The ‘Unknown Fields Division’ of Diploma 6 is a nomadic design studio that takes annual treks to the to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These landscapes – iconic, ignored, excavated, irradiated and pristine – are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives.
This year as the world of new-agers, mystics and psychonauts pilgrimage south, Unknown Fields journeyed with them to Central America to ponder the rise and fall of cities and civilisations, both ancient and modern, and to investigate the cultural and technological infrastructures that underpin them. These fallen empires leave infrastructural traces, evidence of their greatest dreams and fears. In this time of crisis, as the future again becomes a project and the Mayan long-count calendar starts anew, we have imagined what comes next.
As members of our Department of Irrational Logistics, Harry worked in the shadows of the megacity imagining the trail of a 3D-printed VW, from the raw material ports to the markets of inner-city Mexico, Stefan proposed an archipelago of season-free trade zones in landscape loopholes on the US-Mexican border, and Evan, as a consultant for Levis, suggested condensing the global supply chain of 501s into a single factory – the biggest building in human history. Tobias of our Finance and Speculations Division programmed an autonomous infrastructure of mobile server farms that drift along fibre optic cables and search for trading sites while Jack has rallied investors to fund a gold-plated residential tower that smuggles a social housing agenda into a skyline of wealth.
In our Laboratory for Instruments and Imagination, Artemis engineered a superstitious city of seismic instruments while Selim built a floating observatory to calibrate the edges of space. With our Simulated Botanies Group, Chapman subverted the cartel cocaine economy with a bioengineered coca seed, and Ling archived the DNA of an endangered Guatemalan rainforest in the digital landscapes of massive multiplayer games loaded on almost all the planet's machines.
Motion Designer Oliviu Lugojan-Ghenciu, Science Fiction Author Tim Maughan, Comic Illustrator Kristian Donaldson, Filmmaker Ilona Gaynor, Mexico Fixer Diego Trujillo, Photographer Carlos Alvarez Montero, Animator Jonathan Gales, Hacker Eleanor Saitta, the high-altitude research team at the Mexico Large Millimetre Telescope and the accommodating border guards at the Mexico, Guatemala and Belize border crossings.
In a time of algorithmic high frequency trading the speed of light has taken on a new spatial and material relevance. This can be seen in how the financial institutions in New York, race, first to 60 Hudson Street and then to Mahwah, New Jersey in their quest to be as close as possible to the matching engines of the stock exchanges. Or, in how once they are there, extra lengths of cable are added to make sure no one has an unfair advantage.
But this doesn’t just happen in New York. It happens at all the major stock exchanges in the world. These markets are all connected, not by some ephemeral cloud but by cables, in the ground, and at the bottom of the sea. There is a lot of money to be made in exploiting the discrepancies between markets, in arbitrage. So much so that extraordinary feats of terraforming are being made to shave a couple of milliseconds of the time it takes to connect for instance New York and Chicago. If you’re serious about arbitrage staying close to one end is no longer enough. Where you want to be somewhere along the cable connecting A and B. Precisely where depends on the market at any given time, ever unpredictable, ever changing. What you end up with is a series of potentially highly profitable territories. Profitable but, unstable, drifting across the landscape.
The proposal for a ‘Variable Locality Hosting’ and the accompanying ‘Retroactive Environmental Impact Assessment’, puts forward a system that from the most abstract and detached of financial systems generates a series very direct physical conditions. Or in other words, how following a particular logic to its limits can result in some very illogical consequences.