, Speculative Futures

Post-human narratives from the heart of the Urals

Author: Yulia Gromova

A series of experimental short films produced by Strelka researchers after a field trip to the Urals speculates about a new age where the most strategic actors in the world are non-human.

Led by speculative architect and filmmaker Liam Young, The New Normal researchers traveled on an expedition to the southern Urals – the industrial heartland of Russia – to explore machine landscapes and the precarious wilderness of the region.

Explaining the urgency to engage with new landscapes and systems formed by emerging technologies, Young described them as “before culture,” meaning they arrived faster than our cultural or ideological capacity to understand what they mean.

“We’re interested in prototyping what those new relationships might be, prototyping the way we can redesign these human exclusion zones to do different kinds of things.”

Liam Young runs the M.A. in Fiction and Entertainment program at SCI-Arc and is a core faculty member at Strelka Institute’s The New Normal program. He is a co-founder of Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today, an urban futures think-tank, as well as the nomadic research studio Unknown Fields.

The projects created by the researchers exaggerate from existing conditions and speculate on new machine landscapes and the cultures they might produce.

“And that’s immensely valuable; the speculative projects the students develop are kind of sites to test out ideas,” Young told Strelka Mag. “To see what works and what does not work, so we can work back from that and start to think about how we might design our world in a more productive way.”

The researchers gathered footage from highly automated facilities in Chelyabinsk and Satka, visited one of the most polluted cities in Russia, Karabash, and encountered the wilderness of Taganay National Park and Lake Turgoyak.

To spatialize the group’s research and present it in cinematic formats, the students were joined by designer, filmmaker, and storyteller Nathan Su – a researcher at Forensic Architecture who led a technical workshop in post-production tools and workflows.



Walk into the void

By Sveta Gorlatova, Nashin Mahtani, Alyona Shapovalova, Mark Wilcox

Many myths surround the creation of the sacred landscapes of the Urals. As one mountain rises up towards the sky, another is carved into the depths of the earth. As one mountain is fragmented, its pieces dispersed around the world, another mountain is formed in its inverse, as void. This is a myth of (anti)terraforming; of the way transforming rituals trace and construct evolving infrastructures.

Myths are indicative of the values that shape the way we form relationships and act amongst our worlds. And the methods by which we govern our landscapes are directly tied to the ways by which we value them. The film questions the possibilities that may emerge as augmented modes of sensing enable the formation of new relationships with exhausted territories.



Seasons of the Post-Anthropocene

By Sofia Pia Belenky, Olga Chernyakova, Don Tormanoff, Ksenia Trofimova

The sun turns off at 8:30am. As the Original Sun rises, the sodium light of the artificial farm begins to darken.

Within the farm, a new season is constructed through automation. It is optimized for the internal processing of chlorophyll, shining so brightly that it creates a new sun and extends the day into evening. It’s a post-anthropocentric sun. These landscapes, these cities, these exclusion zones, become constellations of light.

We once looked up and saw the Big Dipper and our star signs. Now, instead of looking up, we look down. We see the street lights and the artificial farms radiating yellow, and we see the sodium glow of factories that overexpose the stars of the sky.


promdukh (ПРОМДУХ)

Urals are the new Nepal (Урал – новый Непал)

By Mary Anaskina, Grigory Chernomordik, Maria Fedorova, George Papamattheakis

Beginning its long history of heavy industrialization during World War II and experiencing a new wave of automation in the 21st century, the Urals region has now traversed beyond the post-industrial. Mining, chemical production, vehicle manufacturing, and intensive agriculture have found a point of balance with their environment, introducing new types of ecologies.

This merge of environmental equilibrium with efficiency and constant improvement is now referenced as a higher value around the world. After the ‘natural’ of the 18th century and the ‘metropolitan-industrial’ of the modern era, a new kind of sublime emerges; a sublime of the technological and its ecologies. The Urals region, assembling territories of contingent and paradox coexistence, attract pilgrims of the well-balanced ‘production spirit’ and become a new type of spiritual destination for people around the world.


Put' (путь)

Journey to the place where no one ever dies

By Alexander Geysman, Olesia Kovalenko, Anna-Luise Lorenz, Gleb Papyshev, Igor Sladoljev

Put’ (Journey) is laid out as a parallel stream of two stories, both of which are teetering the fine line between death and life. Together with the camera’s gaze, we, a silently observing audience, are wandering through a meditative arrangement of post-anthropocentric, yet beautiful landscapes, depicting the irreversible marks of industrial production left on both nature and people. Simultaneously, the story of a young man is narrated: pulled by his desire to escape death, he sets off to find a place where he would live forever. On his way, he encounters three old men who, one after another, propose him a long, yet not eternal life. He refuses their offers.

The story finds its peak as soon as both the young man and the viewer reach the ‘Castle of Eternity.’ In the hallowed halls of technology, time grinds to a halt. The ritualistic murmur of machinic repetition has created a sacred space for self-petrification, sustaining itself through a permanent ingestion of its surrounding world. While eternity emerges on one side, everything beyond these walls falls apart in an excess of chaos and entropy. Amidst the ruins the Anthropocene has left for us, only ecstasy remains as a last mode of survival.


Symphony (СИМФОНИЯ)

Between ear and gear, rhythm is everywhere

By Artem Nikitin, Natalia Tyshkevich, Tony Yanick, Hira Zuberi

Symphony liberates rhythm to flow through the human and non-human, organic and inorganic bodies, creating an alternative mode for human-machine existence. Bio-physical pulses, social beats, and machinic movements pass through the intensifying filter of technology. Combinations of speed and slowness create meanings of their own through the acceleratory power of the orchestra, playing itself in a vortex of sounds and pictures. These complex rhythms are the artifacts of an optical-sonic archeological expedition near the temporal and physical boundaries of the Ural territories. We imagine this territory governed by the same feedback mechanisms of (a)synchronous rhythmicality, structuring a new type of collectivity.


Mistress of the Copper Mountain

There and beyond dwells the mistress and her new intelligence

By Nabi Agzamov, Antonia Burchard-Levine, Provides Ng, Alexey Yansitov

The Mistress of the Copper Mountain, patroness of the miners, long governed over the riches of the Urals. The miners worshipped her and gave her their offerings in exchange for taking pieces of her treasure. If her heart desired, she would grant the miners with plenty. But upon deceiving her, their fate would be thwarted. Along came the Grand Red Dream with its endless ambitions, bringing new technologies that would shape and change the mountains. The promises of this new dream lured the miners away from the mistress, and she soon risked being forgotten. But then came a new intelligence, and the mistress saw her chance to rise and return to prominence.



Every breath you take

By Eli Joteva, Valdis Silins, Evgenia Vanyukova

Aeroforming speculates on the potential of air as a medium for division and design in a not-so-distant future. By reframing air’s read/write potential – its ability to take in information and redistribute it – the film presents air as an interface between land and bodies, one which doesn’t play by the rules of states or markets. Constantly in a state of escape, turning air into a design medium requires that it be captured, addressed, and made legible. This taming of air is illustrated through a series of speculative images at changing scales – states, markets, globes, bodies, citizens, molecules. Throughout it, the remainder – what can’t be tamed – rears its rhythmic head.

Cover image: Still from Aeroforming

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