Digital Hopeoutside the circle


2019 By Bengt Sjölén, Julian Oliver, Tega Brain
An aerial view of a mountainous landscape, with a body of water in the
center. There is a white line that frame a pare of the image which appears
to be more densely populated.
Images from Asunder, 2019. By Tega Brain, Julian Oliver, and Bengt Sjölén. Commissioned by the MAK for the VIENNA BIENNALE 2019.

Clockwise from top left: Silicon Valley, California; the Arctic; Wadden Islands, the Netherlands; Rondônia, Brazil; Miami, Florida; Dubai, United Arab Emirates

As the climate crisis accelerates, so, too, does humans’ faith in technological innovation. Satellite imaging and artificial intelligence have allowed us to capture the damage being done to our environment. Could similar tools help us repair it?

Asunder is a project by artists and engineers Tega Brain, Julian Oliver and Bengt Sjölén, who use machine learning and their own ‘super-computer’ to offer data-driven solutions to the climate crisis. The system is designed to weigh human and non-human agendas to propose possible responses to environmental issues. Drawing on satellite imagery, topography, biodiversity, geology and climate science, the Asunder programme scans regions and, based on its evidence, presents unusual, sometimes absurd solutions, such as relocating entire cities or ‘re-icing’ the Arctic.

The work’s ‘environmental manager’ embodies, simultaneously, the ability and limitations of technology’s powers of analysis. Asunder asks us to consider not only why its suggestions may not be feasible, but also whether we can rely on technological solutions to our planetary crisis.