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Robot-Readable Gardens
If you enjoyed yesterday's mini film series on topiary robotics, you might also be interested in another line-up on garden machinery presented by Tuinbouw Technisch Atelier BV, a Dutch company (obviously) that advertises itself as “a leading supplier of equipment for handling and selection of young plants and other equipment for growers and industries.” At least for their most recent uploads, the videos are more slick, soundtracked with post-rock, and of higher quality, which make them not at all out of place in a Ron Fricke glorified slideshow, in the them-whacky-humans section.

This is their CombiFix, which is outfitted with a “unique vision selection system.” You can briefly see it from 0:27 reading the electromagnetic spectrum for glitches in these mobile, robot-readable gardens, or at least aberrations according to its programming.

The ways in which ornamental plants, vegetables and fruits have been standardized by way of, among other things, industrial efficiency, institutional regulations, globalization and capricious aesthetics, are endlessly fascinating to think about, so it would definitely be interesting to speculate how such machines and their computer vision will someday affect changes to our ornamentals and food. Will the future orange be redesigned to make it more readable to the LIDAR scanners of fruit-picking machines? Will tomatoes inscribe themselves with vegeglyphs, the agricultural variety of these home “machine-hieroglyphs”?

In any case, here's their FlexPlanter. The video is interrupted by a buyer raving about the machine, how “[b]efore, this process was done by many people” but “now 3 people are sufficient” and perhaps still “two additional persons” can be put out of work. So one second you're in reverie, and the next second you're skirting through issues of weighty importance, like migrant farm labor, immigration and the rural austerity diaspora. (As an aside, the urban youths escaping the econopocalyptic city, searching employment in ancestral farmsteads, only to find them overrun by agrobots, is a story worth fleshing out.)

Of course, I'd like to see these planters go mobile (sentient or simply autonomous), as a kind of Johnny Appleseed peacenik version of DARPA's Big Dog. All day and all night, in landscapes denuded of vegetation by wildfires or some other cataclysmic event, perhaps on extraterrestrial landscapes, they'll be tippity tap tapping seedlings into the earth (or Martian regolith), doubling back once in a while to patch up glitches in the garden.
Applied Topiary
Gebroeders Ezendam B.V.

The other night, while inescapably mired in a seemingly endless video stream of manhole explosions (which I recently learned are “[e]ventualities in subterranean chambers” to which “few large cities are immune”) and in an even more extended playlist of landslides and debris flows (in the hope of siting Fred Astaire and Shelley Winters), I stumbled upon the YouTube account of Gebroeders Ezendam B.V., a Dutch company that manufactures, among other things, pruning machines for plant nurseries.

Here's their Globus machine trimmer, which can clip 600 balls an hour, though they have models that can do 5000 an hour.

They also have a machine for stemmed bushes.

Shrubs can also be shaped into cones.

In the din of hydraulic pumps, combustion engines and whirring blades, and in the heady aroma of gasoline and freshly cut greenery, the feral and the hirsute are systematized and standardized — by machines programmed by Le NĂ´tre to hack weeds into Platonic forms — before other machines come around to uproot, ball and ship them to waiting client landscapes that have no patience for informality and flavor. In some ways, it's so Dutch.

Gebroeders Ezendam B.V.

In case you were wondering, they also have a GPS-propelled pruning machine. Give it a LIDAR scanning system, so it can build a 3D field map for better navigation and precision grooming. Give it extra processing power, and it can achieve full autonomy. And then some more, and keep on doing so until they reach sentience. At night after work, they'll escape to their secret topiary gardens in the forests and perhaps in the cities, too, where they transgress from globules and Christmas trees into vegetal phantasmagoria.

Surely it would be preferable to give these cyborg coiffeurs artificial intelligence instead of Skynet's killing machines, to be strolling through gardens and orchards to catch glimpses of these fantastical beasts at work rather than escaping from heat-seeking drones, Edward Scissorhands instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, sculpting human figures in hedgerows rather than flash sculpting actual humans into mounds of ash.

Monstrous Geographies
Giovanni Battista de' Cavalieri

Apologies for posting this Call for Papers months after the deadline has passed. I myself found out about this conference a bit too late as well. Nevertheless, I thought I'd post the abstract — along with its incredible list of topics — for reference. (After all, posting syllabi is always in vogue.) Used as a mission statement and a checklist, you could undoubtedly assemble one of the most interesting blogs (or Tumblr or Pinterest boards) out there.

The conference, Monstrous Geographies: Places and Spaces of Monstrosity, will take place in Prague, Czech Republic, on May 2013. This is actually the second conference of an interdisciplinary project organized by a global network of scholars. The first conference took place last year, and abstracts of all the presentations, along with some of the draft papers, are archived here.


What is the relationship between the monstrous and the geographic? From ‘Aristotelian’ spaces – as containers of monsters and the monstrous – to ‘Leibnizian’ spaces, where the monstrous emerges from the topological relation between events and localities, monstrous geographies have always haunted the human cultural imagination. From the Necropolis to the Killing Fields and from the Amityville Horror to the island of Dr. Moreau, geographical locations may act as the repository or emanation of human evil, made monstrous by the rituals and behaviors enacted within them, or by their peculiarities of atmosphere or configuration. Whether actual or imagined, these places of wonder, fear and horror speak of the symbiotic relation between humanity and location that sees morality, ideology and emotions given physical form in the house, the forest, the island, the nation and even far away worlds in both space and time. They may engage notions of self and otherness, inclusion and exclusion, normal and aberrant, defense and contagion; may act as magnets for destructive and evil forces, such as the island of Manhattan; they are the source of malevolent energies and forces, such as Transylvania, Area 51 and Ringu; and they are the fulcrum for chaotic, warping energies, such as the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis and Pandemonium. Alongside this, there exist the monstrous geographies created by scientific experimentation, human waste and environmental accidents, creating sites of potential and actual disaster such as the Chernobyl nuclear plant, the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil disaster, and the devastated coastline of Tohuku, Japan. These places raise diverse post-human quandaries regarding necessities in the present leading to real or imagined futures of humanity and habitation.

Encompassing the factual and the fictional, the literal and the literary, this project investigates the very particular relationships and interactions between humanity and place, the natural and the unnatural, the familiar and the unfamiliar, and sees a multitude of configurations of human monstrosity and evil projected, inflicted, or immanent to place. Such monstrous geographies can be seen to emerge from the disparity between past and present, memory and modernity, urban and rural and can be expressed through categories of class, gender and racial difference as well as generational, political and religious tensions.

Presentations, papers, reports, performances, work-in-progress, workshops and pre-formed panels are invited on issues related to any of the following themes:

Monstrous Cartographies:
~Terra incognita
~Real and Mythic lost lands: eg., Atlantis, D’yss [Ys?], and Shangri-La
~Utopias/Dystopias, future cities in time and space
~Malevolent regions: eg., Lemuria, Bermuda Triangle, Transylvania
~Sublime landscapes
~Bodies as maps and maps as bodies, eg. Prison Break

Monstrous Islands:
~As sites of experimentation. Dr. Moreau, Jurassic Park, etc.
~As a beacon for evil: eg., Manhattan in Godzilla and Cloverfield
~As site of ritual evil and incest: eg., Wicker Man, Pitkin Islands, Isle of the Dead
~Imperialist intent and construction: eg., Prospero’s Island, Hong Kong, Hashima

Monstrous Cosmographies:
~Evil planets and dimensions
~Comets, meteorites and beings from unknown worlds
~Worlds as dark reflections/twins of Earth
~Planets and alien landscapes that consume and mutate earthly travelers

Monstrous Environmental Geographies:
~Polluted lakes and landscapes
~Landfills, oil spills and mining sites
~Melting icecaps and landforms at risk from global warming
~Land impacted by GM crops and associated experimentation
~Sites of starvation, disaster and pestilence
~De-militarized zones and no-man’s lands

Monstrous Religious Sites & Ritualistic Monstrosity:
~Armageddon, Apocalypse and final battlegrounds
~Hell, the Underworld and Valhalla
~Eden, Purgatory, Paradise, El Dorado, Shangri La
~Sites of religious ritual, sacrifice and burial
~Houses and haunts of murderers and serial killers

Monstrous Landscapes of Conflict:
~The land of the enemy and the other
~Sites of attack and retaliation.
~Sites of revolution and protest
~Concentration camps, prisons and other sites of incarceration
~Sites of genocide, battlefields and military graveyards
~Border crossings
~Ghettos, shanty towns and relocation sites
~Urban and rural, cities, towns and villages and regional and national prejudice
~Minefields and sites of damage, destruction and ruin
~Arsenals, bunkers and military experimentation


Uncanny Geographical Temporalities:
~Old buildings in new surroundings
~Buildings with too much, and those without, memory
~Soulless Architecture
~Ideological architecture, palaces, museums etc
~Places held in time, UNESCO sites and historical and listed buildings
~Old towns and New towns, rich and poor
~Appearing and disappearing towns/regions, eg., Brigadoon, Silent Hill.

Monsters on the Move:
~Contagion, scouring and infectious landscapes
~Monsters and mobile technologies: phone, video, cars, planes, computers etc
~Fluid identities, fluid places
~Touring Monstrosities, dreamscapes and infernal topologies

Architectural Monstrosity
~Mazes and labyrinths (with or without the Minotaur)
~Unsettling/revolting geometries (E.A. Abbot’s Flatland, H.P. Lovecraft’s City of R’lyeh)
~Monstrous/abject building materials (bones, concrete, excrements, the corpse in the wall)
~The architecture of death (hospices, death row, funeral homes, slaughterhouses)

Glacier National Park
!melk Glacier

In what seems like a natural reaction to the extreme weather events in Australia, from wildfires to off-the-color temperatures to “agonized dryness,” the northern latitudes produced their own antipodean freak shows. One of the more hyperborean images is arguably that of a Chicago building encased in ice. Firefighters were called to put out a blaze in an abandoned warehouse, but with subzero temperatures plaguing the region for days, the water from their hoses froze once it hit the building. If there's a spectacular way to announce the end to the city's record streak of snowless days, then that is it.

3737 South Ashland, Central Manufacturing District, Chicago

It certainly recalls, among other things, the Detroit house, also abandoned, plastered with frozen water by artists Greg Hold and Matthew Radune in 2010, and the speleological winterscape found more recently inside the Fulton Market Cold Storage Company building, again in Chicago. The later wasn't caused by a natural meteorological event per se, but it does speak to the growing strangeness that awaits us in the climate changed future and to the even more bizarre schemes we'll take up to keep ourselves warm, cool, dry and irrigated.

Might trees be soon genetically manipulated to grow roots of icy stalactites to air condition Central Park in a New York City of average 115°F days?

Fulton Market Cold Storage Company

Speaking of New York, there's that frozen fountain in Bryant Park. What better way to revive some of the deader corners of the city in winter than a fountain metastasizing into a Fortress of Solitude, something fit for Tilda Swinton? (Cai Guo-Chang's pyrotechnics?) But let's not forget about all the Arctic hysteria in the UK.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these collectively compelled someone to troll the internet:

That he is Australian (never mind his US citizenship), so presumably is fully aware of what's happening in his native country, his tweet is all the more astonishing. No doubt he's trying to outdo @realDonaldTrump.

Then again, he's half right: those firefighters weren't trying to douse a five-alarm fire, rather they were testing out prototype ice-making machines for a future Glacier National Park in Chicago. A huge swathe of the city will be cleared of its foreclosed houses, to be replaced, in the garden tradition of fake ruin follies, with fake abandoned buildings, which will be structurally reinforced to bear the weight of mini-glaciers. To add variety, some landforms will be contoured.

Crested Butte ESPN Ice Wall

For the better part of the year, it's a replicant post-industrial wasteland, a playground for the Instagram set. But each winter, even after (no, especially after) Chicago has climatically migrated to Birmingham, Alabama, this urban national park will be sheathed in a “new ice age.”

Urban Ice Climbing

Unfortunately, as this is a parallel world cued by Rupert Murdoch, no Romantics will come to wonder around in a frozen Forum, no Thoreaus to abseil up vertiginous frozen lakes for deep Waldian introspection, no paleoclimate revelers for a Pleistocene Festival as marvelous as London's Frost Fairs.

Instead, they will come in droves. They are the bankers and the giant money managers from Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Bain Capital, the high-powered cogs in the engine of finance who sit behind desks with their ice picked scars unseen beneath crisp custom suits, the cubicle-bound King Leonidases yearning to wear shirts that read, “I don't get drunk, I get awesome” and “STDS” (short for “Super Tough Dudes”), to belt out “OO-rahs!” and to have a celebratory drink of Dos Equis after navigating one of the deeper urban crevasses, which are 9/11 on knees, which is not that different from the messy slog of foreclosing homes. In short, the offsprings of Rupert Murdoch's wet dreams in homoerotic glee.

Dawn on Chryse Planitia
Sunrise on Chryse Planitia
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