Teenage Mutant Ninja District

Abandoned terrapin turtles purchased 25 years ago at the height of popularity for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been harming wildlife and changing the ecological character of England’s famed Lake District. Once an orbital center for the lives of poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the landscape is now infested with discarded pets purchased for their imaginative resemblance to kids’ toys and comic book characters.

Terry Bowes, a regional zoo director interviewed by the Guardian, has become “exasperated at the routine abandonment of creatures,” he explained, “that suffered the misfortune of becoming fashionable at the time of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze.”

“I was thinking what we could do about them all,” Bowes told the paper, “and then I heard about another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film coming out soon and steam came out of my ears. I was thinking, ‘Oh no, this is only going to get worse.'”

Human ownership of changing animal species responds to the quirks of popular appeal, we read, including hit films and toy lines: “Pets are just as vulnerable to fashion as anything else, said Bowes, as we passed three enormous European eagle owls he said were abandoned by their owners after they outgrew Harry Potter, and a trio of perky meerkats he said were probably originally bought after seeing the star of the Compare the Market insurance ads.” The region is an open-air zoo of animals that have escaped from popular media.

Surely, though, in a sense, this is just the latest, albeit inadvertent iteration of the infamous American Acclimatization Society, a group of literary-minded naturalists in 19th-century New York City who made it their bizarre goal to “introduce to the U.S. every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s scripts.” As Scientific American writes, “The Acclimatization Society released some hundred starlings in New York City’s Central Park in 1890 and 1891. By 1950 starlings could be found coast to coast, north past Hudson Bay and south into Mexico. Their North American numbers today top 200 million.” Shakespeare, the Bible, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—all cultural artifacts and unintended animal blueprints for infested landscapes yet to come.

(The recent documentary The Elephant in the Living Room is worth a view here, for anyone interested in the unforeseen—or, far more often, willfully overlooked—negative side-effects of exotic pets).

Design and Existential Risk

I’m thrilled to be kicking off this fall’s Design and Existential Risk lecture series, hosted by Ed Keller and the Parsons School of Design in New York. Things kick off tomorrow, Saturday, October 9th, at 6pm EST, with a simulcast lecture featuring myself here in Los Angeles and legendary writer Bruce Sterling in New York.

As you can see from the flyer, above, the whole series will address the strategic use of science fiction-inflected scenario planning and the rise of “extreme existential risks” at this particular point in human history.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, we are challenged by unprecedented planetary scale events—resource wars, climate change, emerging diseases—which increase in frequency and pose unprecedented problems for mapping and design. What can the role be for design when the reality that faces us is more extraordinary than the worlds we have imagined in science fiction?

Each lecture in the series will thus “explore the ways design thinking engages sustainability and indeed our very survival across near term (5 years), mid term (20 years), through very, very long term (tens of thousands of years and longer) time frames.”

Tomorrow will involve some technical intricacies—such as getting a video feed of myself and architect Ed Keller recorded live here in Los Angeles broadcast into the auditorium in New York City where Bruce Sterling will be interviewed by Carla Leitao and introduced by Elizabeth Ellsworth. But it should work. If all hell breaks loose, though, and the video feeds fizzle, you can still attend Bruce Sterling’s talk in person at Kellen Auditorium, 66 5th Avenue, and videos from both Bruce’s and my talks will be released online later this fall.

Other speakers in the series include Benjamin Bratton, Jeffrey Inaba, Jamie Kruse of Smudge Studio, Keller Easterling, David Gersten, and many more.

Check out the program’s website for more info.

The Museum of Nature

[Image: Museum 2 by Ilkka Halso, featuring a protected mountain. If you look close enough, you’ll also see the roller-coaster, pictured below, as it wraps around the bay…].

A few years ago, I picked up an old copy of Framework: The Finnish Art Review because it looked really good and had some cool images in it – and, even now, I think it’s an interesting magazine. I don’t regret the purchase.

[Image: Museum 1 by Ilkka Halso].

So I was flipping through it again the other night, looking for something, when I re-discovered a bunch of photographs by Ilkka Halso.

The images are part of an amazing series called the “Museum of Nature,” and I’m frankly still in awe of the project.

[Image: Roller-coaster by Ilkka Halso].

The basic premise of Halso’s digitally manipulated work is that “nature” has been transformed into a museum display – yet the public’s interaction with this new, endangered artifact is limited to spectacular roller coaster rides, perfectly reflected in the still waters they pass over. Alternatively, you can visit this steamy, delirious, quasi-Parisian gallery of iron and glass roofs built arching into disappearance over pine forests.

[Image: Kitka-river by Ilkka Halso].

These are “shelters,” the artist writes, “massive buildings where big ecosystems could be stored.”

The more I think about this project, the more interesting it gets; someone should write a novel set in this place – a kind of eco-catastrophic sequel to Westworld, perhaps – or, at the very least, someone should put Halso’s images on display in the United States. They’d also make a gorgeous spread in Wired.

In any case, be sure to spend time clicking around through Halso’s site. It’s worth it. And check out another of Halso’s projects, featured on Pruned back in 2005.