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Above Below

February 10 - March 10, 2021

Exhibition text by Mika Yoshitake


Sarah Rosalena integrates ancient indigenous techniques with artificial neural networks to examine the geo-political impacts of climate change and the exploitation of natural resources via space colonization. Interrogating the inherently biased power structures at the root of surveillance technology and imperialist knowledge production (i.e., how cartography and military mapping are trained to exploit black and brown bodies), which is also used to document and map outer space, she re-trains those very machines to deconstruct and analyze images of systemic power.

Rosalena’s double-sided textile series, Above Below (2020), is made using Jacquard looms that are programmed (one pixel per thread) to weave satellite reconnaissance images that project and reshape ice on Mars from a neural network inside Earth. The images reflect planetary changes in water and climate over millions of years captured from above and below. Resulting in distorted and broken pixels and boundaries between the Blue (desertification) and the Red (exploitation), a web of the past and future geographies.

Rosalena's ceramic series, Transposing a Form (2020), explores indigenous coiling techniques and 3D printing using printed Enhanced Mojave Mars Simulant 2 (MMS-2), a chemically enriched blend of Mars regolith (Martian soil). Minerals found in clay deposits on Mars reflect the presence of water—the essence of life and power—and the potential for microbial life, which is heavily sought after by rovers and intelligent machines in search of future habitats—the next interpreter or mediator in the language of forms. The forms are a hybrid of the Black Hole and Puebloan vessel that incorporate breakages known as “spirit lines,” where the spirit can enter and exit the object, making it a living entity.

These series will be complemented by Rosalena’s work, Virus Tumbleweed (2020), sharp, tentacular objects which are 3D prints of a virus simulation model. The work is inspired in part by Elizabeth Povinelli’s Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (2016), which presents the virus as the ultimate terrorist with universal control over “Life” and “Nonlife” by radically altering its state. As we are experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus replicates, lies dormant as it mutates, and adjusts to its different environments. Theorized as one of the earliest life-forms on earth, the virus is a reminder of the non-hierarchical co-existence of “Life” and “Nonlife” forms, and the vulnerability and interconnectedness of human bodies. Today, space missions are looking for viruses on exoplanets, signaling an internal political other, as suggested by Povinelli: “environmentalists inhabiting the borderlands between activists and terrorists across state borders and interstate surveillance.” By integrating machine learning with traditional fiber art and indigenous ceramic techniques, Rosalena’s hybrid objects expose critical gaps between space colonization and climate justice.

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