This Storm is Called Progress is an art-science project produced by Grayson Cooke and Dugal McKinnon. In this project, Cooke’s footage of the Naracoorte Caves in South Australia is juxtaposed against time-lapse video of Landsat satellite images of Antarctic ice shelves, and acoustically framed by McKinnon’s electronic score. In effect this project pits the “deep time” of ancient geological formations against the anthropogenic time of the present, a technologically amplified time exemplified by the ceaseless monitoring of the earth by satellite.
The project is underpinned by two key concepts. Firstly, as may be inferred from the title, the project invokes Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, a concept that emerges in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Benjamin’s critique is aimed squarely at the historical and technical thinking that sees history as the clean linear development of a progressive human society; instead, Benjamin’s Angel of History sees progress – human action – as nothing but a series of catastrophes.
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Walter Benjamin, 9th thesis, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”)
Following on from this perspective is the notion of the hyperobject. Ecological philosopher Timothy Morton uses the term “hyperobject” to describe anthropogenic phenomena that are massively distributed in time and space, phenomena that exist across extra-human time-scales but which have serious implications for human and non-human existence. This project mobilizes representations of “deep time” and anthropogenic time in seeking to produce an experience of the scales – both temporal and spatial – at which hyperobjects must be conceived and understood.
- Seeing Sound Symposium, Bath Spa University, UK, April 2016.
- Parer Place, QUT Creative Industries Precinct, Brisbane QLD, April 2016.
- Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, South Australian Museum, June-July 2016, and National Archives of Australia, Canberra, September-October 2016.
- Cinesonika Festival and Conference, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana USA, October 2016.
- “Elettronicamente 2016 Beyond the Borders”, Conservatorio di Musica di Cuneo, Italy, September 2016.
- New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, New York USA, June & July 2017.
- Northern Rivers Community Gallery, Ballina NSW, May-June 2017.
This project has been produced with the support of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University, and the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington. It has also been generously supported by the Naracoorte Caves National Park and the State Government of South Australia, whose staff were extremely welcoming in facilitating our filming in the cave system. Finally, this project makes use of Landsat images from the NASA/USGA MODIS image archive, made available by the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder Colorado, and we would like to express our immense thanks to the staff of the Center who have made these images available.
Born in New Zealand and based in Australia, Grayson Cooke is an interdisciplinary scholar and award-winning media artist, Associate Professor of Media in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University. Grayson has presented live audio-visual performance works in Australia and internationally, and he has exhibited and performed in major international festivals such as the Japan Media Arts Festival, the WRO Media Art Biennale, the Imagine Science festival in New York, and the FILE Festival in Sao Paulo. As a scholar, he has published over 25 academic articles in print and online journals. He is also an associate editor for the online peer-reviewed journal Transformations. He holds an interdisciplinary PhD from Concordia University in Montreal.
Dugal McKinnon is a composer and sound artist whose output encompasses electronic, acoustic and text media, and is often located at the intersection of these. Recent projects include Let x =, for multichannel sound and icosahedral loudspeaker, created while 2014 artist-in-residence at the Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics (Graz, Austria), and Lost Oscillations, a collaborative sound installation centred on a custom touch-based interface through which participants explore the layered sonic archeology of Christchurch (NZ). Dugal teaches composition, sonic art and sound studies at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music, where he is director of the Lilburn Studios for electronic music.