Last week, Niall and I finally got around to watching episode 2 of Adam Curtis’ ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’, as recommended by Stephen many moons ago:
The episode explores how the machine-based idea of everything functioning as a perfectly neat system was applied to the natural world, creating the notion of the “ecosystem” and the untrue belief that nature has this innate balance to which it will always return. This systematic concept was also applied to society in the creation of certain communes and society – an idea which, too, was doomed to fail because of the organic nature of the human mind.
The entire episode was fascinating – if a little depressing – but I was especially interested in the idea of natural feedback loops:
“Tansley was fascinated by this, and he made an extraordinary conceptual leap. He decided that he could take [Freud’s] model of the mind and apply it to the whole of the natural world. He became convinced that underneath the complexity of nature were systems, vast interconnected circuits that linked all animals and plants, through which energy flowed. He invented a name for them: he called them ecosystems.”
This description of the conception of the idea of ecosystems reminded me of an exhibition I worked at in the Naughton Gallery in September – Gus Leudar’s “Garden of Membranes”.
“Garden of Membranes” was a small-scale sound installation composed of a miniature jungle with numerous speakers concealed among the plants. Its goal was to display the various processes which are hidden in the natural world. The sounds playing from the speakers were a combination of recordings taken in the Amazon rainforests and Leudar’s own compositions. The sounds appear to travel from speaker to speaker, creating the effect of a constantly dynamic natural world.
Leudar, a PhD student at the Sonic Arts Research Centre in the School of Creative Arts at Queen’s, has carried out a number of projects on a similar topic, which he helpfully explains in this documentary: