On Friday 14 July, the Hangar Y in Meudon near Paris opened its doors and its skies to the public in order to host Aerocene for a unique collaborative and artistic experience. In the programme for this festive, ecologically-minded day: solar sculpture performances, an Aerocene exhibition, a participatory historical timeline on the history of low-carbon flight, a mask-making workshop for children, a retro photocall and parade through the park, solar music, and a conversation to free the water and the air. Snapshot of the day’s events.
Aerocene is an interdisciplinary community that brings together diverse artists, activists, geographers, philosophers, speculative scientists, balloonists, technologists, thinkers, and dreamers from around the world for collective performances towards eco-social justice. Its members seek to devise collaborative modes of ecological sensitivity increasing public awareness of global resource circulation, and reactivating a common imaginary towards an ethical collaboration with the environment and the atmosphere. Through a DITO (Do-It-Together) and open-source ethos, the community attempts to overcome abusive extractive practices, like oil, gas, and lithium mining among many others, that some humans have imposed on landscapes, ecosystems, communities, and other species.
Launched in Paris in 2015 at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference, the Aerocene Foundation emphasizes the interconnectedness of environmental issues, social justice, and the well-being of all species. It opposes environmental racism, acknowledges the impacts of climate crises, and strives for climate justice through collective action and the empowerment of grassroots movements. Conceived in 2004, the idea of an international Aerocene community has taken shape over the years through a series of meetings, experiments and presentations. Aerocene is an atmosphere, in the air and on the ground, with an ever expanding practice for impractical and practical purposes. It is an environment and ethical collaboration, an interdisciplinary, undisciplined community, an ecosocial movement that brings together artists, activists, philosophers, balloonists, dreamers, birds and spiders, Aerocene is active in the airspace of 146 locations worldwide, 33 countries, 6 continents: The Aerocene community remains borderless.
In France, Aerocene events have taken place at the Atelier Calder in Saché in 2010; with the philosopher Bruno Latour during the Anthropocene Monument project in Toulouse in 2012; in residence at the CNES around infra-red hot-air balloons; at the Grand Palais in 2015 for COP21; in 2018 at the Palais de Tokyo and La Villette for the Fab City Summit, to name just the biggest events. From this momentum, a French association was born to support the international effort. On July 14, with the support of the Mondes Nouveaux programme, the Aerocene community met at Hangar Y, a historic aerostation site.
Hangar Y is a former airship hangar located in Meudon, south-west of Paris. Hangar Y was built for the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1878 (Galerie des Machines) by Henri de Dion. It was then completely dismantled and reassembled brick by brick on its current site in 1879. It was so named because the plot of land was marked with the letter Y on military plans. It was the first airship hangar, as well as one of the largest in the world, and one of the only ones still standing. Classified as a historic monument in 2000 and included on France’s tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, it has been restored and has become a cultural centre in 2023.
Fly with Pacha, into the Aerocene
The exhibition at the Atelier of the site was presenting, for the first time in France, the newly produced film Fly with Pacha, into the Aerocene, in the presence of Argentinian artist and activist Maximiliano Laina, co-director of the film with his comrade Tomás Saraceno. The film is co-produced by the Serpentine Gallery in London and currently in view in Saraceno’s exhibition.
In January 2020, Aerocene Pacha, a fuel-free hot air balloon, safely lifted Argentinian Aerocene pilot, Leticia Noemi Marques, into the sky and landed back on Earth, using only the power of sun and air. This moment was organized by Aerocene Foundation in collaboration with representatives from the 33 Indigenous communities of the Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc basin, in Northern Argentina. Aerocene Pacha’s launch drew attention to the devastating impacts of lithium extraction on the region’s human and more-than-human eco- systems, while proposing environmental and ethical commitments to the planet and its inhabitants. A culmination of more than 20 years of experimental and collaborative work, Fly with Aerocene Pacha set 32 world records for the first human solar free flight, certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
With the participation of a varied group of artists, lawyers, writers, musicians and poets, Verónica Chávez, Maristella Svampa, Claudia Aboaf, Melisa Argento, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, Alicia Chalabe, Bruno Fornillo, Inés Katzenstein, Pía Marchegiani, Graciela Speranza, Joaquín Ezcurra, Gastón Chillier, Lucas Quipildor and Enrique Viale came together in the birth of this new audiovisual piece that incorporates some of the most important discussions regarding how to ensure human and environmental rights in the region. As part of this encounter, the communities declared their Territory as a Subject of Rights, and elevated a public online petition asking for their voice to be heard, and their ancestral territories to be recognised by the Interamerican Court for Human Rights.
Also on display was Aerocene II, the latest newspaper, recently published in May this year, which brings together a multitude of voices to discuss vital, socio-ecological questions. Through this publication, readers can learn more about the Aerocene community and read several critical essays which engage with the ongoing struggles of the Indigenous Communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatatoc, who bravely continue to fight their ancestral rights and unique ecologies against the advance of extractive industrial lithium mining.
Aerocene supports implementing the communities’ right to prior, free, informed, and consensual consultation in their territories, utilizing legal processes, artistic activations, and declarations to raise awareness and advocate for the rights of these communities. Aerocene emphasizes the interconnectedness of environmental issues, social justice, and the well-being of all species. It opposes environmental racism, acknowledges the impacts of climate crises, and strives for climate justice through collective action and the empowerment of grassroots movements.
Discover the paleo heroes
Supported by Hangar Y, Makery and More-Than-Planet, a program funded by the European Union, the Atelier of the Hangar Y was also hosting a Paléo-aero exhibition by the Paleo-énergétique collective on the history of low-carbon aeronautics and aerospace.
This participatory research programme dig into the stories of the forgotten pioneers of low-carbon aeronautics. The research has been translated into a website, a traveling exhibition and a timeline of events. To inspire the aeronautics of tomorrow, Paléo-aero is drawing on the collective intelligence of the public domain.
Children and grown-ups could cut out their masks, choose retro objects and stand in front of the mural designed by Atelier 21 as a tribute to Hangar Y, the pioneers of airships and aeronautics and the imagination of the great universal exhibitions of the 19th century.
Visitors could go home with their own 10x15cm photo taken by a retro-futuristic version of the 1900s-style wooden bellows camera. Bruzklyn Labz‘s (Thibaut Piel) approach is akin to that of a magician, an alchemist traveling around with his old cameras and an ancient technique of representation.
A parade went through the park with some of the participants of the Paleo-Heroes workshop. Participants and spectators could enjoy the Parade to the sound of the SolarSoundSystem.
After the parade a discussion was organised on the Solar Sound System, set in front of the main Hangar and with Sasha Engelmann, geographer, author of Sensing Art in the Atmosphere: Elemental Lures and Aerosolar Practices (Routledge, 2021); Maximiliano Laina, filmmaker, activist, author of Fly with Pacha, Into the Aerocene (2017 – in progress); Cédric Carles, designer, director of Atelier 21, co-author of Retrofutur (Buchet-Chastel, 2018); Ewen Chardronnet, editor-in-chief of Makery.info, author of Mojave Epiphanie (Inculte, 2016), co-editor of Space Without Rockets (UV Editions, 2022).
Sasha Engelmann described her many years adventures with the Aerocene community while preparing her geography thesis. Sasha Engelmann also works with the Argentinian community on open source projects to measure air pollution in problematic areas of the country. She then presented her Open Weather project, a feminist experiment in imaging and imagining the Earth and its weather systems using DIY community tools. Co-led by Sophie Dyer and Sasha Engelmann, open-weather encompasses a series of how-to guides, critical frameworks and public workshops on the reception of satellite images using free or inexpensive amateur radio technologies. Sasha Engelmann warned that 2024 could be the first year to cross the 1.5°C global warming threshold, and that these projects were even more necessary.
Ewen Chardronnet presented Space Without Rockets, a collective publication on the environmental impact of the rocket industry and alternative ways of getting into space. This publication, supported by the More Than Planet program, had already been launched at Hangar Y in September 2022. Maximiliano Laina talked about his film and elaborated on the current intense struggles against Lithium extraction in Jujuy, Argentina, an extraction that is draining the water of local communities. Cédric Carles concluded by presenting the Paleo-aero research and their Paleo-énergétique collective.
To conclude, the Aerocene Foundation asks these questions: “In the context of the environmental crisis and the need for a just, eco-social, energy transition, can techno-diversity and biodiversity interact differently? Can systems of power move beyond the inequalities of capitalism and the reproduction of neocolonial extractivism of minerals and data? Can the privilege of digital memories over ancestral memories be overcome? How can we fly free from fossil fuels? The Aerocene community expresses the environmental and social importance of our relationship with the air and the living beings that share it, through open, participatory and artistic community initiatives that give meaning to this name calling for change: an era in which to live, breathe and move, free from fossil fuels.”
Photos: Malo Chardronnet.
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