There’s no doubt the world has inevitably changed since the olden days of more innocent barter and hunting-to-feed. Advancement in machinery and technological innovation set the solid foundation of what is now a society unquestionably ruled by capitalistic hegemony. It is also true that humanity’s capacity to be – rather than remain in an auto-pilotesque manner – has diminished beneath distracted consciousness, and no matter the trauma life brings, we might have all become numb. XXmm: dvlpd brings the present-day narrative to life from a place that never sleeps – New York City. Through mind-altering imagery and graphic bluntness, XXmm, which serves as an anti-thesis to eco-media, delves into the contrasts of what we’ve created over the years and what is left. Rather than focusing solely on the environmental aspect, we must also consider social and cultural perspectives to point out how built environments paradoxically portray the space we’ve taken. This is not limited to the city’s industrialized state, but all things encompassed within it. Where there is joy, there must have been pain. Where civilization has unavoidably paved a way for capitalism to lurk is a lingering chance to reign as a truly united place. Where there is nature, there is also something man-made. And where the mind is – the body may not be. Zizek said “Ideology addresses very real problems, but it mystifies them, often almost imperceptibly.”1 With each captured moment, a silenced voice speaks with intent to find meaning where the world has been robbed.
The title alone is a message. The official exhibit name, XXmm: dvlpd, exists as a pathway into a time capsule, looking into the past. Moreover, XXmm aims to portray the already-happening-present as ‘then.’ XX, according to Soriano, represents ‘an unknown’ and mm refers to millimeters like the measurement of film. If flipped, the beginning of the title turns into MMXX – which, in roman numerals, stands for 2000-and-something. In hopes of triggering a nostalgic vibe, the work reveals itself as a modern-day photo album tackling concepts, such as the rights of nature, time, critical empathy, adaptation, creativity, the mind, poetics, and decay. Aiming to connect the dots between urbanization and Mother Nature, XXmm focuses on how society is essentially moving forward in time yet falling back in space. And although the world’s progression into a cramped but contemporary region seems like pure splendor to the naïve eye, we must understand the realities of its finite state.
The unorthodox aesthetic of XXmm resonates with The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination’s notion of edges in their land-based project titled la r.O.n.c.e. Fremeaux argues how their work is “an edge between fiction and reality, between conceptual and the concrete, between an imagined reality and the construction of it.”2 And by keeping this bizarre thought in mind, Soriano implemented her own twist on an edge. With bold color blocking and tilted positions, XXmm’s visual appeal makes viewers feel a bit ‘off’ – but not too much. This ‘off’ sensation is meant to awaken one’s psyche, and possibly even allow questions to flow. Similarly, Parikka describes imaginary media as a “media not of imaginary things but imagination as the extension of the potentialities of media.”3 By letting one’s inner essence open itself to the actual realities we face day-to-day, a clear understanding of what needs to be done – may inherently come. There is no one meaning to each picture; there is many. And despite the fact that it is easy to be close-minded to something out of the ordinary, the point of XXmm is the exact opposite.
Unlike traditional eco-media works, Soriano’s exhibit is relevant to more than just one target audience. With the desire to highlight a range of environmental issues in our nation, she metaphorically restructures the story board of today via raw images in eccentric form. How Banerjee suggests his work for Climate Story Tellers as “a wonderful visual language to help us unlearn [some of these] intolerances,”4 Soriano desires to do the same. “Anti-Pilot Campaign,” a piece that reflects on societal obliviousness, is a subliminal but propaganda-like memo. It does not directly tell a viewer to stop what they’re doing. Instead, it shows the routine we have fallen victims to. This message is not meant to bring moods like fear or defeat; it was created to make a change – no matter the size. And like any major choice, we must first become aware.
The history of what has happened to Mother Nature is a long one. However, we can start by looking at what’s right in front of us. We do not have to live in a third world country, meet indigenous people, or witness the worst of natural disasters. What must be realized is that change can start anywhere by anyone. And that time is now. In “Infinite Paths,” Soriano captures a section of Central Park in Manhattan, New York, where two pairs of people stand. The closer couple are two children and the second set of individuals are much older adults. This image, like a few other pictures, is shifted to the left. But the focal point of this one is that it is mirroring two eras: the youthful past walking towards their predestined future. In addition, time – though a difficult concept to grasp – is certainly infinite. This never-ending aspect coincides with Haraway’s idea of chthulucene or the “past, present, and to come.”5 And no matter the generation, history will repeat itself again and again. So, given that a history lesson isn’t what is needed, we must change the way we change things. And if what has been done isn’t working, something else must be done.
If individuals were on the same page and lived for one purpose, the planet, though still finite, would have a better fighting chance at survival. “Built in Vain,” a skyline shot of New York City between two bars – much like the late Twin Towers – produces a constructed view of the metropolis. Even from the very own building commemorating the United States’ first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, the products of industrialization still do not justify the capitalistic rule nor pay out the inhabitants – or better yet the Mother herself. And if in 2000-and-something, or in reality’s case, 2001, the world turned to dust, who would society turn to? Would individuals turn against each other in times of disaster? At that point, the question ends up being, “What now?” But Mother Nature, who is capable of self-sustenance, will be ready, given that we keep up with her needs.
So, what can be done for her anyways? To think of our planet’s entirety as a woman is plausible, because she is the primary source of all living things. It is from her roots that we came to be; our plants, our oil and mineral resources, our water – we all owe to Mother Nature’s soil. For it is with her reproduction, the woefully finite cycle of life, that we keep building. Davis infers this alternate idea of anthropocene, which is “a poetics of description as a mode of affective and aesthetic amplification that can delineate the fluctuating details of change occurring in the present in order to open out towards a less teleological sense of the future.”6 By keeping this slightly cynical yet powerfully realistic mindset, could humanity possibly save more – for longer?
To ask for extreme acts of radical environmentalism is outlandish, because how can we possibly persuade every single person to act the same. However, to initiate a common ground of thinking might be ideal. If we, as humans, collectively come to terms with Mother Nature’s determined fate, then maybe that is our fighting chance. It is not a mission to be done alone, but as a united land. Piece by piece, a segment of our tragic outcome is restored by our doctors, our engineers, our teachers – to not do just any function – but theirs. From releasing ourselves from the ideology that life is purely a routine or that we are trapped on auto-pilot, humans and Mother Nature can fundamentally fall in sync again.
As stated previously, what we have created and what is now left is both the cause and effect of our society today. The environment is not its own being, segregated from social and culture evils; they are one and the same. To re-establish Mother Nature and its inhabitants to its most organic state, we must first become aware. It is in developing the ability to enter a state of present consciousness that our minds can process external stimuli, like how grass the green is, or if climate change has displaced near-to-extinct creatures, or the severity of slow violence in our hometown. Therefore, if awareness of the self is recognized, the rest should follow. At the end of the day, we are part of the Earth; we are Mother Nature. So, it’s not about ownership or taking what is or isn’t ours. It’s about understanding that we’re robbing ourselves from the life we deserve. The environment – tied with its social and culture consequences – is inescapably intertwined with life. There is no aesthetic narrative without either.
1 Slavoj Zizek, Ecology, (United States, 2009), 156.
2 Isabel Fremeaux, Geographies of Hope, (Los Angeles, 2012), 244.
3 Jussi Parikka, Media Ecologies & Imaginary Media, (Australia, 2001), 46.
4 Subhanker Banerjee, Arctic Series, (Alaska, 2010), 1.
5 Donna Haraway, Making Kin, (United States, 2015), 160.
6 Heather Davis, Art in the Anthropocene, (London, 2015), 98.