Technology Genesis of Landscape Objects According to Simondon 2020 | Seminar

By Georg Hausladen.

The seminar “Technology Genesis of Landscape Objects According to Simondon” took place online during summer semester 2020 as a biweekly compulsory course. Introducing Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy of technology, it tested both relevance and impact of Simondon’s concepts for the technological genesis of landscapes by considering specific case studies.

Simondon’s work “Du mode d’existence des objets techniques” (Simondon 1958) has been the point of reference in this seminar. He places the genesis of a technological object into the center of his thoughts. This is done by Simondon referring to a “functional” mindset (differing widely from the functional thinking of cybernetics) and his philosophy of “individuation”. According to his point of view, objects develop from an “abstract” to a “concrete” state. With that, there are fundamental changes of inner organization and environmental relationships of technological objects. The focus of his considerations are three types of technological objects: “element”, “individual”, and “ensemble”. All three provide their own kinds of organization while their specific aspects only derive from and in relation to each other. Above all, Simondon aims for providing technological objects a proper cultural position apart from their bare utility. Although, he explicitly takes “classical” technological objects into view only. Examples are (amongst others) combustions engines, electron tubes, airplanes, and turbines. His work does not deal with re-naturalized lakes, open-cast mines, industrial forests, meadows, fields, or urban regions, while these are indeed capable to be viewed as technological individuals. The motivation for the seminar is the fact that the landscape as a “geographical world” still plays a certain (although not further explained) role on the level of the ensemble.

By focusing on the landscape, the seminar dealt with an area of the mechanized world that neither Simondon nor philosophy of technology as a whole actually have been thrown a light onto yet. For understanding landscape and by taking concrete case studies into consideration, relevance and impact of Simondon’s mindset about the technological object were investigated. By doing that, one may conclude that the genesis of landscapes could not fully be described by Simondon’s concept of the technological object alone. The Landscape is undergoing a change which exceeds the development of specific technological objects (of landscape elements). That is because the usage at a specific place may change fundamentally over time. Nevertheless, different usages of places seem to share a genetic connection which can be explained (apart from the “technical object”) by Simondon’s concept of “individuation”.

All participants of the seminar first dealt with the first part of Simondon’s book with the help of an introductory course and a checklist. While given different topics, everyone chose a case study that they ought to work on during the seminar. The only restriction was the localization of the study objects in Lusatia, Germany. The interim results were discussed in two presentations before being worked out in written form. All in all, four students from different fields of study participated in this seminar with everyone handling a different topic.

One paper dealt with landscapes of ruins and investigated the old textile factory in Forst, Lusatia. By doing that, the development of looms (manual, mechanic, digital) was analyzed. Another project focused on industrial landscapes and the power plant “Schwarze Pumpe” and its associated systems (open-cast mines, plaster production, “tar lakes”). The third work took landscapes of waters into view. These focused regions underwent different kinds of development, namely the “Cottbuser Ostsee” (“eastern lake Cottbus”), the biosphere reserve “Oberlausitzer Heide- und Techlandschaften” (“Upper Lusatian heath and pond landscapes”), and the “Spremberger Talsperre” (“river dam Spremberg”). Last but not least, the fourth paper concentrated on disappeared landscapes and the genesis of the hill “Wolkenberg” in comparison to the hill “Teufelsberg” (Berlin). While the first was the name of a village that has been removed in context of coal mining and reappearing as a vineyard, the latter has been converted into a distinctive public place (after being a forest, “faculty for defense technology” in the NS era, and a US spying center consecutively). This paper is given as a viewing example, because it convincingly explains the potential of both Simondon’s mindset for landscape transformation and the problem of viewing them as a technical object. That is why it is perfectly suitable as a basis for discussion for further researching on this topic.