Project brief

Brief: Precognitioning Post-Oil

We will teamwork on the development of speculative media environments based on one of four scenarios and located in one of four environments (or ‘zones’). We are working with 1014 as a project space partner to produce a situation along with exhibition setup instructions and a digital communications strategy.


Steps and timeline:

Phase 1  Oct 6 – Oct 22

  1. Pick one out of the 4 scenarios, a location, and begin building it out with the scenario development guidelines. (due 10/8)
  2. Create an audio tour that introduces one scenario and setting. (due 10/13)
  3. Create a compelling sequential narrative told through either: (due 10/20)
    • design fiction advertisement & campaign video (start by storyboarding)
    • game design trailer (start with character & environment design vignettes)
    • NYC public service announcement (start by sketching out subway ads)
    • artifact (physical such as a map or device or hybrid digital through AR)
  1. Prepare an in-class presentation of your process, documentation, and narrative.  (due 10/22)
  2. Upload all work, writing, and additional documentation to your Google folder.  (due 10/22)

Phase 2 Oct 22 – Nov 5

Second project (or iteration) run (details TBA)

Phase 3 Nov 5 – Nov 19

Installation planning and setup at 1014. 

Phase 4 Nov 24 – Dec 10

Synthesis, iteration, and communication strategy & public seminar


 Backdrop scenarios:

1) The microbiome has taken over

To cope with the vast toxic landscapes that resulted from industrialization and petrocultural lifestyles, the third and fourth decade of the21st century witnessed a massive increase in research on microbiota and funghi that could decompose and process toxic petrochemical compounds. 

Eventually, the scientists were successful. Waters started to clean up again, even the contamination of the lower atmosphere could be significantly reduced with the help of a species of especially aggressive funghi attached to lightweight feathery material and blown into the air. But by the middle of the century, these new evolutionary strains of microbionts got out of hands. While the soil, the water, and the air got cleaner and cleaner—as clean as they hadn’t been since the beginning of the industrial revolution—also those materials made of petrochemicals that had served an existential function in human society, e.g. plastics in medicine, couldn’t be protected from being disassembled and eaten up. By the turn of the 22st century, all synthetic materials based on carbon compounds had disappeared.

2) Extraction of the petrocultural past

A global ban on the excavation of fossil resources commissioned and enforced by a coalition between the US, China and a group of the formerly poorest countries in the global south, has led to a massive increase of research in recycling concepts and methods. The result was a shift in perspective that turned former dumpsites and highly polluted areas (the ones that hadn’t been cleaned up, yet) into high potential excavation and extraction sites. Especially countries that for decades had ignored environmental questions either out of poverty or neglect are profiting from this turn.

3) Petronostalgia

As a reaction to a further increase of the pressures produced by effects of global warming: draughts, floods, water shortages and contaminations, epidemics, land losses, wars, and unseen migration dynamics as a direct result—the use of fossil fuels and all fossil-fuelled technology has been forbidden. Scientists and industry have not succeeded in producing an alternative energy source only approximately as powerful to keep up the petromodern living standards in terms of consumption and mobility patterns. The main emphasis of all efforts had to be layed on nutrition, housing, and health issues instead. The vast majority of the now unused machinery with combustion engines—cars, planes, generators, and the like—were decomposed and recycled. But the large infrastructures related to petromodernity—highway systems, power stations, petrochemical facilities, offshore rigs—have been mostly passed over to a vague future and been either reinterpreted by new uses that emerged over time or have become sites of petronostalgia.

4) Petromodernity reloaded

The end of the 2020s unexpectedly by most saw the return of cheap oil when a coalition of big corporations, the US president Trump who had just managed to run his fourth administration and scientific advocates of the theory of abiotic oil formation managed to find new ways to produce vast amounts of petroleum with comparably little effort and environmental side effects. At the same time, geo-engineering had found solutions to get rid of carbon emissions by storing large quantities in the ground beneath the deep seas. By doing so, the increase of the greenhouse effect could be stopped and even reversed without applying significant changes to the energy use, production modes and global mobility patterns. Petromodernity not only continued, it began to thrive again. The metropolitan area of NYC is now part of a 200 million hypercity agglomeration ranging from Portland/ME to Richmond/VA. There is never-ending traffic on the ground, underneath and in the air, which is subdivided into different strata and corridors for local, regional, and interregional travel. According to the numbers—the wealth and well-being of the people are still measured by their consumption levels as is the wealth and well-being of societies and economies by stock indexes—the US is doing best in the world and better than at any time before. At the same time, there is a massive return of other 20th century problems that are related to the successes of the human species, terrorism, and overpopulation being the most prevalent. And a couple of signs are indicating that the vast subterranean carbon deposits as well as other storage sites for highly toxic materials have not been designed to last forever, but are already starting to release their dangerous loads.


Scenario development guidelines:


What are the elements from the current world? 

What are the elements that don’t exist in the current world? 

What interactions take place?


Describe key relationships & variables (scale, actors, roles + strategies). Who gains?


Select influencing signals. How does this intervene, drive change?

How would this integrate / displace parts of the current system?


Example character roles: 

  • Public health employee
  • Advertisement agency employee
  • Hacker
  • Environmental activist 
  • DIY bioscientist
  • Entrepreneur
  • Community worker



    • The Meadowlands: New Jersey, attaching East River and crossed by Hackensack River, the industrial hinterland and backwater of NYC;
    • Newtown Creek: a very heavily polluted canal on the border between Brooklyn and Queens, site of a continuous flow of oil spills that had been going on for 140 years and were all together at least 50% bigger than the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill ;
    • Gowanus Canal: an industrial canal called by the name the indigenous inhabitants of this part of Brooklyn before the city gave its predeceasing natural water stream, according to EPA (Unites States Environmental Protection Agency) one of the nation’s most seriously contaminated water bodies, now surrounded by heavily gentrifying areas;
    • Manhattan: the island that has been the zone per se in so many fictitious renderings of (post-)hyper urban life.