The Trial Balloon: buoyancy, embodied media, and patchy planetarity

Matthew Battles, metaLAB at Harvard/Berkman Center

Boston 2017: STS Infrastructures

By slow implacable degrees, modernity's instrumental armature of longitude and latitude gave way to a global vision figured by the Apollo-era images of the blue planet floating in space—a perspective again radically altered by the metadata-driven planetarity of locative metadata and GIS systems, by which landscape has been rendered fungible, addressable, and scrollable, allowing us to consume planetary vistas as so much 'screen real estate.' As Bruno Latour (2013) tells it, 'there is no Earth corresponding to the Globe'; we've discovered that the we're in transit between impossible landing places, caught in passage from an unrecoverable Land to an unreachable, impossible Globe. The Trial Balloon is a structural provocation to help us explore these impossible spatialities: an inflatable enclosure the size of a large tent or a small room, fitted without by short-throw projectors, within which we contemplate a drifting cyclorama of meso-scale aerial imagery, a bird's-eye dérive comprised of natural territories, industrial landscapes, and the feral in-between. A neutrally-buoyant vehicle for expeditions to Gaia, Trial Balloon is built to transit contesting, patchy, interwoven territories, aerial vistas and earthly visages. It enables us to view surfaces of the earth not from above, but from below—not as a disinterested observer gazing down from the Archimedean Point of aerial transcendence, but as an ant or an Atlas caught beneath the glittering, elemental enormities of a planetarity we've only begun to grasp.

Published: 01/30/2023