Our experience/experiment follows thermal intensities—expressions of heated matter—into a strange space between science and fiction: the thermal city. A prosthetic sensing device, an infrared camera, guides and directs our movements in domestic and urban spaces. Aiming the “heat-ray gun” in classic sci-fi fashion, we watch with wonder and horror as recognizable forms ignite and melt, assemble and disassemble, into unrecognizable thermal bodies. Adopting a sleuth-like posture, we follow the camera’s strange hyper-color visions into otherwordly spaces. Our eyes and our skin recoil from burning surfaces; affronted, a paranoid comportment ensues. There is no escape from thermal on planet Earth.
In returning to the visible spectrum familiar to human bodies, these uncanny sights linger and persist; we begin thinking thermal. Asphalt and steel, we realize, are not the only heated urban surfaces to consider; warm feelings and cold shoulders generate thermal intensities too. Conductive currents of all kinds move us through the city. Consider the flows generated by discourse on global warming, urban heat islands, and other heated topics. Human bodies, like other forms of matter, reverberate in accordance with vibrating, colliding molecules. Human bodies change states—chemically, emotionally, and socially—with temperature flux. The warmth exuded from ordinary familial and domestic scenes is only a few degrees away from an icy stare, heated argument, or other thermal threat. And this is precisely the aim in following the tangled trajectories of thermal intensities—the differences between humans, nonhumans, animate and inanimate are simply that of degree.
This project is a collaboration with Kevin McHugh, Ph.D. and Jennifer Kitson, Ph.D. candidate, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University