Our historical snippet of the moment is a Canadian television fragment from 1968 featuring a debate between Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan on the implications of media technology and whether nature still existed.
The two heroes of the ’60s are absolute opposites. Leaning forward in his chair, Mailer is assertive, animated, hot, engaged. McLuhan, abstracted and smiling wanly, leaning backward, cool. Mcluhan argues “The planet is no longer nature,” he declares, to Mailer’s uncomprehending stare; “it’s now the content of an art work.” Mailer: “Well, I think you are anticipating a century, perhaps”.
Did Nature cease to exist in the ’60s? Of course not. It just changes along with us.
Stanford researchers are developing ‘biotic games’ involving paramecia and other living organisms. So far, they have created three games that mimic classic video games.
The “biotic games” involve a variety of basic biological processes and some simple single-celled organisms. One game in which players guide paramecia – the single-celled organisms used in countless biology experiments from grade school classes to university research labs – to “gobble up” little balls, a la PacMan, was named PAC-mecium. They’ve also created Biotic Pinball, POND PONG and Ciliaball, named after the tiny hairs, called cilia, that paramecia use in a flipper-like fashion to swim around – and in the game enables kicking a virtual soccer ball.
If a light switch would be hairy or snotty nobody would want to turn on the light anymore, which is exactly why designer Katrin Baumgarten created some of the most one nauseating switches she could imagine.
One of the switches sprays snot at the one who dares to push it, while another one simply retreats when the finger comes near. A third one has tiny moving hairs to refrain you from switching. The message? Be mindful about your energy use. You really have to need the light before you dare switching one of Baumgartens disgusting creations.
Plants behave in some oddly intelligent ways: fighting predators, maximizing food opportunities … But can we think of them as actually having a form of intelligence of their own? Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso presents intriguing evidence in his talk at TED. Obviously, next nature observers will appreciate his comparisons between the networked nature of plant roots and the internet.
Perhaps it is just us, but somehow the transport of the Nano Supermarket inside a trailer has a next nature quality to it. Peculiar image of the week.
The Nano bus, which drives at 40 mph max and thus not on highways, arrived safely on location in Amsterdam. Meet us at the Nano Festival this Thursday or at the Leidseplein between 28 January – 2 Februari.
This peculiar carrot, created by Driessen & Verstappen, is the promo image of the Alter Nature: We Can exhibition, which takes place from November 2010 to March 2011 in Hasselt, Belgium. The project strongly resonates with nextnature thinking, as nature is not seen as a static, but rather as a dynamic force that changes along with us.
Regular readers of this website will recognize some usual suspects in the exhibition line-up, among them Driessens & Verstappen, Merijn Bolink, Daisy Ginsberg, Natalie Jeremijenko, Eduardo Kac, James King, Maarten Vanden Eynde, Adrian Woods, Adam Zaretsky. As if that isn’t enough, there will even be a next nature & alter nature film program on January 20th. Hence if you happen to be in the neighborhood a visit to the Alter Nature expo should be worth your time.
Technology is evolving us, says cyborg anthropologist Amber Case in her 8 minutes of TED. We become a screen-staring, button-clicking new version of homo sapiens, relying on “external brains” (cell phones and computers) to communicate, remember, even live out secondary lives. But will these machines ultimately connect or conquer us? Buckle up for some surprising insight into our cyborg selves.
1. Quest for Fire / La Guerre du Feu (1981)
2. Being There (1979)
3. Koyaansiqatsi (1983)
4. Blade Runner (1984)
5. American Beauty (1999)
6.The Matrix (1999)
7. Grizzly Man (2005)
8. Avatar (2009)
9. The Terminal (2004)
10. Idiocracy (2006)
Thus our carefully crafted, yet always debatable and probably incomplete list of the ten next nature movies for you to watch. If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to enlighten us.
Movies that for some reason did not make the top 10: Metropolis (1927), Frankenstein (1931), King Kong (1933), Modern Times (1936), Alphaville (1965), Playtime (1967), 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968), The Planet of the Apes (1968), The Stepford Wives (1975), The Gods must be Crazy (1980), Tron (1982), 1984 (1984), Brazil (1985), Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989), Terminator 2 (1991), Baraka (1992), Jurrasic Park (1993), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Gattaca (1997), Truman Show (1998), Fight Club (1999), eXistenZ (1999), Magnolia (1999), Truman Show (1999), X-Men (2000), Surplus – Terrorized into Being Consumers (2003), Manufactured Landscapes (2006), Technocalyps (2006), Children of Men (2006), Surrogates (2009).
The Quest for Fire (1981) shows the Next Nature of 80.000 BC. Set in a world without highways, supermarkets, airports, Internet, television, farming, money or written language, the film depicts a group of Neanderthalers who are able to control fire, but cannot create it. Similar to our habit of carrying a mobile phone, these Neanderthalers consequentially wonder around with a mobile fire.
When one day their fire is tragically smothered, the three bravest men leave the tribe and set out in a quest for fire. Throughout their journey they meet with various other humanoid species, of which the most outlandish is undoubtedly the Homo Sapiens, who impress not by their size or posture but even more by their ability to domesticate their surroundings through the use of tools and technique.
While the Neanderthaler men are accustomed to a life in caves, the geeky Homo Sapiens amazes them with technological gadgets like pottery, an artificial cave created from animal skins, advanced weaponry and, most of all, their astonishing ability to create fire – which in its time was at least equally if not more impressive than any nano-, bio-, or digital technology of today.
The Quest of Fire is a honest attempt to look at the origins of the species and the development of humanity through loss, tragedy, hardship, hostile elements and the beginnings of laughter, morality, community service, leadership, friendship and of course, love. A wondrous feat of body language performances as there is no truly discernible spoken dialogue.
The film can be thought of as the first five minutes of Space Odyssey 2001 (1968) stretched up to a feature film length. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud manages to capture the essence of the human condition as ‘natural born cultural beings’. Which deepens our understanding of the ever-changing relation nature and makes us see some of the contemporary technological ‘upgrades’ in a different light.
Passed: 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968), The Gods must be Crazy (1980), Surplus – Terrorized into Being Consumers (2003).
The main character in ‘Being There’ (1979) is a simple-minded gardener named Chance, played brilliantly by Peter Sellars, who has spent all his life as a servant in the Washington D.C. house of an old man. When the old man dies, Chance is put out on the streets of Washington with no knowledge of the world except what he has learned from television and the small garden he maintained for his employer.
As he is forced to leave his tiny habitat behind and enter the utterly estranging urban surroundings – like an alien from outer space – he seems doomed at first. Luckily it turns out his elementary gardening expertise and television knowledge provides him with enough baggage to cope with the complexity of modern life.
Although Chaunce has the mind of a small child and only knows of gardening, he dresses in nice suits, has impeccable manners and is not shy, so he is accepted into social circles. Through an accidental encounter with a rich couple that is close to the president, he becomes acquainted with the higher circles in Washington. When he speaks of gardening, his words are mistaken for metaphors and he is instantly considered an economic genius.
‘Being There’ is a wonderful film. It profoundly deals with a simple premise: despite the sheer complexity of our living environment and the harsh speed with which it changes, staying true to ones own values and intuitions remains a good strategy.
P.s. The phrase “I like to watch” has become so famous from this movie – it refers to Chances love for TV and the fact that it is the primary reference point for his existence – up to the level that he tries to click a remote to thwart off muggers.
Passed: Playtime (1967)
Koyaanisqatsi (1982) is a film with no actors, no storyline, and no dialogue. The only things we see are landscapes, images of cities, and people going about their regular lives. The film opens on ancient native American cave drawings, while the soundtrack chants “Koyaanisqatsi” which is a Hopi indian term for “life out of balance”.
Koyaanisqatsi uses extensive time lapse and slow motion photography. In one of the first scenes, we see cloud formations moving (speeded up) intercut with a montage of ocean waves (slowed down) and in such a way we are able to see the similarities of movement between these natural forces. It is not long before the pristine images are replaced by nuclear power plants, highways, skyscrapers, rubble, fire and ash, and hoards of ant-like beings (humans, of course) scurrying through modern urbanity. The portrayed humans are making their way through the cities in a manner that seems more conditioned than voluntary.
By cramming together so many images of people behaving more like lab rats than higher, thinking beings, Koyaanisqatsi invites us to consider just how mechanized, depersonalized, and out-of-control many aspects of our modern lives are.
Although many critics have interpreted the film as a tirade and a call to action, it is better understood as a demand for awareness on the human position on our planet as catalysts of evolution. If we get better attuned to our job description in the larger scheme of things, we can perhaps moderate Koyaanisqatsi and obtain a finer balance between the old nature we originate from, and the next nature we are causing.
Passed: Baraka (1992), Manufactured Landscapes (2006)
Look around you and try to find the most natural thing in the room you are in now. It is you. Now, you wouldn’t be so sure in the apocalyptic Los Angeles of 2019 depicted in Blade Runner (1982), where a Craig Venter–like entrepreneur called Eldon Tyrell, and his Tyrell Corporation create human clones, called replicants, used as servants to do work unfitted for humans.
“More human, than human” is Tyrells motto, but when four replicants are out on the loose in a quest to expand their lifespan, which has been genetically programmed to a maximum four years – to avoid they will develop emotions of their own – Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrisson Ford) is assigned to ‘retire’ them.
During his detective journey Deckard finds it increasingly difficult to draw the line between people and products. He falls in love with replicant Rachel, is saved by Roy and finally even doubts whether he might be a replicant himself.
Blade runner is one of the best science fiction films ever made. It explore themes like the 1) dehumanization of people through a society shaped by technological and capitalistic excess. 2) The diminishing border between people and products. 3) The roles of creator and creation, their mutual enslavement, and their role reversal. 4) The nature of humanity itself: emotions, memory, desire, purpose, cruelty, vulnerability, self–awareness and personal identity.
Is the quest for humanity a crime? Find out for yourself.
Passed: Frankenstein (1931), Metropolis (1927), The Stepford Wives (1975), Gattaca (1997), X-Men (2000), Children of Men (2006), Surrogates (2009)
During the selection of the top ten of next nature movies we’ve doubted quite a bit between the Truman Show (1998) and American Beauty (1999). The Truman Show tells the story of a man whose life is completely fake. The place he lives in is in fact one big studio with hidden cameras everywhere, and all his friends and people around him, are actors.
While the Truman Show is an iconic film that invites us to reflect on our media-choked environment, American Beauty goes one level deeper: similar to Truman, the characters in American Beauty are born inside a completely molded environment: Suburban Utopia. And although this setting, with its agreeable houses, cars, gardens and people, is designed to provide for every human need, something is somehow missing. American Beauty portrays a life too organized, too molded, too artificial, too plastic… and the nature within people that resists.
The main protagonist is Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a man in his mid-life crisis, whose life is turned upside down by a superficial crush on one of his teenage daughters friends. His wife Caroline (Annette Bening) has an obsession of her own; her public appearance. While their daughter Jane is rebelling against the hypocritical Ken en Barbie appearance of her parents.
Only Ricky Fits, the drug-dealing boy next door, is able to look beyond conventional notions of attractiveness and find beauty in non-promiscuous, solemn girls as well as in plastic bags floating in the wind. When many criticize the movie, they say, “Where’s the beauty in a plastic bag?” And that’s the point. Look closer.
American Beauty is a profound portrait of some of the issues many people in today’s Western world are struggling with: appearance, success, self-fulfillment, and the chances of getting to know your loved ones on a deeper level. It not only entertains while you’re watching it but also drops subtle questions in your head about the nature of human behavior, the effort we put in molding and improving our lives, the things we win, the things we loose. How our natural environment has been replaced by a designed environment. How Nature likes to hide itself.
Passed: Truman Show (1998), Fight Club (1999), Magnolia (1999).
In the last few decades there have been numerous films that take the struggle between mankind and its increasingly intelligent and autonomous technology as a leitmotif. Ranging from Stanley Kubriks magnificent artwork Space Oddysee 2001 (1968), which is better defined as a posthuman than a nextnature film, to Disney’s cartoonish Tron (1982), to the Terminator series (1984, 1991, 2003).
The notion of technology becoming competitive with the people who created it, is clearly a thankful movie subject. Pity though, the issue is always projected in the future – at distance from our everyday lives – as this limits the opportunity to reflect upon the co-evolutionary state people and technology have been caught up for a long time already.
Apparently this is a movie law difficult to get around, and one that directors Andy and Larry Wachowski willingly accept. Yet they do something brilliant. They have a philosophical idea that they want to get out, but they are aware their idea is difficult to sell. If they had made it too explicit their movie would have been an art house film, or a giant flop. So they took their idea and wrapped it up in a sci-fi story, in an action packed blockbuster.
The subtle premises of The Matrix (1999), is that the people subjected by the machines aren’t aware of the artificial intelligence that is ruling their lives. Like the prisoners in Plato’s Cave they’re blind to the simulation drawn before their eyes – a situation only stirred up with the arrival of the manga style dressed Christ–like savior Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, aka The One, played by a perfectly casted Keanu Reeves. Postmodernity in the overdrive? That’s not giving enough credit.
Through their syncretic cocktail of ingredients from western and non-western philosophy (*), art and religion, the Wachowski brothers manage to achieve exactly what they want. Like a Trojan horse, they’ve planted something into your mind, the seed of doubt, even if you have no idea it’s there, yet it’s there. That voice in the back of your mind that something is wrong. That feeling you got left with after seeing the movie that it wasn’t just about computers and artificial intelligence but about something else, something more important, something you’re familiar with but just can’t put your finger on.
The Matrix is a philosophical film that has cut through an entire generation, which now thinks differently about the technology in their surroundings than any generation before them. They’re aware that there may never be a day that technology awakes, becomes conscious and – politely or impolitely – introduces itself to us. They’re aware that this doesn’t withstand that technology is a strong all-pervasive force in our lives: A force that is not only driven by us, but in turn, also drives us. What is the Matrix, you ask? Something closer to reality than you think.
(*) Prior to the start of the filming the Wachowski brothers required the principal actors of the film to read three books: ‘Simulacra and Simulations’, by Jean Baudrillard, ‘Out of Control’ by Kevin Kelly, and ‘Introducing Evolutionary Psychology’ by Dylan Evans.
Passed: Alphaville (1965), Space Oddysee 2001 (1968), Tron (1982), Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989), Terminator 2 (1991), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Technocalyps (2006).