On Cosmotechnics and New Geopolitics

On Cosmotechnics and New Geopolitics

In collaboration with Yuk Hui
Solveig Suess, Asia Bazdyrieva and Robert Bobnič, Kaja Kraner, Tjaša Pogačar (ŠUM)

Geocinema, Registering Solar, 2018

In collaboration with Hong Kong based philosopher Yuk Hui and number of invited researchers across the researched regions the notion of cosmotechnics has been examined.

Cosmotechnics as “a new paradigm that goes beyond nature/culture divide and reconciles technology with nature”, through a research project which takes as its focus the relations between technology and the environment along the Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia and Balkans.

Invited researches propose indicators for mapping possibilities as a proposal to think about new geopolitics.


Registering Solar

For present-day Central Asia, the official launch of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 marked a period of transformations to come. The development of new transit corridors linking North to South and East to West, along with the modernization of telecommunications networks, came with promises for a new era of infrastructural economy. For the five countries of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – the Belt and Road Initiative and associated Chinese investments, were synonymous with a new era of political and economic relations. While further accelerating international trade, these new transportation networks are paired with shifts in land ownership, alongside new ecological ideologies of sustainable development, green economy, and good governance.

Geocinema’s current research departs from early colonial encounters to present day data visualisations– tracing the intertwined history of scientific image practices and optical technological regimes which had contributed to the massive transformations of land, through the understanding of its soil. In Central Asia, they will take as a starting point Yuk Hui’s concept of ‘cosmoteсhnics’, tracing how the relationship between the Sun and Earth interfaced through its soil, scale from the epistemological to the ecological.

Research is conducted by Solveig Suess and Asia Bazdyrieva.

Bor is Burning1e phrase is a reference to the Serbian alternative rock band Goribor (literally translates to: Burning Bor) from the town of Bor. The band got its name based on the impression of a large fire over the town fromduo the process of copper smelting slag being separated from copper.

Robert Bobnič, Kaja Kraner, Tjaša Pogačar (ŠUM)

0. Enter the mine: Bor is burning

Rudna Glava, a village in eastern Serbia, is considered to be the excavation site of one of the earliest evidences of European copper mining and the most important mining complex of prehistoric Europe, dating back to 5000 BC2Archaeological excavations have shown that the mine was operational during the [Neolithic] period of the Vinča culture, a prehistoric culture in Southeastern Europe (Balkan) region.. Based on written sources and geological evidence of the region’s rich endowment of magnetite and chalcopyrite, historians also claim that the localities around Rudna Glava were an important mining site during the Medieval times. The proper geological and archaeological excavations in the region began in the 19th century as a part of industrialization, which lay grounds for the (supposedly western-oriented) technological development of the Balkans in the 20th century.

It is situated near the town of Bor, where a large copper (along with silver and gold) mining complex whas located in 1902. The history of the Bor mining complex is overlaid with the region’s turbulent history: in 1904 the Bor mine was sold to the Miraco bank in Paris; and the formative years of this industrial complex, alongside the worker’s resistance, already showed signs of ecological damage. During the interwar period, while still under French ownership, the Bor mine stood as one of Europe’s largest copper mining sites. In 1941, Bor was occupied by Germany’s Third Reich, who continued the excavation of copper. After the town was liberated in 1944 and socialist Yugoslavia was formed, the Bor mining complex had become one of the primary examples of Yugoslav industrial and technological modernization, providing a large amount of copper supplies which were heavily needed for electronics. Together with the Mihajlo Pupin Institute in Belgrade (who released the first digital computer in Yugoslavia in 1960), Iskra Delta (a computer manufacturer from Slovenia), and EI Niš (a Serbian electronics company), the Bor mining complex became a cornerstone of the Yugoslav electrotechnical industry.

After the breakup of Yugoslavia, a state-owned Bor mining enterprise became heavily indebted and the mine’s impact on the environment became more tangible. By 2017, the series of unsuccessful privatization attempts came to an end when the Chinese state-owned Zinjin Mining enterprise purchased Bor mining facilities. These are now under the process of automation and reconstruction, and is among one of the largest Belt and Road Initiative investments in the region.

1. Inquiry

Through [exploring] the various historical layers which have defined the Bor mining site, our research will use this location as an entry point to trace how nature-technology-culture relations in the Balkan region have been articulated and practiced; as well as identify where it might have diverged from the (dominant) modern technoscientific paradigm which has been reaffirmed today through projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative. Therefore, our main question surrounds the existence of local cosmotechnics as defined by Yuk Hui. Questioning the existence of anterior locally-specific articulations of the relationship between nature and technology (that could offer tools for future practice) is of particular interest for us, especially as we are consistently made to face the reality of our climate crisis. That said, our aim is not a reaffirmation of local premodern cultures and technics (which in itself are products of modern epistemologies, be it affirmative or reactionary) but rather to question the unilateral development of modern technology, politics and epistemologies.

This rather formidable undertaking will be framed through two interconnected research lines:

a) Geological history of technology in the Balkan region. A geological perspective (as in the perspective of the geology of media technology) accompanied by an anthropological one, opens up the interrogation of the relationship between technology and nature – the preindustrial or industrial relation between work and nature – through the prisms of nonhuman time, as defined by modern technoscientific apparatus and the history of terraforming.

The long history of mining in Bor is an intriguing example of mining practices – pertaining to energy resources and later, data mining – in the sense of excavations and contemporary industrial intertwinement with digital data mining. Importantly, it is also an example of specific cosmotechnical and cultural orderings through history.

Two consequences follow: Firstly (1), that the question of cosmotechnics could and should be open to the question of the materiality of technics, as a basic precondition for (premodern) cosmological and (modern) technoscientific ordering. Secondly (2), that the concept of cosmotechnics is a differentiating factor against the ideological image of the monolithic development of industrial modes of (western) modern technology – though in some ways, still depends on modern technoscientific practices (as in the case of measuring nonhuman time.)

b) Political history of technology of specific socialist Yugoslav project. An exploration of the region’s giant step into technological modernity, concurrent with the local unification of Southeastern Slavic cultures, which manifested through rapid industrialization.

The particular unaligned position of Yugoslavia allowed the import of technological innovations from Western countries, however there were also (theoretical) experiments combining Yugoslav self-management theory and socialist practices with the theory of cybernetics and informatics. Seen through the lens of economic and political aspects, technological modernity and capitalistic cosmotechnics – if we cannot distinguish the two – suffered its greatest consequences after the fall of socialism (when the Balkans once again became a technological no man’s land), regaining the geostrategic importance of the region as the geographical, political, and economic gate to Europe (the strategic interests of BRI, EU, and Russia are perfect cases of this importance).

Did socialism offer the possibility for a particular nature-technology-culture relation that differs from the general dominant, modern, technoscientific paradigm? Is there such a thing as a region’s immanent understanding of technology during this period? Since socialism as an idea/ideology/political system can certainly be perceived as an indistinguishable (if not an integral) part of European modernity, the question of a specificity which could be provisionally called socialist cosmotechnics, inevitably also questions the unified concept of modernity – specifically modern cosmotechnics.

2. Research goals and methodology 

The differentiation of these aforementioned research layers based on the case of the Bor mining complex are to be treated as only a starting point for unravelling the complexity of the process of European modernization – that is, the extension of the dominant, western, modern cosmotechnics paradigm through economic, political and cultural universalization (not necessarily unification), intrinsic to the capitalist mode of production in the European periphery.

In this regard, the potential of [a] specific understanding of the relationship between the technology and nature in the region can, on the one hand, present grounds for a reevaluation of the indistinguishability of modern cosmotechnics from the capitalist mode of production. On the other hand, it can serve as an critical starting point to further define the specifics and importantly, the unification of modern cosmotechnics. For this, we can also consider the role/positioning of art (from modernity onwards), since it is in itself ambivalent – being both a tool for the cultivation of the natural present within the human, whilst also mediating, or even reconciling, the division of the natural and artificial/technological/cultural.

The methodology of the proposed research project will predominantly depend on the analysis of different types of historical sources and documents gathered during the visits detailed below; a review of archeological literature relating to the period and location; and the interviews with the different experts on the matter.

Another line of the methodology will be centralized on further philosophical analysis of the concept of modern cosmotechnics (or the wider relationship between nature, technology and culture specific [to] modernity), as well as its local conceptualization during the socialist period.

Robert Bobnič (b. 1985, Yugoslavia/Slovenia) is a Ph.D. student of Media Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana.

Kaja Kraner (b. 1986, Yugoslavia/Slovenia) an independent researcher, lecturer, and curator based in Ljubljana, and holds a Ph.D.

Tjaša Pogačar (b. 1987, Yugoslavia/Slovenia) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana and works in the field of contemporary visual and new media art as a freelance writer, curator, and editor.

[1] e phrase is a reference to the Serbian alternative rock band Goribor (literally translates to: Burning Bor) from the town of Bor. The band got its name based on the impression of a large fire over the town fromduo the process of copper smelting slag being separated from copper.

[2] Archaeological excavations have shown that the mine was operational during the [Neolithic] period of the Vinča culture, a prehistoric culture in Southeastern Europe (Balkan) region.