Smart Environmental Technologies: Art, Design, and Political Ecology in the Expanded Field

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Organizers: Max Ritts, Karen Bakker
Chairs: Max Ritts

Call for Submissions

Abstracts of 250 words should be submitted by October 5th, 2018 to and for consideration for inclusion in the paper session. Participants will be notified by October 19th if their paper has been accepted. They will then need to register for the AAG conference and provide their PIN to the organisers by October 26th in order to meet the AAG deadline.


Over the past decade, “smart” environmental technologies (e.g. wearables, phone apps, digital recorders) have manifested as simultaneously political and aesthetic objects across various art and science practices (Bakker and Ritts 2018; Ballard 2017; Gabrys 2016; Swanstrom 2016; Demos 2016a, 2016b,). Materialisations of ‘smart-ness’ are proliferating through diverse forms of bio art, eco art, surveillance art, and environmental design. These developments represent the convergence of global
governance and aesthetic categories in ways that transform the experience, navigation, and administration of diverse spaces. Examples include Climate Symphony, a collaborative effort to ensonify distributed readings of climate change data. Or Dark
Ecology, which brings artists and ecologists together to develop new media reflecting intimate connections with the non-human, such as IsoScope: a kinetic sound-and-light installation made of multiple robotic wind objects that interact with each other and with the surrounding natural features to create a composition.

In this session, we convene dialogues with recent interventions in anthropology, political ecology, human geography and STS to consider how art and design operate as emergent forms of cultural inquiry and political ecological critique (Paglen 2008, 2018;
Escobar 2018; Helmreich and Jones 2018). Our titular reference to feminist art historian Rosalind Krauss’ agenda-setting essay, "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," recognizes that the "permission, or pressure, to think the complex" (Krauss 1979: 32),
has increased exponentially. Again. Smart environmental technologies demand new appreciations and appraisals, perhaps even new categories of political ecological and aesthetic analysis (e.g. Hawkins et al 2015). We explicitly seek to highlight the
governance aspects of environmental experiments with technologies (particularly biomimetic technologies), and their intercalation with discourses of “planetary improvement” and “technoecology” (Allen et al. 2018; Goldstein 2018; Goldstein and
Johnson 2015; Johnson and Goldstein 2015; Tsing et al 2015). Papers in this panel will demonstrate how the materiality, social embeddedness, economy, and historical contingency of smart-enabled art matters to social critique. Contributions may include
reflection on work which:

- Historicizes creative applications of smart technology in geography and political ecology.
- Prefigures or perform new modes of environmental governance.
- Recasts other-than-human sensory modalities and materialities in relation to environmental changes and emergent social conditions.
- Renders perceptible otherwise-concealed historical spatial politics.
- Explores the policy and political economy implications of smart aesthetic
- Addresses systemic issues of environmental and social injustice.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Elizabeth Johnson*, University of Durham, Salvation in a Shrimp Shell: Smart Biomaterials for the Anthropocen 20 9:55 AM
Presenter Max Ritts*, University of Minnesota, Karen Bakker, UBC, Ecology, Play, Design: On Anthropocene Festivals 20 10:15 AM
Presenter Douglas Robb*, University of British Columbia, Aesthetic Encounters with the Water-Energy Nexus: Design, Digital Technology, and the Contested Geographies of Oil and Gas 20 10:35 AM
Presenter Peter Howson*, Nottingham Trent University, Coding nature to save it? The political ecology of blockchain in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia 20 10:55 AM
Introduction Max Ritts University of Minnesota 20 11:15 AM

To access contact information login