Liam Young, 02 10 10

This is an exerpt of the travelogue from Acres Green. See slow thoughts for the Beamer Bees, Mobile Mountains and Prosthetic Trees and more from this strange little community.  By  Anab Jain + Jon Ardern of Superflux, Liam Young + Darryl Chen of Tomorrows Thoughts Today and Chris Hand and the ‘Power of 8’ team.

At first the residents didn’t know what to call them. The once strange creatures had no name. Maybe there was a manufacturing code, or an RFID tag attached surreptitiously to their underbelly, but nothing official or as obvious as a logo like on a newly unveiled car. No motor show. No fanfare. They just arrived.

Their size was striking. Not that they were big, but that they were unsettlingly human in dimension, each specimen the equivalent mass of an adult man inflated into a rotund figure. Each displayed a great folded surface like unfurled wings spread into a complete and airtight enclosure. Manufactured with precision pleats and jointing expertly executed, the pristine body constituted an object equal to a small exploratory spacecraft or even a fine tailored suit. Its form had a quality of otherworldly beauty, but in recent years those once virgin husks were now marked with the deposits of airborne nuisances – carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, platanus acerfolia pollens and pigeon shit

A homage to the fog catchers that came and went before them, these sophisticated beings were appendages to the natural environment – microclimatic machines. Fastidious in their task of redistributing water, they were able to green small pockets of the ecosystem with workaholic obsession. Their great canopied bodies expanded to collect moisture and contracted to move more efficiently. Hovering the skies, they sought out humid air systems following low air pressure systems, collecting moisture on their outer skins and collecting them in their fuselage. They then deposited this rain – I suppose you could call it rain – on farmlands outside of cities. A promised land like an old testament morality tale.

The ‘new clouds’ – for that’s how they came to be known – were semi-autonomous in their seeking out of moist air. Their sensors allowed them to surf the waves of air streams and navigate atmospheric shifts with a precision only matched by their animalistic beauty. Innately responsive to this atmospheric realm by design, it was later discovered that they were also acutely sensitive to ultrasonic frequencies.

A DIY loving community had another outlet for their obsessive research. Arrays of tweeters and other sonic devices provided an improvised control terminal from which the clouds could be directed. Suitable facilities were able to be quickly assembled for such purposes. And they provided an interface with human society that served to remind the airborne beings of their difficult relationship with their creator race. Guiding the clouds manually with all of the paraphernalia of control was a difficult task. Like the docking of a ship on choppy waters, guiding the cloud to its destination was a particularly imprecise art. As residents expanded an ever-multiplying assemblage of hardware, their efforts became steadily more adept at steering the dextrous beasts. But the technologies remained the same mid-tech of: oscilloscopes, palm-sized controllers, and banks upon banks of tweeters.

And so, these mobile radio stations played the soundtrack to a silent dance party. 

The clouds were coerced into a hasty transition to the city. Like trafficked contraband they were quickly seized upon by a bevy of ham radio enthusiasts and electronics hobbyists who were able to commandeer the clouds by intercepting them on their normal travels and intervening in the regular service of this mobile infrastructure. The law remained a grey area for would-be hackers. The utilities company who had invested in the technology had once made public threats to those interfering in their operations, but so common were the infringements and so inconsequential were they to their normal water harvesting operations that the authorities turned an ambivalent glance away. This was at once evidence of the stone cold profitability of the clouds, and a tacit approval of an avenue of potential mayhem.

Rooftops became venue of an urban-scaled game of one-upmanship. Normally the clouds traced a path of natural forces making visible the currents of warm air and humidity in the lower atmosphere. Now interrupted, the clouds became an extension of the collective competitiveness and entertainment of the geek classes.

From street level the clouds were a spectacle as they dipped, dived and passed by each other in combat-like aerials.  Duels of aerial tag ensued where fuselages narrowly missed each other and sudden changes of direction imitated a kind of drug-fuelled mating dance. The ham radio operators would often gaze into the sky wildly while others reached into their bags of tricks (mostly pre-hacked components and electronic discards) desperately modifying hardware to boost their signal.

The aerial escapades were an almost primal celebration where the near exasperation of extraordinarily simple technologies played out against the backdrop of the city. All the while, the obediently harvested water dripped away as those clouds jerked from side to side in pursuit of each other. Puddles formed in streets, windows were suddenly splashed, and renegade mists rendered the skyline an erratic decomposition in water.

Denizens of the village had become accustomed to sudden changes in weather. The clouds brought rain in the dry seasons and interfered in all manner of other ways with air movements and atmospheric visibility. It was as though the village had changed into a totally different urban environment – one that looked the same but with a spasmodic climate. Sometimes the coming changes in weather could only be read by seeing the shimmering profile of the clouds above our heads, marked ambiguously against the ‘real’ sky. But this required the residents to be looking, and to be honest, they had all learned to go about their business as normal.

Not everyone was so ambivalent. Some alternative movements protested against the intrusion into their previous way of experiencing climate. They rallied their defences shielding against the onslaught of the clouds in literal and symbolic ways. Such radicals were seen hoisting umbrellas and waving flaming torches about their heads, igniting the flammable hydrogen of the clouds in protest. They celebrated the kind of rain their village used to have, insisting on its health benefits as they danced open-mouthed with faces turned to the sky. And the rest of the village realized how similar they were to those very clouds themselves – trying to cope within the changing conditions of our world. Both clouds and frustrated observers were objectified as oddities, and yet subsumed into our daily life, our blase experience of the city, this urbanism of designed weather.

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