Grad Student Conferences

Technical Landscapes: Aesthetics and the Environment in the History of Science and Art

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Over the past century, land has become at once a technical and aesthetic object across art and science. On the one hand, scientific and technical programs have emerged—from the testing of atomic weapons in the American West to cobalt mining in the Congo—that occupy vast swaths of the planet. At the same time, new representational practices have emerged in contemporary art to critically engage land and its attendant politics by treating it as the site, theme, and medium of artistic inquiry.

Technical Landscapes: Aesthetics and the Environment in the History of Science and Art considers such landscapes. We are concerned with sites and space where global knowledge practices and aesthetic categories have converged to literally transform the physical geography of the land, where conventional terms like “nature,” “culture,” “value,” “capital,” “territory,” and “site” no longer exist as clearly delineated categories (indeed if they ever did). Technical landscapes constitute the meeting points of contested relations between history, knowledge, material practices, and environmental change. They have also figured as the subject and source for scholarly inquiry across a broad swath of disciplines.

The conference includes a keynote panel by Peter Galison (History of Science), Caroline Jones (MIT History of Art and Architecture), and Rebecca Uchill (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the MIT Center for Art, Science, and Technology). In addition to the conference panels on April 7 and 8, attendees will also have a chance to participate in a series of thematically linked events (see below for details). At a moment when the monumental scale of anthropogenic environmental crises and their meaning for humanist modes of inquiry have been the subject of vigorous debate across the humanities and social sciences, we hope the conference will provide a space for new insights into the shifting relationships between humans, knowledge productions, and the natural world.


Day 1 | Thursday, April 6

Keynote Panel | 6PM, Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall

Peter L. Galison
Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University
What Are Technical Lands?

Caroline A. Jones
Professor, Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Escaping the ‘Scape

Rebecca K. Uchill
Lecturer, Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In the Viewshed

Day 2 | Friday, April 7

Registration and Breakfast | 8-8:30AM, Thompson Room, Barker Center
Opening Remarks

Leah Aronowsky
Department of History of Science, Harvard University

Walker Downey
Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Panel 1: Experimental Environments | 8:45-10:30AM, Thompson Room

Gary Fox
University of California, Los Angeles
Landscapes of Fact: The Environmental Simulation Laboratory, 1971-1983

Christof Sendhardt
Technical University of Berlin
The "Spirit" of the Isle: The Isle of Riems and the Making of an Isolated Playground for Biomedical Research in the German Baltic Sea

Wythe Marschall
Harvard University
From Farmland to Farmspace: Witnessing the Paradoxical Naturalization of Agriculture as a Special Case of Manufacturing

Andrea Carillo Iglesias
Harvard University
An Island of Simulation: Views on Nature and Technology. The Climatron Case

Commentator: Peter Galison

Panel 2: Perception/Aesthetics | 10:45-12:30PM, Thompson Room

Nicole Sansone
Goldsmiths, University of London
Geographies of the Pixel in the Supraterrestrial Landscape

Anirban Gupta-Nigam
University of California, Irvine
Methane and Formlessness: On the Background Media of Climate Change

Siobhan Angus
York University
Atomic Ecology: Susanne Kriemann’s Pechblende (prologue)

Heather Rosenfeld
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Burning 4000 Liters of Nail Polish at American Drive: Challenging the Aesthetics of Hazardous Waste

Commentator: Kirsten Swenson, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Panel 3: Future Geographies | 1:15-2:30PM, Thompson Room

Ben Mendelsohn
New York University
Making the Urban Coast: Eko Atlantic City and the “Dubai of Africa”

Nina Wexelblatt
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Floating Worlds: Artificial Islands as Xenotopia

Cameron Hu
University of Chicago
Planetary Subprime, or Natural History After Finance

Ali Fard
Harvard University
Cloudy Landscapes

Joe Winograd
Rhode Island School of Design
Don’t Cut the Cord

Commentator: Caroline A. Jones

Out of Place: From Site-Specificity to Political Timing-Specificity | 3:00-5:00pm, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Level 3, CRC/Bookshop

Tania Bruguera (Elizabeth S. and Richard M. Cashin Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study) and Rebecca Uchill (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Art, Science and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

By invitation only.

Screening and Q&A | 6:00-8:00pm, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Room B-04

The Land Beneath our Feet (Mitman and Siegal, 60 min., 2016)
Special screening, followed by Q&A, hosted by Hanna Rose Shell, Associate Professor, MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and sponsored by the Harvard University Center for African Studies. Co-director Gregg Mitman in person.

Day 3 | Saturday, April 8

Listening Walk | 9:45AM-12PM

GPS-based listening walk in the Boston Fens by multimedia artists and scholars Teri Rueb and Ernst Karel

Transportation provided to conference presenters. For all other attendees, please plan to meet at the front entrance of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum at 10:15am. Please be sure to bring headphones and download the Fens app before arriving, available here. The app must be downloaded over a wifi connection.

Panel 4: Scaling Infrastructure | 12:30-2:30PM, Thompson Room, Barker Center

Albert José-Antonio López
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Communicative Landscapes: Images and Infrastructures of Integration in Mexico, 1938-1958

Peter Vale
University of California, Berkeley
Railroads, Enclaves, and Circulation: The Collapse of Space in Central Africa

Suhaib Bhatti
University of Waterloo
A River Ran Through It

Sarah Nichols
ETH Zurich
La Grande Dixence and the Concrete Countryside

Robert Lundberg
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Commentator: Sonja Duempelmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Waterworks Reception | 5:30-8:00PM, Waterworks Museum

By invitation only. Transportation provided for conference presenters.

Magnus Pind and Jonathan Beilin (Parsons School of Design)

Ah humanity! (2015) | 6:45PM
Ernst Karel, Véréna Paravel, and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, dirs.

Conference Organizers

Leah Aronowsky
History of Science, Harvard University

Brad Bolman
History of Science, Harvard University

Walker Downey
History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cosponsored by the Department of the History of Science, with support from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, and the Waterworks Museum.

  • Click here to view a poster promoting this event.