MoMA R&D

Salon 49 Lightness

Lightness is beautiful. It is the image of grace, agility, luminosity, the essence of buoyant clouds and billowing silks. It is good for the spirit and good for the environment. In theory, the lighter an object is, the less energy it consumes during its existence and the lighter its impact is. Nonetheless, even apparently immaterial things carry a burden, at times a heavy one. The Internet’s illusion of weightlessness—human activities, objects, and interactions dissolving into bits and traveling through the air—crashes when confronted by the heavy ecological footprint necessary to sustain its infrastructure.

In its tantalizing aesthetics, lightness can obfuscate the harm it conceals, blurring judgment and growing into an unhealthy fetish. Even the lightness of being epitomized by the novelist Milan Kundera––a freedom of spirit unencumbered by the ballast of reality and negativity that weigh most humans down––becomes unbearable as perceiving one’s life without the weight of meaning can lead to feelings of debilitating triviality and inconsequence.

Some of the questions that ask include: Is lightness inherently better than weightiness? What is stronger, a lighter or a heavier material? And what about living things? Are lighter beings more resilient? Can a focus on lightness help us to address the climate crisis? Does lightness imply a lack of thoughtfulness? Are there moments in which a heavy burden is welcome? What drives contemporary culture’s fetishization of lightness, from “heroin chic” to Ozempic? Is the awareness of one’s irrelevance freeing, or a burden unto itself?

This Salon took place on June 18th, 2024.

Speakers

Video Contributors

Reading List

  • LIGHTNESS OF TOUCH

  • Gross, Jenny. “The Ancient Art of Calligraphy Is Having a Revival.” The New York Times. May 29, 2024. (Available online)

  • Max, D. T. “Paging Dr. Robot.” The New Yorker. September 23, 2019. (Available online)

  • Mesko, Bertalan. “The technological future of surgery.” The Medical Futurist. May 20, 2021. (Available online)

  • Wertheim, Margarent and Robert J. Lang. “The Mathematics of Paper Folding: An Interview with Robert Lang.” Cabinet Magazine. Spring 2005. (Available online)

  • Whitlock, Jennifer. “The historical timeline of surgery.” Verywell Health. April 15, 2024. (Available online)

  • LIGHTNESS OF BEING

  • Ashton, Geoffry. “The Somaesthetics of Heaviness and Hara in Zen Buddhist Meditation,” Poligrafi 28, no. 111/112 (2023). (Available online)

  • Calvino, Italo. “Lightness.” Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Boston: Mariner Books, 1988. (Available online)

  • Horton, Scott. “Nietzsche on the Specific Gravity of Personal Morals.” Harper’s Magazine. August 3, 2007. (Available online)

  • Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: HarperCollins, 2023. First published 1984 by Harper & Row. (Available online)

  • Malcolm, Janet. “The Game of Lights.” The New York Review. May 10, 1984. (Available online)

  • Popova, Maria. “Italo Calvino on the Unbearable Lightness of Language, Literature, and Life.” The Marginalian. October 15, 2014. (Available online)

  • Roelstraete, Dieter. “The Business: On the Unbearable Lightness of Art.” e-flux Journal 42 (February 2013). (Available online)

  • Vesely-Flad, Rima. Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition: The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation. New York: NYU Press, 2022. (Available online)

  • Welch, Michael Dylan “Laughing with Karumi,” British Haiku Society journal Blithe Spirit 25:2, May 2015. (Available online)

  • CARRYING A HEAVY WEIGHT

  • al-Najjar, Omar. “In Gaza’s Hospitals.” The New York Review. April 19, 2024. (Available online)

  • Brandt, Mary L. “Sustaining a career in surgery.” The American Journal of Surgery 214 (2017): 707-714. (Available here)

  • Buddha. “Bhāra Sutta: The Burden.” Translated from the Pali by K. Nizamis. 2011. (Available online)

  • Givhan, Robin. “America’s Tents Are Pitched on Shameful Truths.” Washington Post. April 30, 2024. Reprinted in The Philadelphia Tribune. May 5, 2024. (Available online)

  • Gobodo-Madikizela, Pumla. “What Does It Mean to Be Human in the Aftermath of Mass Trauma and Violence? Toward the Horizon of an Ethics of Care.” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 36, No. 2 (Fall / Winter 2016): 43-61. (Available online)

  • Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador, 2003. (Available online)

  • Tolentino, Jia. “What to Do with Climate Emotions.” New Yorker. July 10, 2023. (Available online)

  • Zwigenberg, Ran. Nuclear Minds: Cold War Psychological Science and the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2023. (Available online)

  • PHYSICAL LIGHTNESS / LITHENESS

  • Damour, Lisa. “Eating Disorders in Teens Have ‘Exploded’ in the Pandemic.” The New York Times. April 28, 2021. (Available online)

  • Demopoulos, Alaina. “The term ‘heroin chic’ needs to die – even if skinny-worship rages on.” The Guardian. November 21, 2022. (Available online)

  • Haldane, J. B. S. “On Being the Right Size.” 1926. Republished in Cabinet Magazine. Winter 2007-2008. (Available online)

  • Horowitz, Jason. “To Live Past 100, Mangia a Lot Less: Italian Expert’s Ideas on Aging.” The New York Times. March 25, 2024. (Available online)

  • Sofia, Maddie. Interview with Sabrina Strings. “Fat Phobia And Its Racist Past And Present.” NPR Short Wave. Podcast audio and transcript. July 21, 2020. (Available online) (For more, see the book)

  • Spindler, Amy M. “A Death Tarnishes Fashion’s ‘Heroin Look’.” The New York Times. May 20, 1997. (Available online)

  • Tolentino, Jia. “Will the Ozempic Era Change How We Think About Being Fat and Being Thin?” New Yorker. March 20, 2023. (Available online)

  • LIGHT BY DESIGN

  • Baham, Reyner. “A Home is not a House.” Art in America 2, (1965): 70-79). (Available online)

  • Barber, Daniel A., Jeannette Kuo, Ola Uduku, Thomas Auer, and e-flux Architecture. “Editorial.” After Comfort: A User’s Guide (e-flux Architecture and University of Technology Sydney, the Technical University of Munich, the University of Liverpool, and Transsolar, 2023). (Available online)

  • Braham, William W. “How Much Does Your Household Weigh?” Places Journal. September 2009. (Available online)

  • Bunge, Eric. “Jealousy: Modern Architecture and Flight.” Cabinet Magazine. Summer 2003. (Available online)

  • Fuller, Buckminster. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. 1969. (Available online)

  • Glaeser, Ludwig. The Work of Frei Otto. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1972. (Available online)

  • van Hinte, Ed and Adriaan Beukers. Designing Lightness: Structures for Saving Energy. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2020. (Book talk available online)

  • van Hinte, Ed and Adriaan Beukers. Lightness: The Inevitable Renaissance of Minimum Energy Structures. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2005. (Available online)

  • Waldon, Patricia. “Nature inspired strong, lightweight material for planes, buildings and bone implants.” Princeton Engineering. April 25, 2022. (Available online)

  • WEIGHTLESSNESS

  • Barber, Regina, Emily Kwong, Berly McCoy, and Rebecca Ramirez. “From the physics of g-force to weightlessness: How it feels to launch into space.” Short Wave by NPR. Podcast audio. June 11, 2024. (Available online)

  • Fridman, Lex. Interview with Ariel Ekblaw. Lex Fridman Podcast. Podcast audio and video. March 23, 2022. (Available online)

  • Kastner, Jeffery, Sina Najafi, and Clive Hart. “Through the Vaste Spaces of the Aire: An Interview with Clive Hart.” Cabinet Magazine. Summer 2003. (Available online)

  • O'Neill, Gerry. The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1976. (Available online)

  • Venkataraman, Bina. “The best concert of your life might not be on Earth.” The Washington Post. December 26, 2023. (Available online)

  • FROM A TO B

  • Kennedy, Pagan. “The Climate Crisis Gives Sailing Ships a Second Wind.” The New York Times. April 27, 2023. (Available online)

  • Mattern, Shannon. “World in a Box.” Places Journal. May 2024. (Available online)

  • Sayre, Nathan A. “The Genesis, History, and Limits of Carrying Capacity.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 98:1 (March 1, 2008) 120-134. (Available online)

  • Valdes-Dapena, Peter. “Why electric cars are so much heavier than regular cars.” CNN Business. June 7, 2021. (Available online)

  • Wissler, Clark. “Man and His Baggage.” Natural History. September 1946. (Available online)

  • SHRINKING

  • Griffiths, Alyn. “The Incredible Shrinking Man by Arne Hendriks.” Dezeen. October 25, 2013. (Available online)

  • Lopatto, Elizabeth. “Apple Doesn’t Understand Why You Use Technology.” The Verge. May 9, 2024. (Available online)

  • Salvaggio, Eryk. “Bodies Against Compression.” Cybernetic Forests. May 12, 2024. (Available online)

  • Savini, Federico. “Post-Growth, Degrowth, the Doughnut, and Circular Economy: A Short Guide for Policymakers.” Journal of City Climate Policy and Economy 2(2), (October 2023): 113-123. (Available online)

  • Sterne, Jonathan. “Compression: A Loose History.” Signal Traffic. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015. (Available with institutional access)

  • Szalai, Jennifer. “Shrink the Economy, Save the World?” The New York Times. June 8, 2024. (Available online)

  • LIGHTNESS THROUGH DISTRIBUTION

  • Ashby, W. Ross. “Chapter 6: The Black Box.” In An Introduction to Cybernetics, 86–117. London: Chapman & Hall, 1956. (Available online)

  • Michotte, Albert. The Perception of Causality. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1963. (Introduction available online)

  • Oppenheimer, Sarah, and Jeffrey Kastner. “1000 Words: Sarah Oppenheimer Talks about ‘Sensitive Machine’.” Artforum. November, 2021. (Available online)

  • Yetunda, Pamela Ayo. Casting Indra’s Net: Fostering Spiritual Kinship and Community. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 2023. (For more on this topic, see this story and project)

  • LEAFLETS (thanks, Shannon!)

  • Gabrys, Jennifer. “Leaflet Drop: The Paper Landscapes of War.” Invisible Culture, 7 (2004). (Available online)

  • Mattern, Shannon. “Paper, Ash & Air: Material Remembering.” 9/11 Forum on Memory, Trauma, and Media, The New School, September 11, 2011. (Available online)

  • Reuters. “Israeli Military Drops Thousands of Leaflets Over Gaza Telling Civilians to Evacuate.” The Guardian. October 13, 2023. (Available online)

  • IS DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY LIGHT?

  • Bartholomew, Jem. “Q&A: Uncovering the Labor Exploitation That Powers AI.” Columbia Journalism Review. August 29, 2023. (Available online)

  • Berreby, David. “As Use of A.I. Soars, So Does the Energy and Water It Requires.” Yale360. February 6, 2024. (Available online)

  • Crawford, Kate. The Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. (Available online)

  • Crilly, Liam. “What Is Lightweight Software? Revisiting the Definition.” The New Stack. March 31, 2023. (Available online)

  • Digital Humanities Climate Coalition. “Minimal Computing” and “Permacomputing.” Github. (Available online here and here)

  • Dzieza, Josh. “AI Is a Lot of Work.” Intelligencer. June 20, 2023. (Available online)

  • Grostern, Joey. “Is It Possible to Make an Eco-Friendly Smartphone?” DW. September 30, 2021. (Available online)

  • Holmes, Rob. “A Preliminary Atlas of Gizmo Landscapes.” Mammoth. April 1, 2010. (Available online)