Since 2018, the Post Growth project is a series of initiatives by the collective DISNOVATION.ORG. As much an international research laboratory as an instigator of exhibitions, talks and provocations, Post Growth puts into critical perspective the imbrications between growth mechanisms and contemporary ecosystemic crises.
Founded in 2012 by Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, DISNOVATION.ORG is both an art collective and an international workgroup engaged in the crossovers between contemporary arts, research and hacking. Artist and philosopher Baruch Gottlieb joined the collective in 2018. Together, they develop situations of interference, discussion and speculation that question dominant techno-positivist ideologies in order to foster post-growth narratives. Their research is expressed through installations, performances, websites and events. They recently co-published A Bestiary of the Anthropocene, an atlas of anthropic hybrid creatures, and The Pirate Book, an anthology about media piracy.
Post Growth was initiated by DISNOVATION.ORG, with Clémence Seurat, researcher and publisher of eco-political issues; Pauline Briand, journalist specialized in biodiversity issues; Julien Maudet, designer of critical and political games.
Can you give a concrete example of the “situations of interference” that you are developing?
Over the past 10 years, we’ve been dissecting the dominant discourses on growth, innovation and technological solutionism—for example, with the “Museum of Failures” or the “Non-conformist Futures” exhibition at the Jeu de Paume. Our goal was to facilitate the dissemination of counter-narratives to contemporary techno-utopism through art objects that offer more critical, nuanced, complex or situated perspectives on these topics.
More recently, as the extent to which our world has been artificialized is often underestimated, we published A Bestiary of the Anthropocene with the anthropologist Nicolas Nova. It’s an atlas of hybrid creatures and phenomena between “nature” and “culture” that mixes biological, mineral, technological, petrochemical… This book offers a panorama of specimens with which we coexist and that we must learn to recognize—no longer as isolated aberrations within our environments, but as that which defines our contemporary condition: artificialization on a planetary scale.
It’s interesting how Post Growth research first focuses on gathering and strengthening the arguments of the discussion before beginning to imagine and prototype post-growth scenarios. How did this initiative come about?
Our initial research was focused on the imbrications between growth mechanisms (economic flows, energies, resources) and the ecosystemic crises that we are currently undergoing. First, we examined the ideological, social and biophysical components that precipitated our current environmental crises. Then we identified what leverage points are available for transformative practices in imagining social metabolisms that would no longer consider quantitative growth as an end in itself. We also favored collective social modes of transformation rather than mechanisms which invoke individual responsability or guilt.
The various branches of our research were first formalized in two exhibitions at the iMAL art centers in Brussels and 3 bis f in Aix-en-Provence in France. These “Post Growth” exhibitions presented two directional themes:
– The Toolkit is a collection of key concepts disseminated in the form of user-friendly and accessible media objects. They highlight the connections between growth mechanisms and ecosystem crises, while gathering and developing the arguments.
– The Solar Share explores the radical consequences of an economic model based on solar energy captured by the biosphere. It also examines the “work” done by the biosphere, often called ecosystem services, as well as the limits of quantification.
What are some of the key concepts in the Toolkit?
We often present a few simple concepts to introduce the project. In his lecture “Energy Transition, Fool’s Crutch?”, Jean-Baptiste Fressoz points out that historical changes in energy resources were additions, not transitions. This leads us to rethink our exit from fossil fuels, not just as a simple question of technically substituting one type of energy resource with another, but as a profound social and political transformation.
Contemporary exponential economic activity is also linked to accelerated flows of energies and resources, which is directly linked to exponentially modifying the environment. In fact, as James Gustave demonstates, this infamous GDP growth is neither necessarily beneficial nor desirable growth is very often uncorrelated with individual well-being , with some variations depending on the country and its current state of “development”.
How did you move from the research and investigation phase to producing a Toolkit that stimulates the imagination around post-growth?
We set out to meet researchers, theorists and activists in order to get a better understanding of the foundations of our current political and ecological crises. This research really came together during our residency at the University of California in Irvine when we conducted these first interviews and collected an archive of stories and operational concepts. The interviews focused on topics ranging from indigenous knowledge to collapse informatics, and have gradually taken the form of short videos. These video clips are freely available online and translated in French, English and Dutch.
Each sequence summarizes a key concept that feeds and adds nuance to the discussion around issues such as the ideology of growth, the rhetoric of sustainability, resilience, individual responsibility, preserving biodiversity, thinking of nature as a stock, not to mention the infamous “green growth”…
Post Growth Toolkit, Interview with Rose O’Leary, DISNOVATION.ORG, 2020:
Post Growth Toolkit, Interview with Bill Tomlinson, DISNOVATION.ORG, 2020:
Beyond a simple criticism, it’s important to reaffirm, as noted by Hans Joachim Schnellnhuber, that we already have the knowledge and the know-how to meet these contemporary challenges— what is lacking is the political agency to ensure the application of relevant knowledge and know-how. In this respect, we organized regular public discussions on a live set where we invite researchers and artists to contribute to this collective thinking.
As we went along, we realized that there was a paucity of appropriate visuals able to represent what is at stake, where earnest discussion remains largely confined to specialists within the academy and government. So we developed illustrations as a visual prompt to help disseminate and support more public engagement with these key concepts.
The Post Growth Toolkit consists of “serious game” prototypes around environmental crises and growth. How did you develop it, and where you do you situate it at the intersections between art, game, graphic art, mediation and workshop?
After compiling numerous key concepts in the form of interviews, we realized that many of these notions really needed to be debated or challenged in order to fully reveal their transformative potential, as well as their limits. So we teamed up with Julien Maudet, a designer of political games, to explore ways of facilitating these processes, from the perspective of the gaming world. This resulted in game prototypes that can be activated either collectively or individually during exhibitions, workshops, or in “print-and-play” mode.
These game prototypes take the form of a strategical card game, a group questionnaire, and a board game. They are designed to be tools for transmission and collective discussion, inviting people to gain new perspective on the doctrines of economic growth in order to better understand how we might have to transform how we live, we found it is important to highlight the material conditions which undergird contemporary lifestyles. At the intersection of science and speculative fiction, the Post Growth Toolkit game prototypes aim to share stories and concepts, and reconsidere the familiar objects around us, in order to re-examine our assumptions and to stimulate new modes of understanding.
For some of the more abstract key concepts of the Post Growth Toolkit, you went even further by creating objects to make these concepts more tangible. Can you elaborate on the “Energy Slave Token”?
In 1940, R. Buckminster Fuller introduced the term “Energy Slave” to describe the quantity of energy required to power contemporary societies. This unit—1 energy slave—represents the physical labor capacity of a human adult. The energy needs of any lifestyle can be converted into their equivalent in “energy slaves”, which reflects the number of human laborers required to generate the same amount of energy. In 2013, it was estimated that the average European uses the equivalent of 400 to 500 “energy slaves” 24 hours a day. We plan to extend this concept to integrate animal and plant contributions to the zombie meta-machine that provides our modern commodities, but for the moment, in the “energy slave” calculus, the activities of human beings “integrate” those implicit contributions.
The “Energy Slave Token” is a series of bitumen weights, which are the energy equivalents of specific quantities of physical human labor time (1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 1 life). This series of weights is designed to materialise the huge orders of magnitude between the labor power generated by our human bodies and the daily energy consumption, of all the machines and technologies that drive our current lifestyles, also known as the technosphere, for which we depend mainly on fossil fuels today. By connecting our disproportionately vast energy consumption with lived experience at human scale, these tokens are conceived to help people grapple with this difficulty which often leaves us baffled and resigned.
These objects make the energy that powers the technosphere extremely tangible. What connections do you see with the “Great Acceleration” concept often used to describe the Anthropocene?
The Great Acceleration is another facet of these Energy Slave Tokens. Over the past two centuries, technical acceleration and rising standards of living in the West have largely depended on the hyper-intensive and increased use of fossil fuels. It’s these zombie fuels, the remains of ancestral organisms, that humanity excavates from the earth in order to power the technological prostheses that surround us, and thus increase the physical capacity of humans to transform their environment. Any improvements in the general living conditions in developed countries can be directly traced to increased energy consumption. After this short episode in history, today our intensive use of fossil fuels compromises the continuation of human life, as well as that of many other species.
This fossil acceleration is largely due to the abundance and energetic density of coal and oil, which displace and multiply the physical labor capacity of humans or animals. This explains why in France only 1.5% of the population works in agriculture, despite the fact that eating remains fundamental to our human condition. It’s a result of the army of zombie technological prostheses, powered mainly by oil, gas and coal, that work around us. The Energy Slave Tokens make this physical reality and the scale of relationships more tangible, by comparing them to the average labor capacity of our own human bodies. In order to support people wishing to engage in their communities, these open source tokens are designed to be easily replicated, used and distributed.
Part 2 on the “Solar Share” coming soon on Makery
More information on the POST GROWTH research series
Post Growth interviews and critical games
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