Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Fleeing the Desert: Environmental Situationism in the Emirates

In the UAE, there is little consensus on what is considered the local environmental culture. What is also difficult to determine is a public who finds affinity and agreement on the hemispheric and geologic location of the Emirates. The available geographic narrative speaks of an environment that is either hostile or naive. Hostility is found in images of a desert landscape that is excruciatingly hot, unlivable and barren, or as an extractive and exploitative surface composed of global oil technologies, technocrats, and kafala-sponsored labor industries. Naivety, on the other hand, is conceptualized through preserved heritage sites of imagined prehistoric and tribal contexts that are eradicated by modern materials and amenities: concrete, glass, steel, semi-automated vehicles, and air-conditioning. This research, in turn, ignores these limiting perceptions of the landscape and proposes an environmental imagination of the Emirates through hydrology and livability.

Fleeing the Desert: Environmental Situationism in the Emirates
brings together perspectives from geography, anthropology, palaeontology, agriculture and technology, as intersecting thoroughfares that work to simulate an environment for the human habitation of the Gulf. It looks through a variety of water solution technologies and infrastructures -- such as irrigation, wastewater and stormwater management, saline farming, cloud seeding, water desalination, and potable water delivery mechanisms -- as well as the geologic features of the Gulf valley -- such as creeks, islands, wetlands, lagoons, marshes, oases, and canals -- to create an environmental vocabulary of the Emirates. Moreover, these hydrological spaces, invented or otherwise, problematize the history of the Emirates as only made possible by the 1960s oil discoveries and advances water infrastructure -- especially water desalination -- as a major initiation for the Gulf’s hyper-accelerated development.

The purpose of this research is to create a desirable environment that situates the Gulf on a planetary scale, rather than its usual imagination as an isolated, postmodern, and unregulated neoliberal vacuum. It is an elaboration and inspiration on the forms of Gulf environmentality, a marriage of environmental management with biopolitical governmentality, in which the landscape is engaged to make and create politics instead of collective social identities. This project assumes that the environment is a creation -- occupied, designed, inhabited -- in which water surfaces are appropriated as zones of evasion from concepts of social recognition such as roots, soil, territory, property and nationality. By exploring the history of water space in the Emirates, the project invites thought into the ‘offshore’ as a radical lived form.

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