New Orders

Could the world have ended from a series of cloudbursts? Did we all drown as the books prophesied?

A cloudburst manifests to the human eye in the concentrated havoc it creates. A sudden downpour that can wipe away what stands in its immediate line of vision. A torrent of water made threatening by the ferocity of its speed and suddenness of occurrence. The process eludes us because it spans a geographic scale that can be gleaned or perused only through technical appendage or an omniscient eye.

The downpour is a spectacle. Is there a body in person to witness this spectacle? In Actant Pranay’s imagination, the cloudburst is manifest through its visual, phenomenological indicators on two screens along two temporal axes. Rendered on a scale of 36 minutes (on a smaller system), the process plays out on a larger screen over 144 hours (or 6 days) with the result that an observer at any point before the screen is exclusively privy to that moment in the process of the simulated cloudburst; it is a private moment of observation, fragmented by its refusal of perceptual realism through exaggerated pace.

Subjected to an extreme time-lapse, the performance of the cloudburst is not revised or reversed; it plays out in linear time. It follows a narrative- that of the natural process by which a cloudburst occurs- and it closes with a resolution of the crisis of the spectacle through restitution of the order it begins with. By conditioning the senses to this speed, a new normal is created while the spectator is held to their seat by a sense of duty to witness its progress. What happens to the terror of the crisis when it doesn’t play out on a perceptible time-scale? Could it still provoke awe? Or does it get subsumed into the pixels without a witness to its cumulative wrath? Does the cloudburst become banal in dilated time?

The data visualization mobilized in this project seeks to speak to the senses at an affective level. Through a perspectival representation of the natural phenomenon of the cloudburst, a possible apocalyptic future is imagined centered on water. But the cloudburst follows no photographic referent. It is a simulation generated by codes fed into a software that created the landscape for visual navigation across temporal registers; the flood is as mythic in simulation as in the Books, but just as much a proximate possibility. Having transferred agency to the system, the human becomes an observer to the unfolding tale of non-human actors as it re-orders the former’s senses to this new time-capsule.

The end of the world and our physical being could be a dissolution in water. There’s a binary certitude to such an imagination: one moment, the world exists, and the next moment, it has disappeared. It distracts one from the compounding crises of the present moment as civilisations disintegrate amidst a slow apocalypse of the climate. The video is a sensory experience, I thought, as I lay on the floor-cushions, immersed in the expansive vision of the elements above me. All the while, I keep wondering whether my skin could adapt to this new order, whether I could breathe in liquid and see in darkness.

Cover Image: Cloudburst | Source: Wikimedia Commons
Inset: a still from the video installation Moments Before the Fall by Actant Pranay Dutta | Credit: Annette Jacob

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