Future Tripping Online Program

April 23-24, 2018 (1410 Music Building)
Wireframe Studio + Digital Arts & Humanities Commons

Everyone attending is invited to share their media (pics, vids, gifs, etc) by emailing it to us here: Media_G.rb4rgabt4o4ou72h@u.box.com. If we gather enough media by the end of Day 2, then we might be able to digitally perform closing remarks. 

Organized by Professors Alenda Chang, Jeremy Douglass, and Laila Shereen Sakr
Participant Biographies

The Future Tripping symposium addresses our current climate of extreme uncertainty over economic, political, and environmental futures. Through play with data, games, machines, virtual worlds, living species and landscape, participants will bridge medium and methodology among emerging fields of environmental science, media theory and practice, and the digital humanities.

Future tripping, as artist Christina McPhee informed us, is when you worry so much about the future that you fail to be in the present. To future trip is to fall prey to paralyzing anxiety, which for many millennials is tied to economic and social uncertainty–life after college, and the dreaded “FOMO” (fear of missing out). From our vantage point, the current political instability leads to a different kind of future tripping, the kind we are already accustomed to handling in our various disciplines of environmental criticism, media art and activism, and speculative literature. Yet whether we lose sleep over unemployment, climate change, abuse of state power, or the erosion of humanistic inquiry, what unites us is our heightened sense of missed opportunities, and the temptation to allow brooding over the future to override action in the present moment. Conceptually, we are drawn to “future tripping” not only for its playful resonance with the psychedelic art and civil-rights and environmental movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but also for its pithy encapsulation of both temporal and affective registers.

Future Tripping brings together scholarship and stakeholders generally segregated by medium and methodology: the printed word, the moving image, or “new” media; art, or science; and theory, or practice. All of our invited speakers/exhibitors work across these dividing lines. Artist Christina McPhee creates abstract computer-generated visualizations of natural environments. Ecologist and data scientist Danielle Christianson studied red firs in Sequoia National Forest using both traditional fieldwork and virtual-reality models based on terrestrial laser scanning. Susana Ruiz combines art practice and design, computation, and storytelling to explore emergent forms of social justice, aesthetics, and learning, particularly through games. Elaine Gan combines methods from art, science, and the digital and environmental humanities to study the timing and temporal coordinations of more-than-human socialities, with a particular interest in plants and fungi. And Liz Losh is a pioneering figure in media history, the politics and practices of the online public sphere, and the digital humanities.

Thank you to our UCSB Co-Sponsors: Dean John Majewski, Division of Humanities and Fine Arts; College of Letters & Science; Interdisciplinary Humanities Center; Carsey-Wolf Center; Center for Information Technology and Society; Digital Arts & Humanities Commons; Transcriptions; Media Arts & Technology Program; Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies Environmental Justice/Climate Justice Research Hub; Department of Environmental Studies; and the Department of Film and Media.


DAY 1 – Monday April 23, 2018

1:00PM – 2:15PM  Opening Play Workshop

Susana Ruiz (UC Santa Cruz), “Beyond Empathy: Designing Play for Collaborative Action and Belongingness”

2:15 – 2:30 PM  Break

2:30 – 3:45 PM  Discussion

Danielle Christianson (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab), “01100110 01101111 01110010 01100101 01110011 01110100 [forest]”

Visual and numerical abstraction is an everyday affair in earth science. As technologies capable of collecting and analyzing increasingly finer resolution observations of the earth become more common, novel forms of representation begin to blur the abstraction and abstracted. Using the study of microclimate in a forest with 3D laser scanning and virtual reality technologies as a case study, I explore the advantages and potential risks to earth science practice associated with new digital forms of representation.

Summer Gray (UC Santa Barbara), “The Virtual Seawall”

Futuristic maps of the world give visual representation to projects of scientific projection, creating virtual boundaries that work to influence the ways in which people understand and respond to changes in their environment. In some cases these calculations reaffirm what is already known and experienced. Yet in most cases the visual abstraction of a flooded coastline gives rise to a new sense of danger, stirring up feelings of anxiety over the future and nostalgia for the present. As this talk will illustrate, depictions of sea change create the conditions for new infrastructures of risk — what I call “virtual seawalls” — that engage with shifting demarcations of time and ongoing struggles for justice.

Marcos Novak (UC Santa Barbara), “Future: Invisible: Tripping: Machine”

“Future: Invisible: Tripping: Machine:” proposes an open, tolerant, combinatorial, and creative stance toward encounters with the unknown.  To begin with, two notions are brought together: <future tripping> and <invisible machine>. From their collision, two new notions are generated: <future invisible> and <tripping machine>. The first, <Future Invisible>, alludes to an ancient saying by the sophist Isocrates (to whom much of the model of paideia is credited):  “Μηδεν συμφορν νειδσς· κοιν γρ  τχη κα τ μλλον ἀόρατον.” in English: “Taunt no one’s misfortune; for to all fortune is common and the future invisible.” The second, <Tripping Machine>, alludes to Paul Klee’s painting <Twittering Machine>, and to the impinging of the artificial on nature. But, whereas tripping might be construed as negative, the impulse here is to choose to see that-which-trips as providing an opportunity to solve, not forget, the problems that arise when worlds collide.  <Twittering Machine>, in turn, directs attention to Paul Klee’s “Pedagogical Sketchbook,” which contains a wealth of ideas for how to make anything, including worlds, by balancing and reconciling forces inherent in the field of their encounter.  These two notions, one ancient, one modern, collide/collude with worldmaking and social VR and transvergence and all the ideas we are exploring in the present and are anticipating for our future. Other combinations are possible. All are welcome. Writing “future: invisible: tripping: machine:” explodes all the components, making all available for recombination, pointing to the openness to these other combinatorial possibilities, and to any that arise as the work/world progresses. Notably, “tripping” now leans into “twittering” — a notion of travel is maintained, but the fear of falling/failing is replaced by hopeful birdsong. Embodiment follows: these words are not idle, they are enacted. They become instructions to a form of worldmaking that takes its cues from the rainforest or the coral reef or the living city. A group of transvergent worldmakers build in parallel, with no initial plan other than the establishment of a sustainable ecosystem within which diversity can thrive. Intentions collide and are resolved as opportunities. Step by step, one teetering/twittering trip at a time, beauty emerges from ever-unfolding balance. 

3:45 – 4:00 PM  Break

4:00 – 4:15 PM  Framing remarks

Dean John Majewski, Division of Humanities and Fine Arts
Laila Shereen Sakr – Alenda Chang – Jeremy Douglass (organizers)

4:15 – 5:15 PM  Keynote

Elizabeth Losh (College of William and Mary), “That Was the News That Wasn’t: Fake News and the Culture of Simulation”

The term “fake news” dates back to the 1940s, when post-war commentators expressed concerns about doctored images and government propaganda. It describes a range of pseudo-journalistic genres that are often designed to do much more than merely deceive. Rhetorical purposes for fake news can include stimulating satiric amusement about corrupt institutions, generating furor in calls for information warfare, or reinforcing anomie when claims of neutrality are asserted for pursuing so-called “alternative facts.”  In recent years fake news has deployed new digital technologies that use photorealistic 3D simulation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive algorithms to undermine basic truth claims. Based on a longstanding collaboration with Nishant Shah, this talk discusses ways to get beyond contemporary moral panics to understand how fake news has become part of the epistemological landscape of everyday life and why the digital humanities must address the presence of fake news

5:15 – 6:30 PM Art Opening and Reception

Christina McPhee, “SPILLBANK”

SPILLBANK is a three channel video and audio installation, in premiere for the Future Tripping Symposium, Wireframe Gallery, University of California-Santa Barbara, April 2018, by the intermedia artist Christina McPhee. The work consists of three moving image and audio channels, in a twenty minute loop.

7:00 PM  Dinner


DAY 2 – Tuesday April 24, 2018

10:30 AM  Coffee and tea

10:45AM – 12:00PM  Thinking/Walking Out-of-doors

Alenda Chang, Film and Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara
Laila Shereen Sakr, Film and Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara

12:00 – 1:00 PM Lunch & Demos

Solomon Abas (UCSB) and Mindi Cao (UCLA), just. stay. calm (Unity game using the Muse headband)

Elaine Gan (USC), “Year Zero”

“Year Zero” is a card game about multispecies survival in the wake of nuclear disaster. In this game, the Sixth Extinction has just happened and the world is a toxic dump. To stay alive involves finding companion species, negotiating with killer invasives, and cultivating more-than-human assemblages through a series of encounters and charms. Players must negotiate difference and collectivity to live through nuclear fallout as it dissipates over a century.

Mengyu Chen and Gustavo Rincon (UCSB), transLAB

Intae Hwang (UCSB) + VJ Um Amel (UCSB), Glitch Resistance in Mixed Realities

Intae Hwang (UCSB) + Alenda Chang (UCSB), Corridors

Corridors is a Unity web game that tries to dramatize human-animal encounters in the contact zones created by human transit and development. The game’s name refers to wildlife corridors, sometimes called animal corridors, habitat corridors, greenways, or ecoducts, which are designed attempts to connect animal and plant populations separated by human activities and infrastructures like logging, homebuilding, roadbuilding, and damming. Corridors often take built form as tunnels, bridges, canals, and culverts, but they can also be natural passageways defined less by what is added than by what is not taken away—continuous forests, linked wetlands, even areas of darkness and silence. Corridors communicates the tragedy of habitat fragmentation, which makes plant and animal populations more vulnerable to genetic inbreeding, natural disaster, predation, and even extinction, but more importantly, it encourages us to ask questions: what are the barriers to animal migration and movement? How do we modify human infrastructure so that other species can coexist with us, migrate, and mate? What are the many fronts on which we need to alter our thinking and practices, in order to ensure a more equitable multispecies future?

Danielle Christianson (LBNL), “A Forest Experience”

As part of a study of forest microclimate and tree seedling survival, I constructed a 3D representation of Sequoia National Park’s red fir forest using laser scanning technologies. Using a virtual reality platform for analyses, I learned a very familiar place, my forest study site, anew. In this demo, I highlight features that excited, concerned, and surprised me. This forest experience enables a contemplation of the potential impact of novel forms of representation on science practice, as well as our culture’s relationship with the non-human.

1:00 – 2:15 PM Discussion II

Christina McPhee, “SPILLBANK”

SPILLBANK mediates a complex task marine biologists face in the wake of the devastating oil spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. Marine algae are the principal producers of oxygen in the marine ecosystem, and their die-off may affect the entire food chain and result in the expansion of an already existing “dead zone” throughout the Gulf. Post-spill changes in the diversity, population structure, and reproductive capacity of benthic seaweeds and macro-crustaceans are measurable when compared to a large dataset from pre-spill sampling. I participate in the sampling expedition at previously studied hard banks in the Gulf of Mexico; the scientific sampling assesses pre- and post-oil spill impacts on diversity, vitality, and distribution of algae, shrimp, crabs and other life forms living at depths of 45-90 meters (1). On board the research vessel Pelican, putting out from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, in December 2010, marine biologists engage in a grueling effort to collect, study, and return these animals to the ocean, often in the earliest hours of the morning, amidst cold and rough seas. Later, in post-production, I sample and montage from the raw footage, performing a meta-task of sampling, alongside those of the biologists. The prominent red algae specialist, Dr. Suzanne Fredericq, invites my participation. She coins the name ‘SPILLBANK’, to suggest wasting of the ecologic system and its sites (underwater on the continental shelf), as well as banking — a speculative accumulation. Together, we map the internal and external ecologies of our minds and spirits within a nature that exceeds the human. Blindness and second sight(site)s come into play. Guitar solos by Ava Mendoza from her album “Shadow Stories” rip into the field of ambient sound, whilst conversation, and the creaking of ship mechanics on board cuts back into her high-octane fuzz, feedback groove. Edited with a custom patch of Max/MSP/Jitter created in collaboration with Jesse Stiles, five days of labor condense. I gloss the third channel with a quote, in translation from the French, of the Francophone Caribbean critic and essayist Suzanne Césaire’s writing for Tropiques in 1945 (2). The politics of a resource that stays in camouflage, and asserts its power through sublimation, applies to SPILLBANK and its ambient poetics.

(1) Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon crude oil spill on the diversity of macroalgae and macrocrustaceans inhabiting deepwater hard banks in the NW, NE and SE Gulf of Mexico, https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1045690

(2) Suzanne Cesaire, The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-1945), ed by Daniel Maximin, transl. by  Keith L. Walker, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press 2012, https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/pg/masters/modules/postcol_theory/cesaire_reading.pdf

Elaine Gan, “Time After the End of the World (As We Know It): A Fungal Clock”

The Anthropocene is tripping us up. Biological time is messing with geological time. Industrial time is redesigning chemical and machinic time to alter biological time. And so the recursions go, creating a web of events that are remaking the world as we know it. How might we tell time in this unruly epoch? This presentation calls for shifting our attention away from clock times of the nineteenth century and looking anew at the temporalities of more-than-human assemblages as they shape continuity, chance, and change in the twenty-first century. A prototype of a browser-based project titled “A Fungal Clock” will be presented.

Melody Jue, “Fluid cuts: Residual media after Deepwater Horizon”

This talk develops a theory of the “fluid cut” based on the materiality of surfactants used to disperse oil during the Deepwater Horizon spill. Whereas photography theory tends to think of the “cut” as the click of a camera shutter that slices through moments in time, “fluid cuts” of surfactants like Corexit relate more to processes of chemical diffusion in the medium of seawater. Through readings of photographic images by Daniel Beltrá and ads by the dish soap company Dawn, I show how surfactants are a literal example of what Charles Ackland names “residual media,” both left behind and viscous. I conclude by imagining the implications of a “chemical” rather than a “geologic” Anthropocene as a defining term for a modernity that is saturated by petroculture.

2:15 – 2:30 PM  Break

2:30 – 3:45 PM  Student Lightning Talks

Tym Chajdas (Global Studies)

Alex Champlin (Film and Media), “Play Structures: Futures Markets in Fun, or Acid Tripping to the Barbed Wire Edges of the Magic Circle

Daniel Grinberg (Film and Media), “The Valences of Contemporary State Surveillance”
Lisa Han (Film and Media)

Giorgina Paiella (English), “Digital Frankenstein”

Jamal Russell (English), “And the Interface Asked Me, ‘What Do You Want to Know?’”

Tyler Shoemaker (English), “Font Futures”

3:45 – 4:00 PM Break

4:00 – 5:00 PM Closing Reports
Laila Shereen Sakr – Alenda Chang – Jeremy Douglass


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