Earth, Monstrous Body

Phillipa Grylls  

Phillipa Grylls is a sapling of creative, critical, and cyborg energy growing in Melbourne, Australia. She makes poetry, critical and theoretical writings, and a capella electronic music. Current software updates include interests in digital literature and aesthetics, critical theories of democracy and technology, and space (cosmic, terrestrial, and literary). Phillipa is a Digital Writers’ Festival 2018 creative producer and programmed Earth, Monstrous Body – a collaborative literature project running for the course of DWF18. Add to the project from 30 Oct – 3 Nov

The Digital Writers’ Festival is focussed on bringing the digital literary medium to life for a community of writers and readers. But what is the “digital medium”? For many people, it represents a slide away from the natural, earthy pages of books into the cold, technological world of the screen. This opposition between “nature” and “technology” filters much into our everyday thinking – but our thoughts seem like they aren’t keeping up with the world we live in. The synthesis between nature and technology is growing ever greater in the 21st century, to the point that viewing the two as opposed may no longer be possible.

It was from reflecting on this growing synthesis that the collaborative literature project ‘Earth, Monstrous Body’ came about for this year’s DWF2018. I started as a Creative Producer this year as part of an internship program, where I had free reign to create an event for the festival. I wondered, isn’t human existence always connected to animals, other humans, and “technology”? Donna Haraway says this interconnected condition makes up the very fabric of existence and calls it ‘cyborg’ existence.

I began to think: What if the Earth itself is a monstrous, cyborg body? We can no longer think of the Earth and the places on it as natural, and technology simply as a man-made add-on; “The earth has wire veins, satellite brains, and billions of human and technological micro-organisms.” And increasingly, when we humans navigate space, we do so virtually as well as in the real world. When we are discovering new places, most of us know the experience of spending half the time looking at Google maps! Inspired by creative uses of mapping, like Queering the Map and EJAtlas, I set about imaging a collaborative map to explore these ideas.

The platform of Earth, Monstrous Body attempts to reflect this meld of nature and technology, and the meld between virtual and actual space, by using Google maps to create a virtual future earth. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can drop a pin somewhere significant to them, and write about how they envision the future of that place; about a place they see as important for the future of the whole globe; or, about a completely new place which exists in a wild, imaginative future.

What will your home look like in 20 or 50 years? What about your local library, or a nearby farm? How will cities be affected by rising sea levels? What will power plants look like in 50 years? It might be easy to imagine a dystopian world, with crises like climate change and the bleak political and economic crises of today. But are there also visions of hope? Might technology help us as well as hinder us? A website called Future Timeline lays out some of the global changes that will take place over the next 50 years, to the next 1 million, and can provide some interesting springboards for the monstrous earth map! For example, it predicts that in 2050 “Hi-tech, intelligent buildings [will be] revolutionising the urban landscape” – how would we experience smart buildings and smart cities?

Four artists have been invited to start off the map, each contributing their unique visions of the future. In Sharon Lam’s speculative world, nostalgia has grown to the point where it is the centrepiece of culture. Postcards have become so retro cool that they are used to communicate anything and everything – including a breakup in a future primary school, a mysterious message between parents, and workplace communication at a new sort of aviary. Anupama Pilbrow and Zoe Kingsley collaborate on site-specific video poems based in the waterways of Narrm/Melbourne and Eora/Sydney. They explore environments as kinds of palimpsest, informed by inter-connected themes of dislocation, distortion, and interference, but also potential regeneration through technological and knowledge practices, solitary and social environmental connections. Dan Hogan imagines a post-modern SkyNet world, where the Terminator battles theoretically and literally about the grounding of cyborg subjectivity and non-binary gender. These unique visions will be live on the virtual earth at the start of the festival.

The ground of is also ripe for you to plant your own creative vision on the virtual earth – whether it’s one sentence or a whole poem, a piece of micro-fiction or an embedded drawing, drop a pin and help collaborate and create a virtual vision of the future earth, monstrous body.

Log on here from 30 Oct – 3 Nov