A Bugged Report, transmediale Journal
|This text, Depths and Densities, constitutes the report of a workshop of the same name that Femke Snelting, Helen Pritchard and Jara Rocha conducted during transmediale 2019 and was published on the issue #3 of the festival's journal: |
- 1 Depths and Densities: a Bugged Report
- 1.1 First vectorial provocation, on standardized time
- 1.2 Second vectorial provocation, on software vocabularies
- 1.3 Third vectorial provocation, on the activation of geontologies
- 1.4 Fourth vectorial provocation, on computing velocities
- 1.5 Fifth vectorial provocation, on the techniques of 3D volume visualization
- 1.6 In the process of...
- 2 Software Resources
- 3 References
Depths and Densities: a Bugged Report
Possible Bodies is an ongoing collaborative research on the technical and lively tensions between so-called bodies and volumetric practices. The inquiry is ready to emerge at any possible intersection that lies between two vectors. One vector is constituted by physical bodies that might be somatic or not, human or not, isolated or not, named or not. The other vector is tensed by the calculation the volume bodies occupy with their very presence in space, being virtual—made of bits—or physical—made of atoms.
The project aims at problematizing the concrete and fictional entities that “bodies” are, in the context of 3D tracking, modelling, rendering, calibrating, and scanning operations towards them. Such operations have perhaps grown in sophistication and speed within the digital realm, but are certainly not new. The particular contemporary topology of volumetrics draws from intricate genealogies of many knowledge clusters of modernity (perspective setting procedures, occupation measuring techniques, scale calibration tools, average volume normalizing, position prediction methods). Protocols and paradigms proliferating and circulating confirm the limitations of how, when, where, and why bodies could or should be considered and measured. In other words, there is a continuum that facilitates the smooth flow of very specific volumetrics (and not others) from architecture to border surveillance—passing through the spectacularization of sports, biomedical practices—to the juridical, the military, and the pornographic. The technoscientific conditions for the smoothness of this flow constitute the rigidity of mere probable trajectories along the continuum of volumetrics and restrict the wild twists and surprising hacks needed to jump from the probable to the possible!
Of course scale affects the mathematics of presence very strongly. Take the scale leap from individual somatic corpo-realities (of, say, zoologically recognized organisms) towards the so-called body of earth. Quite a jump evidences how the infrastructural complex of geo-operations such as mining and the measuring of soil depends on software tool siblings such as those used in the biomedical realm (like tomography), but adapted to a different field for geological data handling, interpretation and 3D-visualization. Such tools power both bio-medical imaging and techno-colonial subsurface exploration and keep corpuses of knowledge persistently affecting each other. In Possible Bodies there is an interest in attending to how these parallel technical developments contribute to a crystallization and standardization of such operations.
Under the guise of a one-afternoon workshop at transmediale 2019, Possible Bodies invited a group to collectively study open-source tools for geo-modelling while attending to the different regimes—of truth, of representation, of language or of political ideology—they operate within. It attempted to read those tools and a selection of texts in relation to one another, with the plan of injecting some resistant vocabularies, misuses and/or f(r)ictions that could affect the extractivist bias embedded in the computation of earth’s depths and densities. The workshop was a trans*feministBug reports are a particular kind of document written and emitted with the aim of fixing a software problem. The receiver is an agent capable of technically intervening in the functioning of the program and hence bug reports can be understood as one of the key performative devices in software development processes.</ref> as an act of affirmative responsibility taking for this turbocapitalist momentum.
It was a hands-on situation that took the Gplates software platform as a case study. Gplates is an interactive plate-tectonics visualization program and an open-source application software that visually reconstructs very complex datasets of use for the geophysicist community..This platform was chosen as the affected, affective, and perhaps effective infrastructure to converge around—and attend to—for the workshop, while triangulating its visions of the Earth with software technology and bits of critical theory.
The Depths and Densities workshop was populated by a mix of known companions and just-met participants (in total, a convergence of circa 30 voices), each bringing her own particular intensities regarding the tools, the theories, the vocabularies, and the urgencies placed upon the table. The discussions were recorded on the spot and transcribed later. This publication cuts through a thick mass of written notes, transcriptions, and excerpted theoretical texts, sedimented along five vectorial provocations: on the standardisation of time, on software vocabularies, on the activation of geontologies, on the computation of velocities, and on the techniques of 3D visualizations. Each vectorial provocation was taken up by a sub-group of participants, who assumed the task of opening up a piece of the Gplates whole (such as a technical feature, a forum, a tutorial, an interface etc.) and tensioning it with some text matter from a reader pre-cooked by Helen Pritchard, Femke Snelting, and myself. The platform worked as a catalyst for our conversations and hence its community of developers would eventually become deferred interlocutors of a report.
The following cut was made to share a sample of that afternoon’s eclectic dialogues in what could be transferred as a polyphonic bugged report.
First vectorial provocation, on standardized time
if multiple timescales are sedimented in contemporary software environments used by geophysics, can fossil fuel extractivist practices be understood as time-travelling practices?
how is the end of time imagined, in a modelling sense?
we see discretely plotted colours
does the body of earth exist in the same timescale you do?
or try and witness the whens otherwise
time tends to be limited to (and influenced by) the observer’s perception but what are the material and semiotic conditions for another kind of time perception?
sedimented time and coexistence at ecologies of nothingness (aka voids)
Second vectorial provocation, on software vocabularies
forging a differently fuelled language of geology must provide a lexicon with which to attend the geotraumas
user engagement with the earth through a 3D visualization software is based on metaphors like handling or grabbing
delimiting the organization of existence, the refusal of such captivity makes a commons in the measure and pitch of the world,not the exclusive universality of the humanist subject
you can still grab the earth: at Gplates a stable static earth is available for grabbing
and a home in its maroonage; “they wander as if they have no century, as if they can bound time…compasses whose directions tilt, skid off known maps”
also, the use of the verb “to grab” brings with it the history and practice of “land grabbing”, land abuse and arbitrary actions of ownership and appropriation with correlated both dispossession by the taking of land, and environmental damage
but what if the earth grabs back?
tilting the axis of engagement within a geological optic and intimacy, the inhuman can be claimed as a different kind of resource than in its propertied colonial form—a gravitational form so extravagant,it defies gravity
if all the semantic network of Gplates is based on handling and grabbing as a key gestures in relation to the body of earth, a loss of agency and extractivist assumption slip in too smoothly, and too fast
take apart the Anthropocene, a poetry to refashion a new epoch,a new geology that attends the the racialization of matter
most software platforms allow for no resistance, for no possible unavailability
middle click and drag ¡la tierra para quien la trabaja!
for the end of this world and the possibility of others,because the world is already turning
and what if the earth grabs back
Third vectorial provocation, on the activation of geontologies
we are all talking over each other like tectonic plates and strata
looking at what geology is implies a reconsideration of assumptions of what life is
of not merely animal life but all Lifeas opposed to the state of original and radical Nonlife
minerals rocks plates
cannot be separated from time
for governing difference and marketsalso only work insofar as these distinctions are maintained
but where is the legend we could not read it
why this suspension subversion of the living
why this suspension subversion of the living
otherwise the future will keep being missing but wait, the past is also missing the line goes back to 172 million years but earth is 4,5 billion years
how that comes to kind of operationalizeparticular makings and matterings of the world,
a color-coded chronology is that tone the year of emergence or is it duration of collapse of merging
of what is depth and what is density,how they shift depending on the situation they’re operationalized within
a gradient of abstraction is being dangerously portrayed
to the densities in something like biomedical scanning,even though both might have tomographic processes
what is the skin of a body its density how is it colored?
how these matter, and how they matter in relation to things like surfacesand their topologies, where there might be densities of power
a chroma chart would be appreciated
the kind of unknown or unreachable, the removed or the unremovable.But also the kind of dark and morally crooked in bodies, in earth and in desires
like absolute dating of rocks you’re alive, I’m alive/let’s go
to both the earth or the so-called body, or the body of the earth. In particular, the thinking with the kind of writing from geo-philosophy and feminist technoscience,which might suggest that we might tilt the axis of engagement
peel earth’s skin the mantle
and peel it back where 4D is time and meets 5D uncertainty
it does not peel back enough
they might have another possibility than the proprietal colonial form, which often is the way it gets rendered within things like the modelling tools'for say the extraction of fossil fuels or natural gas
Geontologies: the need of all bug reports
Fourth vectorial provocation, on computing velocities
that is too linear this is too straight
data has different densities and intensities and the effects and affects of the single timeline make themselves visible
leaving grey areas that show no data coverage
where is that information what is this superfiction
particular [amodern] renderings evidence thatreal bodies do not exist before being separated, cut and isolated.
whole parts of grey earth like you are making a cake you can put toppings on
grey means there is nothing such as a body of earth it is almost a void
earth used as a template for almost always fractured data
a cosmological inventory,hot breath in the ear
zoom in this shaking surface and always find some cracks
the tool keeps wanting it to be presented as a whole the oneness of earthness as in the oneness of humanness
there is a persistently imposing paradigm of wholeness and a pretension of full resolution but a body becomes any body only if the whole thing collapses
swipe it fast so much time in one swipe
it is almost rude
take your time scroll scroll scroll deeper
theres thens truths
counting backwards and year zero does not stay
grab that time and
perhaps if you upgrade the software you can get extra time
Fifth vectorial provocation, on the techniques of 3D volume visualization
who is behind the proposers of the Mercator projection
who is behind one more eurocentric view of it
from 2D to 3D
you are the camera!
and how such knowledge is used or shared, take on real implicationswhen considered through feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology lenses
At Gplates you can replace the pole location grab the pole and drag it
while time happens along a linear highlight of cascading data
diversify the field of glaciologyand subvert the hegemony of natural sciences
Gplates applies deep familiar metaphors like child plates
we can presuppose a single thing:it doesn’t care about the questions we ask about it
slide the zoom in and out of a data set of magnetic information
without implying that it is “single” and “determinate”: it encounters an earth which is very much “already composed”without it thereby being “already totalized”
but how when where
but who what why
In the process of...
...working on the Possible Bodies project, the urgency to consider the implications of making “disobedient action-research” made itself intensely evident. All questions emerging around the main vectors of inquiry on the political constraints of body volumetrics expose a key need to not comply with disciplinary methods, tools, languages, media nor scales. Instead, the invention of situated rigor should be made on the go, as well as a sharpening of the ongoingness of the research interlocution. This is the reason why we chose to pay attention to the very particular piece of writing a bug report is: it operates as a performative document that in itself is always already activating a change in the environment it inhabits. Technically, the fragments above still don’t compile a bug report. This is why I consider it fundamental to at least take the five vectorial provocations of the workshop and gather some open questions and potential research paths to move on, in case they can slide into the interlocution machinery otherwise. These include:
How could the material and semiotic conditions of possibility associated with softwares like Gplates be reissued for a collective problematization of the imaginaries and conceptions of temporality?
What would constitute an appropriate set of tools for a widening of more complex, non-fixed agencies that go beyond technocracy, perhaps also inviting participation fuelled by intersectional sensibilities, other curiosities and/or urgent struggles?
There seems to be a pendant task in strengthening the understanding of software-making as worldmaking, and an urgent need to visualize and represent earth phenomena without augmenting the values of universalism. For this to happen, we first need to train ourselves to better identify and problematize the non-innocent matrix of regimes—of truth, representation, economy, and ideology—that converge in scientific software environments.
- We name it trans*feminist in order to convoke around that star (*) all possibly needed intersectional and intra-sectional aspects. In this case, a trans*feminist lens is sharpened by queer and anti-racist sensibilities, and oriented towards (but not limited to) trans*generational, trans*media, trans*disciplinar, trans*geopolitical, trans*expertise, and trans*genealogical forms of study. >/ref> experiment and proposed to compile a “bug report”
- All text injections (in italics, on the right side) are quotes taken from the workshop’s reader. All pieces following one already quoted belong to the same author, until next quote in italics appears. All voices on the left emerged along the workshop’s discussion, which was transcribed by Fanny Wendt Höjer.
- Karen Barad, “Troubling time/s and ecologies of nothingness: on the im/possibilities of living and dying in the void,” New Formations 92: Posthuman Temporalities (2018)
- David C. Nobes, “Pitfalls to Avoid in Void Interpretation from Ground Penetrating Radar Imaging,” Interpretation. 6. 1-31. 10.1190/int-2018-0049.1. (June 2018).
- Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018).
- Emiliano Zapata (c.1911)
- Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Geontologies: A requiem to late liberalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
- Excerpts from Helen Pritchard’s oral intro to the workshop
- Possible Bodies feat. Helen Pritchard, “Ultrasonic dreams of aclinical renderings,” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No. 13 (2018).
- Mark Carey, M Jackson, Alessandro Antonello and Jaclyn Rushing, “Glaciers, gender, and science: A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research,” Progress in Human Geography, 40(6), 770-793 (2016).
- Isabelle Stengers, The Invention of Modern Science (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).
- Nigel Clark, “Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet” (London: SAGE Publications, Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society, 2011), pp. 38-39.