The environs of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice, showing Dead Hedge (centre), part of the installation Ethnographies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations, 2019, by nabbteeri, at the Venice Biennale Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Abstractions – and How to be Here and There at the Same Time

Jussi Parikka, Professor, University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art

Also published in Leevi Haapala and Piia Oksanen (eds.), Weather Report: Forecasting Future. Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, nabbteeri. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 169/2019. Milan and Helsinki: Mousse Publishing and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

Predictions and forecasts are good for multiple things. You can assume something might take place, you can prepare. You can give warnings, or gentle nudges. You can make money, or ensure someone loses money. Predictions can work in everyday life, and they certainly do work for the military; you can survey and you can pre-empt; you can convince and build an argument about things that do not even yet exist, except perhaps as forecasts.

Traditionally, forecasts had to be separated from prophecies. Prophecies were, after all, the foremost technique for telling the future, long before the advent of modern technologies that combined observation and statistical reasoning. Forecasts offered a tool for trying to understand the dynamic nature of such things as the weather.[1] Meteorology and climatology emerged as part of a systematic attempt to think across scales: these disciplines highlighted how local observation is informed by, and can in turn inform, global patterns.[2] Weather, early on, became technological, based on statistics and data, management and knowledge. And being technology-based, it was also enabled by and integrated into the latest network media of the 19th century, namely telegraphy.[3]

As far as telegraphy and weather go, synchronisation is a key underlying principle at play. But it is not just about synchronisation across a distance measured as space, like when a flock of birds draws patterns of movement in the sky, when trains connect on schedule, or when geographically separated observation towers are able to compare data. Predictions and forecasts synchronise as technologies of time. Synchronisation across time establishes a link that is insecure, yet necessary, not merely here or there, but connecting the two based on the assumption that there is a comparable unit of time, too. Predictions as synchronisation convince us that this, here and now, is somehow related to that, there – what might happen, perhaps, if the statistical probability sticks to its tentative promise. Aesthetics and time go together nicely. At best, they gel, produce, synchronise, cut across a multiple of existing registers, enforce decay and produce qualitative leaps. An invented new threshold of time is like a form of seeing, a fresh form of experiencing, a way of stepping outside one’s own body. Both, also, are speculative.

[1] Katherine Anderson, Predicting the Weather. Victorians and the Science of Meteorology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

[2] On early phases of scalar thinking and climatology, see Deborah R. Coen, Climate in Motion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

[3] John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, 251.

Featured image: The environs of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice, showing Dead Hedge (centre), part of the installation Ethnographies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations, 2019, by nabbteeri, at the Venice Biennale
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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