Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter
Known in Chile as los hombres verdes, the green men of Ventanas are former copper smelter workers whose skin is scarred with green lesions produced by chemical reactions. Located some sixty kilometres north of the port of Valparaíso, Ventanas has been declared una zona de sacrificio due to pollution from heavy industry. The area’s general toxicity mirrors the purity of its copper exports, which travel primarily to China. Copper is undoubtedly a form of elemental media, essential to today’s digital capitalism and logistical technologies. Yet the reputed purity of the copper refined at Ventanas cannot fix the price of this commodity, which rather follows the fluctuations of trading on metal exchange markets. In the face of this financial uncertainty, data and logistics have emerged as the last hope to squeeze more from less in the Chilean copper industry, recasting the heroic role of the miner in a country ‘married’ to this metal. Wracked by strikes in the mining and the port sectors, Chile has become a laboratory for a new cycle of struggles, much as it was for twenty years a testbed of neoliberalism. Under these conditions, the Logistical Worlds research shifted to Latin America.
‘Learning from landscapes is a way of being revolutionary for an architect’.
Robert Venturi, Dennis Brown and Scott Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 1972.
How should we rethink the ethical, political, and social impacts of infrastructure? What might one ‘learn’ from landscapes? Taking my lead from the famous architectural and design treatise, Learning from Las Vegas, I want to begin studying these sites as landmarks in a landscape that very well may herald our future. This is a territory that bridges data and matter; both the producer of some of the largest non-proprietary data sets on earth and the provider of many of the very materials that create the information age. In this essay I will argue that these sites collectively form the landscape of a planetary testbed, a petri dish cultivating potential futures of life, politics and technology on both Earth and beyond.
Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter
Moving through the Burrabazar district along Kolkata’s Strand the immediate buzz of hustling and trade obscures the crumbling warehouses that line the thoroughfare. According to a popular saying, ‘Everything is available in Burrabazar’. This ethos of ready supply, at least for those who are prepared to haggle (and almost everyone is), comes with an infrastructural and informational layer. ‘Everyone wants to buy cheap and sell dear’, writes Clifford Geertz in a classic article on the bazaar economy from the 1970s. ‘In the bazaar information is poor, scarce, maldistributed, inefficiently communicated, and intensely valued’. What are the material conduits that support this game of information procurement and coveting and what are the historical and political conditions that have allowed it to flourish?
In the late nineteenth century no one would have guessed that the foothill hamlet of Saktigarh would become the bustling urban agglomerate of Siliguri. The introduction of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) in the 1880s increased the importance of this township where the Corleones of Calcutta Culture – the Dasses, the Boses, and the Tagores – would break their rail journeys on the way to the hills. The tea trade that the DHR helped to promote led to the expansion of the land and labour market as well as the establishment of Marwari kothis in an area that extended the informal capital and credit market. However, what transformed the scene radically was the partition of South Asia.
The formation of East Pakistan created a geographical barrier in the northeast of India. The narrow Chicken’s Neck – formally known as the Siliguri Corridor, which at one point is less than 23 km wide – remained the connecting bridge between the northeast and the rest of the country. Siliguri found itself elevated to a position of geostrategic importance. Wedged between Bangladesh to the south and west and China to the north, Siliguri has no access to the sea closer than Calcutta, which is on the other side of the corridor. Between Sikkim and Bhutan lies the Chumbi Valley, a dagger-like protrusion of Tibetan territory into India. A Chinese military advance of less than 130 km could in theory cut off Bhutan, part of West Bengal and all of North-East India, an area containing almost 50 million people, from the rest of India. Such a situation almost came to pass during the war between India and China in 1962. Consequently there is a massive military concentration in the area.