Look up in the sky, what do you see? Clouds, that are the subject of youthful joy, the very epitome of dreams and weightlessness, are now also the site of dramatic and potentially irreversible geo-interventions in the name of climate mitigation.
The non-pathogenic plant bacteria P.syringae is one of many bioaerosols that are ubiquitous on land, under it and in the air. Riding on wind currents these microbial protagonists travel through the skies, and through a unique protein configuration on their bodies, help seed and aggregate clouds in the stratosphere, increasing the density of existing clouds, and potentially creating new ones.
At the current nexus of dramatic and urgent climate change on the one hand; relentless progress in synthetic biology and techno-solutionism on the other, how might future proposals of bio-engineered interventions combine (and conflate) the complex value systems embedded within each.
Could synthetic clouds built through a mixture of scientific ingenuity and design thinking be the new vehicles for carbon capture and solar radiation management? How might that change the aesthetics of our everyday life? How might this emerging notion of “air-at-work” change our experience of wonder, scale and the sublime?
Cloud Atlas__beta presents an alternative perspective to the general rhetoric of climate mitigation, exploring the dramatic shifts to the colors, sounds and experience of the everyday that intervention will create, and that may be elided in the technocratic drive towards ‘solving the problem’. Through a large projection of a synthetically generated cloudscape and smaller ornamental digital clouds, each designed through custom algorithms, Cloud Atlas__beta aims to provide a new atlas for a planet where the vestiges of intervention are all around us. With this new resource, the very act of identifying the clouds becomes a radical political act that holds us witness to the lived reality of climate mitigation strategies.
In this work of speculative design, 3 scenarios are presented, where cloud-creating bio-aerosols like our protagonist P. syringae are cast as raw material, malleable and mutable, to be engineered/customized to maximize their ability to create larger and more reflective clouds. In each of these, the resultant cloud is presented as an ornament, rotating on an imaginary pedestal such as one at the start of this page. A cloud atlas-beta is provided at the installation venue, a homage to the canonical diagrams in atmospheric sciences (that has remain unchanged / unchallenged since the 1800s), but also a reckoning for us to identify these new shapes in the sky as unnatural, synthetic but ultimately part of the new normal if and when such drastic geo-engineering processes are implemented.
These scenarios build on nascent and recent scientific research around stratospheric aerosol injection, a strategy in geoengineering that aims to conduct localized cloud seeding to raise the albedo of the sky, and reflect the sun’s heat back into space.