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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blast Furnaces USA: Industrial Art is Taxonomy of Technology

Blast Furnaces USA is part of the contemporary collections of the St. Louis Art Museum.
It is a compilation of twenty-four gelatin silver prints and takes up an entire wall in its gallery.
These photographs were taken some time between 1978 and 1986 by Bernd and Hilla Becher, German artists who documented industrial artifacts.  As SLAM's online collection attests, these blast furnaces in Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other US cities were captured by the Bechers from an 'ideal viewpoint' (a set height and angle) which showcases the furnaces slight variations. 

To stand in front of this installation is to absorb the magnitude of these industrial creations and reflect on the combustion chemistry, physics, supplies, market demands and human input which shaped each unique structure.

Quite similar to contemplating the ecological pressures which shaped the physical and behavioral differences in Galapagos finches.  Nearly identical to the taxonomic collections in many natural history museums of butterflies and other insects.

The industrial revolution and its products are the memetic equivalent of rainforests and tropical islands--where diversity and competition abound, leaving massive evidence of  variation, niche adaptation and natural selection.  

Just as the abundance of the tropics paints a different picture of genetic evolution than the scarcity and mutual adaptation evidenced on the Siberian tundra, the industrial revolution should not be our exclusive resource for exploring memetic evolution.  The adaptations and variations from nomadic cultures and ancient societies are just as important to investigate (and often of immense complexity and refinement in their own context).  However, the industrial revolution provides us with the material, the documentation, to begin the work of strict, scientific comparison and evaluation, providing us with the material hard sciences crave to support this fledgling discipline.  

Young memeticist, look to your urban explorers, your industrial photographers, your mercantile libraries, enclaves of urban renewal and the rusting industrial wastelands for your evidence.  Get out of your labs and ivory towers, get your hands dirty, your heart pounding with adventure--explore!

(Just please for the love of efficiency, take notes--we have modern tech at our disposal!)

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