We’re living in Pittsburgh, PA, where I’ve begun my Warhol Curatorial Fellowship at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University. The good folks at the STUDIO have set me up with a desk, a stipend, and a new iMac.
My 17 minute ‘on foot’ commute from Wilkins Avenue is heavenly. We’re renting a wonderful three-story (plus finished basement) furnished home from two computer scientists who are living abroad. As such, we’ve got an elevator, full gym, water bed, dart board, outdoor grill, and a jacuzzi that’s sadly off limits (but perhaps could perform as an ‘encounter zone’). Just kidding, landlords. :)
My fellowship here is an outgrowth of the exhibition, 29 Chains to The Moon, that I curated for Miller Gallery in 2009. The exhibit title is a reference to Buckminster Fuller’s first book, 9 Chains to the Moon, – the title itself a metaphor for cooperation toward solving socio-economic woes. The exhibit considers how artists can contribute to rethinking the production of food, shelter, transportation and energy for a rapidly increasing global population. During my fellowship, I’ll develop a traveling version of the exhibit, and oversee a book sprint (more details on that later). The notion that overpopulation can be addressed before imminent catastrophe is gleamingly optimistic, and nods toward Fuller, and his radical ideas for improving the quality of life for all humankind via progressive design and maximization of the world’s finite resources. I’m also interested in understanding that same sort of humanistic, utopian aesthetic brandished by 20th Century World Fairs, the NASA Space Art Program, and poetic gestures like the Voyager Golden Record.
The first part of my fellowship will be a getting-to-know-you series of meetings with interesting people doing interdisciplinary projects on campus at Carnegie Mellon. I just met former STUDIO fellow, Axel Straschnoy, whose project here involved working with The Robotics Institute to create The New Artist or “art done by robots for robots.” It was fascinating to hear how Axel’s abstract concept (a robot creating art for another robot) was embraced by The Robotics Institute and approached as an empirical problem that could be solved using scientific inquiry. Axel is going to introduce me to the resulting robots this week.
As for Carlos, he’s been working at The Waffle Shop (an artist-run restaurant and TV show) and bringing home delicious wraps from their adjacent Kubideh Kitchen. He’ll be hosting a bi-monthly, yet-to-be-named TV show about music. Certainly, shades of his former KPFT Pacifica radio show, Moontower Radio, will be present.
Listen to me! Podcast interview of Andrea Grover (curator of 29 Chains to the Moon) and Astria Suparak (director of Miller Gallery) conducted by Eric Sloss (LabA6, College of Fine Arts, Carnegie Mellon University). Find out more about the artists currently on view and their visionary schemes for the future.
I also have some très casual photos from our weekend in Pittsburgh on my flickr site. Big thanks to Astria Suparak, Brett Kashmere, Hiromi Ozaki, Cesar Harada, Jon Rubin, Carol, Lilah, Margaret Cox, Erin Pische, Michael Johnson, Greg Pierce, Alisa Dix, Lowry Burgess, Bill Daniel, Mark O’Connor, and all those who tasted the Kool Aid with us.
In 1938, the visionary designer R. Buckminster Fuller wrote Nine Chains to the Moon, his radical proposal for improving the quality of life for all humankind via progressive design and maximization  of the world’s finite resources. The title was a metaphor for cooperation – if all of humankind stood on each other’s shoulders we could complete nine chains to the moon. Today, the population of the planet has increased more than three times to 6.7 billion (we could now complete 29 chains to the moon), and the successful distribution of energy, food, and shelter to over 9 billion humans by 2050 requires some fantastic schemes. Like Fuller’s revelation from five decades earlier, 29 Chains to the Moon features artists who put forth radical proposals, from seasteads and tree habitats to gift-based cultures, to make the world work for everyone.
Nostalgia for our alternate future is in the ether on this convergence of anniversaries: 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the centennial of Futurism, and the quadricentennial of the Newtonian telescope. Over the last year, major art museums have presented exhibitions of visionary design and architecture , meant to reignite that spark of collective imagination that the 20th century saw via world fairs , the formation of international space agencies, and the promise of better living through technology.
Among the surveys was the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2008 exhibition, Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe. Viewers familiar with Fuller’s pragmatic geodesic domes and octet truss structures were introduced to his lesser-known concepts for tomorrow’s cities, like Dome over Manhattan (Midtown Manhattan acclimatized by a 2-mile diameter glass dome); Cloud Nine (a spherical cloud city that could levitate an entire community), and Triton City (a modular seastead for 100,000 inhabitants). Despite having a hallucinatory, science fiction veneer, these proposals were serious enough to be examined by agencies like the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, which commissioned the study for Triton City, and, along with the U.S. Navy, approved the design.
If one of Fuller’s futuristic communities had been realized, it would not have been the first time that science fiction became science fact. In 1945, author, inventor and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicted geostationary communications satellites, some 15 years ahead of NASA’s launch of Echo, the agency’s first experimental communications satellite project . In 1941, Isaac Asimov popularized the term “robotics” in his short story, Liar, over three decades before Carnegie Mellon University founded The Robotics Institute in 1979. Aldous Huxley foresaw cloning decades before Dolly the sheep was made incarnate (again), and countless other authors and artists envisioned technological milestones – from the creation of the atomic bomb to nanotechnology – and their social implications in advance of their manifestation.
It’s not so easy to instill in the public the same brand of wonder and nationalist pride that the Space Race evoked from 1958 to 1975. One seismic shift of late has been the redirection of major scientific exploration from countries to private corporations and citizens . Unbridled individual potential is one outcome of the information age, but so is ambient fear of the future. A 2002 Time Magazine poll revealed that 30 percent of its respondents believed that the world would end within their lifetimes. The work in this exhibition corresponds to the other 70 percent of the population that is optimistic despite the massive challenges faced by civilization . These artists seize technologies that provide unprecedented platforms for collaboration, and new ways of visualizing and representing reality. Theirs is a moment of fluid exchanges between artistic and scientific disciplines, and cooperation among private and public institutions, toward the realization of a possible future.
– Andrea Grover, Curator, 29 Chains to the Moon
 Design and the Elastic Mind was another important survey of anticipatory design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2008.
 The next registered “world exposition” will be Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China with the theme of “Better City, Better Life.”
 According to the Buckminster Fuller Institute, Fuller and Clarke were lifelong friends, who “shared a common fascination with the concept of a “space elevator” (the subject of Clarke’s book The Fountains of Paradise) and Clarke wrote in his introduction to Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for a New Millennium, “when the space elevator is built, sometime in the twenty-first century, it will be his greatest memorial.”
 Private corporations like Virgin Galactica and SpaceX are entering what was once exclusively the domain of government science agencies. Prizes like X Prize (which promotes “revolution through competition”), with initiatives in space travel, automotive design, and genomics, requires registered teams to be 90 percent privately funded.
 In September 2000, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to end poverty and hunger, provide universal education, gender equality, child and maternal healthcare, combat HIV/AIDS, and create environmental sustainability, via global partnership. With a deadline of 2015, these have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.
Open_Sailing is a multi-disciplinary international team led by Cesar Harada and Hiromi Ozaki that is revolutionizing the concept of seasteading and social production of ideas and technologies. The Open_Sailing prototype is a “living architecture” at sea, composed of multiple dwellings, ocean farming modules, and an amoeba-like design that can expand and contract, based on the existence of calculated risks. “Open_Sailing acts like a superorganism, a cluster of intelligent units that can react to their environment, change shape and reconfigure themselves. They talk to each other. They’re modular, re-pluggable, pre-broken, post-industrial.” The concept for Open_Sailing came from creating a geography of fear – a world “potential threat map” that highlighted the centers of greatest risk (pandemics, high-human density, recent violent conflicts, hypothetical nuclear fall-outs, tsunami risk, potential exposure to rising sea level, and so on), to determine the safest areas on Earth, which happened to be at sea. Open_Sailing was awarded the 2009 Prix Ars
an> Electronica in “THE NEXT IDEA” category, and is underway with construction of an advanced prototype for their floating laboratory. www.opensailing.net
Stephanie Smith’s projects span the worlds of architecture, art, technology, and culture. Her research into the social practices of fringe and nomadic societies yielded a movement she calls Wanna Start a Commune?, and include diagrams for creating modern Cul-de-Sac Communes, portable kiosks for non-monetary exchange and meet-ups, and most recently an online platform for creating as many communes as your life demands, (www.wecommune.com). Smith says that the impetus for these projects was to counter the assumption that being green means consuming green products; instead she wanted to revive the best parts of the commune concept (a community where resources are shared) and “bring collective attitude to places where it doesn’t yet exist.” Smith is also the founder of Ecoshack, a design experiment that began in Joshua Tree, CA and is now an LA-based design studio inspired by the ad hoc, indigenous and archetypal typologies typically found at the fringes of society and culture. In 2008, the Whitney Museum identified Smith as the designer/entrepreneur most actively taking the ideas of Buckminster Fuller into the 21st century. www.stephaniesmithsofar.wordpress.com
Mitchell Joachim [jo-ak-um] is a Co-Founder at Terreform ONE and Terrefuge. He earned a Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MAUD at Harvard University, M.Arch. at Columbia University, and BPS at SUNY Buffalo with Honors. He currently serves on the faculty at Columbia University and Parsons and formerly worked as an architect at Gehry Partners and Pei Cobb Freed. He has been awarded the Moshe Safdie Research Fellowship and the Martin Family Society Fellow for Sustainability at MIT. He won the History Channel and Infiniti Design Excellence Award for the City of the Future and Time Magazine’s “Best Invention of the Year 2007” for Compacted Car with MIT Smart Cities. His project on view at the Miller Gallery, Fab Tree Hab, has been exhibited at MoMA and widely published. He was selected by Wired magazine for “The 2008 Smart List: 15 People the Next President Should Listen To.” www.archinode.com
Terreform ONE is a non-profit philanthropic design collaborative that integrates ecological principles in the urban environment. The group views ecology in design as not only a philosophy that inspires visions of sustainability and social justice but also a focused scientific endeavor. The mission is to ascertain the consequences of fitting a project within our natural world setting. Solutions range from green master planning, urban self-sufficiency infrastructures, community development activities, climatic tall buildings, performative material technologies, and smart mobility vehicles for cities. These design iterations seek an activated ecology both as a progressive symbol and an evolved artifact. www.terreform.org
SPECIAL READING ROOM WITH MATERIALS FEATURING
Andrea Grover is an independent curator, artist and writer. In 1998, she founded Aurora Picture Show, a now recognized center for filmic art that began in her living room as “the world’s most public home theater.” She curated the first exhibition exploring the phenomenon of crowdsourcing in art (Phantom Captain, apexart, New York, 2006), and, with artist Jon Rubin, organized an exhibit in which worldwide participants created a photo-sharing album of their imaginings on Tehran (Never Been to Tehran, Parkinggallery, Tehran, Iran, 2008) She recently curated screenings for both Dia Art Foundation, New York, and The Menil Collection, Houston. 29 Chains to the Moon continues her research into cooperation and distributed thinking across disciplines. www.andreagrover.com
Images, top to bottom:
Open_Sailing Model, Open_Sailing (model made by Martin Gautron, Hiromi Ozaki, Adrien Lecuru, and Cesar Harada)
The Cul-de-sac Commune Project, Stephanie Smith
Fab Tree Hab, Terreform ONE, (contributors: Mitchell Joachim, Maria Aiolova, Landon Young, Javier Arbona, Lara Greden)
29 Chains to the Moon: Artists’ Schemes for a Fantastic Future
Guest curated by Andrea Grover
Organized by Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University
Aug. 28 – Dec. 6, 2009
Sept. 11, Fri. 6-8pm: Reception
Artists include: Terreform ONE (Mitchell Joachim, Maria Aiolova, Landon Young, Javier Arbona, Lara Greden), Open_Sailing, Stephanie Smith, more
About the Exhibition
In 1938, the visionary designer R.Buckminster Fuller wrote Nine Chains to the Moon, his radical proposal for improving the quality of life for all humankind via progressive design and maximization of the world’s finite resources. The title was a metaphor for cooperation–if all of humankind stood on each others’ shoulders we could complete nine chains to the moon. Today, the population of the planet has increased more than three times (we could now complete 29 chains to the moon), and the successful distribution of energy, food, and shelter to over 9 billion humans by 2050 requires some fantastic schemes. Like Fuller’s revelation from five decades earlier, 29 Chains to the Moon features artists who put forth radical proposals, from seasteads and micronations to floating cities, to make the world work for everyone.
This letter was sent to Buckminster Fuller on November 19, 1982, nine months before his death (from the book Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for the New Millennium edited by Thomas T.K. Zung). The letter and Fuller’s response choke me up every time.
Dear Buckminster Fuller:My last grandmother died recently, as expected, but I didn’t expect to remember so much I forgot to talk with her about, and I’m a bit blue when I think of her. She was born about the time when you were, and since your death soon could not be called unexpected, I want to send you a note of appreciation.Insofar as I represent the generation twice removed from yours (younger in human terms, older in Universe time), I want to thank you on behalf of all of us, for a life well done. There’s no question that you will be better known in fifty years than you are now, because every year your ideas, language, and general optimism appear to become more saturated in the collective consciousness.You have know the stagecoach, yet remain on the cutting edge of the electronic age. You are so wonderfully arranged that I can be assured that you will read this letter. How you come to God, I don’t understand, but God bless you.Love,Joe [Joseph Wheelwright]
Dear Joe,There have been two generations of Wheelwright friends in the first half of my life. They were all admirable individuals. I interpret your spontaneous writing to me in so daringly tender a way as a message of comprehension and accord from all those whom I love who have died and in my youth were so often dismayed and alarmed by all the mistakes I had to make to become shocked into discovering what I had to learn. This was to thoughtfully discover on my own, in both the biggest and most exquisite ways, what needed to be done, and could now be done for the first time in history to make the world work for everybody. It was a task that required a special-case individual to initiate, and individual who had come to the point of suicide and was inspired to commit his total experience inventory only to the advantage of all others but self.There’s lots more to be done, which it seems to me I have to do before I die, as a follow-through in accomplishing all that with which I committed myself to cope. I never pray God to do anything, because God would not be God if the eternal, absolute intellectual competence needed my suggestions.I feel sure that God holds you in grace and will continue to do so. I thank God for an additional Wheelwright friend.Faithfully yours,Buckminster Fuller