1524 – Man on The Rim (series, 1988)

I have been able to trace 3 episodes which I added to a YT playlist

1989 Book

Full DVD with 11 episodes

It has been very hard to trace this series of documentaries, I really have not managed to find them anywhere. They are some of the fondest memories I have from childhood/adolescence TV, exactly at the cusp of 1988/1989 turmoil, screened by Soviet Perestroika era stations in Russian that we were able to tune into in the South of Romania. It had been a sort of revelation. It was the start of bush tucker documentaries, even a time of replicating bullroarers or spear throwers (atlatl) tools that I found fascinating as a kid in tow with Rahan bande desinee comics we had access to. Tools & technologies dating to upper Paleolithic had a special magic in the midst of the computer revolution. It is now speculated that the Mungo woman, child and man remains – the oldest paleo anthropological remains in Australia suffered from an atlatl elbow & that first migrants from Asia brought the bullroarer with them into the Americas. The 40.000+ yr lake Mungo remains are now protected by Aborigine custodians and also represent one of the oldest cremations we know of. This sort of hunter gather skills & reconstructions I guess is what we would call today paleo lifestyle or neo- anarko primitive ways. Alan Thorne was a non-indigenous archeologist from Australia that has made this incredible 11 episode series around his thesis of human settlements of the Pacific and regional continuity. However old or quaint from our perspective, this series promoted a long view of pre-European contact history, of continuous living across the whole Pacific. I find it very important in the case of aborigines & other native populations that have suffered so much and are still fighting against extractive industries and their first comer right to be there on their ancestral tribal grounds. Man (and woman) on the rim is almost a thesis of Pacific humanity, Homo maritimus of sorts spawning a myriad cultures developing not at a continental core but the largest water body on the planet – the Pacific Rim and the thousands of Islands that surround and dot it from one end to the other. More recently we’re being able to test another intriguing hypothesis – that the shellfish rich seas around South Africa’s coastaline have been the first examples of modern humans living off the sea as well a distinct stepping stone during a harsh period in our species history. Remains at Mossel bay in S Africa from 164.000-35.000 yr ago are proof of surving the so-called bottleneck of the Glacial Stage 6, revealed first by genetic evidence. Everybody now alive is descended from a small group of modern humans (maybe a few hundred), maybe even one ethnolinguistic group that spread outward afterwards & mingled with smaller bands it met along the way. It made it against all odds thanks to the mild paleoclimate & plenty of shellfish/geophyte energy rich bulbs of the fynbos – coastal refugia abounding along those coasts. This S African coastal region, growing & retreating with the sea level offers some of the the first proof regarding invisible cognitive enhancements to go with the anatomical modernity – such as lunar calendars to be able to follow ebb/flow, microlithic technologies, heat treated red ochre since at least 110.000 years ago and a special aesthetic value of seashells washed from the bottom of the sea to the shore. The tracking of shifting shoreline, the retreating or advancing oceanic waters during cooling & warming periods and a widening continental shelf speaks about the affordance of livingcclose to the ocean.

Man on the Rim offers an incredible vision of island jumping, of nautic travelers and nautic cultures, of boat makers, of boat people living most of their lives on the water. For me it was and is one of the most incredible and eye opening documentaries out there. Coming out of a period of isolation in Romania, a country that was politically closed down for much of the 80s, as well as the difficulty of having the means to travel right after 1989, you traveled on-board such documentaries. And what an occasion! Most of the time civilization (canonical version of history), settlement, human development, evolution has been always described as rising around big rivers, around big inland seas, or along fertile crescents. Here you can see the huge number of estuaries, coasts, rich mangrove swamps giving rise to new ways of life. Understanding the waters and living with countless fisherman tribes, villages and hunter-gatherer traditions fostered a wide array of boat designs – which are probably the most top notch sophisticated and accomplished pieces of design humanity has produces. These thalassocratic societies are explored in this documentary series. I guess the documentary also expresses a new confidence of the Asia Pacific economic Sphere, the Chinese coastal Special Economic Zones, cities like Singapore, HK or Shanghai on the rise or peninsular or insular powers South Korea and Japan being part of it. Australia was hoping to get more out of this regional hub, recognizing its role as more closely connected to Indonesia or China than say its remote British Atlantic progenitor. This account of regional prehistory is key to a larger role to be played by Asia-Pacific confluence, and Man on The Rim is coalescing around larger 80s- 90s economic, cultural & environmental coastal trends.

First episode introduces the first ever water Wallacea migrations and maritime existence, and also the first insular early relatives of humanity from a skullcap, tooth and tigh bone fossil of Java man(Homo erectus erectus)- the oldest hominid at the time discovered by Eugène Dubois at Trinil on the banks of Solo river in 1891-1892. In the meantime we also have the telling, more complex and enlightening case of the Homo florensis a small archaic distant relative, result from a possible very early migration & island effect plus a bounty of new human fossils found both in Indonesia (Sangiran dated to almost 1.7 mil yr) and China (discovered in these last 30 years). It is an incomplete and quaint documentary, some things have not aged well, still I think the circumpacific vision should stay with us – and it’s thesis is intriguing. I will always remember the bamboo rafts that have been considered as some of the first potential designs and transport from Southern China, Taiwan and SE Asia into the incredible diversity of island universes that lay in wait towards Australia during the last glaciations, where the waters retreated, land bridges opened and cross-overs became shorter with the next shore in reach. They kept tracking the changing shore with each new Glacial period or in between. We have to remember there were no maps, no actual image of what was out there, just the experience of previous shores and previous ways of being on the water. It is also an important documentary to establish migration and waves of migration like the numerous continuous waves of the oceans as important and fundamental part of humanities existence on this planet, in spite of all the borders, the walls and all the current national ethnostate-politics. The bamboo is almost the basis for a bamboo civilization across Asia Pacific region. The earliest evidence of humans in Australia are btw ~50.000 to ~65.000 yr ago, and are final proof of maritime cross over, since there was always a 80 – 100km sea gap in Late Pleistocene between Australia & New Guinea forming the Sahul continent and the other islands of the Wallacea, Timor and Southern Malukku that needed to be crossed. The subsequent Austronesian and Polynesian wave of migrations is a marvel of history.

Second episode recounts the incredible 40.000-50.000 yr continuous old history of the peopling of the island continent of Australia, a complete biogeographic isolate in a sense for millions of years, with its own very specific and variegated flora and fauna, including some of the most bizarre (from our mammalian boring perspective) beings to roam on this earth, with lots of ancient living fossils (some like the Wollemi pine being discovered quite recently). The Aborigines, those who have suffered the full impact of the white man’s exploitation, genocide and colonization are the first ancient waves of migration that came from Asia (and many waves since), that still keep alive traditions of mangrove life, a life that made possible the exploration of the whole Pacific in the end, of living off the land and of feeling at home along this extended Rim of salt water biomes, a familiar environment that stretched on every coast, every atoll and that offers, shellfish, mussels, fish, and plenty of other things to the ones in the know. The mangrove living, the cooking on the beach, in the ashes or embers or in the sand are still to be found here in the northern islands of Australia. The newcomers from Australasia spread out into the inner of the continent, into various and other very different inland ecosystems, diverging & remotely related to the initial coastal fisherman newcomers, finding during the next thousands of years a home from the billabong to savanna to the jungle in the north or the mountains in thr east.

Third episode features the Pacific NW, one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse & rich areas in the whole of the Americas. It also dwells into the ancient North American cultures such as the ancestral Puebloans/Anasazi or the Mound builder cultures of the indigenous pre-Columbian populations. I will focus on the native tribes of the NW living on the Pacific coasts for countless years, enjoying fishing & hunting while this coastal route of migration is one of the oldest. From the Aleutian islands in the north when the Beringia was a bridge btw continents, some of the first humans made their way, arriving from Asia trough an ice free corridor along the coasts & in between the mountains. Salmon runs, shells middens, plenty of mussles, Eulacheon fish grease trails, kelp forests, dense gigantic redwood temperate rainforests, humidity & continuous rain a year long, rivers rich with fish flowing from the Cascade mountains to the Pacific made these coasts, inlets and islands one densest inhabited areas in the world for non agricultural populations. Many had developed highly hierarchical societies, sophisticated designs, carvings & huge ocean going canoes, elaborate songs and famous totem poles. They were united by lavish and opulent feasts of excess and gift giving ceremonies called Potlatch – specific for the whole region, that have been studied at length by antropologist and that have become banned by government and subsequently reintroduced.

1523 – Chulyen, histoire de Corbeau de Cerise Lopez et Agnès Patron (2016)

A fantastic 2016 animation about a demiurge that does not fit with our images of the supreme being or the kreator. It is plays the trickster being role in many cultures, especially from the circumpafic (the Pacific Rim cultures), in the North from Siberia to the North Californian Native peoples. It’s also found in the Bible as the first being to fly from the ark. There’s also Huginn and Muninn devine data gathers in Scandinavian sagas. Since childhood I was enthralled by his escapist abilities, his shapeshifting ways, his dirty creationist energies and by his cunning, his unpredictable, greedy and curious nature.

Chulyen is the Dena’ina Athabascan word for RAVEN

I especially remember(cannot remember where I read it?!) one such creation story of the Pacific NW. The raven eats some especially juicy red berries that cause him to have a mid-air diarrhea, out of this he feels sick for eatint too much, and mid air he starts a shitting session. That shit thrown from heaven onto earth is the first matter that gives rise to the first crawly creepy humans, that ones opening their eyes they understand and see the difficulties of the raven creator and understand his shitting himself mid-air and they laugh, and then the raven laughs in return, looking down, amazed at his creation, ridiculing the creatures that have sprung unwittingly from his uncontrollable urge for excretion. What an incredible Genesis of humanity! What a mind-blowing scatological myth of creation, one that does not stand easy with our usual more serious cosmic written creation stories.

This French animation captures it all in a sense, as well as the weirdo, troubling, the unsettling and cannibalistic aspects of cosmogony.

Some raven resources for you curious birds out there:

Native First Nation Raven Stories

Conspiracy of Ravens

1522 – Rabid (2019)

Rabid is a remake by the Soska (Jen SoskaSylvia Soska) sisters of the Cronenberg 1977 cult classic. It is rare to say that you can watch a remake without having seen the original, but this even works on its own I think. In this sense it is a re-imagining not a remake. From all the recent art horror remakes, especially 2018 Suspiria, I like this one the best.

Also from all the recent glam fashion horror that stick out as pure exercises in style which is perfectly ok, such as Neon Demon or the self-reflexive art world satires such as Velvet Buzzaw, I prefer this one. It is somehow in tow with Raw, Black Swan or Starry Eyes, or even Brian de Palma’s Passion.

When I say it is not a just rehash on the older Cronenberg – although choke-full or references, I do not especially care if it is a faithful homage or not, in fact it should be as unfaithful as a skin graft to its donor. Rabid 2019 is a new chapter in the exploitation of abortive new flesh, artificial lab grown tissues and liveliness of unwanted grafts. Fashioning oneself and fashioning others via proteins as well as wardrobes links to a larger pursuit of bodily success on par with financial one, good looks, malade beauty and catwalk Schadenfreude. The secretive reclusive 70s Keloid Clinic for Plastic Surgery shifts into a new big money Transhumanist enterprise with more defined Immortalist creepy ideals & skin graft wet dream. It not just catwalk horror, it is full with inserts, cameos, even TV sitcom moments, combined a lot of goofy gore, a lot of splattershtick that would make Sam Raimi proud, dismemberment, trembling foaming bodies, it’s a mess, and this I like. Even if over the top, I like the Burroughs-Frankenstein moments and direct quote, the fact that he seems to loom large over the power and control issues of the present.

Like in the high bureau corporate melodrama Passion, it plays on the highly pressurized and pasteurized, the toxic competitive job environments that capitalism is so good at fostering, all prone to back-stabbings, cancellations and public humiliations, everything that the Internet pundits and social platform critics abhor, the propensity to use exposure, shaming, revenge porn, character assassination, sextortion, dank humor, every vulnerabiliy transubstiantiated into some sort of easy satisfaction, gain or trade for LULZ. What is not apparent in the techno panic version is exactly how this plays out for the silent or the subaltern. When it’s not the boss making a point, they permit a cheeky contestation, pointing skilfully the faults of another in public, the reading, shade in queer or afro- code switching and the schadenfreude joy this brings, hacking of the very codes of competition allows such dissing of the powerful. Ultimately rabid bodies are eminently white, with greedy clinics catering for such clientele.

The Soska sisters really brought this new cosmetic ideal to Rabid, in a lusty, Mask of the Red Death-like over the top full of gory humor way. This has an overlay with contagion from pre Covid 19 era that blends into now, that I consider particularly helpful in the context of the epidemic as spectacle, as hype and fashion trend not just as scare.

This was already there in Cronenberg and his interest in the stylishness of disease, the aesthetic and erotic appeal of bruises, laboratory chic, cool steel instrumentalism, clinics as new health temples and the surgical design being the new embalming of the dead alive rich etc but here they all contribute and prepare for the catwalk of disease. The wellness clinic is a ramp, and when it does so, it not only pampers the celebs and the rich, but infects everything around, nurtures the monster under folds of custom flesh. Both the cool interiors & medical devices are in contrast with the burning, scarlet red, hellish color of costumes, hidden floor levels, flesh corridors, blood iso drinks.

I especially enjoyed the relationship of delicate Sadeian Rose(perfect name), the quiet, mousy Rose that nevertheless is scarified by various accidents, horrible if ridiculous events- her perfect face already a broken mirror, and her expansive ‘friend’; the truly overpowering and obnoxious protector. I felt this has very much to do with how charities or rich donors actually play their goodness drowning their objects of care that they pick up from the gutter like little puppies to be offered the best. One does not bite the hand that feeds or caresses you no?

I like how all the characters have something repulsive in their goodness, how in this world of charitable rich people everything is “mercy-fucking” and “free experimental treatment” with no price tag attached, almost everything appears like a favor to the poor, luxury crutches for the down trodden, poisoned cups for the forsaken.

1521 – Spaceship Earth (2020)

Crystal Palace, Epcot Center, Mars space station all in one

It is not hard to be enthusiastic over Matt Wolfe’s new documentary. It also made me acutely aware that artistic works & investigations of biospherics or extra-terrestrial ecologies in their more outlandish, performative and experimental dimensions by Ralo Mayer might get forgotten or unduly overshadowed by the newer Spaceship Earth, big -budgeted more classical documentary formats.

studying the researchers

This being said, I think both Mayer’s unsettlements pioneering work and Matt Wolf’s more recent accomplishment are very important stations of closing the gap btw the current rise of collapse studies, Extinction Rebellion in the Anthropocene as well as establishing a counterpoint to the current capitalistic Star Settler exiters.

good times, thermos times & big mobile phones

Spaceship Earth is without a doubt one of the most honest and important appraisals of High Weirdness as defined by the Erik Davis in regard to our current situation, starting with the very practical things such as learning to live inside a closed system inside a closed (Earth) system and ending up sailing on a Spaceship of the Imagination while on indefinite quarantine.

oh, those banana sugar-free cakes keep on coming

Nevertheless I’ve got to mention a missing element. This powerful and complex all-American perspective ignores the earlier Soviet biospherian experiments called Bio-3 in Siberia that became an input for the new. Also very importantly, and missing from the 2020 Spaceship Earth documentary are the theoretical and popularizing work done by Soviet cosmist Vladimir Vernadsky, namely his 1926 The Biosphere book, considered by many oone of the founders of biogeochemistry, radiogeology and geochemistry, the first who defined ecology as the science of the biosphere. I completely understand the focus on West Coast/Frisco Haight-Ashbury scene, but still I miss the role played by Soviet experiments or how the closed system research and Bioregenerative Life Support studies plays out within the Soviet Space Program. I think this is to be regarded as a late-Soviet chapter of the biospherian saga, closing the strange loop of the earlier desert adobe architecture commune 70s work with the later – 80s 90s corporate, fully Bucky splendor, all via Siberia of all places.

sweet potatoes today sweet potatoes tomorrow

What I deem very important, and the docu makes sure of it is the performative, bricoleur attitude and avant-garde theater dimension, the way it synergetically feeds back (to take one of the keywords of the whole endeavor) with all the communal group practices. Their lofty ideals offer them a hands on experimence with designs and materials science approach. Maybe this also a true salvagepunk school of acting and thinking, in tune with current concerns and the need for recycling and trying out disparate things, new and old, low and high tech, China and Greece with ferrometal (their vessel has sails from Chinese junks and is called Heraclitus). This also brought stronger into focus what Hannah Arendt’s said in a 1970s interview after quoting René Char – “our inheritance is not guaranteed by any testament” to which she added “we are entirely free to help ourselves wherever we can from the experiences and thoughts of the past” (and future I would also add).

research vessel Heraclitus

Spaceship Earth does great service not only to the excommunicated founders (for the first time since Ralo Mayer work), but also to the rich brew of ideas, from the Tangiers scene of Burroughs & the desert beat generation retreat, as well to the whole gamut of such influences as René Daumal‘s Analogue Mountain(first published in 1952!), Manual for Spaceship Earth, Whole Earth Catalog etc

One can also understand the method behind it all as an Avant-Garde ecological collage, the garden of eden as Burrough cut up technique horticulture.

Biosphere 2. The ‘Biospherians’ pose for the camera during the final construction phase of the Biosphere 2 project in 1990. Left to right are: Mark Nelson, Linda Leigh, Taber MacCallum, Abigail Alling, Mark Van Thillo, Sally Silverstone, Roy Walford and Jayne Poynter. The 3.1 acre air- and water-tight building became their home for two years. Biosphere 2 was designed to allow study of human survival in a sealed ecosystem. The costs of this controversial, $150 million project were met from private funds. The Biosphere 2 project building is at Oracle, Arizona.

It is also a proof that heads and fists combine, both psychedelia and activists shared a common ground and a very applied outlook in this common space. All these iterations, incarnations and phases since the Theater of All Possibilities in 1967 up to the 70s The Synergia Ranch towards the current The Institute for Ecotechnics, the October Gallery in London are exemplary in this sense. One can question the Ed Bass family oil money connection – by all means, but this also pinpoints to the greater issue troubling current greening, greenwashing, ethanol/biofuels conundrum, as well as the fragility of this relationship with Big Business.

laid back John Allen back then

They had both very lofty, incredibly utopian, dreamy and long term thinking as well as very down to earth and experimental approach, the two do not exclude each other. Even the guru – John ‘Dolphin’ Allen is a creature from another era, more like a wide eyed Soviet Stakhanovite (стахановское) model worker, a strange engineer metallurgist & human potential coach. The gradual jump from adobe to boat making to geodesic architecture to cosmic ark and spacefaring civilization was one single strive for them. Also without reading his books or being able to asses his ideas (just dwl a paper on ecosphere & technosphere), I am somehow feeling my way trough a possible gnostic influence – especially when dealing with the eschaton, the ecospheric collapse etc Again the media talk about his apocalyptic vision seems to be spreading some sort of misinformation regarding his thoughts on that.

laid back John Allen now

The entrepreneurial aspect is also important, they have been also pioneering this startup dimension, in a sense they were one of the first and most advanced startups with all the trappings: angel investors, CEOs, public relations, financial officers, Wall Street Goldman-Sachs intrusion and final corporate raid. At the same time they, maybe also because of the performative aspect, because of their avant-garde roots or ecological de-growth orientation, have been cut loose out of the recent tech boom or Burning Man celebrations happening nearly at the same time in California. Spaceship Earth catches also the lack of – inin a key sequence when a group black students decries the whiteness of the biospherians andand their low or near absence of multiculturalism, while all the sampling is rather just biomes, the spectacle is very white future, as white as the 60s-70s commune seems to have been. I really enjoyed the short moment of a different speculation that did not play out in the 2 years of isolation & the provocation to think future as afrofuturist theatre inside the dome and what has to be remedied in this sense.

imagine waking up to this

In my view, even the spectacular – the media stunt aura actually saved them from joining a viable corporate environment, the one that gave rise to geek culture success. My thesis is thus that the sort of tekkie streamlining of stark minimalism that started to dominate both the

from above

Steve Job dogma + all the later incarnations was at odds with the zany, colorful, pantomime that united the Biospherian extended team and gave them an undeniable flair of late Blowup street comedians or low art Esalen members mixed with dessert greening of permaculture enthusiasts. They also embodied the spirit of Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. This aspect also probably contributed to their becoming easy prey to the media, a kind of naive but subversive theater play becoming just one show on the 57 channels and nothing on – post-spectacle reality TV machine, chewing them up and spiting them out. Hard to miss out the complete absence of screens, absence of touch screens, there’s only the glass – aquarium Vivarium dimension of it all. There is a lot to be said about Biospherian handshakes, touching the other trough glass, being in touch on the other side of the Zoo screen and being inaccessible in plain sight. The Pillar Artist project in 2019 Timișoara touches the same ground, of being accessible whilst at the same time isolated, in a public (closed) space exposed but out of reach.

hiding from the cameras in the welcoming thicket?

Somehow the peekaboo Wall Street Steve Banon boogeyman apparition coincides with the media tantrum about them being ‘fake’ or not scientific enough – all the tell tale signs of both tabloid press, climate change denial and post-truth. In fact with a high dose of cynicism one could say that once the public got over their novelty status, it became more important for the ratings to transform them into villains, fakers, cult members or plain old freaks. In a sense this shows also the limits of a Mars mission based on selling the exclusive rights to a future streaming of an on board soap opera as the means to sponsor the mission. To end on a good note, Spaceship Earth shows the all importance of dreaming as well as having a world wide experience, of nomadism as well as living under a desert dome, of actually being in touch with multiple realities around the globe or how this should inform whatever we want to achieve in outer space. Another big novum is switching the places with the researchers – now it’s fashionable in Natural History museum to watch trough a glass a bunch of paleontologists molding & casting dinosaur tracks, but Biosphere 2 was the first to allow such a direct peek into the theatre of scientific fact on a grand scale. The possibility to look at the experimenters while they did the experiments, to actually switch places, study the ones who do the studying.

Finally it also allowed for a credibly futuristic cosplay, of dressing up as your favorite Sci-fi show and getting away with it. Even when considering the incredible hardships in the midst of an eco-technosperic collapse living, it still permitted the incredible morning wake-up in the misty clouds of what comes magnificently close to an artificial atmosphere on another planet.