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Aerocene Campus

Maristella Svampa

Aerocene Campus

November 26, 2016 | Exhibition Road, London

Aerocene comes to Exhibition Road for a multidisciplinary artistic project co-produced by the members of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, gathering together 17 prestigious cultural and scientific institutions in London, among them, the Serpentine Galleries, Imperial College London, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Royal Geographical Society, the Victoria and Albert Museum,  and the Goethe Institute.

How can we hack the Anthropocene to create the Aerocene?

The first Aerocene Campus is an open invitation to explore, extend and imagine the Aerocene Epoch through the sculpture of the Aerocene Backpack.  The Campus asks how community-driven practices with the Aerocene Explorer can inform environmental, social and mental ecologies in post-Anthropocenic worlds. On November 26th, experts from a wide range of disciplines will gather together for a full day of provocation, discussion, collaboration and ‘hacking’ to experiment with the Aerocene Explorer and to co-create the Aerocene epoch.

To hack is to creatively overcome the limitations of a system, to improve or subvert the intentions of its original form in a spirit of playfulness and exploration.  Which geopolitical, social, legal and philosophical “hacks’ do we need in order to enter the Aerocene?  With this central question, the Aerocene Campus calls upon researchers, scientists, students and activists to address three key Aerocene challenges: Free Flight, Life in the Air and Sounding. These three topics will be introduced on Saturday morning by a panel of experts, provocateurs, reporters and communicators. The campus participants will then select the hacking session which would like to join for the remainder of the day. In the evening, a reporter from each session will present the results for a final large group discussion.

A group of highly technical hackers that have responded to the open call for Aerocene Hack 2 will join the Campus for the introduction and the first working session.  Since technical hacks must be supported by the multifaceted worlds in which they exist, we hope these conversations will spark cross disciplinary dialogue between Aerocene Hack 2 and Aerocene Campus participants. Aerocene Hack 2 will continue through Sunday, November 27.

Aerocene Campus Challenges

The Aerocene Backpack, a tethered-flight sculpture currently in beta version, will enable anyone to launch their own personal exploration of the atmosphere.  Aerocene Backpack has been developed by Studio Saraceno and a community of collaborators.  Each Aerocene Explorer starter kit comes with a small camera, live streaming appliance and sensing devices to record air temperature, humidity, and air pressure. The Explorer allows participants to take aerial photographs and videos, and to collect meteorological data using non-intrusive, emissions-free scientific exploration tools. All the kit’s contents are secured in a backpack to ensure portability and comfort when out in the field. The exploration has just begun.

The current state of the Aerocene Explorer will be presented by Sven Steudte and members of Studio Tomás Saraceno on the morning of Saturday November 26th.


Challenge: The challenge of the Free Flight hacking session is to enable the Aerocene Explorer to fly free. In its current state, the Aerocene Explorer is usually attached to a rope anchored to the ground.  It flies to a max altitude of 300 metres (the exact height depending on the weather, location and prevailing restrictions). One of the major challenges of the free-flight tests (for example: Gemini 1, 2, 3) is to locate the position of the Explorer’s landing. This is vital for retrieving the footage, collecting data and equipment that the Aerocene Explorer carries. Many Aerocene team members and researchers are collaborating on forecasting the Aerocene Explorer’s future flights’ trajectories. However, the next step is to expand and nuance these tools to simulate the paths of Aerocene Explorers more accurately, and to provide better user engagement options.  The Free Flight hack will expand on the Aerocene Hack 1 organised with the Exhibition Road institutions and external collaborators, such as MIT EAPS.

Campus Questions: There are many obstacles to Aerocene Explorer free flight in an anthropocenic era of aviation control and surveillance.  How might these structures be surmounted legally, socially and politically? Which petitions, manifestos, commissions and actions are necessary?  Aerocene Explorer Free Flight breaks conventional notions of borders and passage.  How can today’s modes of travel and Aerocene Free Flight coexist? This hack invites practitioners from a variety of disciplines, including design, law, sociology, finance and political theory to engage with the challenge of Free Flight in the Aerocene.

Confirmed Participants: Bill McKenna (MIT, EAPS), Bronislaw Szerszynski (University of Lancaster), Harriet Hawkins (Center for GeoHumanities, Royal Holloway), Pete Adey (Royal Holloway), Sir Brian Hoskins (Imperial College London).


Challenge: In its current design, the Aerocene Backpack carries a series of devices of photography, live streaming, and assessing temperature differences, humidity, and altitude among other factors. The Aerocene residency on Exhibition Road brings an opportunity to develop these sensors further and invent new ones for a better understanding of the airborne ecosystems in different atmospheric strata. Exploring “life in the air” encompasses one of the exciting new directions for collaboration between Aerocene and scientific research on aerial life.  With the guidance of experts from the Natural History Museum, hacking groups will design new experiments for enhancing our understanding of aerial biodiversity, and how such biodiversity may be impacted by changing climatic factors.  This hack offers working groups the opportunity to adapt the Aerocene Explorer design to accommodate new sampling instruments and technologies, and to target regions of the troposphere and stratosphere, and interconnectivity with the environment at large.

Campus Questions: What is “life in the air” and how can we recognize it?  What would it mean to respond ethically to such life in the Aerocene, and over which scales, times and horizons could we attend to it? What is the relation between life in the air and life on Earth?  How can we summon a novel collective attention in atmospheric  life that breaks from the extractive and polluting logics of the Anthropocene to shape the Aerocene? In these endeavors, critical hacking from humanities, biological and philosophical scholars on what counts as life, death, element, molecule and material is relevant and urgently required.

Confirmed Participants: Anne Jungblut (Natural History Museum, London), Holger Thues (Natural History Museum, London),  Nick Shapiro (Public Lab), Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (University of Westminster) and Hannah Meszaros-Martin (Research Architecture, Goldsmiths).


Challenge: The Sounding hacking session aims to identify applications of sensing, sounding and aerial communication capacities for Aerocene flights and research practices.  “Sounding” is the measurement of the physical properties of the atmosphere using surface, airborne or orbiting instruments. The earliest scientific balloon campaigns such as GHOST (although using helium-filled balloons) were experiments in “sounding” the atmosphere of the southern hemisphere through the transmission and reception of signals from unmanned, long-distance stratospheric balloon flights. Whilst the origin of the term “Sounding” has no direct relationship to the sounds of the atmosphere, massive atmospheric events (weather systems, meteorite entry) can be detected or heard at great distances through the propagation of low frequency infrasound.  We can also speculate how sonification might provide new insights or a different sensory experience of atmospheric data. The Aerocene Explorer can extend such research through collaboration between atmospheric scientists, Aerocene sculptures, and communities of citizen scientists and aero-acoustic hackers.

Campus Questions: What does the stratosphere sound like? This question might be interpreted in a meteorological or acoustic sense.  The key inspirations for various sounding experiments with Aerocene Explorer sculptures might be located in atmospheric science and fluid dynamics as well as musicality, choreography and composition.  In addition to modifications to Aerocene Explorers flights, what would need to happen “on the ground” to shift cultural imaginaries of atmosphere as a more-than-visual space and medium?  The Aerocene Sounding hacking session invites atmospheric scientists, musicians, music technologists, engineers and social scientists to hack sensory and sonic exploration of the atmosphere.

Confirmed Participants: Derek McCormack (University of Oxford), Sven Steudte (Radio Amateur), Sam Hertz (Musician /Composer), Federico Bolza (Sony Music), Andrea Lissoni (Tate Museum).

Aerocene Campus Chairs and Discussion Leaders:

Tomás Saraceno (Studio Tomás Saraceno), Sasha Engelmann (Oxford University and Royal Holloway), Ronald Jones (RCA and Harvard University), Carlo Rizzo (Exhibition Road Commission), Nerea Calvillo (Warwick University).


10:00 – Opening Remarks

10:10 – Introduction to Aerocene Hacks

10:30 – Panel 1: Free Flight

11:00 – Panel 2: Life in the Air

12:00 – Panel 3: Sounding

13:00 – Lunch

14:00 – Working Session

16:00 – Reporting of Hack Ideas

16:30 – “Fail again, Fail better”

18:00/ 18:30 – Closing Remarks

Royal College of Art
Senior Common Room
View on a Map here

9:30am – 6:30pm

The event is free to attend but has a very limited capacity.
It is therefore essential to rsvp via email at:

Aerocene’s residency at the Goethe-Institut London as part of the Exhibition Road Commission has been made possible thanks to the support of members of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, Arts Council England, South Kensington Estates and our Founding Patrons: Francesca von Habsburg, Maja Hoffmann and Nicoletta Fiorucci.

The Aerocene Campus Event was generously supported by a British Academy mid-career fellowship awarded to Professor Derek McCormack.

The Aerocene Campus was inspired in part by the Anthropocene Curriculum at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and is grateful to the HKW for supporting the Aerocene in a number of performances, seminars and public presentations.