how does it scale?
January 27, 2019 7:38 AM   Subscribe

What are some works that intentionally complicate the human notion of scale, in terms of space, time, or perception?

I'm looking for works (of art, software, writing, or other happenings and organizations) that complicate our human understanding of scale. They might play with multiple scales, propose new interaction techniques for understanding scale, or grapple with scale at an "inhuman" level.

Here are some reference points: land art, Claes Oldenburg, hyperobjects like climate change, IPFS (interplanetary filesystem), global supply chains in the age of late capitalism, botnets, Zoomquilt, Powers of 10, the rise of megacorporations of planetary scale, the Long Now foundation, the idea of monkeyspheres, Anatomy of an AI System.

I'm particularly interested in critical interventions, as well as work that engages with how scale relates to technology and modernity.
posted by icosahedron to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Whales being the biggest animal in the universe?
posted by bergnotburg at 8:17 AM on January 27, 2019

As Slow As Possible
posted by eirias at 9:07 AM on January 27, 2019

Not sure if this is exactly what you seek, but I like the following quote from the late astronomer Carl Sagan:


"Look again at that dot [a photograph of the Earth as taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft at a distance of about 6 billion kilometers]. That's here. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar', every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived here - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."

"Earth . . . In A Vast Cosmic Arena" (from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, by Carl Sagan, Random House, 1994)

posted by JD Sockinger at 9:12 AM on January 27, 2019 [12 favorites]

Cosmic Pathway at the Hayden Planetarium.

The Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway is a 360-foot-long path in the Rose Center for Earth and Space that spirals from the exit of the Hayden Big Bang Theater to the base of the Hayden Sphere, laying out the 13-billion-year history of the universe. One’s stride is measured in millions of years, and the relative blink of an eye that is the human era is depicted at the end of the pathway as the thickness of a single human hair.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:38 AM on January 27, 2019

Walkable models of the solar system may be a little more science demo than fine art, but there are lots of examples. Some are quite thoughtfully designed. Wikipedia has a better list than I could ever make, though it leaves out at least one rather neat dynamic version.
posted by eotvos at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2019

Arthur Ganson’s the Big Bang?
posted by azalea_chant at 12:56 PM on January 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dick Raaijmakers was a musician and theatre-maker who explored some of these ideas. For example, in The Graphic Method, he rigged up an apparatus to allow a highly-trained athlete to cycle at an extremely slow speed, covering a distance of around 50 metres over the course of 30 minutes.
posted by Jabberwocky at 1:02 PM on January 27, 2019

I recently saw Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirror installation; very much about scale.

There is also a literature on 'scale politics' in geography. Some references:

Erik Swyngedouw, "Neither Global nor Local: Glocalisation and the Politics of Scale," in Spaces of Globalization: Reasserting the Power of the Local (NewYork,1996).

Neil Smith, "Geography,Difference, and the Politics of Scale," in Postmodernism and the Social Sciences (New York, 1992).

Andrew E. G. Jonas, "The Scale Politics of Spaciality, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12 (1994): 257-64.
posted by googly at 1:16 PM on January 27, 2019

Robert Therrien's Under the Table. After seeing pictures of it for years and feeling totaly meh, I was amazed that it was incredibly powerful in person.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:21 PM on January 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Busy Beaver Problem
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:54 PM on January 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fantastic Voyage
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
The Iliad and the Odyssey
posted by spitbull at 5:46 PM on January 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

computer centric, but interesting
posted by bruceo at 7:07 PM on January 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Take a little time with the works of Felice Varini, his work is more about attacking the dominance of perspective, hence re-scaling the scene that lies before us per se.

Also challenging our concepts of scale is Charles Jencks' Garden of Cosmic Speculation, and his other works, many in association with his late wife - landscape architect Maggie Keswick.
posted by unearthed at 7:51 PM on January 27, 2019

"This place is not a place of honor.
No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
Nothing valued is here.
This place is a message and part of a system of messages.
Pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us.
We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture."

From The Spike Field: A proposed nuclear waste warning designed to communicate with humans 10,000 years from now.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 11:10 PM on January 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Everything (the game)
posted by Gortuk at 4:53 AM on January 28, 2019

These are all landscape-oriented...

You might like Smudge Studio's New York City is a Geologic Force. It is a guidebook of sorts, filled with site interpretations that foreground the workings of deep/geologic time.

Jane Wolff's Delta Primer is a book of "playing card" images about the history, politics, and ecologies of the California Delta - each card incorporates radically different scales quite wonderfully (I link to an image search here so you can see some of the "cards" that are shown in the book).

Lastly, Pierre Belanger's Altitudes of Urbanization drawings are pretty neat.
posted by marlys at 1:45 PM on January 28, 2019

(By "landscape-oriented" I mean that they're works by architects or landscape architects that are about infrastructure - so they're wrestling with workings of modernity and technology that operate at very large scales.)

And oh! Two more:

Richard Misrach and Kate Orff's book Petrochemical America.

Stuart McMillen's comic, Energy Slaves.
posted by marlys at 1:56 PM on January 28, 2019

u liek meta?
i liek meta!

life in life
posted by lalochezia at 7:19 PM on January 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love the book Emergent Strategy, which is about (among other things) building richer and deeper relationships as a strategy for social change. Many social change movements and organizations are obsessed with the idea of "scaling up" in terms of getting bigger - turning more people out to protests and the polls, for instance. She challenges this idea with the question (paraphrased): "what if, instead of scaling up by going bigger, we do it by going deeper, by building deeper relationships?" It really challenged the way I thought about social change in a pretty fundamental way.
posted by lunasol at 2:46 PM on January 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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