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ARCTIC LiDAR Explores the Logistical Landscape of the Arctic Coast
In March 2017, Daniele Profeta was invited to teach a workshop at the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow. There, he joined an expedition along the Arctic Coast with renowned speculative architect Liam Young and his students in the “New Normal” program at Strelka, who were studying the effect of humans on the planet.
The group visited different nodes of the logistical infrastructure that services the global shipping industry in the Arctic region, including dry ports, ice breakers and rail terminals. They used Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a remote sensing technology that uses light pulses to measure and three dimensionally map vast territories with precision. Across the Arctic, LiDAR is used to establish politics, protocols and economies of autonomous distribution.
Profeta, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, explores the potential of digital mapping as a practice of world building. Over the past two years, he has built upon the research collected on that trip and evolved it into “ARCTIC LiDAR,” an immersive 360-degree video installation exploring the quickly expanding logistic landscape of the Arctic coast.
It will be one of 38 interactive exhibits at ACCelerate: The ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival, which will be held April 5-7 at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation will host the festival.
ACCelerate is a three-day celebration of creative exploration and research at the nexus of science, engineering, arts and design among the 15 colleges and universities in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). More than 40,000 visitors to the museum are anticipated over this three-day event. The festival will feature the interactive installations and 13 performances grouped in three thematic areas: Exploring Place and Environment; Exploring Health, Body and Mind; and Exploring Culture. Profeta is of three Syracuse faculty members to exhibit in the festival. He will be assisted with the exhibition by Maya Alam, assistant professor of architecture, and graduate student Zexi Tang.
Within ARCTIC LiDAR, Profeta captured the primary nodes of the Arctic infrastructure and re-assembled them in a composite, speculative landscape. Part documentary, part projective narrative, the video articulates projective scenarios for the expanding logistic space of global commerce along the coast of the Arctic.
“Stretching across nation-state borders, redefining territoriality through the cartographic space of global supply chains and constructing an operational state of unencumbered continuous movement of goods, the space of logistics is dramatically transforming the world we inhabit,” he says.
“The video presented in this installation articulates projective scenarios for the expanding logistic space of global commerce along the coast of the Arctic,” Profeta says. “Departing from Russian propaganda campaigns staking their geopolitical claim for the control of uncovering resources (oil and gas) and of opening shipping routes made available by the receding ice caps, this research takes the form of a cautionary tale speculating on the transformations looming upon the local territory and on their planetary impact.”
Using a virtual reality (VR) headset, viewers will be transported into the automated landscape of logistics. There, driverless trucks, robotic cranes and remote-sensing drones operate through the dense point cloud. Immersed in a 360-degree video moving across this speculative landscape, this operative mode of vision is slowly contaminated by atmospheric elements foreign to the machinic eye, prompting the viewer to develop an intimate engagement with the material.
“The viewers are caught in an ambiguous territory where a bodily experience of this harsh landscape and its extreme climate re-asserts its presence in an otherwise human-less environment,” Profeta says. “And yet, their point of view is constrained to the rigid linear movement of what appear to be indifferent machines, reinforcing the agency of the automated infrastructure upon the construction of this territory.”
Similarly, the physical space of the installation engages with the three-dimensional database of LiDAR vision by sampling a series of spatial elements surveyed on these sites to construct a space of engagement across multiple mediated realities. The digital trace of the surfaces of cargo containers, one of the artifacts that most dramatically transformed this network of logistics, gantry cranes, ice-breaker navigation control panels and train wagons are translated into five, seven-foot relief panels to extend and confront the content presented through the VR headset.
“Ultimately the installation urges the viewers to understand the architecture of logistics beyond a ‘technicality,” a politically neutral act of management, but rather predicates itself around ideas of anticipation and prediction, acting as a transforming agent of the built environment, of territories as well as of bodies,” Profeta says.
This installation was made possible by the generous support of Syracuse University School of Architecture and by the work and contribution of students Zexi Tang and Erick Sanchez and School of Architecture staff members Michael Giannattasio and John Bryant.