Session 5 Paper Stream 1: Value and Aesthetics of Waste and Pollutants
Michel van Dartel and Anne Nigten: "The Value of Waste"
This paper argues that a first step in finding a sustainable solution for the pressing global issue of "waste" is to consider waste a value attribution, rather than a material condition. Doing so means a shift in focus from finding more efficient ways to "clean up the mess" to changing the way in which value is attributed to things. The paper looks at a selection of recent literature on value systems to identify useful concepts and theory for a value-based solution to waste. Furthermore, art and design are proposed to explore and probe such potential solutions.
Kate Galloway: "Derek Charke's Musicalizing of Slow Disasters, Toxicants, and Energy Production"
In Falling from Cloudless Skies (2009), Symphony no. 1 Transient Energies (2010), Tangled in Plastic Currents (2014), and Dear Creator, help us return to the centre of our hearts (2014), invisible, emerging harmful phenomena such as “slow” disasters, toxicants from plastics, and the sonic and physical residue of energy production are musicalized. These compositions use motivic and textural representations, field recordings, and electroacoustic soundscapes to evoke, respectively, the material impact of climate change, forms of energy production for human use, the environmental damage of plastics and chemical pollutants, and the northern Alberta oil sands energy extraction industry. In each of these sonic treatments of environmentally degradative activity, Charke explores the sonic tactics and modes of representation that evoke waste, discard, energy production and industrial residue, and material transformation. Applying Rob Nixon’s concept “slow violence” (2011), and Max Liboiron’s aesthetic and material politics of artful waste (2013; 2012), I illustrate how Charke finds sonically valuable content produced by, as well as discarded by, degradative industries and practices. Many of the field recordings Charke composes with could be considered unpleasant “noise pollution” or “dirty” sounds, that is, those emitted by energy production and industrial residue. Sounds attributed to undesirable industrial activity and waste are repurposed by Charke to articulate the sonic variance of this under-listened acoustic community, thus drawing listeners' ears to the high volume of environmental damage and waste produced by society for human use. Charke composes with the aesthetic dimensions of cultural and sonic industrial waste and energies that Charke argues exist with increasing “ubiquity”: For example, “plastic pollution [along with other forms of toxicants] is contested, amorphous, and often invisible.” Composing the sonic worlds of these industries in aestheticized form increases their audibility, and perhaps their visibility, in local and global acoustic (and material) communities. Compositions like Charke’s provide another mode to communicate information concerning waste and energy use to a diverse and far-reaching audience, because, as Charke notes: “pollution currently exceeds the ability of traditional scientific techniques to explain their fate and transport, as well as their persistence and effects.”
John Hopkins: "The Energy of Archive: Re-membering the Cloud"
We are living in a time where the wholesale storage of information exerts a dominant influence across the entire social system. The connection between this archive and both the stability and sustainability of the social system is direct. Few people are cognizant that it takes real(!) energy to drive "Big Data," nor are they aware that such wide-scaled archiving directly affects the wider global environment.
This paper reflects on the fundamental energy (thermodynamic) conditions that apply to any ordered system. Order, as a temporal state—whether arising autopoetically or whether created intentionally within a wider structured system—functions as an information transfer or communication system and requires an influx of energy to be maintained. The crucial issue embedded at the root of any archive relates directly to this necessity. Where does that energy come from, how is it secured, and what is the cost? As a near-ubiquitous feature of any social structure the archive—as an ordered expression of information—is one such system. As there are apparently no violations of the Laws of Thermodynamics in the observed universe, is the fate of the archive the same as that of the cosmos: a slow heat-death? Obliquely invoking an interpretation of living (or general) systems theory, it is possible to 1) demarcate the trajectory of the archive (as externally configured (social) memory); 2) examine in the widest conceptual sense the cost of information storage and reproduction; and 3) predict the path that individual and collective knowledge takes into the future. Conceiving reality as a field of energy flows, it is a relatively simple matter to understand the requirements for the propagation of information. From a scale-independent point-of-view, I will explore the problematic techno-social costs of preserving information as the energized configurations of the past.
I will briefly introduce systems theory, as well as some principles of thermodynamics and of code that will, as models, undergird the discussion. Relating energy, order, and information, I will tie these conceptions into the actuality of the contemporary archive: What does it mean to have a sustainable one? As a creative media arts practitioner and, as a consequence, an analog and digital archivist, I will include in the discussion pertinent fragments of personal narrative that arise from that lived praxis.