July 29 - August 12
Screening program
“Energy: Ideology, Capital and Data”

To follow the screening, visit post, The Museum of Modern Art’s online resource

The screening program Energy: Ideology, Capital and Data is the first in the online film and video art screening series From Matter to Data: Ecology of Infrastructures which places at its forefront the role imaginaries and realities of infrastructures play in works by several generations of artists and filmmakers from post-socialist countries.

In the films of this part of the program artists reflect upon the role infrastructures of energy play in implementation of (geo)politics and emphasize the effects that exerts on the environment.

Environmental impacts are closely related to the modes of energy production and transport involving both the systems of supply of energy and pollution created by emissions. Construction of immense supply networks are often used to  distribute capital and/or spread the ideology through instigation of alliances and interdependencies between countries and whole regions. A telling recent example is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, built by Gazprom, a state-owned Russian energy corporation, and now almost completed creating an increased tension between Russia, the US, and Europe. The project linking Russia and Germany directly via the Baltic seabed would not only ensure Russia’s dominance of energy supplies to Europe, but also be ecologically harmful. Most of the criticism facing the Nord Stream 2 project however, comes from a geopolitical, rather than an ecological, perspective. Moreover the pipeline project presents itself as an environmentally friendly initiative that will help decrease carbon emissions from oil and coal, using ‘cleaner’ natural gas, but as the writer and filmmaker Oleksiy Radinsky mentions in his recent essay it “would increase the structural, long-term dependency on fossil fuels to such an extent that a transition to a carbon-free economy—something that the Earth’s biosphere needs much earlier than we plan to institute—might actually never occur.”1

To better understand the genealogy of the politics of energy in the region one should start from looking at the infrastructures from the socialist times. Deimantas Narkevičius’ Energy Lithuania (2000) is a portrait of the present of Elektrėnai, an industrial city that was erected by the Soviets in 1960 to support the newly built electric power station. Back in time, the city was presented as a symbol of modernization and drew people from different Soviet Republics to work there. The film mixes documentary footage from the Soviet era newsreels with newly shot observational material reflecting a long-term impact of ideology. Through interviews, the emphasis is put on the connection between subjective memories of the city inhabitants and the actual functioning of the power station. The lines between reality and illusion, documentary and fiction are intentionally blurred to make a statement about interconnections between social and environmental responsibility.

1—Journal #107 - March 2020, Oleksiy Radynski -
Is Data the New Gas?, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/

Energy Lithuania Deimantas Narkevičius (Lithuania, 2000, 17 min.) 
watch the video on post MoMa

Revealing a broader network of links between the economy, data and the energy politics of the socialist times, the sci-fi film essay After Scarcity (2018) by Bahar Noorizadeh focuses on Soviet cyberneticians (1950s – 1980s) and their attempt to build a fully-automated planned economy. How can one use computation towards new utopias? If history at its best is a blueprint for science-fiction, by revisiting contingent histories of economic technology After Scarcity enables a glance to the future. While the Stalinists opposed cybernetics, cyberneticians like Victor Glushkov rose to prominence in the 1960s as increasing bureaucratic demands of the centrally planned economy threatened to turn the Soviet Union into a highly administrative state. Networked computation held the promise of a new cyber-infrastructures and automated national economy that would decentralize central planning. The flashing, affective light, hyper intense material sound and fast-paced screen text keep the spectator’s body on high alert. Advocating for the “other internet”, the film muses on the economic applications of socialist cybernetic experiments as an extraordinary comparison to financial arrangements and imaginaries of energy structures in capitalist countries.

After Scarcity Bahar Noorizadeh (Switzerland, 2018, 31 min.)
watch the video on post MoMa

Energy Island (2017) by Emilija Škarnulytė takes us back to contemporary Lithuania via an immersive sensorial trip through the Soviet-built Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, currently undergoing a politically and ecologically motivated decommissioning process. The images of contaminated ruins transform in the fire, light and shadow; the destruction of the huge infrastructure consistently reveals how Cold War energy structures impact recent geopolitical processes and leave planetary threats over long periods of time. The project takes a geological approach – it reads things that compose this flat landscape as a stack of stratigraphic layers. The human­-made space is understood as a sedimentary process and the infrastructures, as well as the mineral resources, are assessed as the key parameters defining the development of the project. The second part of the film features a new energy structure -- a sea carrier “Independence” designed as a floating liquefied natural gas storage and regasification unit.  Built by Hyundai in South Korea, the vessel started operating in the autumn of 2014. It can store 6,000,000 cu ft of natural gas and can supply all of Lithuania's need for natural gas providing some diversification of Lithuanian gas imports away from Russia. Almost tongue-in-cheek, the film compares the old energy structures to the new ones, erasing the dividing lines between the socialist and the capitalist logic of extraction and supply.

Energy Island Emilija Škarnulytė
(Lithuania, 2017, 30 min.)
watch the video on post MoMa

More contemporary ways of energy production are visualized in Pond Battery (2015), the video by Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits. The electric sound intervened in, at first sight, the idyllic landscape after the artists installed six microbial fuels in the pond of the Botanical Garden of the University of Latvia in Riga. Images of the measurements of bacteria’ electrical fluctuations, were used in this film to make the invisible activity visible and audible. A process of the generation of electricity was “translated” into live sound and image structures, providing an aesthetic perspective on the interaction between nature and technology, ecological systems and electronic networks, human and micro-worlds. Collected data from the seven-month long observation period becomes footage and sound for the structural film, creating sensual and emotional experiences—a poetics of green energy.

Pond Battery Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits  (Latvia, 2015, 10 min.)
watch the video on post MoMa

Despite the emergence of new yet very rarely used possibilities for energy production, the ecological crisis pertains. As scientists confirm, the world's most valuable resource has recently shifted from oil to data which, unlike extraction of natural resources, also pollutes. As the data usage is continuing to grow, the data centers are using electricity and creating carbon emissions close to the airline industry. The Flood (2018) by Ivar Veermäe touches upon the crypto currency mining that is inseparable from the environmental damage exerted by the intense use of electricity needed to carry out the process. The film is based on the footage shot in various cryptocurrency “mines” in Estonia combined with footage from Estonian oil shale mines. Virtual currency - i.e. Bitcoins - offers an attempt to withdraw from the existing financial system, with an idea to release money production from the central bank’s control. Every utopian idea is inevitably accompanied by the risk that new centers or “bubbles“ will arise. Small crypto mines are being replaced by increasingly bigger ones. Despite that some Estonian crypto mines are located in the territories of ex-power stations, this does a huge environmental damage because of the vast demand for energy needed to mine virtual currencies.

The Flood  Ivar Veermäe (Estonia, 2018, 11 min.)
watch the video on post MoMa

The Flood (Ivar Veermäe, 2018)