Research Project 2015–2019

The twentieth-century celebrated technology as a way to achieve planetary unity and control. Yet today technics, nature, and human activity seem to combine in increasingly disorienting, uncontrolled compositions in which once-reliable distinctions lose their stability. What governs this constitution (or collision) of forces? And what are the contingent, strategic, or historical events and networks that form durable apparatuses among them? The Technosphere (2015-19) research project investigates origins and future itineraries of this technical world within a larger series of international events, performances, seminars, and conferences currently taking place at HKW.

Scientists and thinkers have introduced the term technosphere to describe the mobilization and hybridization of energy, material, and environments into a planetary system on par with other spheres such as the atmosphere or biosphere. The term emphasizes the leading role of the technological within this global system. At the same time this term encompasses the enclosure of human populations, forests, cities, seas, and other traditionally non-technical entities within systems of technical management and productivity. But where is that ominous technosphere to be found? How does it impact the everyday passions and experiences of humans, animals, a nation, or an ecosphere?

The coining of the term technosphere announces a conceptual innovation as well as a political challenge. As a conceptual innovation, the notion of the technosphere invites us to recognize and confront the reality of technical systems whose unintended consequences and internal dynamics have accumulated into a quasi-autonomous global force in the world today. Moreover, the very naming of these forces constitutes the posing of new political and social challenges that, though already widely felt, remain largely misunderstood. Their description and study will entail inquiries into physical and political science, but also topics as diverse as aesthetics, international law, financial markets, migration, material flows, and colonialism.

From 2015 to 2019 the Technosphere project hosts public events and seminars that explore the potential of this concept to coordinate conversations among scientists, artists, and the general public. It will investigate the events, structures, and mechanisms by which the twentieth-century dreams of global unity and human hegemony morphed into disorienting compositions of technics and nature, of human and non-human actors. These investigative and experimental exchanges will ask how the technosphere operates today and endeavor to imagine alternative futures. The result will be a tentative vision of communities and understanding equal to the challenges of our world today.

After The Technosphere, Now and Technosphere×Knowledge as part of the Anthropocene Campus: The Technosphere Issue, the third stage of the project, 1948 Unbound, identifies the mid-twentieth century as a decisive moment when rapid changes in technology, economics, industry, and policy interwove, inaugurating a new set of apparatuses for controlling and defining the technosphere. How does our present-day world continue to live through political and social apparatuses defined by that historical turning point? How did we end up in this world of technological vertigo, this Mobius strip of world and planetary technics, wherein cause and effect, local and global factors, human and non-human agency, perpetually confuse and confound one another’s borders? In the fourth stage of the research project, the event Life Forms looks at the technosphere as the horizon against which new forms of life emerge and are organized.

Finally, the results of the explorative research project Technosphere (2015-19) will be published as an edited volume of the HKW publication series 100 Years of Now Library.

Concept and realization: Katrin Klingan, Christoph Rosol, Nick Houde, Janek Müller, Johanna Schindler, Mira Witte, with Bernard Geoghegan and Anna Luhn
Technosphere (2015-19) is part of 100 Years of Now.