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ADS8: Data Matter – The Gaming Edition

Julian Brack

Julian is a recent MA Architecture graduate currently exploring the spatial consequences of financialisation. Prior to his undergraduate studies in Architecture at the Technical University of Berlin, Julian studied Economics & Philosophy at the University of Mannheim (Germany) and ICESI Cali (Colombia). Growing up in Germany, he has gained professional experience in the field of architecture working at BRUTHER in Paris and as a concrete worker on various construction sites. In 2017, he was awarded the 162. Schinkel-Price by the Architects' and Engineers' Association of Berlin.


Using film, digital tools (such as 3D scanning, web design, animation), and gaming engines, his work engages with the inherent violence of financial calculations. His dissertation Financial Algorithms and the City mobilises Actor-Network Theory to contextualise the role of financial algorithms in the production of the contemporary city.


His first year project with ADS8: Data Matter - Digital Networks, Data Centres & Posthuman Institutions looks at the role of financial models as mediators between multiple actors in finance and the built environment. Confronting the clean, brutal logic of mathematical economics with a lived reality and the unheard voices of those who are more than often not represented in the equations, the project aims to draw the attention to financial algorithms as objects through which contemporary economics and finance relate to space.


Julian’s work is inherently collaborative. During his first year at the RCA in ADS8 he worked with housing activists in Marseille to produce evidence of the violence of financial algorithms. For his second year project with ADS8, Julian collaborated with sound artist Jakob Koechert to produce a unique soundscape as a way to oppose the rationales of finance and propose a room to dream and dwell in other worlds.

'Synthetic Forests' is a short fiction film that problematises how data collection practices and bioengineering mobilise forests to extract financial value. Building on the exploration of the spatial consequences of carbon trading, the film critiques current trends of financialisation as a response to the climate crisis, questioning the fundamental assumptions of financialisation.


The film's narrative unfolds in two settings: a fictional laboratory at the Salk Institute in California where scientists work to genetically optimize plants for carbon sequestration, and a forest of genetically engineered eucalypt clones in an unnamed location. The film fictionalises the resistance of a mycelial network towards this forest which is permanently optimised to monetise the carbon sequestration capacity of trees.

Synthetic Forests

Worth watching with headphones. Enjoy the soundscape.

Link to Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/555966893

Medium:

Film

The scenario builds on current efforts of the ‘Ideal Plant Initiative’, a research unit at the Salk Institute in California. Funded by companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels such as the Hess Corporation, scientists investigate genetically optimised plants for carbon sequestration. The narrative exaggerates this development postulating that the laboratory will be as much the place of accountants as of scientists.

Medium:

Film stills

A neoliberal model of conservation as proposed by finance values reduces forests solely to their capacity of sequestering carbon dioxide. As a result, reforestation projects are designed and optimised to sequester carbon dioxide


In the film, the fictional forest consists of a single genetically modified tree species: the ‘Ideal Tree’, an eucalyptus offspring that is optimised to sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide. The forest was designed according to current research on the optimal layout of a eucalyptus forest. This synthetic forest is constantly monitored, mapped and optimised for financial returns by an autonomous operating system of sensors and drones.

Medium:

Film stills

Fungal networks – also known as mycelium - are thought to be a decentralised form of intelligence that enables communication between different species. Mycelium are sensorial networks and a representative of life beyond one body, one metabolism, one brain. In many ways mycelium contest Western rationales that rely on precise definitions, categorisations, and separations. Separation and disjuncture are essentially the base for any extraction of financial value. Mycelium thus holds a narrative potential to challenge the fundamental assumptions of financialisation.


In the film, Mycelium is represented by a soundscape that aims to evoke feelings of pleasure and disgust. The aim was to not rely on other extractive practices such as recording, or visual representation that would solely reflect contemporary scientific understandings of mycelium networks. Mycelium is rather seen as a metaphor to honor the weird entanglements and complexities that make up life. As the film progresses, the sound infiltrates the optimizing systems, and ultimately the narrative itself.

Medium:

Film stills & sound
Research Diagram
Research Diagram — As of August 24th, 2020 HSBC announced the launch of the world’s largest investment fund set to invest in what they call ‘natural capital’. As our multiple ecological crisis accelerate, financial mechanisms are backed by governmental and non-governmental organisations as a ‘solution’ to prevent further ecological degradation. The diagram traces the links between investment funds, institutions and individuals involved in carbon offsetting projects on three different continents.
Excerpt from research film — Tom B.K. Goldtooth speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Environmental Network against current trends of financialisation of forests and indigenous lands.

Medium:

Diagram & found footage