the world, intersecting with visible-sensible affects circulating in our rapidly deteriorating global environment. What follows takes the form of my own experiment in digital humanities work. My hope is that the mediating mainframe of the computing interface might become a means to bring together and thereby make legible forms of connection and meaning across media, specifically architecture, sound, film, and sculpture, which in more traditional formats one is typically unable (or, perhaps, less able) to make speak to one another. In doing so, my intervention is effectively to make the case through example for scholars to move out of their respective depths and excavate forms of signification in media associated with what Michel de Certeau first theorized with respect to "the everyday"—the buildings we inhabit, the sounds we listen to, the things that surround us in the world. My aspiration is that such a mode of engaging built and sonic space in these ways, as cultivated through the act of digital writing, might comprise one critical practice capable of realizing de Certeau's ideal of creative forms of everyday resistance within the field of "micropolitics" and make meaning in new ways relative to our present moment of climate change [de Certeau 1984, xiv]. 

[4]

It was in 2001 that Alisa Andrasek started her ongoing biothing digital design project. Computer-aided-design and manufacturing (CAD and CAM) processes converge to offer ecological design concepts that result in stunning visual forms. See, for instance, Andrasek’s Mesonic Fabrics (Fig. 2). The building’s an impossible one; it cannot be constructed given the difficulty involved in replicating the curves Andrasek deploys. The structure, therefore, operates in a nether space between the real and unreal. Nonetheless, the algorithmic processes of design for the building automatically configure the materials used to retain the lowest ecological impact possible. Andrasek’s programmed sustainability into her practice on the level of computing code.

 

[5]

 

Ultimately, the proposed structure exhibits the central ideas involved in the biothing project. The design is for a large building. A main great hall runs left. Three quarters of the way towards the end of the structure another hall breaks right, paralleling the first. The work’s title tells us something about its recourse to the field of physics for its meaning. “The meson” is the subatomic particle situated between electrons and protons.  They are what holds nucleons together in cells [Law and Rennie 2015]. Mesons are the stuff of electro-magnetic fields that connect all matter on the level of vibration.

[6]

The computer-aided-design and –manufacturing models Andrasek deploys operate in ecological ways, in the sense that the creative form offered reflects the thought that everything is interconnected [Morton 2010, 1]. Andrasek's work connects the (imaginary) subject who’d experience the (theoretical) building to the physical-material forms of the environment. Andrasek’s project thus drives towards connectivity with the environment as a totality of all relations, the classical definition of ecology [Haeckel 1876, 354]. According to the architect’s explanation of her work, biothing generates an aesthetic pattern in the building surface in a manner that brings ecological integration into the building’s fabric on the level of material. The architect explains that she bases her work “on the behaviors of electro-magnetic fields through the logics of attraction [and] repulsion,” producing a space that carries with it its “’genetic’ memory” with the potential “for mesonic events” [Andrasek 2009, 91]. Andrasek’s production centers on the meson as design principle. The play of scientific phenomenon in Andrasek’s artistic design generates an intersubjective flow between the participant and the built-environment. This drives to activate a bio-psychological basis of “‘genetic’ memory” with respect to an essential connection between the subject and natural world. It’s materially available on the level of particles in the body, experienced, mediated, and felt in the mind, and shared with the environment beyond, and flows through, the subject.

[7]

In this respect, Andrasek continues a genealogy of creative production that derives some of its capacities from the historical-cultural field of English Romanticism. As Mark Lussier has observed, “Romantic poets were among the first to re-fuse” the “alienation—separation of self and other, subject and object, individual and world—by reading nature as a ‘living entity which could be known through the imagination’, a universe of matter in harmony with the motion of thought” [Lussier 1999, 22]. The art constructs a denial of a split between oneself and one's environment, with the artistic imagination, revealed through Andrasek’s biothing, comprising a vehicle to provide such a healing effect for cognition. Both the building and the viewing subject are comprised of flows of electro-magnetic fields. A rhythmic interflow between the two theoretically engages in an architectural poetic connection between the flow in the viewing subject and an electro-magnetic field visually figured into the building as an art object.

[8]

Critically, a vital aspect of biothing’s meaning resides in its materiality, the relation between art and materials]. Across the trajectory of the design process the architect’s ideas become absorbed into computer algorithmic processes. Theoretically, these machinic extra-human factors of architectural production shift preliminary ideas according to the accommodation of sustainable building materials and practices. As such, materiality functions at the conceptual core of Andrasek’s project. It plays a pivotal role in what I call biothing’s architectural poetics of re-connection—the logic by which the architectural project moves to re-integrate subjects and the natural environment.

[9]

In catalyzing an aesthetics of re-connection, biothing turns a critical eye against a Cartesian reification of a divide between subject and object. In this respect, it turns away from the seventeenth-century French rationalist philosopher René Descartes cogito, a catastrophic utterance that introduced a profound split into western epistemology with respect to a human subject divided between mind and body, subject and object, the body and the environment. When Descartes observes “Je pense donc je suis”—or, “I think, therefore I am”—the doubling of the first-person pronoun of identity (“’je’, or ‘I’”) becomes a signifier that refers back to itself, with the verb “pense” from “penser, to think” linking that signifier back to itself as its own signified [Descartes 1637, 25]. If one defines oneself solely by thought, the body and the relationship between bodies, interpersonally and environmentally, becomes denigrated. At issue is that—as Anthony Damasio wrote responding to Descartes in the context of neuroscientific mind-body debates in the 1990s—the early modern philosopher committed an error in suggesting an “abyssal separation between body and mind, between the sizable, dimensional, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff, on the one hand, and the unsizable, undimensioned, un-pushpullable, nondivisible mind stuff” [Damasio 1994, 250]. When it comes to the chimera of Cartesian thought, Damasio is incisive. Body and mind operate as a holistic entity, the subject an ecology onto her or himself within the broader environmental whole in which the subject finds themselves. In Descartes’s philosophy, the potential to think this thought became forestalled. He privileges the mental presence of mind and thought, and divides each from the actuality of the body. For Descartes, one doesn’t exist because one breathes the air and subsists on food and water from the earth. One is because one thinks. Descartes thus enacts a profoundly solipsistic semiotic loop of self-enclosure. He effectively divorces the classical subject of modern philosophy from the broader ecological whole that will be eventually understood and articulated by biologists like Haeckel and Charles Darwin three centuries (and an Industrial Revolution) later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[10]

Andrasek’s work intervenes, in this regard. In doing so it takes part in a longer genealogy of conceptual architectural production concerned with conditions of critique that turns on the imaginary and the transformative. It’s not about designing actual buildings to be constructed. Rather, it is about generating concepts for subsequent architects to utilize. Thus, when an architect like Rem Koolhaas designs the 1972 Exodus, his intent is less to engage in direct urban planning than to conceptualize how the urban built-environment oppresses and what is at stake in moving beyond that oppression (Fig. 3). The play of titular text and image re-imagines rows of despondent workers—taken from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis—as “voluntary prisoners of architecture.” They march in lockstep under a homogenizing repetition of urban skyscrapers, which form the image’s horizon. The cityscape is thus presented as a condition to be brought under architectural critique. The laborers, because their position is “voluntary,” retain the potential to direct their architectural design talents towards forms of production that would allow for an overturning of the metropolis built-environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[11]

Andrasek’s work, specifically, connects to a trajectory of conceptual architecture established by the growth of computing technologies in support of the creative mode in the 1990s. This comes about in relation to the philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s emergence into architects’ artistic consciousness [Frichot and Loo 2013, 1-5]. The advent of computer-aided architectural design directly converges with the translation of Deleuze’s The Fold into English in 1993. Architects subsequently begin to read Deleuze extensively. The result is that The Fold turns into a theoretical basis for new anti-Cartesian forms in design. In that text, Deleuze makes the case for three ideas architects take up. First, for forms that “endlessly [produce] folds;” second, that these shapes when “placed on the opaque canvas” come to comprise “an innate form of knowledge” that “when solicited by matter” then “move into action;” and, third, that  “inflection is the ideal element of the variable curve or fold” [Deleuze 1988, 3-4; 14). Deleuze imagines that the irregular forms of the Baroque engender dynamic energy at a confluence of materiality and knowledge, as mind and matter establish an interconnecting flow of contact. Inflected line becomes the form through which this is articulated. Computer-based conceptual architects latch onto this. What is ultimately produced is something like the so-called “blob” architecture of architects like Greg Lynn (Fig. 4). The built form becomes defined by undulating lines. Eventually, Andrasek absorbs this influence, directing it towards her own vision of sustainable design practices (Fig. 5). The imagined built-environment of Pavillon Seroussi (a commission Andrasek enters into a competition of buildings to house the French collector Natalie Seroussi’s art collection) amplifies the folds located in an architectural precedent like Lynn’s, made possible by computer-aided design programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[12]

The ecological operations of Andrasek’s design become intensely discernable through her work with Jose Sanchez, Bloom (Figs. 6-8). The structure juxtaposes classical form taking shape in the pre-existing building portico in the background, with more organic indeterminate looking design folds that typify Andrasek’s style in the foreground. Andrasek’s structure, created in the biothing lab, is an interactive sculpture installation that invites viewers to creatively explore it. The space moves to activate both the viewer’s subjectivity in the process, and intersubjectivity, in the sense of connections forged between other viewers that might interact with the structure. In an ecological move, Bloom becomes an architectural installation that desires to heal the fissure between the two; it blurs the boundaries between Self/Other—subject and object.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[13]

 

In this regard, biothing does social-critical work. The artwork intervenes relative to a set of cultural contingencies related to the environmental predicament, as it was being understood at the time the biothing project was conceptualized. Events leading to the coming of the crisis of climate change to public consciousness directly intersect biothing’s production. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or (IPCC) presents its infamous fourth assessment report in 2007, coinciding with the production of Andrasek’s Pavillon Seroussi in Paris that same year (Fig. 8). The concerns of scientists who contribute to the report run parallel to Andrasek’s investment in contributing to the development of ecological consciousness and action. In “Chapter 1” of the report, the climate scientists, with a consensus that had to that point been unheard of, stated that the “Warming of the climate is unequivocal” [Bernstein et al. 2007, 30]. Moreover the report frames the social/historical circumstances from which Andrasek emerges. The scientists noted that “Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850).” The report goes on in, “Chapter 2: Causes of Change” to argue that “Global [Green House Gas] emissions have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004” [Bernstein et al. 2007, 36]. It follows that the IPCC report can be used to frame the social history of contemporary artistic production responsive to ecological matters. From the mid-1990s on, artists emerge into a context where global climate has been warming at an unprecedented rate, since the nineteenth century.

[14]

Concurrent with the report, Andrasek’s biothing lab produces their entry for a pavilion to house the Seroussi art collection (Fig. 9). The work’s iconography immediately makes the Pavillon’s ecological investment evident: it’s shaped like a wild flower blossoming, a form of environmental becoming. The ecological aspects of the design are brought to the fore in two ways: (1) through site-specificity and (2) through the conceptual play of materiality in the ideal from of the architectural building. The biothing “Pavilion” is created with the topography of the landscape very much in mind (Fig. 10). As the lower-left side of the landscape shows, and the set of five image details at the bottom of the design sheet make most visible, it is designed to follow the steep slope of a hill, off-center at the south-west corner of the site. As such, Pavillion Seroussi becomes a man-made structure that is not violently imposed onto the natural environment. The land itself need not be altered to accommodate the design. The CAD/CAM program Andrasek uses could have placed the building on this location and automatically structured it in relation to the hillside.

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However, broader critical trends in artistic production also serve to problematize Andrasek’s practice. One critique of biothing might take a point of departure from Pamela Lee’s interpretive engagement with the contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s computer-based practices in her book Forgetting the Art World.  There, Lee draws attention to Murakami’s artistic deployment of Bill Gates’s management style—namely “what Gates calls ‘friction-free capitalism,’ defined as ‘a concept…that digital processes can remove most of the friction in business transactions by removing middlemen’” [Lee 2012, 62]. The use of computing technologies then simultaneously derives from, while at the same time abetting, conditions of contemporary capital. Insofar as those conditions are precisely what drives myriad ecological crises—with respect to over consumption, energy production through unsustainable means, and so on—centering an artistic practice on such means runs the risk of merely perpetuating the conditions to be overturned.

[16]

In playing with the materiality of architectural production and ecological issues, Andrasek’s aesthetic project intersects that of the contemporary artist Mark Dion. It was in 2007 that Dion debuts his sculpture for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Neukom Vivarium (Fig. 11). The artwork consists of a tree that had fallen and was transported by the artist for a greenhouse installation he had been commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum to produce for the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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As the historian of contemporary art Amanda Boetzkes reads Dion’s Neukom Vivarium, the “work mobilizes the double bind of ecological ethics at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In its strictest sense, ecology is the study of the interaction of organisms with their environment. It is predicated on the principle that every creature is connected to every element that composes the environment,” with the result Dion’s “work demonstrates the balance in action.” However, as Boetzkes goes on to argue, “there is more to the artwork than a simple narrative of ecological balance. Dion insists that the artwork is, in many respects, an abomination. Not only has the tree been violently torn from its original site, but it has been relocated to a space that technologically reproduces the natural environment. The system lives only because of a significant investment of equipment, labor, resources, and technical expertise.” Consequently, Dion’s sculpture is “closer to an inert body kept alive only through the supreme efforts of a team of scientists, donors, workers, interpreters, and of course, the artist” [Boetzkes 2010, 1-2]. Dion’s work brings ecological materiality into play in order to bring under critique the relation between aesthetics and the environment. Neukom Vivarium highlights the hazards of artificiality in ecologically-engaged art.

 

Moreover, Andrasek’s biothing shows a shared set of concerns with Steve McQueen’s 2007 film Gravesend (Fig. 11). However, McQueen’s work runs counter to Andrasek’s with respect to a severe ecological critique of the digital. Namely, Gravesend explores the mining of

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

coltan as a natural resource “used commonly in consumer-electronic products such as cell phones, DVD players, and computers” located “primarily in Sub-Saharan West Africa.” Moreover, coltan “has inspired international demand that has fueled the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” [Demos 2013, 21]. McQueen’s film connects the production of consumer goods people across the globe use to the perpetuation of violent conflict on the African continent. In McQueen’s work, materialities of production become aligned in a negative manner—and represent a means to think through an expansion of an interpretive engagement with digital art concerned with the environment.  As Pamela Lee observes, “Coltan is indeed a node in the global economy with ties extending from the black market for nuclear weapons—from Ukraine to Uganda to Ostend—to every form of recent communication technology, from the most rareified to the most banal. That ubiquity—as well as its invisibility—is to the point of our own positioning relative to McQueen’s work. Anyone who owns a cell phone has literally interfaced with Coltan; anyone using a cell phone is within its proximal orbit; anyone one gaming a PlayStation has virtually touched it” [Lee 2012, 26)] The mineral pervades and makes possible all aspects of contemporary life. Yet, the matter goes farther than even Lee suggests in at least two ways. First, it interpellates all scholarly work produced or distributed through digital platforms and publishing steps. Even as critical scholarship might be generated that would attempt to bring the matter under critique, word processing, journal, and book production across all media is always already within the horizon of colan as a basis for scholarly production. Even as I write—and when Lee wrote—coltan holds the scholarly act (and all digital artistic production, including McQueen’s when not viewed in 35mm form) within its horizon. I write on a laptop, a technological device impossible without coltan. The totality of digital, and therefore most all scholarly, production exists within this inescapable and problematic horizon of fraught natural resources and materiality. The digital humanities fits squarely within this tendentious set of relations. Yet, in her analysis, Lee does not examine the severe ecological implications of the coltan mineral mining industry that links labor, violence, and environmental degradation. While coercive working conditions press African subjects to alter their landscape to extract coltan, pits form with the implication that water tables become adversely effected and groundwater supplies contaminated. Further, the electronic devices manufactured with coltan simultaneously rely on an energy supply potentialized through the use of unsustainable petrol-based resources that also stand at the heart of contemporary issues of anthropogenic climate change. Consequently, McQueen’s film exerts a critical force–even greater than that accrued across Lee’s analysis–for thinking about art, technology, and the environment.

[18]

This relation between art, ecology, and materiality also intersects contemporary music. In 2007, contemporaneous with the now infamous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and Andrasek’s Pavillon Serousi, the American experimental rock group Thrice released the first two of a set of four extended plays, or "EPs," engaged with ecological materiality and music production. The project is titled The Alchemy Index. Each EP is structured around one of the four classical elements (water, fire, earth, air). The first, and most overly environmentally-oriented of the albums, is titled “Water.” Prior to recording the piece “Digital Sea,” for instance, Thrice devised ways of evoking the musical ontology of the element of water. 

 

The track begins enigmatically. The sound of a Rhodes piano rings out, its warbled tones evoking the consistency of water through the sonic space Thrice constructs. The chord is a Cmaj 7/6, partially arpeggiated—meaning the song begins with a C major chord with seventh and sixth intervals added; the basic Cmaj notes (C-E-G) are played in a single motion while the 7/6 interval notes are added and played in a succession. Significantly, Bach employed this form, in part because of the sense of suspension it evokes for listeners [Quinn 2019, 472-73]. Indeed, it was partly for that reason that the Baroque composer mobilized the sound in his St. Matthew Passion orotario: it brought with it a sense of foreboding and affect of irresolution with which it infuses a composition.  The materiality of the music draws attention to a flow from voice to digital technology that in turn moves to re-cognize an integral form of connection between the subjects and objects on both sides of the track—in terms of musical artist, listener, and the music as a medium that connects the two with the natural environment, and critically one whose future is in suspense. Thrice’s project, like Andrasek’s, moves towards ecological re-connection at a moment of ecological instability. The play of materiality in sonic space, like the play of materiality in Andrasek’s architecture, recognizes an ecologically meaningful flow of artistic information through digital technology.

[19]


Moreover, both Andrasek and Thrice draw upon a current generated by the British rock band Radiohead. Incidentally, Radiohead’s track “Sit Down. Stand Up” from their 2003 record Hail to the Theif implicitly grapples with issues of anthropogenic climate change as one aspect of the piece’s meaning. Importantly, the group retained a key set of environmental commitments from the time they release their record OK Computer in 1997. Radiohead scholar Marjorie Letts observes that it was then that the group “began looking at ways to leave a smaller environmental footprint on its tours, selling T-shirts made from recycled plastic and encouraging concert attendees to carpool even to mainstream venues” [Letts 2010, 33]. In its environmental valences, “Sit Down. Stand Up” takes the form of three distinct movements. The first establishes a tension between organic and digital forms of musical instrumentation: the interplay between singer/songwriter Thom Yorke’s piano work coupled with guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s tremolo guitar exists in a type of sonic suspension with relation to the electronic drums underpinning the track and establishing its atypical time signature.

 

 

The track engenders a certain tension of materialities, between the organic instrumentation of piano, guitar, and bells and the electronic drums. The song begins with the signifying component of the lyrical content expressing inaction. “Sit[ting] down” comes before “stand[ing] up.”

 

[20]

At the point of transition between its first and second movements, the song’s focus markedly shifts to the organicity of Thom Yorke’s piano. However, the sound of the piano struggles against rising washes of white noise, generated by digital synthesizers, positioned in the song’s sonic background. The implication of this is a move towards what the French literary theorist and critic Roland Barthes in 1977 termed “The Grain of the Voice.” There, Barthes argues for “the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue” which becomes where the “significance” of music opens and the “song must speak, must write” [Barthes 1977, 179-189]. The organic function of Yorke’s piano riff intersects the participatory nature of Barthes’s theory in that it activates a form of instrumentation the listener can imagine playing her or himself. Correspondingly then, and significantly, Yorke’s arrangement of lyrics shifts to that of a call to action: “stand[ing] up” comes prior to “sitt[ing] down.” Song becomes code the listener might imagine activating by way of the materiality of their own body playing what Yorke plays.

[21]

From there, in the song’s third, and final, movement—its crescendo—the sense of materiality shifts entirely, as Yorke’s lyrics turn to a lyrical refrain that gestures towards a phenomenon of the natural environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yorke sings, “the rain drops.” Syncopated digital synthesizer blips scatter throughout the sonic space Radiohead produces. The digital blips sound like rain. As such, the track generates a point of ambiguity with respect to materiality. The organic function of rain is absorbed into the digital, which artificially re-presents it for the listener with the play of blip-based tonalities playing off of suspended off-time intervals. Indeed, issues surrounding rainfall comprise a key role in the scientific discussion surrounding climate change at the time “Stand Up Sit Down” is released. In the article “Adaptation to Climate Change in the Developing World,” scientists W. Neil Adger, Saleemul Huq, Katrina Brown, Declan Conway, and Mike Hulme explore questions of rainfall and desertification taking their interpretation of the effects of climate change from the 2001 IPCC report [Adger, et al. 2003, 179-195]. One aspect then of Radiohead’s “Sit Down. Stand Up” has to be its artistic move against climate change by way of experiments of materiality in and through their mode of musical production. It is left up to the listener to take up participation—to stand up—and turn towards the organic, as a means of opposing a techno-capitalist culture at the heart of climate change and increasingly precarious conditions of drought–in addition to other forms of ecological devastation.

[22]

To conclude, I return to Thrice. In the second verse, the lyrics speak directly and literally to the Cartesian underpinnings of the present-day environmental catastrophe in a song that occupies a shared eco-aesthetic domain with Andrasek’s architectural work. 

 

 

 

 

The singer, Kensrue, imagines Descartes below the “Digital Sea” bemoaning the catastrophe his thought has caused. Kensrue sings: “A song from somewhere below deadly and slow begins / both sickly and sweet now picking up speed ushering in the world’s end / And the ghost of Descartes screams again in the dark, ‘oh how could I have been so wrong?’ But above the screams still the sirens sing their song,” as the voice is absorbed into both the water-infused microphone and instrumentation and digital production interface. The play of materiality in the music, like the play of materiality in Andrasek’s architecture, recognizes an ecologically meaningful flow of artistic information through digital technology. The movement retains the potential to unhinge the conceptual underpinnings that impel productive factors ever closer to moving the world to ecological catastrophe. As a result, artistic experimentation with materiality across the media manifests itself a vehicle to re-think the present ecological catastrophe and enact both creative and critical acts of re-visioning of its outcomes by way of indexing and reading ecologically-engaged contemporary art, now.

[With many thanks to all who have been helping me think through this assemblage of architecture, image, and sound over the years: Chris Washington, Jeff Carlson, Caroline Phillips, Rob Linrothe, Aisha Motlani, Scott Miller, Hannah Feldman, Dustin Kensrue, and Andrew Keene. Use of all media included in this draft is asserted under the principle of educational fair use]

 

Works Cited

  

Adger, et al, 2003. Adger, W. Neil, et al. “Adaptation to Climate Change in the Developing World.” Progress in Development Studies. 3: 179-195.

Andrasek 2009. Andrasek, Alisa. biothing. Orléans, France: HYX/Collection FRAC Centre.

Barthes 1977. “The Grain of the Voice.” In Image-Music-Text. Translated by Stephen Heath, 179-189. New York, NY: Hill and Wang.

Bernstein et al. 2007. Bernstein, Lenny et al. Climate Change 2007: A Synthesis Report. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Plenary XXVII, Valencia, Spain, 12-17 November 2007.

Boetzkes 2010. Boetzkes, Amanda. The Ethics of Earth Art. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Cohen and LeMenager 2016. Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, and Stepheanie LeMenager. "Introduction: Assembling the Ecological Digital Humanities. PMLA. Volume 131, Number 2 (March 2016): 340-346.

Damasio 1994. Damasio, Anthony R. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

de Certeau 1984. de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendell. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Deleuze 1988, republished in 1993. Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Translated by Tom Conley. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

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Fig. 1. Andrea Polli (American, b. 1968), Particle Falls, 2015. Light installation, Mona Bismarck American Center/Terra Foundation for American Art, Paris

Fig. 2. “Mesonic Fabrics,” 2007-09, biothing, Alisa Andrasek (Principle Designer). Unknown Computer- Aided Design program, with “FlowerPower” custom coded plug-in

Fig. 3. Rem Koolhaas, with others, Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture Exhausted Fugitives Led to Reception, 1972. Cut-and-Pasted Gelatin, Silver Photographs and Photolithographs, with Ink, Crayon, and Felt-tipped Pen on Paper, 16.00 x 11.50 in. (40.60 x 29.20 cm.), Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY 

Fig. 4. Greg Lynn, with Fabian Maraccio, Predator, 1999-2001. Multimedia installation, designed with animation software

Fig. 6. Alisa Andrasek (with José Sanchez), Bloom (produced by biothing Lab), 2012

Fig. 5. Alisa Andrasek, Pavillon Seroussi (produced out of biothing lab), 2007

Fig. 7.  Andrasek (with Sanchez), Bloom, 2013 (detail)

Fig. 8. Andrasek (with Sanchez), Bloom, 2013 (detail)

Fig. 9. Andrasek, Pavillon Seroussi, 2007

Fig. 10. Alisa Andrasek, Pavillon Seroussi, 2007

Digital Sea (Intro)Thrice
00:00 / 00:51
Sit Down. Stand Up (Opening Movement)Radiohead
00:00 / 00:41
Sit Down. Stand Up (Third Movement)Radiohead
00:00 / 00:49
Sit Down. Stand Up (Second Movement)Radiohead
00:00 / 00:34
Digital Sea (Crescendo)Thrice
00:00 / 02:13

Fig. 11. Mark Dion, Neukom Vivarium, 2004-06. Mixed media installation, Greenhouse structure 80 ft. long (24.38 m.), Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA

Fig. 12. Steve McQueen, Gravesend, 2007. 35mm color film, transferred to HD digital format, sound, film still, 17min58secs

 

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