In the context of the 34th World Expo opening in Milan on May 1st, Het Nieuwe Instituut addresses this phenomenon from different perspectives between April 26 and August 23. The exhibition Garden of Machines speculates on a new ecosystem in which technical and organic beings learn to live together.
The Hall of Machines was an important element of the first World Expo’s. In the nineteenth century, this was where the newest forms of mechanisation were shown to the public. Almost a century and a half later, Het Nieuwe Instituut presents a sequel with the speculative exhibition Garden of Machines.
Over time, the latest technology has decreased in size, and has sometimes even vanished from sight altogether with the advent of digital production. A stark contrast to the massive, imposing machines that characterised the industrial revolution. Rather than presenting an array of awe-inspiring machines, Garden of Machines stages the technological promise, with as underlying leitmotiv a new, optimistic story of progress for the twenty-first century.
This story takes place against the background of the Anthropocene. This new phase in the history of the earth is considered by many as the result of the rapid development of technology, whereby humankind succeeds in increasingly shaping and controlling the world, turning us into the driving force behind geological and biological change. But what if that technological development no longer just served humankind at the expense of nature, but actually benefited both? To what new types of ecological cohesion will the interaction between machines, animals, plants and people lead?
Technology and ecology
Developments in robotics, in the Internet of Things, in sensor and monitoring systems, in data analysis and in energy generation are increasingly enabling technology to function as a constructive component of ecology. Machines are getting smarter, learning to perceive their surroundings and adapt their behaviour. Garden of Machines proposes a number of scenarios for ways in which technological and organic beings can evolve further within new ecosystems.
Garden of Machines
What theatre design duo Wikke van Houwelingen and Roel Huisman have conjured up in the Garden of Machines exhibition is a series of environments that look to the future but at the same time appear very familiar – the forest, the kitchen, the motorway – in which people, animals and plants all benefit from the latest technologies. These various environments – in which humankind occupies a less central position than is customary – are based on recent research and existing technological developments and products. Organic and technological beings form a new, semi-artificial ecology in which machines learn from plants, and animals communicate with one another through the Internet. The smallest environment in the exhibition is located beneath the human skin, where nanobots work with bacteria to protect humans from illness. The largest system is the Internet itself, which scans the entire globe, not only connecting people to one another but also enabling objects, plants and animals to exchange information.
Interview with Benjamin Bratton
The Stack and the Post-human User
In his book The Stack, due to be published in December 2015 by MIT Press, Benjamin Bratton develops a political perspective on computation on the planetary scale. He proposes that we view the vast array of recent and upcoming digital and digitally supported technologies as aspects of a single phenomenon that he names ‘The Stack’, referring to the layered architecture of certain software-hardware systems.
Interview with curator Klaas Kuitenbrouwer
The World Expo is always the place to showcase the latest inventions and speculate on future developments. In that tradition, Het Nieuwe Instituut steals a march on the future with the exhibition Garden of Machines. Curator Klaas Kuitenbrouwer (e-culture expert at Het Nieuwe Instituut) explains the future sketched by the exhibition.
Het Nieuwe Instituut