This atlas is an archive in progress.
Plates—collages that merge the natural, the artificial, and the speculative—will be added as they come into existence. 
































































Atlas of Speculative Mineralogy


——— Material & Existence
An Atlas of Mineralogy is an illustrated inventory of the inanimate material forming the surface of our planet.
            Human beings have always been compelled to better understand this surface as it relates directly to our being. James D. Dana describes this in his Manual of Mineralogy (1857): “the very existence of many of the arts of civilized life, depends upon the materials which the rocks afford.” Yet we are not only driven by scientific curiosity—there is a deep, almost supernatural, fascination: “the student of Mineralogy (…) finds abundant pleasure in examining the forms and varieties of structure which minerals assume.” (James D. Dana, Manual of Mineralogy, New Haven, 1857) Dana refers to the senses: we look, touch, smell, and even taste to learn more about the world through rocks.
            Modern technology extends our senses: satellites enable us to study our planet’s surface from the orbit; x-rays and electron microscopy allow us to look inside rocks; and digital networks enable a simultaneous comparison of global shifts in geology.

——— Naturalists  & Machine Learning

Scientific Atlases of the 18th/19th century compile and circulate newfound knowledge—often driven by emerging technologies. This “Atlas of Speculative Mineralogy” employs Machine Learning and Deep Neural Networks to instigate a conversation with the past and the future. It revisits the practices and visions of 17th/18th century naturalists through today’s computational algorithms.
            Naturalists—driven by a fascination to discover nature’s patterns—were scientists, artists, publishers, authors, editorial designers. They were polymaths. Today, our world is a complex system of interconnected networks. While the individual might be able to understand a sliver of it, its totality is impossible to grasp.
            This Atlas combines diverse disciplinary practices to discover unexpected relations inspired by a polymath’s ability to look across disciplinary knowledge.

——— Expedition & Specimen

The visuals this Atlas is introducing are digital artifacts created and contextualized by a sequence of machine learning models. The input—the data to be processed—is a set of specimen that I collect during micro-expeditions.
            These day-long journeys take me to specifically chosen geological outcrops to sample (1) rocks representing the local geology and (2) anthropogenic substances found in its vicinity depicting globally circulated human-made materials. I would like to think that I am not using instruments to look at these samples (though, in a way, I do) but that the samples themselves become my instruments. They are the extension of my senses to look at our world—and our various histories of exploring it.
            How many specimen do I need to initiate my investigation? I found the answer in Alexander von Humboldt’s expedition to South America in 1799. In an eclectic mix of bags and suitcases—and with a lot of help—he carried forty-two instruments: microscopes, a thermometer, a dip Circle, a sextant, a cyanometer (to measure the blue of the sky)—to mention just a few. Inspired by this collection of specialized instruments, I am sampling forty-two substances as my working objects. They are divided into two groups: twenty-one (1) rocks and twenty-one (2) anthropogenic substances.

(1) Rocks: the components of rocks are minerals. Minerals are substances formed by natural geologic processes without human intervention. When a rock layer or formation is not covered by soil or any other bio-material an outcrop appears. It allows to sample the local geology that—in most cases—has a history of hundreds of million years. This Atlas is exploring outcrops that are located within—or close by—post-industrial areas and transportation hubs of the 20th century. This opposes the outcrop’s static geo-location to the global mobility of everyday objects.

(2) Anthropogenic Substances: our everyday lives are depending on human-produced substances. They allow us to travel, carry our food and even cure diseases. However, they are simultaneously one of the largest threats we face. In all likelihood, they will remain on this planet as witnesses of the anthropocene beyond human kind. For this investigation, substances are sampled based on their current location. What unites them is their vicinity to a specified geologic outcrop—not their function, origin, or chemical composition. If we would deconstruct these artifacts we might find that their compounds have traveled globally. In this sense, looking at these working objects reverses the idea of scientific expeditions: not the observer but the observed traveled.

——— Style Transfer & Image Classifier
I use one sample of each specimen group to create a visual hybrid applying machine learning models. The algorithm analyzes the structure of the substances, transfers and merges visual information to create a digital artifact. These artifacts are new, unknown, speculative; using James D. Dana’s words, I “find abundant pleasure in examining the forms and varieties of structure”.
      How would a machine, that is not sharing my emotional access nor my appreciation of form, read this? To find out, I am feeding the artifacts to a third algorithm: an image classifier. This image reader makes decisions based on how it has been trained by other humans—and their choice of training sets including their biases. Its response is a list of tags. Keywords. Words and letters that feel random in their collocation. They are meaningless to the machine but they create an unexpected dialog when used as captions for the speculative artifacts.
      Looking for advice from the past, I use these keywords to rediscover the visionary writings of naturalists: in which context have they been used 200 years ago and what could we learn from it? The quotes are contextualized with excerpts of writing—including the same keywords—generated by a machine learning model text generator to create a dialog across time and space.

——— Collections, Plates & Typewriter
 The Atlas consists of plates. Plates are collated into collections. On the plates, the reader finds elusive and uncanny visualizations—contextualized with naturalists’ writings. This does not provide any evidence to verifying a scientific hypothesis. Instead, these collages invite us to question our understanding of the natural and the artificial; the archive and the truth; he past and the future; our material culture and our rituals. Things we bring into this world and things we will leave behind.

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