NASA

Individual moments of contemplation

April 10, 2020

The first seminar dedicated to the XXIII International Exhibition 2022 took place on March 4, 2020, while the Triennale was closed to the public due to the Coronavirus emergency. It was joined by experts in various fields, from astrophysics to philosophy, ethology, visual art, geopolitics and robotics. The seminar was composed of two different parts, the first one was for internal use and the second one, shorter, was open to the public and broadcasted live.

The team in charge of coordinating the International Exhibition and organising the seminar suggests some reflections emerged during that day. Each of them provides a personal review of the richness and complexity of the topics covered. It is a multi-perspective story that we want to share to make the preparatory work behind the XXIII International Exhibition accessible to all.

Various areas of study were compared during the study day. These areas included the immensity of space and of the oceans, the microcosms of viruses, insects and plankton, philosophical ideas, economic, ecological, and social thoughts, ideas on art history and, last but not least, the frontier of artificial intelligence. Lastly, there was an analysis of the vast open-air laboratory that the African continent has now become.
Going one step further, in the discourse of the experts we can see the reasoning and words, both explicit and underlying, that point to areas of convergence, content, and methodological intersections that can help us in our research.

Whether we are talking about the ocean, space, viruses, plankton, or whatever, one element we always find is that of data. Data that technology and robotics enable us to gather and return in real time and in vast quantities. Processing these data expands our knowledge and allows us to make forecasts. Their enormous availability can now only be managed with the help of AI, as the physicist Roberto Cingolani reminded us. It opens up the ethical, strategic, and compensatory question about its use and carefully formulated interpretation – albeit in different contexts – propounded by the art historian Giovanni Agosti in terms of “quality and clarity... in a combination of past and present” and by Panos Mantziaras, the theorist of transition, “how do you put the question”. It also questions the purpose of technology designed to solve a problem that then generates another one, which itself calls for new technology. This creates an endless and meaningless chain (Cingolani again), in which scientific development leads to paradoxes such as longevity debt and environmental and cognitive paradoxes that are incompatible with a cohesive, sustainable social model.

John Sonntag, NASA

According to the oceanographer Nadia Pinardi, the predictability obtained by computer models is a very useful early warning instrument for risk assessment and for preparing safety measures. However, environmental risks cannot be perceived by the senses, which are our tool of choice for observing reality, and this leads to a form of blindness and confusion with regard to the complexities of the developed world, as the sociologist Mauro Magatti pointed out. This leads to a need to go back to interpersonal relations: “I become as I make others become” – in contrast to the one-way movement of the project of modernity. The speech by the astrophysicist Ersilia Vaudo Scarpetta also made reference to the senses, as the prerogative of life in the atmosphere, as did that of Agosti, who views them as an instrument of privileged experience – the “intensification of humanity” – in our personal relationship with works of art. In Emanuele Coccia’s philosophical language, the ability to predict becomes a divinatory, as opposed to a patrimonial art, in a process of metamorphosis borrowed from nature, the essence of life itself, and a talent available to all forms of existence.

The concept of circularity, as an elective form of interrelationship, recurs in the concept of health introduced by the virologist Ilaria Capua, in which health is an integral part of the entire system of species referred to as “closed”, which can be improved by data (once again) using data-driven research and data-driven science. The ethologist Donato Antonio Grasso also talked about circularity, describing the relationship of ants with other living organisms, both vegetable and animal, as did the marine biologist Mariasole Bianco, who talked of the continuous interaction between ocean and atmosphere, and the microbiologist Francesco Pomati, who described the mechanisms that underpin the biosphere of the depths. Coccia, on the other hand, appeared to move away from circularity when he hypothesised a form of continuous creativity that, from one birth to another, always creates new futures.

The leap. This is a theme that runs through all the papers. Vaudo Scarpetta described it in powerful emotional tones, starting from a view of ourselves (planet Earth) from outer space, as an example of a perceptive “first” that one cannot un-see. Agosti examined it in the quality of language, redefined within the concept of clarity, noting the inseparability of what is “beautiful” and what is “true”. Associating it with aesthetic quality, Mantziaras hoped for a “transitional phase” that may lead, with courage, to “resetting an entire system”. Capua referred it to the overall health of the biosphere as a condition and extension of the human world which, not surprisingly, includes man’s mental condition. Ocean and marine biology scholars find the possibility of acquiring new forms of thought in an understanding of the waters and in the observation of their internal forms of life, which are compared to the dynamics of chaos. For the ethologist too, these thoughts are shaken up by the abandonment of an anthropocentric vision and the adoption of a revolution/action to imagine a new scenario.

Earth at night, detail, NASA

The universe of Africa deserved a discussion of its own, as portrayed by the architect Maria Chiara Pastore, who, by clearing the board and expanding it, summed up all the individual points of view. As the primary place for the transformation of the Anthropocene, Africa intensifies its contradictions and anticipates its transition towards more mediated forms of cohabitation between species and technological innovation in favour of the social inclusion of an expanding population, to which climate change is likely to inflict the greatest harm.

Amazement, relationships, and consciousness. Wrapping up a day that cannot be summed up without emptying it of its value, we can only take note of what emerged and remained as a cognitive experience for those who were there. A return to the senses when looking at reality, going beyond old models and leaving room for amazement as we observe the planet we live in, which, in addition to countless areas of knowledge, offers us no end of individual moments of contemplation. The value of the relationships and connections with what is other than ourselves, of whatever species it may be, as an object of empathy, care, and development. The awareness of who and where we are, of the technological assets that give us our “super-powers”, to which only a leap in consciousness can confer virtue. And to back up this last point, I would recall the extraordinary symbol of the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly that Coccia referred to. It takes place within the cocoon – a lonely place where the being concentrates on itself, and becomes aware of itself as a life that is destined to transform, bringing about an authentic evolutionary leap.

Video of the event Towards the XXIII International Exhibition of Triennale Milano on 4 March 2020

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