Rikke Luther’s film ‘Concrete Nature: Planetary Sand Bank’ at CPH:DOX*

Rikke Luther, Concrete Nature: Planetary Sand Bank, 2018. Film Still.
ACT at MIT

Rikke Luther‘s new film Concrete Nature: Planetary Sand Bank (36.56min., 2018) will be screened at CPH:DOX* – Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival from March 20-31, 2019 as part of the Next:Wave competition.

The first chapter of the film, part of the written chapter 2, Concrete Nature: Planetary Sand Bank was finished late 2018. It is a component of Luther’s PhD, Concrete Aesthetics – From Universal Rights to Financial Post-Democracy. The film was shot  in and around the MIT campus, Cambridge, Boston, New York, Hudson River, High Fall, London, and includes historical images. The film explores concrete buildings that were politicized before they were constructed, before an architect lent them their particular voice; buildings whose political speech is now being overwritten, rewritten, and erased, by the shifting sands of ideology and environment.

As David Harvey observed when discussing the production of space, “space cannot be thought independently from productions of nature” – human interference in nature is a part of nature, not separate from it. Concrete Modernism grew from sand, aggregate, and lime, to embody the societal values of 20th century Modernity. But the connection between material and cultural and ideological values has proved flexible.

Look onto a concrete building, and its material surfaces and interior spaces, and we might meet the speech of the democratic era that followed world war two. But perhaps we also see the environmental destruction wrought by today’s ‘extractivist economy’. Or, perhaps we see humankind’s bright, deep-space future, a 21st century concrete modernism to be 3D printed on the moon or passing asteroids, as envisaged by advocates of ‘The New Space Industrial Age’.

‘Spaces’ create images from the perspective of a particular place, set of social relations, and the dynamics of history and time. The material spaces of landscape, housing and urban life, and the material resources we extract to support that particular version of life, are always crisscrossed with human power relations. Where concrete modernity once appeared a sight of hope, we are now assailed by the concept of ‘Carbon Democracy’ and the fact of climate collapse on a planetary level.

From another perspective, democratic agency is being leveled down by an era of rising economic and political inequality. In turn, democratic political power is decentralized and weakened, only for that power to be recentralized in the private boardrooms of post-national corporations. The collapse into ‘post-democracy’ now appears to parallel the collapse into climate chaos. Both quicker and faster than we imagined a decade ago. In our time, the concrete that once appeared to embody universal and timeless values rots as social ambitions falter and fade. History’s one-way road to progress proved not to be politically inevitable, and experience now reveals its disastrous environmental consequences. Dissipating democracy parallels planetary realignment – the political body and the planet choke on hope.