Finis-terra (2018)

Around 2010, a wave of social and political unrest called the 'Awakening' washed over the Middle East. Leading up to this, there was a winter drought in China's wheat-growing regions, a heatwave in Russia, and an outbreak of stem rust in East Africa, which all contributed to dramatically reduce grain production for export. Inflation driven by rising agricultural commodity prices, or agflation, is now widely acknowledged as a key 'stressor' . The counter-revolutionary response to predict unrest has been investment in Automatic Identification Systems, Satellite Imagery and Machine Learning. This 'automated gaze' datafies, surveys and analyses large surfaces of land and water in order to forecast such things as rainfall, flooding and grain yields, to value insurance premiums, green bonds, and potential zones of conflict.

Ancient Persian garden carpets were floor coverings depicting gardens seen from above. Used mostly during winter time, they afforded not only a command over the production and reproduction of nature, but also of the return of the seasons. Closely following the design of larger pleasure-gardens, the rug was organised around a central watercourse . It contained tributary canals, islands, ponds populated by fish, flower plots and trees . These rugs were a microcosm within. As Michel Foucault argues "the garden is a rug onto which the whole world comes to enact its symbolic perfection, the rug is a garden that can move across space" (1986) .

The system of organisation embedded in the garden carpet has a rich genealogy in artist explorations of 'views from above'. Namely Jacopo de Barbari's oblique perspective of Venice (1500) , Paul Klee's military photography inspired landscapes , or Albrecht Altdorfer's depiction of the battle of Alexander the Great against Persian King Darius . Technologies also afford perspectives that can profoundly change our epistimological mode of being such as was the case with ballooning and the panoramic vision famously photographed by Felix Nadar (also see Lily Ford's recount). Finis-terra inscribes itself within this field of enquiry, investigating the politics of perspetive embedded in the satellite imagery and the patterns created by the trained algorithms.

It is also an art-led inquiry into the subjection of terrestrial sense data and movements to mathematical formulae, a spring carpet of embroidered algorithmically rendered patterns . Patterns of weather, seeding, grain yield, geopolitics, and irrigation, stabilize the Earth into a permanent yet uneven 'surface of accumulation' making the space between machines and non-machines increasingly ambiguous. Their topologies form potential sites for investment, or divestment, according to valuation in the calculations of finance capital. Thus, thinking with the Earth as a body might help us to understand these processes at play, whose changeable inscription of history can be [not only] read or traced, but also allegedly predicted.

Finis-terra is a Latin term which designates 'a payment in settlement, fine or tax', as well as the end, and finis terrae, land's end, thus a coupling with the historic-material process of the 'frontier thesis'. Space emerges as the last frontier of technical and financial systems. Like Columbus who marvelled at the new world in their hamacas , finis-terra offers a glimpse at the entanglement between finance, imperialism and colonialism afforded by the automatic gaze .


An art-led enquiry by FRAUD.

Image references:
1) Bread helmet guy meme (2011).
2) Ibid
3) Available from Descartes Labs.
4) Garden carpets images from Chandramani Singh, Treasures of the Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur. Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Rajasthan, 2010.
5) Ibid
6) Ibid
7) A Persian Garden Carpet from Martin Conway, The Burlington Magazine. 23(122) 1913, 95-99.
8) Jacopo de Barbari's oblique perspective of Venice (1500).
9) Paul Klee, Die Sonne streift die Ebene (1929-34).
10) Albrecht Altdorfer, The Battle of Alexander at Issus (1529).
11) Felix Nadar, Premier résultat de photographie aérostatique (1858).
12) Finis-terra on the loom, finely woven by Gainsborough.
13) The interpreter and landscape idealized. E. L. Rabben, "Fundamentals of photo interpretation", in R. M. Colwell, American Society of Photogrammetry (Eds), Manual of Photographic Interpretation, Washington, 1960, 140.
14) The hammock as an icon of America herself- engraving by Theodor Galle after Stradanus (c. 1630).
15) Finis-terra at the EIB. Photography courtesy of Vincenzo Cardile.

Acknowledgements:
Finis-terra has received the generous support of the European Investment Bank Institute through the Artist Development programme in Luxembourg (LU). EIB.
Photography of the exhibition courtesy of Vincenzo Cardile.


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