Planting ideas in the soil of technological possibilities

Author: Mavi Irmak Karademirler

This blog post series will delve into the artistic works and explorations of the creative-coding community around the concept of permacomputing. Permacomputing is a community practice aimed at addressing mainstream technological practices from an experimental and creative standpoint. It inspires the artistic works that reimagine computing technologies.

In facing a seemingly fixed technological condition, we explore ideas for transformative techno-aesthetics through hands-on practices, such as repurposing growing e-waste piles or generating energy from anaerobic bacteria living in soil (find out more about the process here). This blog post will outline the values of permacomputing, mentioning examples from the works of artists as part of the research project and exhibition “Composting Computers”.

Visit the Composting Computers exhibition between June 15 and 29 (Open Thursdays to Saturdays 13:00-21:00) at CCU Studio (Vlampijpstraat 84). Workshop programme to be announced soon! (link to page on website)

 

CONTEXT

Modern design and marketing tactics of digital consumer culture rely on convincing the public for a continued need for sleek hardware, smaller, and more refined design of our devices while having a limited lifespan with small access to repairability. Staying connected at all times is accepted as the norm, with little consideration for the ecological impact of our habits. E-waste dumps and landfills of the Global South tell us an urgent story, revealing the severe environmental consequences of our relentless pursuit of progress and the false belief in Earth's infinite natural resources. In 2019, 53.6 Mt of e-waste was generated with only 17% properly collected and recycled, reaching 62 billion kg in 2022, with just 22.3% being recycled. The growing amounts of toxic e-waste accumulating in various parts of the world pose serious threats to natural habitats and human health. While the exponential growth of consumer electronics generates more waste and worsens the environmental situation, counter efforts to repurpose materials and minimize energy use expand our imagination by encouraging us to consider alternatives.


VALUES

Permaculture principles aim for living in harmony with the other-than humans and our surrounding ecosystems. It focuses on encouraging, developing, and disseminating sustainable and regenerative practices in agriculture, design, and living systems by minimizing waste. Guided by permaculture principles, permacomputing values prioritize:

  1. Resource Minimalism: encouraging the efficient use of digital resources to minimize waste and environmental impact.
  2.  Right to Repair: advocating for software and hardware designs that are easily repairable, contributing to device durability.
  3.  Recycling and Waste Usage: encouraging awareness of the environmental and social consequences of digital technologies, working on responsible recycling practices and waste reduction efforts.
  4.  Transparency and openness: prioritizing the use of reliable and transparent technologies, ensuring user trust and encouraging collaborative tech development practices.

COUNTERING

Integrating the values of permacomputing into practice poses a challenge due to an increasingly complex theoretical space and the entrenched norms of mainstream tech. The small-scale efforts that counter the technological vision promoted by big tech involve imaginative thinking, hacking, speculative, and critical design. 

Benjamin Gaulon is an artist whose works address planned obsolescence and the recyclability of e-waste. Through creative exploration with electronic waste, Gaulon repurposes e-waste, transforming them into art pieces using techniques such as hardware hacking and circuit bending. His work goes beyond traditional recycling or reusing methods, delving into the challenges of managing unrecyclable plastics. His artworks provoke reflection on and engagement with the lifecycles of electronic products. 

Sunjoo Lee is collaborating with permaculturists and other artists to construct a prototype garden. This garden aims to generate electricity from anaerobic bacteria living in the soil, utilizing resources from the Hof van Cartesius. The project represents an experimental and collaborative effort to explore alternative energy sources. The Electric Garden will not be exhibited as a polished, finalized piece within a sterile white space. Rather, it intends to embody the idea of an alternative technoaesthetic that goes beyond concerns of commerciality, efficiency, speed. The process of building the garden will be documented by the artist as a diary, sharing the steps, learnings, details that will go into making of the garden. 


The research and practices of artists and creatives joining the Composting Computers project are motivated by the hope of realizing the principles and values of permacomputing, aiming to cultivate sustainable, regenerative approaches within the realm of computational technology. In the following blog posts, we'll delve deeper into workshops, ideas, and outcomes from the Composting Computers exhibition. We welcome everyone interested to join discussions and contribute their ideas to a collective ground for imagining other possibilities. For more updates on the program, keep an eye on our website and social media channels.

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