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.


1520 – Havoc in Heaven (1963, Wan Brothers)

Sun Wu Kong or Monkey King is probably and globally the most recognizable character of Chinese animation, legend, folklore. There is tons of movies, animations, gaming, Peking Opera, theme parks based on his exploits. Havoc in Heaven is one of his best and most memorable apparitions -the first Chinese feature length color animation, made by all of the 4 Wan brothers Wan Laiming (1900-1997) considered the Walt Disney of China, his twin brother Wan Guchan (1900-1995), and their younger brother Wan Chaochen (1906-1992) and a team of 30 members. The Wan’s were pioneers of animation, all originally based in Nanjing and then later Shanghai. in 1963, Havoc in Heaven was released practically one year before the Cultural Revolution shut down basically all studio activity in China. It is considered the last major animation of the Second Golden Age of Chinese Cinema. It is pure pleasure for its vivid colors, its Peking Opera hi-hat rhythm, non stop action and Chinese music score. It features incredible depiction of other worldly Chinese realms, peach gardens, clouded landscapes. It was fhe first chinese animation to break with either the Soviet or the early Fleischer or Disney studio models.

The Monkey King is initially both a folkloric as well as literary figure based on a Indian (Hanuman from Ramayana) and Chinese cultural cross-over, the best of the best but one csn go back to even pre Buddhist times. Gibbons were sacred monkeys to the people of the powerful independent states of pre- unification China like the southern Chu state of the Zhou dynasty era. In Buddhist metaphysics, the monkey came to symbolize the uncontrollable and restless mind while retaining the character of the archetypal trickster-an iconoclastic figure, akin to the Raven or Coyote, Br’er Rabbit, Spider Kwaku Anasi – a demiurge integrated and ‘domesticated’ into other ‘newer’, religious systems. In Journey to the West it became the protector spirit of Buddhist tradition, that still retains an indomitable, anarchistic and carnivalesque spirit.

I consider Journey to the West a life changing discovery for me (and many others I am sure) in terms of visual style, tempo & underpinning cultural background. The West is not the West and the East is not the East in its Eurocentric geographical perspective. It felt very important to switch the cardinal signs, the first time a major journey was in the other direction, from East to the West, not the usual Marco Polo story, and what a story or series of adventures!

Sun Wu Kong also goes down into the Dragon’s King of the East Sea Lair to retrieve a weapon worthy of himself

Secondly the West is not the West, but India. The anonymous 16th c fictional classic relates the much older legendary travels and descriptions by Xuangzang( 玄奘; fl. c. 602 – 664) to the Indian subcontinent, a 17 year long overland pilgrimage of a Buddhist monk from the late Sui and early Tang period in search for the original Buddhist scriptures in order to correct the existing translations. Clearly distances in Asia were something else compared even to the Journey to the Holy Land or their Christian Compostela variants. Historical journey to the famous Buddhist University of Nalanda was itself made into a recent Chinese movie.

The Monkey King exiting the Taoist alchemical crucible

Monkey King is a sort of embodiment of the masses, of the subjugated other or the iconic symbol of the new Communist China but also a sort of Utopian rebellious King in a state of natural plenty and constant dionysian raving, dancing and drunken celebration. He is an incredible admixture of so called low or alchemical Taoism and esoteric or dirty Buddhism. In particular in this Havoc in Heaven episode he is being enticed and corrupted by dignitaries sent to attracted him into a lowly position, the lower rungs of heavenly ignominious jobs still quite humiliating position, basically just an empty title. At the same time, like a Eastern Prometheus but with much more obscene humor and less heroic Western machismo, he gets drunken after crashing a dinner party he is actually not invited to, and eats the most precious attributes of Heaven: Lao Zi’s immortality pills as well as the peaches of the Heavenly Garden that take hundreds of years to ripen and are destined only for the select few. Just to ponder more at his powers of transformation (he is a changeling and shapeshifter supreme) he is condemned to be incinerated in the 8 trigram furnace (the alchemical laboratory of the immortality pills) at the suggestion of old grumpy Lao Zi, who wants his pills back and hopes to distill them back from the body of the monkey. Well, as suspected by some of you, it does not work. Not only does the Monkey King survive his ordeal, but he is fortified by it, in his hiding place, after smoldering in the crucible he becomes practically indestructible. Neither blade or fire can cut or hurt him any longer. All the banishment and excommunication is being dialectically reversed and instead produces the most incredible enemy the heavenly hierarchy has seen. Ultimately Uproar in Heaven or Havoc in Heaven is an unabashed work of materialism – as the vicissitudes of physical existence and marxism – as suggested by MacKenzie Wark in Molecular Red – the view from below, looking unseduced at the abstractions of power (Alexander Galloway).

Various demons, fantastic beings, beings more powerful and bigger than the Monkey King are bested one after another

Another power of his is multiplication (or cloning if you prefer the more biotech reading). He uses his hairs, and magically blows them into copies of himself that have the same capacities and powers. All the armies and all the generals, all the all mighty creatures of heaven sent to teach him a lesson, find themselves an equal match, not only that, he is able to outwit and teach them a lesson in strategy, the art of being invisible or being gigantic at the same time, or of being humiliated by the unruly, disruptive and the disrespectful. He is a communist hero but maybe more so a satire of tyranny & Maoist Communist Hero, both a paternalist care giving ruler but also a sort of peasant revolutionary that is coming totterms with his agrarian background and somehow riots against the rules of the sky, against the transcendental structures, the abstract hierarchies and titles that seem to dominate over there.

Monkey King and his miraculous weapon, the actual Ur-geo-engineering tool used by Yu the Great to change the course of rivers and flatten the mountains

Although would not use lightly the word disruptive as it has been transformed into a Californian Tech Schock Doctrine, the disruption is actually reversed, the monkey is the one that is being interpellated, awoken and brought from the wild into the bureaucracy of the Heavens that is an exact copy of the earthly one. It is a very humorous, satiric take on the state apparatus, advantages & luxuries and especially the meritocratic hierarchy of the learned functionaries aka Scholar-officials, also known as Literati, Scholar-gentlemen or Scholar-bureaucrats (Chinese: 士大夫; pinyinshì dàfū)- the key class that made the difference between Europe and China and contributed to the economic revolution of the Song dynasty, although a system that was not immune to the abuse of power.

the Jade Emperor palace floating on clouds wad actually based on a visit to the Forbidden City by the Wan Brothers, Yan Dingxian, Lin Wenxiao and other members of the team in 1959

You could also say that Havoc in Heaven is one of the most anti-Confucian animations and pieces of media there is, still it is clearly much more complicated than that. Also there is an crypto-anarchist but also strange counterpart or a foreshadowing of Mao’s return to power, his anti-bureaucratic ‘rustification’ campaigns of technicians and scientists during the Cultural Revolution. In fact many of the makers suffered during the Cultural Revolution during which this animation eas locked away, original drawings destroyed, exiled toto the countrysid. IIt came to be celebrated and rediscovered in the west afterwards and even transformed into a 3D version, although the original has a charm of its own.

the Nezha confrontation is one of the most memorable, Nezha is a Taoist entity also known as the Marshall of the central Altar, a child god very popular on his own, sent by the Jade King to combat the Monkey King

In an even more recent take, we may regard Sun Wu Kong as the Migrant Laborer on whose back and precarity the whole of neo Capitalist China is being built. As such he has a big role to play, he is both fooled and fooling as he can, mercilessly exploited he is both victim and touted as essential alchemical element of growth, dreaming of prosperity and an active disturber of the orderly city bourgeois life and business CEO hierarchies.


1432 – Greener Grass (2019)

Greener Grass is an 2019 American comedy film, written and directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe in their feature directorial debuts, based on the 2015 short film of the same name (YOUTUBE). It stars DeBoer, Luebbe, Beck BennettNeil CaseyMary Holland and D’Arcy Carden. (wiki)

DeBoer and Luebbe explained that the films of David Lynch, John Waters and 1960s and 1970s landscape photography was an influence. Visually the film is reminiscent of 80’s-music-video aesthetic / fashion aesthetics / 90’s infomercials.

imdb   /   rt