A ready-made ideal city

“Since the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, world’s fairs and expositions returned continuously to the concern with creating idealized cities. The Chicago World’s Fair was especially significant in establishing what would later become integral not only to the logic of expositions, but to theme parks like Disneyland and EPCOT and urban destinations like Odaiba that would follow in their wake: in all instances, a ready-made ideal city was created, one that was technologically driven and reliant on commercial imperatives and popular culture. As James Gilbert has explained when discussing early exposition visitors, ‘the visible future they encountered was a carefully engineered vision, a prophecy […] of the coming relationship between work, leisure, and culture’. But unlike the dystopian futures often delineated in science fijiction, in the future visions of the expositions, the inclusion of technological and scientifij ic innovation within the social environment was intended to inspire the creation of utopian spaces.

“Events like the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-1934 (also called the Century of Progress International Exposition) and the New York World’s Fair of 1939 took the first important steps not only in forging a relationship between sci- ence, technology, industry, and society, but also integrating these concerns with the visions and consumer pleasures offfered by science fijiction and entertainment. Rydell explains that, in the wake of the Great Depression, ‘1930s scientists, confronted by a “revolt against science”, joined corporate backers of the fairs in trying to pin popular hopes for national recovery on the positive results expected from the fusion of science and business’. Specifically, combining the speculation familiar to science fij iction with the realities of the scientific and technological innovations of the time, these fairs specialized in presenting the public with future utopian realities made possible through technological advancement.

“A look at pre-World War II futuristic utopian thinking, as envisioned by Norman Bel Geddes for General Motors. This was designer Bel Geddes masterpiece — the “Futurama” exhibit in GM’s “Highways and Horizons” pavilion at the World’s Fair, that imagined the distant future of a faraway time 1960.”

It was the New York World’s Fair of 1939 that became one of the most famous examples to showcase a new urban landscape, one that featured the utopian possibilities of technology and science. On the opening night, after Albert Einstein switched on the lights that would bring life to the fair’s motto – ‘Designing the World of Tomorrow’ – the fair proceeded to create a vision of a world in which ‘science could become a way of life and utopia would be nigh’. The fair showcased the latest technologies offfered by corporations (such as Rotolactor, an automatic cow-milking machine). Numerous other technological inventions were presented to an eager public as well: Voder, a synthetic human-speech device by AT&T; television sets by RCA, GE, and Westinghouse; and Elektro, a walking and talking robot by Westinghouse. However, it was the representation of a ‘city of the future’ that drew crowds by the millions…”

Text: Angela Ndalianis, Disney’s Utopian Techno-Futures: Tomorrow’s World That We Shall Build Today, in Tourist Utopias: Offshore Islands, Enclave Spaces, and Mobile Imaginaries, ed. Timothy Simpson, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2017.

Moving away from its home star…

“Maybe that’s why we’ve never heard a peep from anywhere. It’s not just that the universe is too big. Which it is. That’s the main reason. But then also, life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet. It’s something that water planets do, maybe. But it develops to live where it is. So it can only live there, because it evolved to live there. That’s its home. So, you know, Fermi’s paradox has its answer, which is this: by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it’s too smart to want to go. Because it knows it won’t work. So it stays home. It enjoys its home. As why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t even bother to try to contact anyone else. Why would you? You’ll never hear back. So that’s my answer to the paradox. You can call it Euan’s Answer.” Later: “So, of course, every once in a while some particularly stupid form of life will try to break out and move away from its home star. I’m sure it happens. I mean, here we are. We did it ourselves. But it doesn’t work, and the life left living learns the lesson, and stops trying such a stupid thing.” Later: “Maybe some of them even make it back home. Hey—if I were you, Freya? I would try to get back home.” Later: “Maybe.” 

 Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora.

Lunar space elevator

“The European Space Agency estimates that 128 million objects smaller than 1 centimeter are orbiting Earth, along with another 900,000 objects that measure 1 to 10 centimeters. Any space elevator would be subject to collisions with these objects, so it would have to be capable of withstanding or out-manoeuvring them…”

“The classical space elevator is a really tough problem because the Earth’s gravity field is so great that you need such strong materials that we don’t have right now,” Jerome Pearson, an aerospace engineer who first proposed the lunar elevator in 1977, told NBC News. “On the other hand, you could build a lunar space elevator with existing materials right now.” Unlike a space elevator that rises from Earth, a lunar elevator would not use centrifugal force. Gravity would do all the work…”

Text: A giant elevator could connect Earth to space using current technology, experts say — here’s how that might work

“A select few people…”

Drake may may have channelled James Turell‘s art art for a music video, but Kanye West—never one to be outdone—is releasing a film set in the Light and Space artist’s most famous installation. 

“In October, West will release an IMAX film shot this past summer inside Roden Crater, Turrell’s ongoing land-art installation within a hollowed-out volcano in Arizona’s Painted Desert. Titled Jesus is King after West’s forthcoming album, the documentary includes footage of West performing in the crater, giving viewers a rare look at Turrell’s masterpiece, which has to this point only been seen by a select few people.  West first saw Roden Crater late last year. The experience was so “life changing,” as he wrote on Twitter, that he subsequently donated $10 million to the project.

“Since then, West has held one of his “Sunday Services,” a weekly spiritual gathering that he hosts, at the dormant volcano-cum-art-project—documentation of which will appear in the film. West’s services feature a rotating choir of gospel singers who perform both classics and covers while clad in baggy Yeezy outfits. The events are generally invite-only and guests are often asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. West has held services in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and numerous other cities since January.”

Text: Kanye West Shot an IMAX Film Inside James Turrell’s Roden Crater and You Can See It in Theaters Next Month, Artnet.com

Pic: Inside Roden Crater

Fully automated luxury communism

“In 2008 a Dutch professor named Mark Post presented the proof of concept for what he called “cultured meat.” Five years later, in a London TV studio, Mr. Post and his colleagues ate a burger they had grown from animal cells in a laboratory. […] The first “cultured beef” burgers are likely to enter the market next year, at approximately $50 each. But that won’t last long. Within a decade they will probably be more affordable than even the cheapest barbecue staples of today — all for a product that uses fewer resources, produces negligible greenhouse gasses and, remarkably, requires no animals to die. It’s not just barbecues and burgers. Last year Just, a leader in cellular agriculture, cut a deal to start producing one of the world’s tastiest steaks, Wagyu. A company called Endless West, which also makes grapeless wine, has started to produce Glyph, the world’s first “molecular whiskey.” Luxury could be coming to all. The case of cultured food and drink, far from a curiosity, is a template for a better, freer and more affluent world, a world where we provide for the needs of everyone — in style…”

“To say the present era is one of crisis borders on cliché. It differs from the dystopias of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley, or hell in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. It is unlike Europe during the Black Death or Central Asia as it faced the Mongols. And yet it is true: Ours is an age of crisis. We inhabit a world of low growth, low productivity and low wages, of climate breakdown and the collapse of democratic politics. A world where billions, mostly in the global south, live in poverty. A world defined by inequality.

“But the most pressing crisis of all, arguably, is an absence of collective imagination. It is as if humanity has been afflicted by a psychological complex, in which we believe the present world is stronger than our capacity to remake it — as if it were not our ancestors who created what stands before us now. As if the very essence of humanity, if there is such a thing, is not to constantly build new worlds.

“If we can move beyond such a failure, we will be able to see something wonderful. The plummeting cost of information and advances in technology are providing the ground for a collective future of freedom and luxury for all…”

Text: Aaron Bastani, The World Is a Mess. We Need Fully Automated Luxury Communism, The New York Times.

Pic: Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994-2000.

A more evanescent realm

Arnold Böcklin, Isle of the Dead, 1883.

“None of it is real, though, because reality lies in a different, more evanescent realm. These are only the names of some of the places in the archipelago of dreams. The true reality is the one you perceive around you, or that which you are fortunate enough to imagine for yourself.” 

Christopher Priest, The Affirmation

The Slogan is a Lie

“We love it here because we love you here,” read the enormous ad covering the side of a red double-decker New York City tour bus, touting H&M’s new Hudson Yards location. The slogan is a lie. Hudson Yards does not love you. We do not love Hudson Yards. And we especially do not love it here, in a city that is desperately trying to maintain the illusion that we are all something more than props in a metropolis-sized variety show put on for the benefit of bored hedge fund employees.

“Hudson Yards, the biggest private real estate development in US history, may be slightly less offensive to the memory of Jane Jacobs than a freeway running through Greenwich Village, but not by much. As urban planning visions go, it is a familiar one: an ultracapitalist equivalent of the Forbidden City, a Chichen Itza with a better mall and slightly better-concealed human sacrifice. The development has been dubbed a “billionaire’s fantasy city”, but it is something more sinister than that. It is a billionaire’s reality city. The other 8.6 million of us are just character actors in this drama starring the most unbearable people you can imagine…

If someone were to give you a 28-acre blank canvas in the Manhattan metropolis, what might you create? 

“There are the mandatory celebrity chef-branded food caverns, where BlackRock financiers can sit with Thomas Keller-approved wagyu steaks and contemplate the democratic civic spirit of the Big Apple, or slurp David Chang-branded noodles without having to venture to any of the messy places where noodles are usually consumed. And there will be ample apartments for sale, in tower after tower, posh glass cages for those whose definition of a starter home begins with a seven-figure price tag. Indeed, it will be a neighborhood-sized version of another Ross project, the Time Warner Center – not the rarefied luxury of Central Park West, but the luxury of buying a $40m apartment next to a Russian oligarch, with a Whole Foods in the basement, a restaurant with an $1,100 tasting menu above that, and a quantum foam of tourists stretching out around you in all directions.

“But let it not be said that Hudson Yards does not promote the arts. It will be centered around “The Vessel”, a 15-story high answer to the question: “How much money could a rich man waste building a climbable version of an MC Escher drawing?” (The answer is $200m.) As a work of public art, it will reach its full form as Related Co security forces roust the city’s 63,000 homeless people from its welcoming stairs and landings, a powerful creative statement on the fundamental righteousness and nobility of structuring complex real estate transactions for a living.”

Text: Hamilton Nowlan, Hudson Yards is an ultra-capitalist Forbidden City

Image: Upside Down.