Benjamin Bratton

On The Stack To Come

What has planetary-scale computation done to our geopolitical realities? It takes different forms at different scales—from energy and mineral sourcing and subterranean cloud infrastructure to urban software and massive universal addressing systems; from interfaces drawn by the augmentation of the hand and eye to users identified by self—quantification and the arrival of legions of sensors, algorithms, and robots. Together, how do these distort and deform modern political geographies and produce new territories in their own image? In his book The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, Benjamin Bratton proposes that these different genres of computation— smart grids, cloud platforms, mobile apps, smart cities, the Internet of Things, automation—can be seen not as so many species evolving on their own, but as forming a coherent whole: an accidental mega-structure called The Stack that is both a computational apparatus and a new governing architecture. The Stack is an interdisciplinary design brief for a new geopolitics that works with and for planetary-scale computation. Interweaving the continental, urban, and perceptual scales, it shows how we can better build, dwell within, communicate with, and govern our worlds. In this talk, Bratton will reflect on The Stack-we-have and what the design of The- Stack-to-Come may entail.

This talk was given at the University of Houston on May 17th 2016 (7-9pm)

Keller Easterling


More than hidden pipes and wires, infrastructure space is something like an operating system for shaping the city. Far from hidden but seen perhaps with half-closed eyes, it is a surrounding matrix of repeatable rules, relationships, and spatial products — the skyscrapers, malls, resorts, franchises, parking lots, airports, ports, golf courses, or free zones that press into view and often look the same whether they are in Texas or Taiwan. Coding the system are bankers, developers, and consultants for whom space may only be a byproduct of laws, econometrics, informatics, logistics, or global standards. Yet this matrix space is shaping of some of the most radical changes to the globalizing world. It has become a de facto medium of polity and a secret weapon of stealthy politics. But this space is also an underexploited tool of global change that brings another relevance to art and design. And it prompts an adventure in thinking that considers nothing less than an alternative approach to form-making and activism, an alternative with special aesthetic pleasures and political capacities.

This talk was given at the University of Houston on May 19th 2016 (7-9pm)

Derek Woods

Paranoia And Ecology: Smithson’s Non-Site

The need to theorize abstraction in relation to the site invites a return to Robert Smithson’s “non- site.” For Smithson, non-sites frame sites, abstracting them into cultural and semiotic spaces, most often the space of the museum. Yet with his “Mirror Displacements” and other works, Smithson showed that the site also divides from itself in place, without the intervention of the museum or the frame. Bypassing physical displacement and even the consciousness of the viewer, Smithson’s mirrors show that the site relates to itself by way of a nonhuman representational order. Through techniques such as these, the site/non-site dialectic raises the question whether abstraction is human at all, or rather a more universal phenomenon. In dialogue with recent theories of relation, objecthood, and the closure of systems, Smithson’s work helps us to think the role of abstraction and semiosis as more than human projections. In this reading, no site is deserted. All sites incorporate non-sites even before artists involve them in aesthetic processes. My contribution brings this theory of the non-site into conversation with the little-studied juncture of cultural paranoia and ecological thought. One telegraphic way to encapsulate this genealogy is through a strange convergence of definitions of paranoia and ecology during the 1970s, when the scientist Barry Commoner made “everything is connected to everything else” the first principle of ecology and Thomas Pynchon made “everything is connected” the mantra of paranoid subjectivity. Even ecology as a science has often been concerned with the question whether or not discrete, contingent events are tied together by an overarching system that has some ontological consistency of its own. More broadly, paranoia asks whether chance events are totalized by a single agency that gives them meaning from behind the scenes. Connecting this tradition to Smithson through analysis with his writing in essays such as “The Spiral Jetty,” my emphasis falls on the failings of pervasive connectedness as a model of ecological thought. In Donna Haraway’s words, “nothing is connected to everything; everything is connected to something.” Site specific art and ecological art can introduce closure and non-relation into the site without ignoring lessons of paranoid connectedness and ecological complexity. Re-reading Smithson’s work in the Anthropocene contributes to an ecological aesthetics that can embrace nonhuman semiosis while rejecting holism and related concepts of immanence that have often guided site-specific art.

This talk was given at the University of Houston on May 18th 2016 (10am-noon)

Gabriel Martinez

The Day The Sun Rose Twice

This artist talk presents Mountain War Time, a recent body of work addressing the secrecy surrounding the detonation of the first atomic bomb at the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. The piece approaches the desert as a space of exposure and revelation and focuses on two moments of slippage in the atomic bomb’s clandestine development.

This talk was given at the University of Houston on May 18th 2016 (3-5pm)

Natilee Harren

Deserted Sites, Concerted Sights

While Land Art is typically understood through the example of monumental constructions in the landscape of the southwest United States, significant examples abound of artists who have created site-specific work to highlight deserted sites within highly populated urban centers. This presentation provides a provisional theorization of what is shared among the “deserted sites” both urban and rural that have featured in select Land Art practices since the 1960s, and connects historic examples to present-day projects sited in overlooked or abandoned corners of cities. Following the lead of Jane McFadden’s 2012 essay, “Not Sculpture: Along the Way to Land Art,” the presentation takes as its departure Ben Vautier’s practice, circa 1961, of designating with signage and photography certain terrains vagues in the crumbling cityscape as deserving of aesthetic attention. From there, it charts the concerted sights of select artists who continue to reframe and make newly visible deserted sites within the contemporary environment.

This talk was given at the University of Houston on May 17th 2016 (2-4pm)

Andy Campbell

Fragments in Tall Grass

Fragments in Tall Grass considers Marsh Ruins (1981) a work by sculptor Beverly Buchanan. Made of tabby, and hand-dyed a mellow brown, Marsh Ruins was one of the most public and collaborative works that Buchanan produced during her eight years living in Macon, Georgia (from 1977-1985). Placed in the Marshes of Glynn–a mythical place for many Georgians– where the salt-water tide could cover and uncover its three lumpen forms daily, Marsh Ruins performs the ongoing condition of ruination that informed its making. This paper understands topic of «Deserting the Site» from an oblique angle, asking how such concepts might intersect with racialized geographies and sculptural forms, and how a dislocation away from the material conditions of the desert might enrich the notion of «desertion.» A marsh is not a desert, this we know, but the mythico-logics of both places may be more similar than we might otherwise care to admit. Water, water, everywhere…

This talk was given at the University of Houston on May 17th 2016 (3-5pm)

Jennifer Burris

Marfa Sounding

Detailing how early electronic music’s use of drone frequencies and repetitive speech modules evokes the mechanistic or objective sculpture of artists like Donald Judd, Edward Strickland’s Minimalism: Origins (1993) coalesces the two via a shared focus on site‐specificity and architectural context. He writes: «In Alvier Lucier’s Minimal process‐piece ‘I am sitting in a room’, the featured performer is not the ‘I’ but the ‘room.’ After speaking/stammering his brief statement, Lucier himself performs no more. He remains only in the form of his taped voice, replayed and re‐recorded until it loses its distinctive individuality, swallowed up by the room, surviving in a ghostly existence within its resonant frequencies.»
This talk outlines the theoretical and art historical framework behind «Marfa Sounding»: a series of site‐specific music performances, sound installations, and conversations that engage these parallels between process‐based music and serial structures in art. Focused on the manipulation and disruption of time in relation to architectural space and environment‐‐from extended duration to the unpredictable frequencies of wind‐‐the series situates this embodied exploration in the small Texas town of Marfa. Following this introduction, Jennifer Burris Staton will focus on the the program’s final performance: a new site‐specific work written by Lucier for Curtis (and wind) and performed at an open‐air concrete amphitheater located in preserved ranch land outside of town.

This talk was given in Marfa at 101 East Dallas Street on May 24th 2016 (10am-noon)

Olga Bannova

From Deep Sea To Deeper Space
Through High Latitudes Of Arctic

Deep ocean, hot and polar deserts, deep space and other planets challenge people every minute they spend there but these environments also lead people to finding unordinary solutions, fascinating views on reality and a better understanding of themselves. This presentation discusses issues associated with extreme conditions and their influences on design and architecture. Vitruvius declared that architecture (and design) consists of three key elements: utilitas, firmitas, and venustas. That means they have to have function, be well built, and need delight. This presentation will argue the importance of Delight in architecture and planning, especially in extreme environments on Earth and in space.

This talk was given at the University of Houston on May 17th 2016 (2-4pm)