I returned last night from the opening of two exhibitions at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin: Anselm Franke and Diedrich Diederichsen’s ‘The Whole Earth, California and the Disappearance of the Outside’ and the parallel ‘Anthropocene Observatory,’ a project by Territorial Agency, Armin Linke and Anselm Franke. Both are part of the longer Anthropocene project, taking place at the HKW during 2013 and 2014. The Whole Earth is a comprehensive interrogation of California culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s, framed by the image of the blue planet and Steward Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue.
“The first photos of the earth changed the frame. We began to talk more about humans and less about Germans and Americans. We began talking about the planet as a whole … We did not have the idea of a global solution before.” Steward Brand.
The exhibition interrogated this idea and the historic alliance between hippie culture, ecology, cybernetics and systems theory in which it took hold. One of the key trajectories it explored was how ecology and cybernetics evolved into the system and self-management of contemporary networked capitalist society. It is no accident, it revealed, that Steve Jobs once referred to the Whole Earth Catalogue as an analog predecessor to Google. The material was displayed as a series of thematic, loosely arranged exhibition stands containing video and audio documents, original books and magazines, and explanatory texts and reproductions of the Whole Earth Catalogue in yellow. Interspersed between these were larger video screenings and contemporary artworks reflecting on the material.
For me one of the highlights was the short video interview with Jay Forrester, systems theorist at MIT, who invented the idea of system dynamics. At the start of the interview, he accuses his interviewer of avoiding the ‘hard problem’. When asked what this is, he answers ‘The World’! He then shows a diagram he has drawn of the world’s socio economic processes (population growth, investment in industry, investment in agriculture, resulting pollution) and the feed-back loops between them, and what will have to be balanced to avoid future disaster.
His description of what such disaster might entail prophetically describes many of the conditions (of climate change, austerity and global restructuring) under which we now live. Other highlights for me were the mesmerisingly terrifying video of US nuclear tests over what looked like palm fronded beaches, references to Buckminster Fuller’s World Game and the Center for Land Use Interpretations’ contribution to the exhibition, a documentation of Los Angeles’ land fill sites.
I also loved being reminded of Ant Farm’s Dolphin Embassy and its relation to Gregory Bateson’s investigation of dolphin intelligence, the video of the 1974 Grateful Dead concert and interviews with a number of former members of counter cultural communities, who spoke of the non-hierarchical self-organising principles they aspired to (the organisation of many who act as one). It was not difficult to see how these social experiments, allied with evolving computer technology, gave rise to digital networked culture.
The ‘Anthropocene Observatory,’ in an adjacent room is an on-going project by Jon Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Ronnskog of Territorial Agency, in collaboration with Armin Linke and Anselm Franke. Its objective is to observe and replay, in video format, the development of the idea of the anthropocene. In this showing of their first material, which will be updated quarterly over the next two years, they have unearthed extraordinary archival footage of references to notions about the anthropocene. This includes an early animation of population growth versus resource decline and an animation of climate change from the 1960’s.
In addition to visiting the two exhibitions, I spent a full day wandering around Berlin in the spring sunshine. The memorial to the 500,000 murdered Sinti and Roma in the shadow of the Reighstag (2012) finally and fittingly commemorated a genocide to which far too little attention has been paid, and within walking distance of the Jewish Holocaust Memorial (2005) and the Memorial for Gays and Lesbians targeted by the Nazis (2008).
But I mostly visited some of my favourite Magic Mountains, the extraordinary buildings of Berlin, which, on this visit, appeared as geological outcrops, gravity defying combinations of earth materials and human imagination assembled through anthropocenic processes of sedimentation, tectonic shift, morphogenesis or lava flow.