Infrastructure and the Back Loop with Stephanie Wakefield

Publication: Imagining new systems of exchange Infrastructure and the Back Loop with Stephanie Wakefield


October 2020 - February 2022

Transcript for "Infrastructure and the Back Loop with Stephanie Wakefield" recorded on April 5, 2021. Please also see the Land Acknowledgement that preceded the talk by Nicole Kelly Westman.

Jesse McKee:

Thank you Nicole, for that lovely, lovely land and territorial acknowledgement, welcoming our guests from afar as well. We look forward to you joining us later on for the discussion and Q&A period.

Welcome, everyone. Thanks for joining us on your Friday afternoons and evenings to hear from two stellar speakers: Christina Battle and Stephanie Wakefield. Some of you may already know Christina—as a 221A fellow this year, she is developing a line of research titled “Imagining New Systems of Exchange.” My name is Jesse McKee, I'm the Head of Strategy at 221A, I lead the organization's research, programming, communications, and advancement. Christina Battle is an artist whose research and work consider the parameters of disaster: looking to it as action, as more than mere events, and instead as a framework operating within larger systems of power. Her fellowship with 221A seeks to imagine beyond capitalist cycles of economic breakdown, and towards new systems of exchange, drawing from strategies of spread observed in plants and fungi as well as online spaces.

Christina holds a Bachelor of Science with a specialization in Environmental Biology from the University of Alberta, a certificate in Film Studies from Ryerson University in Toronto, an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and a PhD in Art and Visual Culture from the University of Western Ontario. Through this research, she imagines how disaster can be utilized as a tactic for social change, and as a tool for reimagining how dominant systems might radically shift. She collaborates with Serena Lee as SHATTERED MOON ALLIANCE and has exhibited internationally in festivals and galleries as both an artist and a curator, most recently at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in Colorado, Latitude 53 in Edmonton, the John and Maggie Mitchell Art Gallery in Edmonton, the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver, and the Forum Expanded at the Berlinale, as well as many other galleries, museums, and institutions across Turtle Island.

Stephanie Wakefield is an educator and researcher specializing in human environment relations, urban resilience and sustainability, and social ecological systems thinking. Wakefield is currently Director and Assistant Professor of the Human Ecology Program at Life University in Marietta, Georgia, and holds a PhD in Human Geography from the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the City University of New York Graduate Center. Wakefield's books include Anthropocene Back Loop: Experimentation in Unsafe Operating Space, published by the Open Humanities Press, as well as Resilience in the Anthropocene: Governance and Politics at the End of the World, published by Routledge, co-edited with David Chandler and Kevin Grove. They frequently publish articles in academic and cultural journals including Political Geography, Geography Compass, Geoforum, Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, and e-flux architecture. Along with scholarly publications and teaching, Wakefield frequently works with government organizations, community groups, art institutions, and non-profits to explore experimental sustainability planning and community resilience design.

We're welcoming Stephanie today with a live voice, but at 221A we've been reading your writing since 2019. We're so grateful to New Models, who introduced us to your work and your earlier writing about the back loop in a series of texts you did for The Brooklyn Rail, through a series titled “Field Notes on the Anthropocene.” We partnered with New Models to develop a workshop entitled “Imagining Collapse,” which looked at online communities and writers imagining ways we can better frame our planning for community design, and collective actions in response to a collapsing climate. This was part of our digital strategy research, the Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Initiative, which we'll be publishing next month, and also hosting a series of events, which will be welcoming New Models to our program for another event in June—more on that soon. But if this is your first time at a 221A event, please sign up for our newsletter to receive periodic updates on our programs and services, I'll post a link in the chat for you to sign up.

On the idea of the back loop: for me, it's crucial to lead us to think about how we design for communities, and the phase of the ecosystem when it's breaking down and when stability is no longer an assured or promised state. Much in the way we've all been living with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think most of us now deeply have an embodied idea of what the back loop experience is. This is what happens when different elements and species meet each other in new ways, across contexts that usually might never cross when the system was more stable. In the case of the pandemic, as we've seen, this thermonuclear-level butterfly effect can have huge impacts. Now it's up to us to understand that the more we try to keep things the same and stable as we knew them, the worse it's likely to get in terms of our ability to understand the world, find satisfaction, and design systems which are connected to the fundamentals of our ecosystem.

So, I'm left with the question: how do we harness this energy that's unleashed in the back loop to better influence the systems we need to change? The back loop became quite central to our collective research for digital strategy, and how we're going to plan for emerging digital tech within our collapsing climate. It gave the entire research project a kind of urgent and centralized planetary acknowledgment. So thank you, Stephanie and the New Models crew—Caroline Busta, Daniel Keller and @LILINTERNET—for sharing with us the idea of designing within and for the back loop. It was a much-welcomed transformation of the ways we think and work at 221A. So, looking forward to hearing Christina's take on Stephanie's work, and how you incorporate this into your research and project at 221A.

In closing, I'd like to thank our supporters for Christina Battle’s fellowship, including the Vancouver Foundation and the City of Vancouver, as well as 221A’s core supporters, which also include the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, and the Department of Canadian Heritage. I’ll pass the Zoom over to Christina Battle now and look forward to joining us, Stephanie, and Nicole later for some discussion.

Christina Battle (10:34):

Hey. Thank you, Jesse and Nicole, for the great land acknowledgement and reminder that even though we’re meeting at a distance and in the virtual space, we’re all coming from different territories and lands.

I was at an event earlier this morning, where Dionne Brand recognized—as a part of her land acknowledgement—the violence and erasure that has shaped and continues to shape and impact this land that we're on. I was thinking about that throughout the day—there are so many examples that I could point toward, but I thought I would share in the chat a recent statement from the 11 First Nation and Métis Nations of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, in Treaty 8 here in Alberta. I'm in Treaty 6, as Nicole mentioned. Partly I'm sharing it, because I really feel like there's a lack of spread when it comes to information about what's going on locally and regionally, especially in this particular region across the country. So please take a look.

Those of you that are from Alberta or in Alberta now, I see you in the participant list. Thanks for being here. It's pretty tough times here right now. And so, I'm really excited that we can all come together and imagine our ways out of all of this together.

So, I'm so thrilled to be able to introduce Stephanie Wakefield, whose research I've really leaned on a lot during my fellowship with 221A, where I've been thinking more about exchange and strategies for imagining exchange anew.

As part of this research, I'm developing an online publication and my strategy for the publication is to hold conversations with a number of others to think through these strategies of exchange and how we might imagine them differently and imagine better futures. In the first conversation as a part of this research, nine individuals were invited to think through models for alternative systems from those that we live within now, and attempt to sort of trace and shape these models and imagine how we might learn from them, projecting them on to the future. As part of this speculating, the group considered some of Stephanie’s ideas, especially their concept of the back loop, as a way to think deeper about how it is that we inhabit the world—one that is in continual crisis—and how we might imagine ways forward. And some of those individuals are here now. So welcome. It's great to see your names on the list of Zoom participants.

I'm really thrilled to have Stephanie join us and to have all of you here as well, to have this opportunity to listen, to more of their research along with you all. There'll be time for conversation at the end: we're sort of parceling the time, there’s a good 30-40 minutes at the end, we're hoping for open dialogue and conversation. So please share your questions through the chat or the Q&A or by raising your hand.

Ask your questions throughout. We'll keep track of them. If they're pressing questions that are relevant as Stephanie’s speaking, we can bring them up in the moment. Otherwise, we'll hold on to them to keep track of and lead our discussion at the end. Also, this talk will become a part of the online publication, so you'll have a chance to listen again, and to sit more with Stephanie's ideas, alongside a number of conversations with others.

I'm also going to put in the chat a link to Stephanie's website and a number of readings—that I know I've gotten so much out of as I've been working through this research—for you to cut and paste and open up in your tabs. So, thanks so much for being here along with us. And I'll leave it to Stephanie.

Stephanie Wakefield (14:35):

Hey, thank you so much Christina. And thank you, Jesse and everybody at 221A. Likewise, everything you said, I’ve been very happy to get to know the work that you’re all doing.

I likewise heard about 221A through New Models and Caroline Busta and Dan Keller, through that project, and it's been really cool to learn about the projects that you're working on and the scenarios that you did with them. Christina and I have met before; we had a conversation before in a previous event, and I really enjoyed it. And I really enjoyed hearing what you're thinking and what you're working on, Christina. So, it's very nice to have a chance to talk again.

You know, you both kind of explain this idea of the back loop better than I probably would have. So, I won't do it again. But the whole point for me—of using that idea of this Anthropocene back loop, this moment of disarray and confusion, and opening and closing, that we’re in—for me, the whole point of that has been to try to put something out there that might be useful to other people, because it was useful for me as one lens of seeing this moment that we're in right now. A lens that helped me see maybe in a different way than some of the existing heuristics afforded: you know, political heuristics, and so on, and so forth. And so, I really love to hear that it's been useful for you. I'm really glad. I would like to just throw out some ideas today, so that then we can talk more, and share some of what we're all thinking and working on. That would be the most interesting outcome of anything: to actually get somewhere, you know, and make some exchanges and see some new ideas coming out of this strange time that we're in.

So in general, just to set things up: my work, broadly speaking, over the last many, many years, has been circling around a single same theme, which is this idea that we're living in this moment of transition, of disarray—not exactly crisis, that doesn't quite get at the depth of it, the expanse of it, or even the pace of it all—this moment where aspects of this neoliberal/liberal way of life are coming undone. And at the same time, where other aspects of this society and the system are not coming undone when they should be. Where everything clearly needs to change, at the very least, because it's clear to people in so many different domains in different disciplines—the arts, the academics, engineering, design—that the old models aren't working. But also, it's very unclear to most of us what the new models should be, or what they could be. So, for me this is one way of describing this time that we're in, where the systems are coming undone and we have to figure out what we want to do with that coming-apart process.

Christina asked me to talk about infrastructure in this talk, and I think that's a really cool way into understanding the moment that we're in, this time that we're in. We can read the confusion of the present through this way in which infrastructure has become suddenly this huge keyword. There has been this infrastructural turn, not just in academia—although in academia, you hear that phrase: that there's been an infrastructural turn, in anthropology, in geography, and urban studies, and so on.

But I think there has been a coming to the fore of infrastructure as a key problematic and concept and tool in many different domains. You know, we've been hearing a lot about infrastructure, even in the United States, because Joe Biden, the president, just put out this new infrastructure plan. The New York Times just a couple days ago had an op ed—of course, quite late, as usual, the New York Times is usually somewhat behind in terms of catching new trends and all that—but they had an op ed about, you know, what is infrastructure, we're redefining infrastructure, Joe Biden is rethinking what does it mean, it's not just roadways and bridges, it's also these less tangible systems, and so on, and so forth.

But I think, what I'd like to do in the next 25-or-so minutes is pick out a couple of different distinct but related ways in which infrastructure has become a key problematic of the back loop and of the Anthropocene—both as a way of understanding the moment, but also a way in which people are trying to engage the moment, whether by limiting possibilities of transformation and exit, or by opening those doors.

I'll walk through some of those, to open up some ideas and then let's discuss together. So if you have questions or thoughts, feel free, like everyone already said, to throw them out in the chat, as I'm speaking.

One of the ways I think that we're seeing infrastructure become this key problematic is in the way that scholars and people in the more political realms are trying to rethink the meaning of governance and government, right? There's been this turn to understanding infrastructure as biopolitical; infrastructure as a key aspect of how populations and environments are governed. There's been a great deal of work on that. Of course, it's not all brand new, but there's been a lot of recent work on this idea that it's not just politicians in the White House, or wherever, and laws that are what order the world, right? But these very structures, these very seemingly innocuous background structures that are actually what shape and order a particular form of life, bring it into being, reproduce it as such, and prevent other ways of living from coming into existence. There's been tons of work looking at everything from electrical grids to power plants, logistical networks and communications networks, surveillance, and so on, and so forth. How these are stitched together in this project of ordering—and this is a biopolitical project, because it is about maintaining life, the very survival of populations. Maintaining the water, the food, the transportation, all the key elements of life, in particular ways.

So, I think that a lot of the reason why people have started to think about government in this way is they're trying to understand… perhaps political thought and political strategy had been operating with somewhat of an outdated framework for understanding how power works, how we are governed, you know, and trying to understand some of the makeup of the world in the first and second decades of the 21st century.

But also, this has been an attempt to understand how might real change be brought about, right? Why is it that previous political movements have failed to actually revolutionize the way people live? And why have they consistently come up against this sort of impasse? I think infrastructure, in some ways, is operating at the corner of our vision, or maybe now at the very centre of our vision, as these key impacts of the Anthropocene and of bringing about very deep transformation in this moment. So, if we can't find other ways of living, the very basic infrastructures of other ways of living, how can we imagine that the things that we say we need—this real transformation, creating a better world, getting out of this very catastrophic, neoliberal system—these things that we say and that we know we need, if we don't have the physical means to make them real, how can we move forward? How can we bring about some of this kind of change that is clear, that we need? So it's become clear in a lot of ways that it's not just that infrastructure is key to how people how people are governed, and how they have been governed for a really long time in capitalist neoliberal regimes, but also that it's forming this roadblock for people who are trying to get out of those regimes and transform things, right?

So, it has come to the fore as something that's very needed in terms of people actually getting their hands on the means of existence, again. Trying to reconnect with those basic structures of life, you know. I think we can think about infrastructure, not just as critical infrastructure or as this governmental project, but we can think about it as a term for the basic systems that make any way of life possible. We call it infrastructure now, that we might call it the means of life, to use a more Marxist-type phrase. People, I think, at many different levels, not just in an academic or theoretical or artistic context, but ordinary lay people, working class people, poor people, middle class families, are also becoming very interested in infrastructure right now, because they see that there is something very, very satisfying about reconnecting with those means of existence in some ways. So you're seeing this real rise all across the United States in people experimenting with other technologies, skills, tools—whether we're thinking survival skills, more digital technologies, you know, blockchain type things, solar energy, homesteading, prepping, all these things that used to be freak outlier activities are now becoming a lot more mainstream and a lot of people are getting involved in them: learning about them online, taking classes, getting gear, figuring out in the yard, or on their balcony of their apartment, whatever.

I think that this is also part of the back loop moment of the Anthropocene, where we are in the Anthropocene. There's this real urgency that people feel, not only because it's satisfying to get into some of these tools of our existence and try to have some handle on the means of life. But also, it's very obvious with the increasing frequency of disasters and power outages and infrastructural breakdowns—and then everything we've seen during COVID, where, in the early days, there were empty grocery stores, no food in some places for a moment. People were saying this global organization of everything, where things are produced in China and sent over here, and these massive distribution centers, none of this makes any sense. It's unsustainable. And so, they're trying to re-localize in many ways. That's a more pragmatic response to a problem. But it is also leading people to take up some of these questions of infrastructure and community infrastructures, and what would that look like.

Also, though, there are other reasons why people are getting interested in infrastructures in this way. In part, it is because it provides a means of autonomy, a degree of control over one's own life, and some kind of power over the ability to shape what not only the present looks like, but also what the future might be, and what those possibilities in the future might be. All this stuff, though, is so small-scale and so embryonic. And I think we want to mark that. Because it's very nice and beautiful to have thousands of small gardens, or what have you, community gardens. But the scale and the depth of what is needed is so much larger and complex, and perhaps high tech. Actually, that's something I noticed a lot. But I'll just set that aside for right now. I think that's just one among several ways in which there's been this turn to infrastructure. So, the turn to infrastructure: one, to understand how government is working at this moment in history in neoliberal societies; also, this attempt to understand infrastructure as an impasse to political transformation, and a tool for political transformation. I think there are a lot of limits to that, and those are worth exploring.

But I think that we're also seeing—and this is a different kind of area that is related—we're seeing a different infrastructural turn in the way that infrastructure itself is being redefined right now. As designers and planners and governments are trying to respond to the unfolding crises of the Anthropocene, the instability of the age of climate change, the increasing frequency of natural disasters, the looming and sometimes already present threats of sea rise and flooding and things like this. So, this turn to infrastructures of adaptation, and in particular resiliency infrastructures, has brought about a pretty profound change or transformation in the definition of infrastructure itself. This transformation in the way infrastructure is defined, I think, also says something quite important about the way in which human life is expected to look in the Anthropocene, is being molded and shaped to look in the Anthropocene, and the way in which the horizon of what a human being can be is being increasingly truncated and delimited.

So for me, watching and understanding this change in thinking about infrastructure, in actual infrastructures being built on the ground in the name of resilience, has pretty powerful philosophical and political dimensions as well. I think what we're seeing is a shift from modern infrastructure and modern engineered top-down planning, towards this complex systems-based eco-cybernetic form of resilience infrastructure. There has been—and this is something I have done a lot of research on in the realm of urban geography and urban resilience—there has been a real re-problematization, to use a term of Michel Foucault's and other geographers right now who are really thinking a lot about a problem-based urban studies, there's been a re-problematization of what infrastructure and planning should mean in cities in the Anthropocene.

So, whereas modern planning was this top-down, engineer-led big works, you know, bulldoze slums to build highways through them, clear out nature to, you know, put in a big dam or grid or what have you. The turn now is towards saying that all that approach, that hubristic Robert Moses style of planning that thought it could bring in this big one-size-fits-all project, and put it down on any landscape, regardless of the context or consequences: that was wrong. That was hubristic, that was modern thinking, which is now absolutely just off the table. Instead, there has been a shift on the part of planners and governments and resilience ecologists, to say, instead, we need to have the kinds of plans and infrastructures that work with nature, rather than bulldozing it, or pretending it's not there, or using it as a dump. We need designs and plans that consider cities as ecosystems, complex socio-ecological, technological ecosystems, that are composed of these systems that feed back into one another, and that bring in nature and people and technologies all into this single self-adapting, self-healing system that is not ever going to be perfectly ordered, right? Perfect order was the modern, outdated approach to cities and to planning, and to infrastructure. Now, the thinking is that you have to be resilient. So to be resilient means that you have to be, and the infrastructures have to be, capable of surviving a world of turbulence, where disaster and disruption and instability are natural, omnipresent, always going to be coming, and should be expected as part of the normal course of things, in fact, even welcomed and embraced because that is, according to this way of thinking, the true state of the world and of life itself.

So this is the thinking which is behind this shift towards resilience infrastructures and resilience planning, and resilience planning has been really focused on: okay, how then should we rethink infrastructure in line with the ontology of the world that I was just summing up there? How can we build infrastructures that obey all those new standards for what cities should be and how you manage disaster, right? So, you should allow disaster to occur rather than trying to stop it, in this approach. There's no sustainability in this approach. The approach is instead weathering endless storms, right? What I have found particularly interesting within the turn to resilience is the way in which two forms of life are being revalued as infrastructure: nature and people.

So, I've been following the rise of resilience as a big dominant object and problem, or rubric, in New York City since a little bit before Sandy hit in 2012, which is now a really long time ago. But that was a really interesting time, because you actually saw in real time the way that media and government and planners were really in the midst of crafting what the response to disasters like Sandy would be and what resilience was going to mean. So, I've been watching this shift towards building these new kinds of soft, nature-based infrastructures there in New York, but also in Miami, where I was living for the last several years. Miami is this other situation, you don’t have these big punctuated storms—although you do have those right, like Sandy—but you have this ongoing problem of sea level rise–related flooding, it's already happening in the city. So, there's different infrastructures in both cities that are trying to adapt to these new environmental changes, but also standards for what design can mean.

So, in New York, you have oysters being used as living infrastructure, that would grow and build themselves as the infrastructure. Rather than building a big concrete seawall, something like that, designers are working with the State of New York now to build this two-mile, very large experimental oyster reef that is considered emergent or living infrastructure. So oysters, you know, the shells build one on one another over time, building these massive reefs that will be positioned by the Army Corps of engineers and planners out in the high wave action parts of the water along Staten Island's coast—which is an area that was hit hard during Sandy—where they can try to field and buffer, but not stop storm surge and flooding from future storms. This idea that it's nature's own capacities—these things that nature does without human interference, you know, the pre-Anthropocene nature—the things that nature does naturally are what constitute infrastructure in this vision, of this living breakwaters project, which was originally envisioned by SCAPE landscape architect Kate Orff, who is a brilliant designer and thinker in New York City. This very interesting idea that if you just allow nature to do what it historically did, then that natural process can field unnatural natures, which are these Anthropocenic natures: the storm surge, the flooding, and that kind of thing. It's this very interesting idea of infrastructure, right? That is about pitting one nature, Holocene nature, against another nature, Anthropocenic, bad, right? One against the other. Not to, again, stop the sea rise, not to stop the flooding, not to stop the storms or anything like that, but to attenuate and manage their effects and therefore preserve the existing systems on land.

Then we see another example of this in Miami, which I think is extremely interesting, and I just finished writing a chapter about this. In the Everglades—if you've ever been to South Florida or Miami, you probably have visited the Everglades or at least seen pictures of them. This huge, beautiful wetland ecosystem with alligators, wading birds, and crocodiles. It's one of the only places where crocodiles and alligators coexist, and they got now invasive pythons and it's just a very, very beautiful, wild kind of place. But it's been basically obliterated by modern water management and urbanization. So, historically to build Miami—and we say historically, with regard to Miami, you're talking very, very recently—but historically, building Miami, building urban development in South Florida, was seen as contingent on draining the Everglades and getting rid of the Everglades. So when the State of Florida was founded, and Miami was then originally built, that whole area was watery, marshy, considered just awful by the governmental explorers who came out there, and then the real estate prospectors. So, drainage was the key to building urban habitation down in that region. So, they drained them, they dammed them, they rerouted the water flows to the point where now, the water at one point historically before urbanization flowed south in these slow-moving sheets down into the bay, and into the ocean and so on. But now it all is routed out, or contained, or just dried up. So now the Everglades are an ecosystem considered to be on the brink of collapse, at a tipping point that maybe is impossible to actually reverse. But they're also being heralded as the best hope for saving Miami from sea level rise. So, this is an interesting thing where Miami is having this problem of drinking water contamination with saltwater. One of the biggest threats that a lot of people and experts in Miami see with regard to climate change is not that it would be flooding coming over the coast or something like that. It would actually be that saltwater comes in, infiltrates the aquifer, which rests right under the city, contaminates all the drinking water that the city relies on and deads the city, essentially. That would be the real city killer as they see it. So, the idea is that if you could restore those Everglades water flows, and this is being done now—if you could restore those water flows of the Everglades, they could be used as a buffer, fresh water coming down to push back against that salt water intruding from the sea. The water moves together in this interface under the city and the hope is that the freshwater will push, push, push, push, and keep that contamination—or that invading sea as they put it—from coming in and ruining the drinking water supply. Some of this saltwater contamination has already been happening and they've been moving wells further and further west. A lot of them are as far west as they can go. Miami Beach, maybe some of you who are on this talk have been there probably, they used to have their own wells, but now those are all on the mainland as well, pretty far west.

This is another interesting case of this like Anthropocenic nature as infrastructure, where again, it's a pre-Anthropocene nature—the Everglades as they were historically understood to have flowed, those freshwater flows, the way they move on this hydrological gradient, the slightly sloped southward towards the coast flow with gravity—this could be restored, this natural nature in order to push back on the Anthropocenic nature and therefore save the city. These two natural and unnatural natures—but what's always sandwiched in between there is the urban and the city, and that's not often considered as something in question all, that's the most natural kind of element in this whole picture, right? Where, of course, you would save the city, and the socio-economic structures of the city. That's not often up for debate, right? It's just how you would do it, and rethinking infrastructure around that. I won't belabour this whole point here, but I think that it's very interesting to see this rethinking of infrastructure and how the urban is naturalized as a good in need of saving within that. I have been finishing a book on that topic recently. But I think it's also important to mark how this rethinking of nature, and life as infrastructure really reshapes what it could mean to even define life or to define nature and the Anthropocene. It's not just ecosystems or organisms, like oysters, it's also people that are being rethought of as infrastructure. This is often coming from, you know, well-meaning critical commentators as well, this idea that people are infrastructure, that there's social infrastructure. So in that realm, you see a lot of workshops and trainings and initiatives that are trying to help the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable populations of cities, you know, get prepared for disasters, have them form these community resilience hubs, where they might have go bags and emergency generators and things like that, so that they can better endure the crises that will come. So that they then can be infrastructure as well, to help maintain that operating system of the city, amidst crisis.

So in both cases, what we're seeing is that what it means to respond to the Anthropocene, what it means to transform infrastructure and life, is becoming critical infrastructure systems to support the city. And I think these things make a lot of sense, in some ways. They're very pragmatic, and there's nothing wrong with them. Each of these projects totally may work. There's absolutely every reason why the poor and the working class do want to skill up on these things and be prepared for disasters, because we've seen absolutely horrific food shortages, and drinking water shortages, after big storms and things like that in Florida, and in New York, and all around the world. More recently, we saw what happened after the winter storm in Texas, where you had people actually freezing to death in their beds, because there was no infrastructure for a storm like that. Because government, because politicians went on vacation, rather than trying to do anything to help people in the city, and it was an absolute catastrophe. This continues, repeatedly, the same scenario where it is the poor and the working class, who are just, you know, hopefully surviving these disasters, but kept at that bare minimum, trying to have enough sweaters to wear during the historic winter storm, so they don't have hypothermia at night.

Meanwhile, there is another emergent trend that I think is very interesting in the realm of infrastructure, which is that the very wealthy—whether we're talking about politicians or celebrities, or what have you—where the very wealthy are islandizing infrastructure. We're seeing this this shift towards trying to build these autonomous infrastructural enclaves, to not only ride out disasters, so you can function off grid or something like that, but just in general, kind of shore up the needed infrastructures, and even maybe have sustainable ones, solar ones or what have you, to live in this age of turbulence. So we might think of, you know, Mike Davis is an author who's written a lot about these evil paradise enclaves of the wealthy for quite some time, but we're seeing an Anthropocenic version of this now too where we're seeing some of these prefab island cities that will be sustainable just for the wealthy—gated, super patrol, like in Lagos. We're seeing celebrities, Kanye West is always floating these ideas of having like fireproof communities. There's the Seasteading Institute and they have all of their interesting ideas about, you know, autonomous floating communities. In Miami, there is a company called Arkup, which has these very, very beautiful luxury yachts and luxury eco-villages that are floating eco-villages that they're just now putting on the market. They have sustainable solar grids, water catchments, all these localized little technologies. There's this turn towards the islandization, both literally and figuratively, of infrastructure that we're seeing on the part of the very wealthy. While, on the other hand, we have sort of the plebs of the world, you know, at best building go bags, and being part of these government initiatives to make community resilient centers. So, in the redefinition of life as infrastructure, I think there are both positives and negatives. On the one hand, it is a very dismal view of what human beings can be, that we're rethinking human being as just merely surviving or merely adapting to crisis, you know, because the whole thing with resilience infrastructure is that it is a necessary piece of a broader system, right? Resilience infrastructures are not going to replace modern infrastructures, they don't replace all the power plants, they don't replace all the greenhouse gas emissions, they don't replace the global systems, the logistics, and so on. They just mitigate the effects of them. They mitigate the disasters produced by those systems. They're like a life support system, they get added to an ongoing technosphere that's there.

So, to me, the question is, obviously is there anything more than that? Is anything better than that, that can be thought, that could be imagined, that could be built as a way forward, as a way of prying open some exit out of the situation that we find ourselves in? You know, both for ourselves living right now and for the people who are going to come after us, right? I do think that infrastructure is, again, key there, as I was saying in the beginning. I think infrastructure’s obviously really key there. I think that so many people see and sense that reality, and that's part of why they're trying these local little projects. One example—that I talk about a lot in some of my writing, and that I always return to—is this guy, a fusion physicist in Missouri, who started a project called Open Source Ecology. Originally, he was trying to make a Civilization Starter Kit. It would be the fifty machines and open source blueprints for building them, the fifty machines that anybody, anywhere would need to restart and remake their own civilization. So, for him—I never met him, but he's a very interesting-seeming person. You know, he was a physicist and he realized, like, I can't even fix my own tractor. So he quit his career and started this project. He was like, none of us know how to do anything, society's a disaster, I don't want to work for somebody else. How do I fix these problems? So his answer to that—which is like an epochal problem, right, it's a huge civilizational problem that we all face—his answer to that was the Civilization Starter Kit, with these fifty machines. So he started inviting other people to come to this farm, they have all these crazy weird names for the farms and the projects, like that farm is called the Factor-E Farm, you know. And they built different habitations for the people there: they have dorms, and they have these boot camps, where you can learn all different types of things: build 3D printers, build their power cube, you know, all these different things that are part of their kit, right? So they've kind of grown this project into something bigger. I first heard about it, it was probably like a decade ago or something at this point. I think it's had its ups and downs and all that. But the basic idea, the basic premise, I find really interesting is that if you, yourself, and your people, whoever those are, right, we all have our worlds and our communities, they're all different, right? But if you yourself had access to these tools, these techniques, these technologies, these infrastructures, then that would enable you, empower you to maybe open up another pathway for your future rather than one of being a wage worker generating profit for somebody, always and forever, and surviving disasters. And that is really how he sees the project, and that's how he couches it. He's like, you know, I think people have a choice. If we give them these tools, you know, it opens up a choice. Do you want the same old, same old? Do you want to go to work and work for somebody else? Or do you want to try something new. He's like, to me, trying something new is far more compelling as a life project. But the choice is yours. I like that attitude. I think that's interesting.

What I also think is pretty cool about their project is that they're not envisioning that what you have to do is go out, leave the city, go to a rural commune, and like, get sheep and wear giant sweaters that are hand knitted or something like that. I mean, maybe some people want to do that, and that's cool. But they're also envisioning this could be a very high-tech project and experiment, right. They're using 3D printing, they're building tractors, they're building machinery, all these different levels and typologies and technology, digital projects, and so on. And I think that that's more realistic. And it's more dynamic, you know, it opens up a lot more pathways, potential pathways, and potential cultures that can be generated too out of engaging with that kind of project. So I find that super, super interesting as one example, it seems to me that this is like, you know—imagine this experiment in infrastructure and developing one's own civilization or many civilizations in networked formations with other people trying this out. Imagine this is happening on a massive scale. Imagine if there were the means that the very wealthy have to build their islands, enclaves, imagine if that were somehow available to the majority of people: imagine what could come from this time period.

You know, the Anthropocene is such a moment of horror and disaster, and this last year, I think a lot of people have seen a lot more cynicism about certain possibilities and ways people treat one another, right? And then what could come from this. But on the other hand, imagine, just imagine for a second, if we did have this massive democratization of the infrastructural means of life available to us. And if we did take up that project, what could come from this moment could actually be something absolutely heroic, and beautiful, and surprising. And, you know, probably a lot of things would fail too. A lot of things would end up not being what you want, of course, but it could be something that we could at least say we tried, and I find that really compelling. It seems in some ways, like, I don't know if anyone ever reads Kim Stanley Robinson, but I just realized I'm a mega fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, and I didn't think I was gonna be because I thought he might be a little bit too politically, like, I don't know, ideological, but no, oh my God! He's the greatest author. I just finished the last book of his—anyway, it seems like this could be a plot of a Kim Stanley Robinson book in real life on Earth, you know. The Mars Project, but here. I find that to be something worth really trying to imagine—because our imaginations are so key here too, because I think so many times our imaginations get limited to survival and adaptation too—but also a project worthy of exploring, technically.

I would just say one other thing, and I actually forgot to time myself, so I don't know how long I've been talking, but probably... perfect. Yeah, I'll just say one other thing that I have recently been thinking about that I have found pretty thought-provoking, too. When it comes to thinking about infrastructure in this way, and you know, the Anthropocene is often couched as the need to create other forms of life, the need to build other ways of living. So in this positive, productive sense, we often hear critical theorists and activists describing the Anthropocene as a time where we need to make something new. I totally, totally agree with that.

So here, I'm actually very inspired by some work that's being done by some academic researchers in France, in particular Alexandre Monnin, who has just put out a book, which is looking at this idea of de-presencing infrastructures that are destroying the world. They're trying to conceptualize theoretically, but also pragmatically, they're working even with businesses and designers to come up with strategies around this idea of not just, you know, how do we bring into presence—to put it in a Heideggerian way—new forms of living in new infrastructures and all that, but how do we de-presence the ones that we don't need anymore, that are that are already obsolete in some sense. He uses this term, the negative commons: what do we do with these negative commons that we all inherit? That is the environment that we inhabit, and that is just building up evermore around us. I think this is very, very thought-provoking as an idea. Because, Negri can think of this idea of the commons—Antonio Negri is like, in that sort of particular view of the commons. It's all the workers, you know, we produce this and it's actually ours, we want it, we want to control it, or reappropriate it or whatever. And well, actually, maybe no, we don't. Because a lot of these things are quite negative that we inherit, that have been produced around us that we've been put to work building in different ways, right? So how can we start to think about not only bringing online other better ways of life that would just make something liveable here on Earth, for us and for the Earth? But also, as part of that same project, how do we put out of commission some of those ones that are destroying us and the Earth as well? That's not something that I have an answer to obviously, this is a hugely technical conversation, but it is conceptually very thought-provoking, I think for all of us to remember and consider, because sometimes that seems like it's just a social movement, or a political upheaval moment type of question, but I think it's actually part of this ongoing diffuse turn towards infrastructure. It could be… infrastructural brutalism. Exactly. These death-dealing infrastructures. Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you, Michael. Yeah, what do we do with some of these absolutely crushing infrastructures is a big question. I think that's a lot of different little pieces. But I'll stop here, because I'd rather just let everybody else talk. But I hope some of this was interesting for you. Thanks for your time.

JM (56:46):

Thank you, Stephanie, for concluding on de-presencing. So, now we can invite the audience to presence themselves. You can type a question in the Q&A box, or you can use the raise your hand function, if you'd like to join us with a live voice and be part of a discussion with yourselves.

CB (57:07):

Maybe I'll jump in with one thing, I don't even know if it's actually a question. But thank you so much. I feel like my imagination is running wild right now in all the best ways, but I've been thinking so much about as you've been speaking about trial and error and failure. And I know that that's something that you've written about, as well. As you're giving some examples, like the fusion physicist project, I was thinking a lot about scale, and how scale maybe fits into this idea or thinking about strategies of failure, which seemed to me to be very much embraced on the local levels of response and thinking about these new infrastructures, or adapting and building new infrastructures. You know, when you're working DIY or ad hoc, it's much easier to just like, try a thing and see where it goes. And then maybe how that might be imagined or functioned within these larger ways of thinking about infrastructure. So, the Everglades example that you gave, I started to think, aha, this is really interesting, because it's sort of like the failure itself is now able to lead to something else. I'm trying to think through how do we think about failure in a larger scale? Or is it something that has to begin locally, or on a smaller scale? And how we can use it as a strategy beyond just our own? Or maybe the point is to use it, within our own?

SW (58:37):

Thanks, Christina. Yeah, that's a really interesting question. I don't have the answer at all. But I think for me, I do value the aspect of experimentation that, you know, is really about embracing trial and error in the sense of throwing out ideas, seeing if they work, testing out new ways of doing things, seeing if they work in reality, rather than always expecting that the answer comes from on high, from some kind of blueprint, from someone or something, right? That saying, okay, I have to see what works in my context, because nobody can actually tell me what's going to work in my context. Only I, we, you know, whoever it is that is experimenting, can figure that out in the real world.

I have been influenced by the geographer Jamie Lorimer’s work on the idea of wild experimentation in the Anthropocene. He does a lot of work on rewilding and conservation projects. He's a great writer and he describes, you know, in the Anthropocene experimentation is happening in the open air, like real-world contexts where people are, where the experiment is occurring, but also in a landscape that has been transformed really dramatically. You know, it's an Anthropocene landscape and has been altered radically. So even if we're talking about rewilding, we're never actually bringing back the exact landscape that was there before. We're creating something new in the process. That's going to produce something unexpected, there's no way to know in advance what that's going to produce. In some ways, that openness is very… to me, it can be a really positive thing. Because that allows you to get together with different types of people, allows you to bring together different environments, different tools, old and new, rather than saying there has to be one way of doing things or one set of people. Actually, you can put lots of very different components together and see what comes from that. To me, that's always been the most interesting thing. I've done a lot of stuff with artists, and different people who are not in, let's say, specifically political realms, and I have always found those to be way more interesting projects, you know, because you don't really quite know what's going to come from it, because it's a big mix of people rather than the same type of person and the same kind of thing. Same old, same old.

On the other hand, there's also the possibility that everything fails, you know, there's a possibility that all this fails, this is a missed opportunity. I mean, the big picture: that we don't get it together, we don't stop this from happening. You know, we head towards hothouse Earth, and we never actually waged a powerful enough resistance to what's going on, that's a possibility. Historically, it's happened a lot of times that the moment was missed, and that attempts to change the course of history are thwarted. But there's also the possibility when it comes to individual experiment with an infrastructure, that it also can't take hold, given the transformations of the Anthropocene. So with the Everglades, one of the really, really sad things—because I love the Everglades, I love them! It's really sad, but when you talk to some of the ecologists who are involved in that project, what they'll tell you is that it's possible that so far the rehydration of that landscape hasn't worked as much as they would hope that it would, that the timing is off, the distribution’s off, the water’s off, you know, so on and so forth. And that, if seas rise enough, at some point that landscape is just gonna be all this open water, and then you have this additional problem, which is that the peat soil is collapsing from the saltwater intrusion. The soil contains a lot of carbon in it, and they're not sure what's going to happen, but it's possible that it might be released at that point. Then you have a system that potentially can turn from being a resiliency infrastructure as it's been conceived, to being actually further productive of the problem. So, we don't know, but that is a looming possibility. Likewise, oysters might not be able to live in such a polluted environment as the New York Harbor.

Yeah, I don't know if that answers your question very well. I think in terms of scale, we probably need a lot bigger scale. But I'll let everybody else talk more.

JK (1:03:27):

We have a question coming in, actually about scale, from an attendee named Mixel. So I'll pass the mic over to you now. And, Mixel hopefully you're still there and ask your question.

Mixel Kiemen:

Okay, great. Yeah, I wanted to contribute to the question Christina had about scale, as I’ve been able to experiment as an artificial life engineer, and using a lot of the concepts that I’ve been learning from ecosystem dynamics, like the concept of the trophic cascade, and how that actually recreates a tragedy of the commons in digital ecosystems.

So there's a lot of things growing exponentially, but also collapsing exponentially. And we can learn a lot about the ecosystem dynamics in a safe space to actually see how we can actually bring it back in natural spaces. I'm trying to figure out how to do that. I'm trying to collaborate with the peer-to-peer foundation on this, but also with actual bioengineers in the Netherlands. And I've shared in the back-channel models they are using, they are using this Trefoil Knot, and it looks very similar to the methods I see in this space. So that's why I wanted to connect to you guys. Just reaching out and see how we can help each other. Thank you.

CB (1:05:14):

Thank you. That's a great example too, of something that Stephanie brought up earlier about technology and how maybe that's also a useful way of technology to help get us through this, of projecting and imagining and forecasting these smaller-scale responses that we can then see play out in the larger scale. I'm going to try to share the link that Mixel just shared with everyone. Maybe there's another question too.

JM (1:05:48):

Yeah, we have a question coming in from an attendee in writing. So I'll read it out. They'd like to remain anonymous. And they say: I may be too obsessed with political structures. But I tend to see those structures as pivotal. As you say, much of what we are doing now is too small and scale, like how will, without state or federal government support, how will the restoration of marshlands and estuaries be supported? Whereas K.S. Robinson suggested in a conference a year or so ago, will we turn the oil drilling equipment to refreezing icebergs? How can that be turned around without some control, governmental over the big business interests?

SW (1:06:28):

Yeah. Thank you, anonymous attendee, for that question. I mean, it's a great question. You know, on the one hand, historically, it's very hard to honestly say that governments are acting in the best interest of the people, the environment, anything. And it's very hard to imagine a government that might do so. As a person who's just been reading Kim Stanley Robinson non-stop, I will admit that I am influenced by sometimes the way he depicts this role of government, because he does sometimes imagine that you could have some kind of government by the people that gets it together to do exactly what you're saying. They're all these different types of things: large-scale, terraforming, large total reorganization of economies to become ecological and to redistribute power down to people on the grounds, down to small businesses or cooperatives. It's compelling. Given the fortunes of attempts to do that at the governmental level, historically, it's hard to be really optimistic about that. Right.

On the other hand, if you're being serious about the magnitude of what we're talking about here, and not just playing around, you have to be honest, that yeah, a really large-scale kind of intervention would be needed. Yeah, there's no denying that, right. Carbon capture, carbon mitigation, you know, cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The idea of the refreezing of the glaciers, of the ice sheets—massive technological mobilization, wartime mobilization times twenty, you know, is what it would entail. But then the questions become like, but what else comes with that, what other social and political effects come with that? What kinds of coercions on us come with that? What kinds of dictates on people come with that? So these are all questions that have to be thought about. I don't know, can we have a Sax from the Mars trilogy? Or, you know, the one who is the president in the Washington DC books. I've clearly been reading these Kim Stanley Robinson books way too much. But, you know, could you have figures like that actually create a different type of governmental mobilization? Maybe. I'm not gonna sit here and be like, that's like an impossible pathway, you know, because that's unrealistic, and I think it's immature.

But on the other hand, I think that there's always this kind of response that says, you know, there could never be a democratic popular organization; networking and mobilization that would be able to adequately, at a proper scale or level, address the Anthropocene. It always is like a refrain that you hear often, that it would have to be the State as we know, it, it would have to be government as we know them. Well, maybe there are other possibilities that we haven't thought of, maybe we are just stuck in these tropes, these old political tropes, and maybe there is something else. I would like to think that there's a possibility where people have some autonomy in what they do, some ability to have power over their lives, to not just be hostage to a system of wage work and extraction, to not just be pawns in this big game for the very wealthy, as this planet sinks into the abyss. I'd like to think there's another option where the people who have been bulldozed by this system for so long actually are able to take the reins and change things. But I think it's very clear to all of us that won't look like anything from the past. If that were to ever happen. I think again, this infrastructural kind of moment is hinting towards that need and that possibility, but it's so embryonic and so small, right?

JM (1:11:11):

Yeah, just on that note, there's Benjamin H. Bratton, who's doing the Terraforming Program at The Strelka Institute. You know, climate change and COVID-19 are these comparative governance tests that we're going to see how we reform our governance to meet these challenges, because we can see the current governments we have been formed around modern thinking. I think there's gonna be an evolution in governance, I hope, to meet these challenges. One of the ideas that came out of the students at the at the Terraforming Program that Bratton leads is very much in line with that big government thing. Can you repurpose military? Instead of fighting each other, could militaries capture and contain carbon? Could that be a mission? Because of course, militaries are amazing at large-scale infrastructural projects and deployment. But also, what are the civil rights risks of that sort of thing, and how do we mitigate that as well, at the same time?

SW (1:12:06):

It's also just really hard to imagine getting to that stage, given what we see of governments worldwide right now, right? It's just like absolute carnage, you know. It's really hard to imagine, where does that come from? And how would that ever come into being, if that were to be a desirable thing? Seeing what's happening in the United States with the COVID response has been mind boggling, in terms of even the inability to fulfill what is the supposedly the American promise or dream of even taking care of its own citizens, not to mention other people, even that ideological thing has not even been on the table, just absolute mistrust of person against person, everybody on everybody.

Sorry, there's large fireworks outside my house for some reason. You know, absolute lack of belief in science or lack of concern with taking care of just the basic things, like not letting people die. You know, it's just been unbelievable. So this, in some ways, is like a test run for what's coming in terms of climate change, when things ramp up with that, because it's not just the cynical, capitalist greed and that kind of thing, right? Leave the working class to starve and rot and all that. It's not just that—I mean, it's definitely that, right, put them in the grocery stores and let them die cause they don't matter, right? But it's also this delirious craziness now, where internet rumours are actually shaping the future of our country, the future of life here, whether or not you live or die, or based on bot comments on Facebook and things like that. So the way that this is all gonna play out in the climate change response to the government and political realm, it will be interesting.

JM (1:14:09):

Yeah, totally. That just brings me back to the workshop we did with New Models—with Christine Lariviere, who's really interesting on social media—and how you can tell these narratives in that landscape? It's full of booby traps, that feels like. What are these narratives that are going to take off? I think that's what we need to find out. That's why artists are so crucial to helping to shape this, because I hope that they're listening. I hope we're all listening and trying to figure out new languages to bring people along. 

CB (1:14:44):

I like that you bring up this idea of thinking about new languages, because I've been thinking a lot this afternoon about language and how even definitions are shifting, especially as we're talking and thinking about infrastructure. This idea that infrastructure is trending seems useful to me somehow, although I recognize on probably a minor scale. I was watching something online or on the news yesterday after Biden released his infrastructure plan. They cut to every other president across time who has also led and announced different infrastructure plans, because often infrastructure plans are that solution to stimulating economy. But maybe this idea of infrastructure being defined through language differently somehow now, as a way to get at those larger-scale shifts, pulling from the failure, and the trial and error, on the more local scale. Maybe that is also naive. But I feel like language plays an important role, especially as we're up against the bots and the bizarre conversations happening online that are really gaining speed.

So I want to read this one, Lanny had a comment about Robinson's utopian governments. And again, this is what I think you were also speaking about, like, how that translates into reality. I think even in this country, we have no shortage of examples either, of those supposed well-meaning… those who appear like they care about these things, that are working in progressive ways, and really, it's just more of the same. So how do we restore these things without relying on the politics of it?

SW (1:16:47):

Yeah, I think what’s an interesting comment is the comment is about Governor DeSantis in Florida, who's a Republican, and he campaigned on being the biggest supporter of Donald Trump. He was really trying to gain favour, to put it nicely, with Trump, but he's actually been a big supporter of Everglades restoration. He’s really actually done a lot in terms of water quality protection, and even remediation in South Florida. This is partially because, you know, a lot of his constituents are people who live on the water, they fish, the water economy is big there. But they're also people engaged with the water who have a real connection to it. When they see red tides coming through, and there's huge fish kills just washing up on shore, and it's horrific, and it's dead manatees and thousands of dead fish, because there's fertilizers and agricultural runoff getting flushed in there. They see that, they care that the water is actually healthy and improved and protected, you know, and so that's partially why he's been doing a lot of this, Everglades—but also water protection—funding and measures and so on.

This, I think, brings up a bigger point, which is that I don't think that if we're talking about the back loop, or the Anthropocene or this moment that we're in, that even though there's this huge drive to re-entrench these two single categories—these political categories of Left and Right—those do not capture what's actually happening in real people's lives. They do not capture what could be possible amongst people, if they're actually just engaged in the real questions that animate them, that they face, that are in their real worlds. And I think that a huge swath of people—at the very least in America, in the places where I have lived, I can only speak from there—but the majority of people do not identify with either of those categories, actually, at all. They think that that's just a circus, they don't use Twitter, they don't use social media, they used to use Instagram, because they love to see their friends’ pictures, you know, but they don't want part of this huge game. I think, even when people do follow some of those, you know, are you red or are you blue, whatever, when you actually interact with them on the ground, that often doesn't turn out the way that those binaries would tell you it would turn out.

I think this is very important in terms of thinking about things like scale, and the possibility of actually intermixing different types of people and building something larger and creative and dynamic, rather than always having the same exact qualifications for who can be involved in such a transformative project, or who would want to be, or who would actually think that building an exit route out of this current situation would be a desirable thing. Actually, I think a lot of people on all spectrums in America are very interested in that. And they're very interested in things like, you know, protecting ecosystems, but for different reasons. And so in any case, I think what really matters is being on the ground and actually being in a real world, in one's real world, talking to those people about the things that are actually happening. And experimenting, trial and error again comes up there, to see what people are actually like, rather than allowing these binaries that are really being crafted by media and politicians and placed upon us, rather than allowing those to define what we can and can't do, I think that we have to find out for ourselves.

Nicole Kelly Westman (1:20:48):

Thank you guys so much for all this super generous conversation. I keep thinking about, like “draining the swamp” in reference to this sort of Everglades situation.

I feel like some of the work we need to do is like—and maybe it's like you're saying, Christina, a reworking of language—but we need to shift our colonially understood beauty standards. Like what if muskeg, we'd look at it, and it gave us the same pleasures as looking at an ocean? Or what if the Everglades, you know, could be as exquisite as a rainforest or something. It's like shifting our understanding of how we appreciate these places, or even thinking about the examples of the bay in New York, maybe this is the anti-monumental, you know, you don't even see the work that's being done. It's not this exquisite seawall or something. It's this secret. But I'm not sure. It's not exactly a question. But I do feel like, how much can a reworking of language or an introduction of poeticism, can that help in this situation? Or is it too incremental?

SW (1:22:11):

That's a really interesting thing to think about. I think that there's a risk. On the one hand, I think that it's so important to allow ourselves to rethink what we mean, what languages we want to use, what imaginaries are possible, what imaginaries we produce, what is considered good, you know, in all of those, right? But I think there's a risk of potentially creating a new hegemonic, a mandatory new trope and discourse and imaginary, right? I think that is sometimes happening, I think inadvertently, but it's happening in the Anthropocene type of theory, and sometimes art and all that, where we are seeing this assembling of a new kind of unquestionable definition of life, and of what is good, and what the imaginaries are. It's sort of this like, entangled systems, you know, staying with the trouble kind of imaginary, where these certain elements of what life can be right now, are posited as unquestionable, right? So, before there was—according to this kind of way of thinking—that modern enlightenment subject separate from the world kind of thinking, but that was wrong! But now, we found the enlightened solution, which is entangled, complex adaptive systems, eco-cybernetic thinking, which, of course, has its own history, I mean, cybernetics is in no way natural, necessarily good, or unquestionable whatsoever. But it has become this unquestionable undercurrent to these imaginaries, I think, that you see in a lot of Anthropocene thinking and Anthropocene art, where it's sort of like, of course, in the Anthropocene, everything sticks. And the Anthropocene, we're just in these loops, like the way that Tim Morton will sometimes describe that there are loops and loops, and we have to go further into the loops, and it would be just backwards modern thinking to try to get out of the loops, or get out of entanglement, we have to stay here and we should, you know, be really humble human beings, and try to give up that hubris of modern thinking and accept that we are just here in the tangles or whatever, right? I think there are a lot of different things that people mean when they draw on these imaginaries. But there is a way in which I think that they're repeated to such an extent, and repeated as authoritatively right, as the long-awaited proper definition of life, that we should always just be a little bit—and this is not even questioning or critical of what you were saying, Nicole, at all, it just made me think of this, right? It's like, we should just try to be wary of anything that sort of posits THE new language, right? THE new imaginaries, THE new images that would speak for everyone and everything. Instead, I think that's the cool thing about the trial and error ethos of experimentation. It could be an environment where, you know, new ideas, new languages, new imaginaries are welcomed, rather than closed down, because they don't conform to a particular pre-existing desired imaginary or language, right? And it's hard because our social climate right now isn't necessarily taking that direction.

JM (1:26:00):

I'll just open it up into the audience as well. If you have any last questions, please ask them now, because we're at about an hour and a half. And, Stephanie, I'm sure you're curious what's going on outside with those fireworks? Maybe you're missing a party that you want to get to tonight? Oh, Manuel, coming up as the last question. Manuel Piña to ask a question.

Manuel Piña (1:26:28):

Thank you guys for the conversation, it’s very exciting. Well, Jesse and maybe even Christina know that I’m very interested in the question of language.

But actually want to go back to the idea of the negative commons. I find it very exciting. And I also think, we're surrounded by these ruins of a system that is just dying in our hands, right? So we have all these negative commons or negative assets or whatever. Because there are no commons, right? So my question is precisely how you see that commoning happening in so many... Just to put a close-to-home example, I'm thinking of the university, it has failed as a model and now the neoliberal system in which the universities were forced to become these company-corporations, it’s also failed, right? Cause of COVID. So, I'm thinking a lot about what's going to happen with the university and everything and I don't know, how do you see that commoning happening? Because you mentioned that as a given, I felt. Or I'm just not aware of the discourse. Can you tell me a little bit about that, about the negative commons?

SW (1:27:57):

Sure, I mean, this is not my idea at all. This is an idea that I was introduced to quite recently, in the work of a French researcher, Alexandre Monnin. He has been, with some of his colleagues, starting a new Anthropocene design and strategy MSc program at ESC Clermont, I believe, near Lyon in France. And they're working there with students of all different kinds—in the business world, and design and so on—to partner with different organizations or communities, or what have you, that have a particular problem area. They're trying to figure out how to turn off certain destructive infrastructures, or what have you, that are part of their existing models. It's different in each case, and it's a very new program and I don't know all that much about it. But he recently invited me to meet with them. So, I was learning about it through him and through the students. It's an interesting idea. I mean, they use this term, negative commons... I think he's written about it quite a bit more than I have actually read, but he uses this term, simply to say that we—again, there was this Negri-ist this idea that, you know, the commons are all this stuff of the society, the infrastructure, the knowledge infrastructure, and so on that were actually produced by the living labour of the proletariat, right? The revolutionary liberatory task would be to reclaim those commons, to reappropriate those commons that the worker built with its power, right? I mean, that's a particular Negri-ist interpretation of what the commons would be. So, the commons within that view would be what's already here, and it would view it as something to want, right? Something that’s positive. But something that we've been separated from or alienated from or expropriated from, or what have you, through the capitalist process.

But in this case—this is my interpretation of the term—the thinking, I believe, is that no, actually, so much of what has been produced is actually negative, it's destroying the land, it's destroying people, it's destroying the future, it's destroying potentially the possibility of even life, right? So then, what would you do, if that's how you understood these infrastructures, and these landscapes that we share, that we inherit, we inherit these technologies that are already obsolete? Even within a lot of businesses and design firms, they feel this way too, and they want to actually figure out what to do about it. That's not always the case, but it is often the case that a lot of times, designers get stuck having to always build more resilience of what already is, but I think that what they actually want is something better than that. They want to actually make a better future. And so I think this is their attempt to pry open that pathway a little bit, maybe there's actually a legitimate possibility of de-presencing—that’s the term that they use—some of these negative commons. And I think that's an idea that just opens up more ideas rather than it answers everything, it starts to open imagination a little bit, for me.

JM (1:31:37):

That's a nice way to leave the talk. So let's increase the holocene’s commons and decrease modernity’s commons, and we might get to a new place. Great. So stay tuned. Christina's fellowship continues with 221A, and she'll be publishing some of her research and work on our website. We look forward to a forthcoming public realm with Christina and in the next year or so. Take care everyone and have a good evening.

CB (1:32:06):

Thanks, everyone, for being here. Thank you, Stephanie, so much, and Jesse, Nicole, and Tao thanks so much for your support, watching the chat and keeping the conversation going. I'm gonna put in the chat my email address—I can't talk and type at the same time—but if anyone has any other questions, or comments, or thoughts, please feel free to get in touch. I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone. Thanks again, Stephanie for leaving us thinking about these really critical, important things, and also centering imagination and the role of that within all of this, as we now go back into these super wild times and places that we're living in. Thank you.

SW (1:32:53):

Likewise, thank you so much, Christina. And thank you everybody. This is really nice to talk to you again. Take care.

NKW (1:33:00):

Thank you everyone for coming. And yes, thank you both for such a beautiful morning, I guess afternoon where you are, Stephanie. Thank you. Bye.