Learning Directly from the Event
10.31.2012, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“I was at the riverfront that night, and the Hudson River was intent on meeting the East River.”  —New York Governor Cuomo, at a post-Sandy press briefing on October 31st, 2012

This Friday we’re scheduled to present at the “Emotional Elements” workshop at Johns Hopkins University, hosted by the Zanvyl Krieger School of Art and Sciences’ Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality. The workshop seeks to explore the “emotionality” of things.

From here, it appears unlikely that we’ll be able to attend in person unless New York City subway and Amtrak service are restored.  Planning for this event has been in the works since last summer, and we were invited to present our  Amulets for Infrastructure project.  That project has become eerily more prescient in the aftermath of this week’s hybrid storm, Sandy.

In the context of our work as Friends of the Pleistocene, events such as Sandy further confirm dawning realizations about the potency of geo/meteorological forces when they “assemble with” human beings, dense urban infrastructures, geomorphologies, and regional flows of living and nonliving things. We are heartened by some of the conversations now being initiated as a result of Sandy’s effect, despite that fact that they seem long overdue.

For the “Emotional Elements” project,  we will offer the Amulets for Infrastructure as an attempt to acknowledge the in-difference that both human-designed infrastructures and geo/meteorological events “feel” towards humans—while also acknowledging the capacity of non-human things and events to create difference.  This is especially the case when  geologic events assemble and re-assemble with infrastructure independently of human desires, with consequences that reshape human lives in profound and irrevocable ways.

As we anticipated Sandy’s arrival and passage through of New York City, we took visual notes (via screenshots on our iPhones) of how the New York Times recorded and transmitted just how “beyond precedent” Sandy was becoming. The storm exceeded all expectation and continues to reconfigure energy-generation, communication, flows of movement and exchange.  Today, daily life is far from normal for millions.

Given our focus on junctures of the human and the geologic, we are considering how scenarios such as major storm events challenge the maintenance of what contemporary humans desire of our infrastructures: stability, continuity, reliability, ease.  And do so despite our best attempts to generate reality-based preparations and responses.  It seems safe to expect that what we build and rely upon are likely to “fall short” if events, as predicted, become larger and more frequent.

Sandy has offered a stark reminder that how and where humans stage what we design, how humans and infrastructures are situated—and inevitably interact —exist not only in relation to one another and the landscape, but also in relation to the multitude of earth forces that are capable of rising up and challenging our best design and engineering capacities.

Some questions we hope to bring with us to the “Emotional Elements” workshop include: what might we learn directly from Sandy, as a vibrant assemblage of human and non-human forces, potentials, “luck,” and change? When we think and communicate about the storm, and when we respond and learn from it in ways beyond those dictated by habit, cliché, and standard procedures, what becomes possible? What new trajectories of thought and action become real-ized? What new challenges are laid bare?  What does the force of this storm (its wind, surge, scales, intensities, unanticipated particulars) teach us about the contemporary moment and our possible futures? What should be reconfigured in response? And what amulet for infrastructure might we humans now make, in Sandy’s wake?

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[…] event of Sandy was very much a participant in the workshop, and Liz and Jamie asked what we might learn directly from the event. Their discussion of imbrications between the human and the geologic were quite timely and […]

Pingback by making the geologic now. « a dark precursor.

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