© 2016 - IMPRINT
Dossiers
Authors
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Babak Afrassiabi
    • Babak Afrassiabi is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, he has collaborated with Nasrin Tabatabai on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
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      published contributions
  • S. Ayesha Hameed
    • Dr. S. Ayesha Hameed is a Lecturer in Visual Cultures and the Joint Programme Leader in Fine Art and History of Art Research Fellow in Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, London. She received her PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University, Canada in 2008
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Sammy Baloji
  • On Barak
    • On Barak is a social and cultural historian of science and technology in non-Western settings. He has been a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University since 2012. Prior to this, he was a member of the Princeton Society of Fellows. In 2009, Barak received a joint PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University. His most recent book is On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (University of California Press, 2013), and his current publication project, Coalonialism: Energy and Empire before the Age of Oil, is funded by a European Union Marie Curie Award and an Israel Science Foundation Grant.
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      published contributions
  • Anil Bawa-Cavia
    • Anil Bawa-Cavia is a computer scientist with a background in machine learning. He runs STDIO, a speculative software studio. His practice engages with algorithms, protocols, encodings, and other software artifacts and his doctoral research at the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London was on complex networks in urbanism. He is a founding member of Call & Response, a sonic arts collective and gallery space in London, and a member of the New Centre for Research & Practice.
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      published contributions
  • Etienne Benson
  • Josh Berson
  • Jeremy Bolen
  • Axel Braun
    • Axel Braun studied photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, and fine arts at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris. His artistic research deals with controversial infrastructure projects, tautology as an attempt to understand reality, and failed utopias in art and architecture. Currently, he is pursuing the long-term project Towards an Understanding of Anthropocene Landscapes. Recently exhibited works include Some Kind of Opposition (2016) at Galeria Centralis, Budapest, and Dragonflies drift downstream on a river (2015) at Kunstmuseum Bochum.
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      published contributions
  • Keith Breckenridge
  • François Bucher
    • s, focusing on ethical and aesthetic problems of cinema and television, and more recently on the image as an interdimensional field. His work has been exhibited at
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      published contributions
  • Lino Camprubí
  • Zachary Caple
  • Ele Carpenter
    • Dr. Ele Carpenter is a senior lecturer in curating at Goldsmiths, London. Her curatorial practice responds to interdisciplinary socio-political contexts such as the nuclear economy and the relationship between craft and code.
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Chubb
    • Andrew Chubb is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia conducting research on the relationship between Chinese public opinion and government policy in the South China Sea. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Affairs, East Asia Forum, and Information, Communication & Society. His blog, South Sea Conversations (southseaconversations.wordpress.com), provides translations and analysis of Chinese discourse on the South and East China Sea issues.
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      published contributions
  • Louis Chude-Sokei
    • Louis Chude-Sokei is a writer and scholar currently teaching in the English Department at the University of Washington, Seattle. His academic interests range from West African, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies to a particular focus on sound, technology, and performance. His literary and public work focuses on immigration and black-on-black cultural contacts, conflicts, and exchanges. Chude-Sokei is the author of the award-winning book The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (2006) and The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Claire Colebrook
    • Claire Colebrook is a professor of English at Penn State University. Her areas of specialization are contemporary literature, visual culture, and theory and cultural studies. She has written articles on poetry, literary theory, queer theory, and contemporary culture. Colebrook is the co-editor of the series Critical Climate Change, published by Open Humanities Press, and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Critical Climate Change. She recently completed two books on extinction for Open Humanities Press, Death of the PostHuman and Sex after Life (both 2014), and with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller co-authored Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Rana Dasgupta
  • Filip De Boeck
    • Filip De Boeck is actively involved in teaching, promoting, coordinating and supervising research in and on Africa at the Institute for Anthropological research in Africa at the U
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Seth Denizen
    • Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture and evolutionary biology. Since completing research on the sexual behavior and evolutionary ecology of small Trinidadian fish, his work has focused on the aesthetics of scientific representation, madness, and public parks, the design of t
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Jonathan Donges
    • Jonathan Donges is a postdoctoral researcher who holds a joint position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (as Stordalen Scholar) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He studies planetary boundaries and social dynamics in the Earth system from a complex dynamical system perspective. At Potsdam, he is Co-head of the flagship COPAN (Coevolutionary Pathways) project (www.pik-potsdam.de/copan). His published research includes work on complex network theory, dynamical systems theory, and time series analysis, with a focus on their application to our understanding of past and present climate variability and its interactions with humankind on planet Earth.
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      published contributions
  • Keller Easterling
  • David Edgerton
    • David Edgerton is Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and a professor of modern British history at King’s College London. After teaching at the University of Manchester, he became the founding director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London (1993–2003), and moved along with the centre to King’s College London in August 2013. He is the author of many works, including The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007), which argues for and exemplifies new ways of thinking about the material constitution of modernity.
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      published contributions
  • Technosphere Editorial
  • Sasha Engelmann
  • Jennifer Gabrys
    • Jennifer Gabrys is Reader in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, "Citizen Sense." Her publications include Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011); and Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Oliver Gantner
  • Florian Goldmann
    • Florian Goldmann is a Berlin-based artist and a PhD candidate at the DFG Research Training Center Visibility and Visualisation – Hybrid Forms of Pictorial Knowledge as well as at the Brandenburg Center for Media Studies, both Potsdam University. His research focus is the utilization of models as a means of both commemorating and predicting catastrophe. In 2015, he took part in the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan. Goldmann is one of the founders of the research collective STRATAGRIDS and the author of Flexible Signposts to Coded Territories (2012), an analysis of football hooligan graffiti in Athens as a system of fluid signage.
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      published contributions
  • Johan Gärdebo
    • Johan Gärdebo is a PhD candidate at the Royal Institute of Technology affiliated to the Environmental Humanities Laboratory (EHL). H
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Orit Halpern
    • Orit Halpern is a Strategic Hire in Interactive Design and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design and art practice. She is also a co-director of the Speculative Life Research Cluster, Montreal, a laboratory situated at the intersection of art and life sciences, architecture and design, and computational media (www.speculativelife.com). Her recent monograph, Beautiful Data (2015), is a history of interactivity, data visualization, and ubiquitous computing. www.orithalpern.net
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      published contributions
  • Carola Hein
    • Carola Hein is a professor of the history of architecture and urban planning in the Architecture Department at Delft University of Technology. She has published widely on topics in contemporary and historical architectural and urban planning, notably that of Europe and Japan. Her current research interests include transmission of architectural and urban ideas along international networks, focusing specifically on port cities, and the global architecture of oil. Her books include Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks (2011), Cities, Autonomy, and Decentralization in Japan (2006), and The Capital of Europe: Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union (2004).
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      published contributions
  • Julian Henriques
    • Julian Henriques is the convener of the MA in Script Writing and Director of the Topology Research Unit in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Prior to this, he ran the film and television department at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. His credits as a writer and director include the reggae musical feature film Babymother (1998) and as a sound artist, Knots & Donuts, exhibited at Tate Modern in 2011. Henriques researches street cultures and technologies and his publications include Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity (1998), Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing (2011), and Sonic Media (forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Hanna Husberg
    • Hanna Husberg is a Stockholm-based artist. She graduated from ENSB-A in Paris in 2007 and is currently a PhD in Practice candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Erich Hörl
  • Timothy Johnson
  • Peter K. Haff
  • Laleh Khalili
  • Alexander Klose
    • Dr. Alexander Klose studied History, Law, Philosophy, Art, and Cultural Studies. From 2005-07 he held a scholarship at Bauhaus Universität Weimar for his PhD project on standardized containers used in transport as one of the leading material media in the 20th century. Between 2009 and 2014 he worked as a research associate and programme developer at Kulturstiftung des Bundes. In 2015 in the forefront of COP 21, he co-curated Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge No. 18 – On Becoming Earthlings: 150 dialogues and exercises in shrinking and expanding the Human at Musée de l'Homme, Paris. His latest publication is: The Container Principle. How a box changes the way we think (2015).
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      published contributions
  • Karin Knorr Cetina
    • Rico, in the 1960s. She finished her education in Paris and London. Knorr has taught, exhibited, and lectured internationally, including at Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the University of Westminster, and Goldsmiths in London, as well as Harvard Univ
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      published contributions
  • Scott Knowles
  • Nile Koetting
  • Nicole Koltick
    • Nicole Koltick is an assistant professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University, Philadelphia. She is Founding Director of the Design Futures Lab at Westphal College, which is currently pursuing design research to stimulate debate on the potential implications of emerging technological and scientific developments within society. Koltick’s practice spans art, science, technology, design, and philosophy, and current work focuses on the philosophical, material, and relational implications of aesthetics as they intersect with emerging developments in computational creativity, artificially intelligent autonomous systems, robotics, and synthetic biological hybrids.
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      published contributions
  • Nik Kosmas
  • Matthijs Kouw
    • Matthijs Kouw joined the Rathenau Instituut, The Hague, in March 2016. He holds an MA in Philosophy and an MSc in Science and Technology Studies from the University of Amsterdam as well as a PhD from Maastricht University. In his PhD thesis, Kouw describes how and to what extent reliance on models can introduce vulnerabilities through the assumptions, uncertainties, and blind spots concomitant with modeling practice. He was employed as a postdoctoral researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), during which time he acted as a member of the Dutch delegation for plenary sessions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
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      published contributions
  • Lars Kulik
    • Lars Kulik studied biology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He received his doctorate on the development of social behavior of rhesus monkeys at the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He lives with his family in Berlin.
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      published contributions
  • Richard L. Hindle
    • Richard L. Hindle is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on patent innovation in landscape related technologies, from large-scale mappings of riverine and coastal systems to detailed historical studies on the antecedents of vegetated architecture. His work explores the potential of new technological narratives and material processes to reframe theory, practice, and the production of landscape. Recent works include the articles “Levees That Might Have Been” (2015), and “Infrastructures of Innovation” in Scaling Infrastructure (MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism, 2016), and the exhibition Geographies of Innovation at UC Berkeley (2015).
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Brian Larkin
  • John Law
    • hn Law was a professor of sociology at Keele University, Lancaster, and the Open University, Milton Keynes, and a co-director of the Economic and Social Researc
    • 1
      published contributions
  • S. Løchlann Jain
  • Donald MacKenzie
  • Laura McLean
    • Laura McLean is a curator, artist, and writer based in London. She is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and Sydney College of the Arts, where she later lectured. She has also studied at Alberta College of Art and Design, and the Universität der Künste Berlin.
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      published contributions
  • Eden Medina
    • Eden Medina is an associate professor of informatics and computing, affiliated associate professor of law, and adjunct associate professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research and teaching address the social, historical, and legal dimensions of our increasingly data-driven world, including the relationship of technology to human rights and free expression, the relationship between political innovation and technological innovation, and the ways that human and political values shape technological design. Medina’s writings also use science and technology as a way to broaden understandings of Latin American history and the geography of innovation. She is the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile (2011) and the co-editor of Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (2014).
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      published contributions
  • Anne-Sophie Milon
    • Anne-Sophie Milon is an artist and a freelance illustrator and animator working and living in Bristol, UK. After completing two Masters in Art, she has recently concluded the program of experimentation in Art and Politics at SciencesPo (SPEAP) in Paris.
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Gerald Nestler
    • Gerald Nestler is an artist and writer who combines theory and post-disciplinary conversation with video, installation, performance, text, code, graphics, sound, and speech. He explores what he calls the derivative condition of contemporary social relations and its paradigmatic financial models, operations, processes, narratives, and fictions. He is currently working on an “aesthetics of resolution” that maps counterfictions and counterimaginations for “renegade activism,” which revolves around the demonstration as a combined artistic, technological, social, and political practice. Nestler holds a practice-based PhD from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
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      published contributions
  • James P. M. Syvitski
    • James P. M. Syvitski is Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS) at the University of Colorado Boulder. From 2011 to 2016, he chaired the International Council for Science’s International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which provides essential scientific leadership and knowledge of the Earth system to help guide society toward a sustainable pathway during rapid global change. His specialty is the global flux of water and sediment (river and ocean borne) and its trends in the Anthropocene. He works at the forefront of computational geosciences, including sediment transport, land-ocean interactions, and Earth-surface dynamics.
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Luciana Parisi
    • Luciana Parisi is Reader in Cultural Theory, Chair of the PhD program in Cultural Studies, and Co-director of the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on cybernetics, information theory and computation, complexity and evolutionary theories, and the technocapitalist investment in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Her books include Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (2004) and Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space (2013). She is currently researching the history of automation and the philosophical consequences of logical thinking in machines.
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      published contributions
  • Lisa Parks
  • Matteo Pasquinelli
  • Arno Rosemarin
  • Dorion Sagan
  • Birgit Schneider
  • Lizzie Stark
    • Lizzie Stark is an author, journalist, and experience designer. She is the author of two books, Pandora’s DNA (2014), exploring so-called ‘breast cancer genes’ and her first book, Leaving Mundania (2012), which investigates the subculture of live action role play, or larp. Her journalism and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, the Daily Beast, The Today Show Website, io9, Fusion, the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere. She holds an MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has organized numerous conventions and experiences across the US. Her most recent work is as a programming coordinator for Living Games Austin, and as co-editor and contributor for the #Feminism anthology, which collects 34 nano-games written by feminists from eleven countries.
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      published contributions
  • Lucy Suchman
    • ology of Science and Technology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Lancaster, UK. Her research interests within the field of feminist science and technology studies are focused on technological imaginaries and material practices
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Jenna Sutela
    • Jenna Sutela’s installations, texts, and sound performances seek to identify and react to precarious social and material moments, often in relation to technology. Most recently, she has been exploring exceedingly complex biological and computational systems, ultimately unknowable and always becoming something new. Her work has been presented, among other places, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and her writing has been published by Fiktion, Harvard Design Magazine, and Sternberg Press.
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      published contributions
  • Bronislaw Szerszynski
    • Bronislaw Szerszynski is a Reader in Sociology at Lancaster University in the UK. Szerszynski’s work has developed across several themes, including the role of Western religious history in shaping contemporary understandings of technology and the environment—typified by his book Nature, Technology and the Sacred (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
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      published contributions
  • Elisa T. Bertuzzo
    • Elisa T. Bertuzzo studied comparative literature, sociology, communication, and media studies and holds a PhD in urban studies. She was a curator and project leader with Habitat Forum Berlin, including for the project Paradigmising Karail Basti (2010–16). Bridging discourses from the fields of cultural and urban studies, her research focuses on the everyday life facets of urbanization and settlement in South Asia. On that topic, she published Fragmented Dhaka: Analysing Everyday Life with Henri Lefebvre’s Theory of Production of Space (2009) and runs her multimedia project Archives of Movement (since 2012), which deals with the everyday life of temporary labor migrants in Bangladesh and India.
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      published contributions
  • Gregory T. Cushman
    • Gregory T. Cushman is Associate Professor of International Environmental History at the University of Kansas.
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Nasrin Tabatabai
    • Nasrin Tabatabai is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, she has collaborated with Babak Afrassiabi on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Katerina Teaiwa
    • Dr. Katerina Teaiwa is Associate Professor at the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History & Language and the president of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies. Her main area of research looks at the histories of phosphate mining in the central Pacific. Her work does not only span academic research, publications, and lectures, but also manifests itself in other formats within the arts and popular culture. Her work has inspired a permanent exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which tells the story of Pacific phosphate mining through Banaban dance. In 2015, she published „Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba“, Indiana University Press. She is currently working with visual artist Yuki Kihara on a multimedia exhibition for Carriageworks in Sydney.
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      published contributions
  • Jol Thomson
  • Claire Tolan
  • John Tresch
  • Etienne Turpin
    • Etienne Turpin is a philosopher, Founding Director of anexact office, and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, where he coordinates the Humanitarian Infrastructures Group and co-directs the PetaBencana.id disaster mapping project for the Urban Risk Lab. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Tim
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      published contributions
  • Asonseh Ukah
    • Asonzeh Ukah is a sociologist and historian of religion. He joined the University of Cape Town in 2013 and previously taught at the University of Bayreuth (2005–13), where he also earned a doctorate and habilitation in history of religions. His research interests include religious urbanism, the sociology of Pentecostalism, and religion and media. He is Director of the Research Institute on Christianity and Society in Africa (RICSA), University of Cape Town, and Affiliated Senior Fellow of Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth. He is the author of A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power (2008) and Bourdieu in Africa (edited with Magnus Echtler, 2016).
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      published contributions
  • Underworlds
  • Sebastian Vehlken
    • Sebastian Vehlken is a media theorist and cultural historian at Leuphana University Lüneburg and Permanent Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS). From 2013 to 2017, he worked as MECS Junior Director, and in 2015–16, he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Leuphana. His areas of interest include the theory and history of computer simulation and digital media, the media history of swarm intelligence, and the epistemology of think tanks. His current research project, Plutonium Worlds, explores the application of computer simulations in West German fast breeder reactor programs.
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      published contributions
  • Vladimir Vernadsky
  • Davor Vidas
    • Davor Vidas is a research professor in international law and Director of the Law of the Sea Programme at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Lysaker, Norway. He is Chair of the Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. Vidas has been involved in international law research for over thirty years, focusing since 2009 on implications of the Anthropocene for the development of international law. Among his books are The World Ocean in Globalisation (2011) and Law, Technology and Science for Oceans in Globalisation (2010). He is the editor-in-chief of the book series Anthropocene (Skolska knjiga, Zagreb), launched in 2017.
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      published contributions
  • Hannes Wiedemann
    • Hannes Wiedemann is a Berlin-based photographer. He studied at the Ostkreuz School of Photography, Berlin. For his project Grinders (2015–16), he followed the American bodyhacking community, a small group of people across the United States working out of garages and basements to become real cyborgs. Recent exhibitions include NEW PHOTOGRAPHY II (2017) at Gallery ALAN, Istanbul, and HUMAN UPGRADE, with Susanna Hertrich (2016), at Schader-Stiftung Gallery, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. www.hanneswiedemann.com
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      published contributions
  • Cary Wolfe
    • Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English and Founding Director of 3CT: Center for Critical and Cultural Theory at Rice University, Houston. He is the author of What Is Posthumanism? (2010), a book that weaves together principal concerns of his work: animal studies, system theory, pragmatism, and post-structuralism. It is part of the series Posthumanities, for which he serves as Founding Editor at the University of Minnesota Press. His most recent publication is Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in Biopolitical Frame (2013) and earlier books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American Culture, The Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003) and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (2003).
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Yang
  • Jan Zalasiewicz
    • Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester and Chair of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. A field geologist, paleontologist, and stratigrapher, he teaches and publishes on geology and earth history, in particular on fossil ecosystems and environments that span over half a billion years of geological time.
    • 1
      published contributions
  • Anna Zett
  • Liv Østmo
    • Liv Østmo is one of the founders and current Dean of the Sámi University of Applied Sciences, Kautokeino, Norway, where she researches and lectures on the subject of multicultural understanding. For the last eight years, Østmo has worked with traditional Sámi knowledge and she is currently working on putting the finishing touches on a methodology book about the documentation of this knowledge.
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Sammy Baloji 2016

The Tower. A Concrete Utopia

Traditionally, urban planning and architecture carry a form of utopian optimism for a livable city with them. Yet, all too often infrastructural dreams turn into nightmares and the skyward ideals of a towered cityscape turns into the symbolism of degraded holes. In a narrative that takes off from an architectural apprentice and the cast-in-concrete spirits that he called, photographer Sammy Baloji and anthropologist Filip de Boeck weave photos and text into a construction of hopes, failures, and social complexities nested into the material existence of postcolonial Kinshasa.
The Tower
The Tower stands in the middle of the industrial zone of Limete, one of the municipalities of the city of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Part-skyscraper, part-pyramid, part-citadel, this unfinished and ragged twelve-story building stands, incongrously, among the warehouses, industrial plants, railroad tracks, and new houses under construction that constitute the built environment of Limete industriel. Towering above this desultory landscape, defying gravitational laws and urban zoning rules this uncommon architectural proposition forms one of the strangest and most enigmatic landmarks of the city. A giant question mark, it begs for profound reflection on the nature of the city, the heritage of its colonial modernist architecture, the dystopic nature of its infrastructure, and the capacity for utopian urban dreams and lines of flight that it nonetheless continues to generate. The proud owner and (together with his wife) the sole inhabitant of the Tower, is a middle-aged man, a medical doctor who specializes in “aeronautic and spatial medicine.” In 2003, the “Docteur” (as everybody calls him) bought a small plot of 13 square meters. Assisted by two architects, he set out to build a four-story building, but well before reaching that level, the doctor fired the architects and from there, without a clear plan, he became his own architect (and this is the norm rather than the exception in Kinshasa). Somewhere along the line, however, the doctor got carried away by his love for and preoccupation with the skies, and soon that which had started as a modest and more regular housing construction evolved into an increasingly megalomaniacal vertical proposition, reaching ever higher into the sky, and eating up ever more cement and concrete. Sacrificing his own finances, health, and peace of mind to realize his “vision,” the doctor thus gradually lost control of the building site. The Tower took over and started to impose its own unstoppable logic, building itself to its logical conclusion, while the doctor became the Tower’s hostage, its visionary martyr. The tower itself, so the doctor hopes, will be completed by “posterity” (for he is very aware that he will probably be unable to complete the Tower in his own lifetime). I would argue that the Tower may be understood as an idiosyncratic but also programmatic, and even messianic, statement on the nature of a more ideal and livable future city. First, the doctor stresses the functionality of the building, even though that functional level obviously leaves much to be desired from an infrastructural point of view. There is no running water or electricity inside the building, for example, and the plumbing for the many bathrooms and toilets, which are planned for every floor, has been forgotten or omitted. But beyond the level of its material infrastructure, the doctor envisages the as-yet-unfinished building as a city in itself, a humanistic project that transcends the city, while simultaneously recreating it within its own confines, incorporating all kinds of people and activities. The Tower sets the scene for a new vertical and autarkic urban community. A number of medical cabinets, already installed on the first- and second floors, have turned the base of the building into a hospital and a site for the healing of bodily harms. Other floors are designed to become lawyer’s offices (on the third floor), a restaurant for all the future inhabitants of the Tower (sixth floor), and even an entire aviation school (fourth floor). Scattered throughout the labyrinthine building there will be rooms designated for use by visiting philosophers, poets, inventors, and scientists. Finally, high above the ground, on the building’s windy top-floor, in the company of birds and close to God, is the place for healing the soul. The building’s spire invites prayer, but also contemplation of the beauty of the natural world—of the Congo River and of Kinshasa’s many hills. Looking out over the city set out like a stage below is the perfect setting to reflect upon human nature itself, with all of its virtues and vices, its possibilities and shortcomings.
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Sammy Baloji 2016

Thus, the healing of body and soul, situated at the bottom and the top of the Tower, respectively, bracket the whole idea of the structure itself. Between ground floor and spire, the Tower offers a continuum between corporeal and mental matter. Architecturally, these two levels are connected by means of what the doctor refers to as an “ergonomic” flight of stairs, dangerously spiraling upward. The main function of the Tower is, thus, to turn the urban residents into better, more fully integrated human subjects. According to the doctor’s vision, therefore, the Tower will also function as a tourist destination, a place to visit, to retreat to, where people will be able to recover themselves before plunging back into the chaos of the surrounding city. The Tower does many other things besides; in the doctor’s own words, his tower is an attempt to “illuminate the hole,” to transcend the bare life, the mere level of survival that the city imposes upon its inhabitants, and to turn it into something else. It is, for example, a perfect structure for the visual observation and control of life played out at ground level. The Tower is also a watchtower. It is a perfect vantage point to observe suspect movements and warn of imminent terrorist attacks in the city. Besides, thanks to an intricate antennae system that has not yet been installed, the Tower ‒ in its maker’s mind at least ‒ will also operate as an air-traffic control tower: if for some reason the infrastructure of Kinshasa’s international airport should fail, airplanes will be able to use the Tower as a beacon to make a safe landing. The Tower is also a solid safe haven, a Noah’s ark for Kinshasa’s inhabitants in case of a flood, for example, or the more unlikely event of a tsunami.The prospect of flood, tsunami, or some other devastating disaster is perhaps much less far-fetched if like most Kinois you believe in the possibility of an apocalyptic end to time.
In fact, the Tower functions as an overall protective device against all forces of nature. In this way, it also “splits” the winds and storms during the rainy season and protects neighboring homes. The fresh breeze that constantly blows through the Tower’s many rooms also makes it a welcome retreat from the city’s heat. In the maker’s mind, therefore, the Tower proposes a strong ecological and sustainable alternative when compared to most of the other commercial and domestic buildings of the city. It engineers a greener way of life in the polluted environment of Kinshasa; ideally, the building will be powered by solar energy (one day the doctor hopes to cover the whole outside of the Tower and parts of the roof with solar panels). The protruding cement roofs of the structure are designed to “absorb” rainwater and “breathe” it back into the city’s smoggy atmosphere; parts of the rooftops themselves may be turned into gardens, where chickens and goats can graze. In spite of the Tower’s phantasmagoric character and the moralist and religious (messianic and apocalyptic) notions that underpin it, and unhindered by infrastructural obstacles and shortcomings, the doctor’s discourse about his structure actually reworks many of the propositions made earlier by colonial modernist architects and urban planners. If, on a general level, the vertical topos of the mountain ‒ as the physical site of domination, control, and subjugation ‒ may be considered as colonialism’s basic geographic form (after all, Stanley Spencer’s first trading post was built on top of Leopold Hill ‒ currently Mont Ngaliema), colonial modernist architecture subsequently incorporated and translated this idea of the mountain into vertical statements. These gradually emerged in the urban landscape of the 1940s and 1950s; for example, the Forescom Tower, located in what is now Kinshasa’s downtown district of Gombe, became one of the early landmarks of Belgian colonial modernist urban architecture. Completed in 1946, other, ever more impressive high-rises with the tropical modernist signature followed,See Johan Lagae, Kongo zoals het is. Drie architectuurverhalen uit de Belgische kolonisatiegeschiedenis (1920-1960). Ghent: University of Ghent (doctoral dissertation), 2002.
but the Forescom Tower was Kinshasa’s first ten-story skyscraper and virtually the first of its kind in Central Africa.See Filip De Boeck and Marie-Françoise Plissart, Kinshasa. Tales of the invisible city. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2014, 1st ed. 2004, on p. 29 is a photo of the Forescom Tower.
As such, reportedly, it was a source of pride for colonizers and colonial subjects alike. For the former, it represented the success of the colonial enterprise, while for the latter it allowed them to dream of partaking in and integrating into a more global modernity. The building was the tangible proof that Léopoldville was well underway to become the first Poto moindo, the first “Black Europe.” The Forescom Tower pointing towards the sky signaled that it also pointed to the future; and because some of its features made it appear like a boat moored along the Congo River, it also seemed to promise to sail Léopoldville to the distant shores of other wider (and whiter) worlds beyond the horizon of the Congo River basin. The Forescom Tower, thus, gave form to new hopes, prospects, and possibilities. Materially it translated, and emblematically visualized colonialist ideologies of progress and modernity. Simultaneously, it should also be noted that the Forescom embodied the darker repressive side of colonialism, with its elaborate technologies of domination, control, and surveillance. Here as well, then, a towering building that is also a watchtower, the built extension of panoptical colonial Big Brother. As such, the figure of the tower ought also to forcefully remind us of the fact that the colonial urban landscape of Kinshasa largely came about as the result of an extremely intrusive history of (both physical and symbolic) violence and domination, marked by racial segregation, as well as by the processes of dispossession and relocation.
The Hole
How livable is the legacy of colonialist modernity in the contemporary urban setting? What remains of the colonial infrastructural heritage on a material level? What kinds of social (after)life does it still enable, and what dreams and visions of possible futures, if any, does that colonial legacy still trigger for the residents of Kinshasa today? In postcolonial Kinshasa, many of modernity’s promises and dreams have turned into a nightmare. The city, littered with colonialism’s broken infrastructural dreams, with fragments and figments of a modernity that has become part of an irretrievable past, does not live up to the vertical dream. Rather than referring to the ideal of the vertical, Kinshasa’s inhabitants often seem to resort to the concept of the “hole” to describe the urban infrastructure in which they live. On one level, the notion of the hole (libulu in Lingala, Kinshasa’s lingua franca) refers to the physical holes and gaps that have scarred the urban surface (the many potholes in the road, or the numerous sites of erosion that characterize Kinshasa’s landscape).The largest holes caused by the erosion are given names, such as the libulu Manzengele in the municipality of Ngaliema. This hole became so notorious that a Congolese nightclub owner in Bobigny, Paris, adopted the name.
But libulu may also refer to the dark hole of the prison, for example, or the city’s shadow economy.Wenze ya libulu, the “market of the hole” is a marketplace in the municipality of Barumbu, generally its name refers to an “informal” market where goods cost below the official price. See Michel Lusamba Kibayu, Évolution des pratiques de sécurisation des conditions de vie dans trois quartiers populaires de Kinshasa: Enjeux et conséquences de la production spatiale et sociale de la ville. Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain, 2010, p. 314.
Often, people use the concept of the hole to make ironic comments about the state of things in Kinshasa and in the DRC as a whole. Take the following as an example: a couple of years ago, a Kinois businessman opened a bar and dance venue next to the Forescom Tower and named it Le Grand Libulu, “The Big Hole.” The formula proved so successful that the owner opened two more bars with the same name in the city’s hinterland. In the meantime, the name Le Grand Libulu was adopted by a number of smaller bars and dancing places throughout the city, offering a typical Kinois response to the hole: if we have to live in a hole, we can as well dance in it! But even if the hole has emerged as a kind of meta-concept to reflect the material degradation of the colonial infrastructure, all the closures, and the often dismal quality of social life that followed the material ruination of the colonial city, the following question remains: how is the gap between the colonial tower and the postcolonial hole filled in the experience of Congolese urban residents? Except dancing apart, what other possible answers has Kinshasa come up with in response to the challenge posed by the hole? If the city has transformed towers into holes, how might the holes, when “illuminated,” become towers again?
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Sammy Baloji 2015

Reworking the legacies of colonialist modernity
Since independence, inhabitants of the urban landscapes of the DRC have been turning away from former colonial models, and have redefined the spaces of colonialism on their own terms. Kinshasa’s residents appropriated the former colonial housing infrastructure; for example, reassembling and translating it in ways better suited to the local rhythms of social life. Using their own bodies as building blocks, Kinois have designed alternative architectures for their city. Through music and words, the residents of Kinshasa have invented new acoustic landscapes for their city, and, in doing so, they have also moved away from the colonizer’s language. While there have been many moments of collective rebellion when the mirror of colonialist modernity has been violently smashed and destroyed,For example, recalling the phase of widespread looting that swept across Kinshasa and the whole country in the early 1990s. See René Devisch, “La violence à Kinshasa, ou l’institution en negatif,” Cahiers d’études africaines 38, nos 2‒4 (1998): pp. 441‒69.
yet the inhabitants of Kinshasa somehow constantly return to, and remain hypnotized by the images reflected in the mirror of colonialist modernity. Often, it’s a fascination expressed in many playful ways, which, because of their ludic and parodying nature, also manage to transcend a mere mimetic reprise of the colonial legacy and of former metropolitan models. For example, take the sapeurs’ appropriation of Western designer clothes;Sapeurs are members of the Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People), the SAPE, a kind of post-colonial take on European dandies of colonial times.
or that the Bandalungwa and Lemba, two municipalities in Kinshasa, are currently engaged in a dispute over the ownership of the title of “Paris” and ville lumière, even though (or precisely because) both are heavily hit by constant power cuts and remain in the dark during many days on end.The mayor of Lemba even painted the slogan “Lemba is Paris” above the entrance of the municipality’s administrative headquarters. Similarly, on Facebook, several pages are called “Lemba c’est Paris” or “Bandal c’est Paris.” Mimesis in the postcolonial context deserves more attention than we can offer here, but for some interesting reflections on the qualities of the mimetic in relation to modernity (in the context of Abidjan) see: Sasha Newell, The Modernity Bluff: Crime, consumption, and citizenship in Côte d’Ivoire. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2012; and on Kinshasa, De Boeck and Plissart, Kinshasa, pp. 20ff.
The same continuing fascination with modernity’s propositions mark the work of Kinshasa-based artists such as Kingelez Bodys Isek or Bylex. Both are known for the utopian urban visions that transpire in their work, and especially in pieces such as Kingelez’s Ville fantôme (“the Phantom City”) or Bylex’s Cité Touristique (“Tourist City”).For Kingelez, see De Boeck and Plissart, Kinshasa, pp. 250‒1; for Bylex, see: Koen Van Synghel and Filip De Boeck, “Bylex’s Tourist City: A reflection on utopia in the post-political city,” in Edgar Pieterse and AbdouMaliq Simone (eds), Rogue Urbanism. Emergent African cities. Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2013, with De Boeck and Baloji, Suturing the City.
Whereas the models that gave form to the colonial urban plans of the 1950s are slowly decaying (as are the neighborhoods they spawned), the maquettes or models offered by these two artists revive and rework many of the modernist-urbanist propositions, albeit with a specific twist. Both artists approach a similar subject in different ways; the emancipatory and humanitarian preoccupations of colonial modernity, its religious overtones, moralizing framework, its authoritarian and totalitarian nature, and its obsession with security issues and control, and both return incessantly to it in their artistic oeuvre and in the form and content of the ideal city that they propose. What is striking in their propositions, is the fact that the ideal city is not viewed as an entity to inhabit on a permanent basis, but as a place to counterbalance existing cities, a place to visit and revive oneself. For Bylex the ideal city is, in a way, a resort, but whereas a real resort such as South Africa’s Sun City brands itself as a “kingdom of pleasure,In Kinshasa, the idea of a resort-like “kingdom of pleasure” materialized vividly in the Chinese Palace of former DRC President Mobutu Sese Sako (1965‒97). The palace, built in the compound of the presidential site of Nsele, north of Kinshasa’s national airport, on the bank of Congo River, today is an abandoned ruin.
Bylex’s Tourist City is a reflexive sort of resort that trains the muscles of the mind. The main protagonist is still the tourist in Bylex’s work, as she or he is central to the Sun City concept, but now the tourist is not a pleasure-seeker, but the seeker of inner growth. According to Bylex this inner wisdom can be acquired in the city’s central building, the Royal Dome. Part temple and part museum, the Dome is a place of contemplation and reflection. It is here that all the knowledge of the world is stored and made accessible. After visiting the Dome, the tourist inevitably has to return to the imperfections of the reality of the city that she or he calls home. Replenished with new inspiration and creativity, powered by renewed reflexive capacity and imagination, the tourist is now ready to counter the urban dystopia on the ground and bring existence in the city back into balance, in order to make the city a better place for everyone. Bylex’s utopian alternative for Kinshasa strongly resonates with the doctor’s vision for the Tower (and in fact, the Tower forms the logical material realization of this artistic card-and-colored-paper dream). Similarly, the Tower is in tune with the various urban development projects currently underway in Kinshasa, the satellite cities and gated communities, where the Cité du Fleuve is the most widely known and most prominent example.See Filip De Boeck, “Inhabiting Ocular Ground: Kinshasa’s future in the light of Congo’s spectral urban politics,” Cultural Anthropology 26, no. 2 (2011): pp. 263‒86.
Cité du Fleuve is the name given to an exclusive development situated on two artificially created islands on land reclaimed from the sandbanks and swamp of the Congo River. City of the River, River City, a name that echoes many of the ideas behind concepts such as Stanford economist Paul Romer’s “charter city”; that is, a special urban reform zone which allows governments of developing countries to adopt new systems of rules and establish cities that can drive economic progress in the rest of the country. The Cité du Fleuve also replicates the segregationist city model that proved so effective during Belgian colonial rule. Surprisingly perhaps, construction of the Cité du Fleuve and similar real estate developments do not seem to have triggered much conflict or criticism in Kinshasa, not even from those chased from their homes or fields to make way for the developments. Clearly, for better or for worse, and in spite of former failures, the idea of a “revolution of modernity” (the slogan by means of which the central government currently brands its efforts to rebuild the city and the country) has not lost its appeal. In combination with an aesthetic that links former colonial modernist models to the shiny look of Dubai and other new urban hotspots in the Global South, the possibility of a tabula rasa, of starting anew and building a better, cleaner, and more orderly city, appears to be simply irresistible in an urban world where holes have become the main infrastructural units. The modernist urban planning ideals are in a sense like Bylex’s Dome or the doctor’s Tower. Their maquettes do not make for real places in real urban futures, but they do allow one to break away, at least mentally if not physically, from the city’s real condition of ongoing decline, and from the worries and ruminations that its ruination constantly generates.
Text: Filip De Boeck / Photos: Sammy Baloji Notes on a video-installation by Sammy Baloji and Filip De Boeck (2015) The video-installation Tower and the photographs by Sammy Baloji are the result of two research trips that photographer Sammy Baloji and anthropologist Filip De Boeck made together to Kinshasa in March 2013 and March 2015. See Filip De Boeck and Sammy Baloji, Suturing the City: Living together in Congo’s urban worlds. London: Autograph ABP, 2016. This text originally appeared in the catalog for the group show AFRICA at The Lousiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark.