Terra Forming: Engineering the Sublime

An exhibition conceived by Jerry Brotton and Adam Lowe
for Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice
one element of the exhibition adapted for display in Antropocène Monument
at Les Abattoirs, Toulouse

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Anthropocène Monument exhibition was conceived by Bruno Latour and Bronislaw Szerszynski. It opened at Les Abattoirs in Toulouse on the 3rd October and closed on the 5th January 2015.

The idea to construct a monument for the Anthropocene grew out of the work of Jan Zalasiewicz (Geologist and Chair of ICS Anthropocene Working Group) who are considering the change in Geological time - from the Holocene to the Anthropocene Epoch. The exhibition focussed on scientific upheavals, sociological, environmental and artistic responses to the idea of the "Anthropocene", the new geological epoch dominated by human action. We are living in a time during which the human race has become the main force of transformation that can be detected in the geologically. The "Anthropocene" exceeds the geological field, it is synonymous with a dizzying set of ethical, political and scientific. It is a point of no return that requires a radical questioning of the ways in which we represent the world.

Installation of Terra-Forming at Les Abattoirs Museum in Toulouse. On the back the work "Museo Aero Solar" by artist Tomas Saraceno

As part of the exhibition Factum Arte presented a cluster of 5 cartographic projections of the surface of the world without water - they were all based on high-resolution topographic and bathymetric data that is available in the public domain. These projections are a way of engaging with the earth from different points of view. Each projection shows how the choices of particular world-views are conditioned by specific social, cultural, political, economic and ideological interests or beliefs. The installation in Toulouse presents a journey through time and space and provides a creative response to the problem that has bedeviled creative minds for centuries: when faced with the staggering size and scale of the earth, how do we present a comprehensive view of the world without distorting it?

he 2x4 meter 3D relief projection of the world in the process of being "flooded" till the top of Mt. Everest

The project has been conceived by Adam Lowe and Jerry Brotton who propose a cluster of projections as a way of engaging with the earth from different points of view. Each projection shows how, over time, the choices of particular worldviews are defined by specific social,cultural, political and ideological interests and beliefs. Terra-Forming, Engineering the Sublime presents a journey through time and space to see how our world has been imagined and built by artists and scientists, saints and cartographers. 

This data was prepared and routed in three dimensions into tonally gradated blocks of plaster each approximately 50 x 100 cm. The highest points are white, the lowest one black- in between are a wide range of tones of grey. The Z axis (vertical dimension) has been exaggerated by 100 times in order to reveal an unfamiliar spiky terrain- At this scale, without a Z axis distortion the surface would appear totally flat. Due to the fabrication process and the lack of adherence that can exist between layers some fine details can be lost as the layers shear along a line of weakness.

The Terra-centric equi-rectangular projection developed by Adam Lowe and Gregoire Dupond was then routed into a block of polyurethane of 2x4 meters. This was been put into a glass tank with an aquarium pump and the bathymetric and topographic relief data was slowly flooded til the top of Mt. Everest was covered and then drained. This cycle was repeated throughtout the exhibition.

Click here to read the exhibition's panel by Adam Lowe and Jerry Brotton

The Projections

The Azimuthal Projection

The Terra-centric, equi-rectangular Projection

The equi-rectangular Projection

The Cordiform or "heart-shaped" Projection

The Dymaxion Projection

The Azimuthal Projection

This model evokes the medieval mappa-mundi dated c.1300 and which still hangs in Hereford Cathedral. It shows Jerusalem at the centre, the east at the top, and the Day of Judgement taking place beyond earthly time and space outside the map’s frame. During the routing of this object, the CNC device lost its bearings and cut through the bed of the machine. Our ability to control any intervention always has to take into account the tolerance in the system, system malfunction, unforeseen consequences and unpredictable events.

The routed 3D relief of the Azimuthal Projection



Detail of the routed map

The Terra-centric, equi-rectangular Projection

In this model north is no longer at the top. The globe was rotated before being projected onto a rectangle so that areas of water are stretched to infinity at top and bottom rather than along the two polar ice-caps. A few islands are sacrificed and are now unrecognisable.

The routed 3D relief of the Terra-centric equi-rectangular projection


Detaill of the routed map

The Equi-rectangular Projection

Here north is at the top, the most familiar projection for those living in the early twenty-first century. It presents a view that is familiar and one many people accept as being true.

The routed 3D relief of the Equi-rectangular Projection



Routing the map

Detail of the routed map

The Cordiform or "heart-shaped" Projection

Popular in the sixteenth century, it enabled those who drew on its design to incorporate the latest new discoveries by stretching the classical world map east and west. Martin

Waldseemüller used elements of it on his 1507 map, the first to name America as a separate continent.

The routed 3D relief of the Cordiform or "heart-shaped" Projection




Detail of the routed map

The Dymaxion Projection

A projection of the world onto an icosahedron, conceived by Buckminster Fuller in 1943. Fuller regarded this so-called ‘interrupted’ projection as far more accurate than any rectangular projection. It was also designed to show a ‘connected’ world which flowed from one continent into another. It was patented in 1946.

The routed 3D relief of the Dymaxion Projection



Reprojecting the World

Starting with the familiar equi-rectangular projection with north at the top the projection is rotated until only areas of water are stretched to infinity at the top and the bottom. The result, while initially unfamiliar, is more of an ‘equal area’ projection and makes sense of the relationship between USA, Canada, Russia and Europe. It also draws attention to the relationship between the Antarctic and Australian continents.

Dawn to Dusk

An animation of the topographic and Bathymetric data of the surface of the Earth with the Z axis (height) exagerated by 100 times. The presence of a directional light source creating a sense of day and night as the sphere spins.

The installation in Toulouse

The 2x4 meter version of the Terra-Centric, equi-rectangular Projection is a time-based installation that is gradually flooded with water. The process is indiscriminate and uniform, with water pumped in until the top of Mount Everest disappears and the entire planet is drowned. The flat reflective water can be used as a surface onto which dynamic maps of temperature, gulf streams, radioactivity, salinity, political boundaries, light pollution, and other phenomena will be projected. The model makes the data more coherent, and vice versa. It is hoped that this model of the surface of our globe without water will find many applications and provoke a range of conversations about the dynamic nature of the world be inhabit. It is a tool to focus the discussions about the proposed monument for the Anthropocene Epoch. Ideally this installation should be 20 x 40 meters and built on a football pitch on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice where it can really articulate the problems of sinking land masses and rising water levels.

Installation at Les Abattoirs Museum in Toulouse



The images show the virtual process of flooding of the Earth






Watch the video of the "flooding" of the Earth

Details of the map of the Earth during the flooding




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