Climatic Media Transpacific Experiments in Atmospheric Control
Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2022
256 pp., illus. 15 b/w. Paper, $25.95
Yuriko Furuhata’s Climatic Media: Transpacific Experiments in Atmospheric Control participates in discussions about geoengineering and elemental media, drawing on existing critical work as well as demonstrating how those themes open up through design and architecture scholarship as well as with the help of media studies. It is this vibrant cross section of spatial studies and their media theoretical contexts that also shows the strengths of Furuhata’s approach in how the book reframes geopolitics – especially indeed of the transpacific region – in terms of multi-scalar atmospheric manipulation. The focus on architectural techniques is a case in point especially as it also then becomes a story of “modern imperial projects of biopolitically managing habitats and the human populations within them” which for Furuhata becomes an underpinning theme that defines contemporary forms of geoengineering as thermostatic desires, which is a key term in her book. Such desires seem implicitly to concern the planet as a holistic entity, itself one particular visual (and data) imaginary emerging since the 1960s and 1970s but also that this refers always to more localizable projects, desires, and aims.
Across extreme weather and climate conditions the attempts to control indoors temperature, humidity, and broader living conditions is also argued to be about the expanding notion of indoors (which arguably also then changes what “indoors” means). The planetary space becomes, indeed, to follow the Cold War era imaginaries of Buckminster Fuller and others, spaceship earth that as a particular trope features in Climatic Media too. But also beyond these familiar themes, Furuhata rolls out further interesting cascade of case studies: Metabolist architecture and the Tange Lab are discussed both as an example of post WWII period architectural ideas that connect biology and technology, computer simulations, as well as a material acceleration reliant on plastics; tear gas is approached as one example of spatial control and thus also part of the genealogy of smart cities (monitoring and control); imaginaries of control are related to a variety of techniques and discourses concerning weather forecasting as exemplified by drawing material from the Japanese Meteorological Agency to different technological and architectural plans of the period. It is the bureaucracy of weather technologies and sciences that becomes one of the attractive grey features of the past 100 years of geoengineering too.
Furuhata’s book brings out well the range of techniques and their institutional affiliations to ground the epistemic underpinning of atmospheric control and elemental media. Computer simulations, meteorological knowledge, but also the sort of climactic and communication experiments as staged for example at Expo ’67 in Montreal and Expo ’70 in Osaka play here a role. Here the example of artificial fog by Nakaya Fujiko becomes an example that also ties, again, the two sides of the Pacific together when it comes to art and technology experiments. As Furuhata narrates, “[t]he idea to envelop the exterior of the geodesic dome with artificial fog emerged at the early planning state of the Pepsi Pavilion by E.A.T., a group to which Nakaya had belonged since her participation in the “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” event in 1966”. Such contexts are also elaborated in another recent book on the same period and some overlapping concerns too, namely John Beck and Ryan Bishop’s Technocrats of the Imagination that features in more detail some of the U.S. contexts of such art and technology “labs”. It is across this Cold War world – a planetary experiment from military to weather and climate knowledge – that offers the context through which contemporary forms of control – or attempts and projects – become visible also in relation to a political spectrum (nation states and beyond).
Similar perspectives to historicize are central to Furuhata who nods both to cultural techniques research and to media archaeology. In this vein, she also reminds to “be mindful of the historicity of the analogy of ecology itself as we operationalize it in media studies,” a concept that has persisted across different scales of reference not least because of the legacy of “media ecology.” Furuhata footnotes the more recent critical insights into the multiple ecologies of material mediation – such as Matthew Fuller’s work and of course Félix Guattari – although the main body of the text sets out to critique the analogy of ecology after McLuhan, Postman, as well as for example Chicago School of sociology and their “idea of ‘human ecology’ to analyze the impact of urban infrastructure such transportation systems on the social, economic, and demographic transformations of urban neighborhoods in the 1910s and 1920s.” As Furuhata points out, there are differing theoretical legacies of the term where some of the more progressive affordances build up much more productive notions of interconnectedness that does not leave so-called human politics behind either. How would the ending of the chapter and the book like if it would have been driven explicitly by the more critical notions of (media) ecology developed for example on both sides of the Atlantic in the past two decades or so (the ones now in the footnotes)?
It is the intersection of histories of technology, environmental mediation, and their geopolitical stakes that makes also Furuhata’s book so interesting. It taps into such a crucial topic of discussion that it is sure to be widely read and referenced in and outside media studies. The book also opens up further possibilities to investigate for example notions of multi-scalarity: which scales are mixed up or projected and summoned in geoengineering? Which scales are at stake in the planetary experiments with multiple interconnected localities mediated by way of elemental materials? At what scales are our concepts operational, or, as or more importantly, policy decisions that impact planetary futures?