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Shift Register

Shift Register is an investigation into how human technological and infrastructural activities have marked the earth. It is a project by artist-researchers Jamie Allen, Martin Howse and Jonathan Kemp.

The earth has been transformed into a ‘planetary laboratory’ subject to further study, control and comprehension. Knowledge of these interactions render to experience global scale phenomena like climate change, dissolving modernist illusions such as the separation of ‘nature’ and ‘society’. As such, it is critical that we engage in new means of composing more public understandings of this global experience. This project attempts to register the shifts between industrialised capitalism and the knowledge afforded by techno-science, between the global scale effects of such activities and the experience of individuals and communities, and between earth as an natural object and as an agent of culture. The project addresses the interdisciplinary problem of how to identify, catalogue and make publically legible these shifts through methods related to natural science fieldwork, artistic research, and critically oriented translational practices of media and technology.

Shift Register investigates and renders legible the material evidence of human activities on earth, registering these not as indicators of human achievement, but as ambiguous negotiations and signposts of planetary exhaustion. The project undertakes fieldwork and research re-routed from the natural and physical sciences as the means to bear witness to these sites of human impact. Project outputs (writings, media and works for exhibition) seek to complicate environmental science with other cultural, affective, inter- and sub-cultural perspectives in order to take into account the complexity and always contradictory nature of the energetic and communications infrastructuring of the earth.

The project investigates a single impact site, and translates earth media and findings to a specifically developed Earth Lab, a research, workshop and exhibition location. The Earth Lab is both a conceptual and local outdoor working environment, a structure that serves as longitudinal, comparative site through the two years of the project. At the Earth Lab, material samples are mediated, presented and documented, media documentation and dispatches are prepared, and public project discussions take place.

The production, presentation and representation of the impacts that human activities produce outside of their ‘naturalised’ domains include markers that register in the ring patterns of growing trees, on the surface structures of rock minerals, as radioactive isotope signatures and as changes in soil, atmosphere and microbial compositions. Such markers allow us to reconstitute “earth” as a non-linear structure, an archive of human and nonhuman endeavour. Through workshop formats, publications and an experimental public exhibition derived from fieldwork at a primary impact site, these interdisciplinary complexities and resonances are registered. These serve to better understand, critique and re-route the developing public discourse around how to recognize or memorialise the planetary effects of industrial, communicational, and technological activity. The context of the scientific and social, artistic and critical media work of Shift Register involves ongoing work in ecological and environmental humanities, as well as contemporary geo-scientific debates. We trouble the appealing simplicity and growing popular debates around a singular ‘anthropocenic marker’ and its supposed import, seeking instead multiple, gnostic ways of knowing our earthly traces.