Colombia calling

Ahead of emigrating to Colombia I have been channeling my energy into understanding the history and current climate of the complex country. Two recent films to emerge out of the country are Chocolate of Peace Gwen Burnyeat and Embrace of the Serpent directed by Ciro Guerra have aided my research. Just two days ago on 26 June 2016, after 60 years of conflict, a truce has been signed between President Santos and leaders of the Farc rebels, lets see what the future holds as Carlos Antonio Lozada, the commander of Colombia’s Farc rebels, is poised to lead his organisation into politics.

Chocolate of Peace, Gwen BurnyeatStill from Chocolate of Peace by Gwen Burnyeat

“The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is an emblematic group of victims of the armed conflict, who have been building peace from the grassroots for twenty years. But we realized, in this historic moment in Colombia of peace negotiations between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC-EP guerrilla, that despite the Community’s fame in international human rights circles, manyColombians have never heard of them.

This documentary offers an account of their work as a new way for all Colombian society to think about their search for a fairer country. Firstly, through the human experiences of massacres, forced displacement, threats and terror. Only through empathizing with individual stories can human beings understand what it means for there to be over 8 million victims in Colombia, many of them rural, and appreciate how urgent the need is to end the armed confrontation.”

Listen to an in interview with Gwen Burnyeat on Colombia Calling

Embrace of the Serpent was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers (Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes) who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred and difficult-to-find psychedelic Yakruna plant.

Embrace of the SerpentEmbrace of the Serpent still

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Botanical garden vs scafolding mound

I’m a big fan of botanical gardens and have been to many different ones around the world, from the Eden Projects in Cornwall to smaller scale tropical plots in Viñales, Cuba. These gardens have a purpose to educate and create humbling sanctuaries to showcase the harmonisation of human interaction and nature at its finest.

On the edge of the city, Kew Gardens is one of my favourite. It is where I escape when news like the UK referendum results declared that we were going to ‘Brexit’ the EU hits and suddenly my plans to set up a business in Spain in a few years time look blighted.

The special features programming in Kew often hits an irritated nerve*. From decorative glass blobby floaters in the lake (Dale Chihuly, 2005 – by far the worst offender), to ugly scaffolding structures like the newly situated Hive. Although arguably the latter could be talked up, I’ve seen the mound of metal and it didn’t make me feel connected to the natural environment or bees. As a pavilion in Milan last year I’m sure it was much more effective. If you look online you will see dramatic images of it lit up at night, amazing renders, but this is actually what you are faced with:

My visit to the HiveMy visit to the Hive at Kew, 2016

I wish the programming highlighted some of the more imaginative and inspiring projects from around the globe like Rainforest Connection’s work in which discarded mobile phones are being use to detect deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Kew needs to start expecting more of its audience and become more relevant, unless it wishes to be a disconnected oasis housing exotic species that are extinct in the wild, as many of our zoos are starting to represent.

Rainforest ConnectionRainforest Connection invention

I want to see a showcase of the work being done in the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales. A hub which connects our technological input/output to our environment.

Centre for Alternative TechnologyAn early experiment to harness wind power at CAT

The Centre for Alternative Technology has been experimenting with renewable energy sources since the 70s with the aim to empower people to live a more sustainable life. It is an education and visitor centre demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability.

CATCAT in Wales

With a DIY, interactive attitude, the programme seeks to encourage visitors to get excited about their role in progressive technology. It encourages the entrepreneur, inventor, citizen scientist. This is exactly what the world famous botanical gardens need to catch up on.

CATAnother experiment at CAT

*The Spice Season in 2015 at Kew had some interesting interactive, educational elements.

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James Lovelock

James LovelockJames Lovelock

James Lovelock is described as an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurist. He proposed the Gaia theory – the idea that Earth functions as a self-regulating system, as a living organism does.

Everything on (and to the very core of) the planet, to the upper atmosphere has evolved side by side. Its not simply a case of the carbon cycle that were in the science books at school, but this proposal stretches to the distribution of every atom that is considered to make up the Earth. It proposes that the biosphere and the physical components of the Earth (atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) are closely integrated to form a complex interacting system that maintains the climatic and biogeochemical conditions on Earth in a preferred homeostasis. It is this preferred homeostasis that is being disrupted by CO2 emissions.

In his 2007 book, The Revenge of Gaia, he offers an overview of his opinions on different types of energy production from nuclear to renewable, the pros, cons and misconceptions. He attempts to describe the interconnecting elements that play a role in the current severity of global warming and what our global population must do if we want humanity, wildlife and bio-diversity to thrive in harmony – and avoid extinction, which is what he sees as our current course.

Back in 2007, when this book was publish, he states that humanities annual CO2 emissions, if solidified, would amount to the size of a mountain one mile high with a 20mile circumference, I shudder to think what it is nearly a decade on.

Recently a feature ran on BBC World Service’s Science in Action, about a group of scientists in Iceland that have developed a way of pumping CO2 gas deep underground in volcanic areas solidifying CO2 at a rapid rate. The basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. This seemed like an exciting prospect, however, the lead scientist disclosed that at this point, what is pumped down is approximately 5% CO2 to 95% water, it is incredibly inefficient and expensive.

Hellisheidi geothermal power stationHellisheidi geothermal power station pumping CO2 underground

It gives me faith that there are creative and intelligent people dedicating their careers to try to provide us with a future. Technology may aid us. But while greed prevails in many societies, it seems technology supporting our greed seems to radically out-run technology being developed to improve our lives. When will our governments stop supporting the commercial enterprises and start looking out for Gaia?

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Visualising warfare

Here are two projects, one by artist Isao Hashimoto, and the other by the incredible Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The first maps the testing of nuclear bombs around the world from 1945 to 1998, colour coordinated to mark the country responsible. The second mapping project reveals the frequency of drone attacks in Pakistan; the number of casualties and the type of targets, from June 2004 to July 2013.

1945-1998 by Isao Hashimoto

“The blinking light, sound and the numbers on the world map show when, where and how many experiments each country have conducted. I created this work for the means of an interface to the people who are yet to know of the extremely grave, but present problem of the world.” Isao Hashimoto

BIJ-Drone Strikes in PakistanBIJ : Drone Strikes in Pakistan (still from map report)

View report

“The CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s tribal agencies with drones since June 2004. In the early years, strikes were rare. But from mid-2008 onward the frequency of strikes increased, peaking in 2010. That year, 128 strikes killed at least 751 people – of whom 84 were civilians. There were 23 strikes in September 2010 alone – the most intense month yet recorded by the Bureau.

This map demonstrates how the frequency of strikes – and the overall reported casualties – has changed over time. It also shows how the targets of the strikes have changed.” BIJ

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Do you trust your senses?

This week another story emerged in the media about a city appearing in the clouds on 7 October – this time in Foshan in the Guangdong province of China.

Cloud City in Foshan 2015Image of cloud city above Foshan, 2015 (source unknown)

I’m not sure about it being evidence of a parallel universe but it has certainly create a time warp. I have spent a long time on YouTube now… looking at the conspiracy theories. All the bases have been covered: NASA practicing for the illusion of Christ’s second coming, an alien invasion rehearsal, China trying out a new weapon that will annihilate the west, evidence of the Satanic New World Order orchestrate by HAARP or  Project Blue Beam (or both).

This type of optical mirage has happened before. I remember doing the same YouTube pilgrimage when a city appeared in the clouds over the Xin’an River in Huanshan City in East Chinain 2011.

Cloud city, Huangshan City, 2011Image of cloud city above Huanshan City, 2011 (source unknown)

This was in the same month a US marketing campaign promoted a horror movie by using cutting edge technology to send a whisper directly into the ears of passers by from the top of a five story building. According to passers-by, the sound was so direct that others stood in close proximity couldn’t hear the same spooky whispers. Strangely enough, when I tried to research this topic, I couldn’t find any of the coverage, despite it being widespread at the time. My computer has also just started to crash. Read in to that what you will…

AND, in 2014, Michael Jackson made his first posthumous performance at the Billboard Music Awards.

We may never be able to trust our senses again. You have entered the Matrix!

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Curious Incident

3637I haven’t lived with, nor have I been close to someone with autism. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, first published in 2005,  was my first insight into the mind and domestic stresses of someone living with autism, and I think it has greatly increased my awareness. It made me realise what a strange phenomena logic is.

The high-tech National Theatre production in the West End is incredible. It’s riddled with minute detail, from the silhouettes of the on-stage ‘spectators’, through to the mathematical encore of the the A-level exam answer. The fast pace delivery is emotionally draining – heartbreaking and humorous, acted with sincerity. It’s also amazing to see the dynamic of the theater change, in a split second, when a puppy is brought on stage.

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The draw of disaster and post apocalyptic media

The history of humanity is littered with a perverse fascination of catastrophe on a global scale. Is this pessimistic or could the disaster genre be the last remnants of a utopian vision? – The disintegration of our current man-made systems, making way for a  rebuild…

FalloutFallout 3, 2008

Mass immigration has dominated the headlines this year, and the forecast for the future looks to further displacement as sea levels rise. In August 2015 NASA announced that by the year 2100 sea levels will rise by approximately three feet – this is now locked-in, our current technology can’t prevent this. Certainly for my generation the future looks fairly bleak: no pension, a salary disproportionate to inflation rates, an education and health care system only available to the wealthy once the NHS is abolished. Our country’s assets are likely to turn into commodities for a few, following the privatisation of schools, libraries, security services, fire brigade, health care, planning departments, transport… just wait until the House of Lords and Parliament are sponsored by Coca-cola, oil and arms dealers (yeah…just imaging). Many of our systems aren’t working in a sustainable manner for the majority of the population or the environment.

Why turn to movies and computer games for a digital dress-rehearsal? These ‘assets’ allow your mind to work through survivalist scenarios – to build upon skills, be resourceful and negotiate zombies and gangsters. In the same way a person’s subconscious may repeatedly play out scenarios of missing trains and falling buildings in dreams, first-player games allow a process of thought to be exercised. Their popularity shows that there are a lot of frustrated people out there.

A Boy and His Dog, 1975A Boy and His Dog, 1975

In October 2014 a document housed by the National Archive – previously classified – was released for public consumption. The document, produced in 1982, described the Home Office’s plans for the UK in the event of a nuclear attack. The public, for the first time, had access to the worst laid plans imaginable. Jane Hogg, a scientific officer in the Home Office suggested putting psychopaths in charge because “They are very good in crises, as they have no feelings for others, no moral code, and tend to be very intelligent and logical.” Thankfully the HBO series The Walking Dead has shown the public that psychopaths do not make good leaders or companions. I do not believe that Hogg’s idea to bring back the death penalty is going to bring about a better day for survivors.

Around the same time the document was produced the BBC aired a drama called Threads. Mick Jackson’s post-nuclear apocalypse movie, scripted by Barry Hines, followed the formula of many in this genre – disaster, followed by wide spread horror, anarchy and martial law. Are these fantasies in anyway a realistic portrayal of what would befall our population?

Threads, 1984

When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, similar patterns were exposed by those on the ground. The governments were slow to react (but quick to gain PR shots and interviews to exhibit their concern), while aid workers and people within the communities did what they could with limited resources. Looting followed as desperation set in. After the initial media coverage, outsiders quickly forgot and focused their attention on the next headline. Spike Lee’s incredible four-part documentary film, When the Levees Broke, released in 2006, captured the events in terrifying detail. It was horrifying to see the point at which starving and scared crowds tried to cross a bridge to safety and were met by a wall of armed guards offering no aid. Our advanced civilizations are not so civilized.

When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee, 2006When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee, 2006

During the London riots in 2011, the city’s fragility was exposed with the speed chaos spread. There have been riots before, but improved communication through social media seemed to escalate this one on an unprecedented scale. The emergency services and government seemed powerless as many small businesses saw their livelihoods destroyed. As with many uprisings in the past, an incident between a couple of individuals can be enough to trigger and influence disorder, and permanently alter the public’s confidence in society’s systems.

With these cases in mind, it is worth taking a first aid class, reading, watching and playing a marathon of appropriately morbid titles and being prepared to receive minimal support from the government in the future.

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