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Navigating Techno-political Realities

Navigating the technological realities we live in has become increasingly difficult. Old cultural, economic and political structures are now mixed, overlayed, infiltrated, enhanced and undermined by a new technological megastructure. The computer in the palm of our hands is a ‘portal gun’, an entry point to an accidental planetary structure linking lithium mines in Chile to offshore data servers in Russia, to fiber-optic submarine cables in the Atlantic to freeports in Singapore, to corporate-owned satellites in orbit, to a swelling quantity of IP addresses and teraflops of data.

Current navigation tools that work with spatially informed, geographical representation do not yield sufficient insight or overview in the entanglements of digital and physical structures. They are not able to account for new folded, fractal borders that are created in digital space, nor do they show how digital boundaries materialize in places such as the cobalt mines in Congo, owned by Chinese state run companies, or in digital interfaces intended to discourage immigration. Cities as well as states, including E-stonia, and other organizations are becoming increasingly non-local digital platforms, while cloud platforms have taken over some traditional government roles such as identification and cartography. If we are to use maps as wayfinding tools, navigational aids, then other kinds of mappings are needed to guide us through these new formations in hybrid spaces.

Other Cartographies

Cartography has for centuries been a tool in service of existing power structures. It helped organize the colonial project of the western powers, and in turn reflected and codified its effects. Current corporate-run mapping systems such as Google Maps or Bing, are made in service of the needs of global and local market powers, and in doing so reflect once again, a singular, implicitly normalized perspective that has the inherited traits of the colonial project. 

In this context, Vertical Atlas proposes a multifocal as well as multivocal approach, meaning that not one standardized perspective is informing the depictions of the world. Rather, the project adopts different perspectives and techniques in order to acknowledge realities from different positioned (cultural, political, biological, machinic and other) embodiments.

Mappings in Vertical Atlas together deploy a wide set of coordinates representing spatial, temporal, qualitative, aesthetic, political, material technological dimensions of the issues at stake. In his book The Stack, Benjamin Bratton proposes a model that helps understand the global digital sphere through the metaphor of a platform with six functional layers. Yuk Hui in The Question Concerning Technology in China, develops the notion of cosmotechnics, exploring the cultural functioning of technology through other metaphysical lenses than the classical universalistic western take. 

These concepts, among others, serve as reference frames for the Vertical Atlas project. 

All mapping contributions are led by people who have direct, lived experience with situated techno-political architectures. 

 

 

Kévin Bray
Het Nieuwe Instituut and Digital Earth
Benjamin Bratton, Arthur Steiner, Leonardo Dellanoce, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer