HUMAN-CLOUD PROJECT

2021 / breath + heat + weather

Extreme climate events, air pollution, respiratory diseases, and systemic smothering are intensified since we started drastically altering the composition of gasses in the atmosphere. Humanity has attained the status of a geophysical force on a planetary scale - the Anthropocene. More than ever, we have become part of the weather. With the development of climate engineering technology and propositions of artificial cloud creation for mitigating global warming, we cast ourselves as masters and managers of nature. But how does technology mediate our relationship to the climate? And can it eventually solve our environmental issues? What if instead of controlling the weather, we were to use geoengineering technology for creating a sense of belonging with the climate?

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How does it work?

The project reveals a sequence of experimental tools that aspire towards intimacy with the climate. It starts with the breath collector, a device that requires the user to slow down their breathing, therefore activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases the user's heart rate, lowers blood pressure and introduces a state of relaxation. Chilled water flows through the outer wall of the breathing chamber, cooling every incoming exhalation to its dew point and condensing the moisture of each out-breath into a liquid state.

 

As the breathing session is concluded, the collected exhalations are mixed with liquified breaths of other people and transferred to the cloud generator. This device is an appropriation from the field of geoengineering. More specifically, it’s using stratospheric aerosol injection technology, which is a proposed tool for weather modification. The cloud generator is delivered to the sky via a large weather balloon, attached to a strong thread which allows the device to reach a maximum height of 1km. As the device enters atmospheric conditions that are suitable for cloud formation it is activated, vaporizing the liquid breaths and forming a momentary human-cloud, a Cumulus Homomutatus.  With the body of cloud and breath of human, these ephemeral hybrid-beings are an experiential and visual attempt to blur the boundary between human bodies and weather bodies.

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Appropriating geoengineering technology

Geoengineering has been defined by the Royal Society (2009) as: “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change”. One category of geoengineering techniques is Solar Radiation Management (SRM) which suggests lowering global temperatures by reflecting sun-rays back into space. One of the most viable SRM propositions is Stratospheric Aerosol Injection technology, which is the injection of fine particles and liquid droplets into the atmosphere, in some cases, to create artificial clouds.

These clouds are meant to reflect sun-rays back into space, therefore slowing down the rate of global warming. While the intentions of the proposition might be well-meant, SRM is not a long-term solution to the climate crisis, as it’s not tackling the root causes of the emergency. Instead, it is advocated as a temporary solution, buying time until we can adopt new technologies to deal with the climate crisis. Therefore, geoengineering is essentially declaring that there's a technological solution at some point to this global existential crisis. The time-buying aspect of SRM plans also seems to allow humanity, its systems and habits to go on unchanged for longer and is yet another manifestation of the desire to gain power over the uncontrolled. Furthermore, the technology's side effects on ecological systems are unknown, making it a gamble with large downside risks.

Instead of controlling the weather, the project appropriates SRM technology in an attempt to generate environmental modification.

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A breath away from becoming the weather

Breathing is a biological necessity as much as a political act. With the rise of the pandemic, we are reminded that we share the same air but breathing is a process entangling all earthly bodies in a vast cloud of relationships. The project urges for an attunement of attention towards breathing. Could a respiratory awareness begin to blur the deep-seated conceptual boundaries between humans and more-than-humans that separate us from the other? Thich Nhat Hanh describes, in his statement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ‘breathing with mindfulness and contemplating your body, you realise that you are the Earth. You realise that your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth. Look around you–what you see is not your environment, it is you.’ 

Clouds have long served myth-makers, philosophers and scientists, as the face of the forces shaping our world. They are agents of the transient and ephemeral. Always in a state of becoming, changing from cumulus to stratus, from vapour to rain, to river, to plant, to human. Clouds transcend territorial borders and leap between classifications and today embody the essence of complex interconnected systems. 

 

All living creatures are directly entangled by respiration. All of the breaths that ever were taken on this planet are still here - no more, no less. If we view the climate system as a collective project built and maintained by all its inhabitants, then what role does humanity play in it? What kind of breath-companion-species are we, would like to be?

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Climate Engineering Consultations: Prof. dr. ir. Herman Russchenberg

Practical Support: Gundega StraubergaBoey Wang, Vincent Dassi

Technical Support: Atis Čače

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