ECOTOPIA by Bin JIANG/ Mission to Earth: Planetary Proprioception and the Re-Greening of the World by Marc Ian Barasch/ Wasting Time: The Thinking Behind ‘Knowmore (House of Commons)’ by Keith M Armstrong/ Play with Fire | A Real-Time Video Experience for Sustainability by Mónica Mendes, Nuno Correia, Valentina Nisi, and Pedro Ângelo
Thursday, 15 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:45
Chair Person: 
Helene Black
Bin Jiang
Marc Barasch
Keith Armstrong
Mónica Mendes
Nuno Correia
Valentina Nisi
Pedro Angelo


by Bin JIANG

In the 17th century, Johannes Kepler alleged that living organisms on our planet worked according to certain self-recycling rules which can satisfy their own needs constantly, within a gigantic organism called Gaia.  About two centuries later, in 1924, this theory got backed by the concept of “biosphere” raised by Viadimir Vernadsky. The biosphere is a kind of global self-sustained ecosystem, generating all the living organisms through various biological chains. All of nature’s movements alter the appearance of our planet by ceaseless circulation and recombination of elements. The natural ecosystem possesses certain self-restoration abilities and this kind of restoration needs a certain period of time. The traditional agricultural production, based on natural resource processing, is a mode of production conforming to the nature’s rules. On the contrary, the industrial era is developing at fast pace : the pressing production cycle does not allow the necessary  duration for the nature to restore itself, which means that the producing capacity of the industrial society has gone far beyond what the nature can bear.In the long run, the serious ecosystem imbalance is inevitable and it results in damages to the ecosystem. In this paper I present and discuss a project of insertion of a restoration system into the city where the living surroundings are getting worse and worse, aiming at accelerating recycling and regeneration of the system. This restoration system  consists of a series of eco-machines which are not isolated from each other but are making up an “eco-tribe”, that could rehabilitate the urban ecosystem with eco-technologies and eventually could be integrated into the urban environment. The proposed restoration system, simulating the operation of natural ecosystems, will be inserted into the wrecked urban ecosystem and connect all communities to take effect in the range of the whole city. With self- reproduction and duplication, the system could constantly grow and evolve along with the city’s development and technology innovations. I will discuss this restoration system together with a semiotic system which inspired it, interpreting the relationship of various representitive organisms in the urban, rural and wild environment.

Mission to Earth: Planetary Proprioception and the Re-Greening of the World

by Marc Ian Barasch

Our sense of the self and its relation to its surroundings is being increasingly reshaped by telematic prostheses. Geotagging, Google Earth, biomapping, telepresence, augmented reality (AR), and distributed intelligence are creating new locative sense-perceptions, unprecedented narratives, and new feelings (and praxes) of agency-at-a-distance.

Can locative media deepen our sense of embeddedness, recreating those ancient reality-maps where selfhood was co-extensive with community and Nature, perhaps spurring us to address today’s urgent social and ecological challenges? Or will these media further abstract actual relatedness, narrowing it to more quantifiable and qualifiable instrumental operations?

In particular, this paper will ask how new media technologies might help achieve a level of collective agency to effect actual transformation.

 One project developed by the charity Green World Campaign ( proposes to use interactive geolocation to catalyze global treeplanting. Media facade installations planned for major cities will enable people to use cellphone shortcode to fund the planting of trees on degraded land, with stands of trees geo-tagged and displayed on a dynamic map. The project also encourages “global citizens” to upload the geocoordinates of trees they have themselves planted and embellish them with their own media content, embedding personal narratives of a “green world” into a growing forestation map. (Deleuze and Guattari’s strategy of “reterritorialization”) becomes particularly relevant.)

Could a “global brain” with cyber-mediated hands and feet instantiate verifiable alterations in the natural world? With civilization itself threatened by environmental crisis, the conventional sense of where our own body begins and leaves off is incomplete without an intimately felt sense of the world we inhabit. Could a cyber-enhanced collective self extend its proprioception  to the very “skin” of the Earth? Could we harness the transformative potential of the Web by jacking into the planet itself? New media technologies and collaborative “social sculpture” (Joseph Beuys term) introduce fresh imaginal dimensions to our relationship with the natural (and human) environment, perhaps leading to a more tender and generative embrace.

Wasting Time: The Thinking Behind ‘Knowmore (House of Commons)’

by Keith M Armstrong

The future is travelling towards us shaped by all that which we have historically thrown into it.  Much of what we have designed for our world embodies an unacknowledged time debt – that inadvertently continues to redesign our present and future.  This dangerous omission manifests in climatic instability and a growing range of social and environmental dysfunctions. We are a predominantly ‘chronophophic’ peoples - in that we do not effectively ‘think in time’ and so as a result we design for ourselves this serious legacy: The future of many of the myriad species and things that form today’s ‘naturalised artificial’ are therefore under serious threat. Their/our time is running out. What may once have seemed infinite is now revealed as finite. Time has become finitude.

Slowing this king tide is an extraordinarily complex, shifting problem that challenges us to our ontological core. Science and technology are arguably less than half of any possible solution. Beginning to solve a problem this vast  - a ‘problem of us’ - pre-supposes a profound cultural shift.

Beginning with a core understanding that ‘everything has its time’ is an unexpectedly powerful thought in that it allows us to frame our journey towards action as ontological. Set within this thinking, the paper examines the motivations behind a recent major media artwork Knowmore House of Commons, (premiered at the Mediations Biennale in Poland in 2010) – a large scale interactive installation that engages with these cultural dimensions of sustainability. A large circular table spun by hand and a computer-controlled video projection falls on its top, creating an uncanny blend of physical object and virtual media. Participants’ presence around the table and how they touch it is registered, allowing up to five people to collaboratively ‘play’ this deeply immersive audiovisual work. The work subtly asks what kind of resources and knowledge might be necessary to move us past simply knowing what needs to be changed to instead actually embodying that change, whilst hinting at other deeply relational ways of understanding and knowing the world.

Play with Fire | A Real-Time Video Experience for Sustainability

by Mónica Mendes, Nuno Correia, Valentina Nisi, and Pedro Ângelo


Play with Fire is an exploratory research project that proposes an interactive installation to engage the audience senses in unconventional ways. It is a performative, immersive experience that invites people to interact with real-time video from selected forests by playing with virtual fires through gestural interaction.

We envisage the installation triggering controversial feelings by combining the "beauty and danger" of a forest on fire. This duality becomes part of the experience, and raises concerns in the audience mind, such as the pleasure and excitement of playing with fire versus its effects on a natural resource such as a forest. The experience concludes with visuals of a forest virtual regeneration process underlining the message: the forest will eventually grow again, but what is the price to pay?

This audiovisual setup is cross referenced with online data – videos, photos, news headlines – of the most recent forest fires of the covered area. This approach contributes to explicit its dramatic potential, enhancing the emotional entanglement – “shouldn’t we actually act?”

The outcome of the “play with fire” experience takes two forms: immediately, as a final visual outline displaying data on what would have been the effective destructive consequences of the participants’ actions of playing with virtual fire. Later, feedback will be given through their own mobile devices, by a generative application that displays the slow regeneration process of the (virtual) damaged forest, stimulating awareness and ultimately care.

Living in places that have always been extremely exposed to forest fires, makes us very sensitive to the destruction of the forest patrimony by fire hazards, which also applies to a world scale. This interactive experience paradoxically encourages playing with fire to stimulate awareness and prevention of fire related damages to the forests. Ultimately, we seek to pose a constructive approach to the destructive dynamics of fire that aggravate climate change. Can art foster awareness and respect for nature?

Collaboratively developed by artists, activists and technologists, Play with Fire is an innovative approach - with a challenging technological component - that comprises a strong dimension on social and natural sciences converging New Media Arts and Sustainability.