Medialab Matadero

The metabolic sublime

The sublime metabolic

Energy sovereignty, agro-logistic automation, phantom extractivisms, territorial instrumentalization, residual circularity, decarbonisation, geoengineering... these are some of the topics we will be tackling during 'The Metabolic Sublime', a six-month interdisciplinary programme in which citizens from different parts of the world can join a group of artists, critical thinkers and experts to question the current structures of ecosystem governance.

We inhabit a complex system of flows and assemblages; power grids, mineral exploitation, urban peripheries, hydrological cycles, logistics chains, tropical rainforests, financial markets... hybrid mechanisms that terraform the surface of our planet in an endless loop of fracture, change and rearrangement, defining the current and future habitability of system Earth.

LAB#02 'The Metabolic Sublime' seeks to radically re-imagine current energy regimes on a planetary scale, and the role we humans will have to play to implement new paradigms. But also, how their implementation will in turn transform us, demanding new customs, practices and cultures.


The term “metabolism” – from the Greek μεταβολή (metabole = change) plus the suffix -ισμός (-ism = quality, system)– defines the energetic processes that give rise to the physical and chemical transformation of any given body. On a horizon in which any form of environmental viability requires a necessary interdependence between ecology and technology, “metabolic" becomes a universal concept able to transgress the conventional binomials between natural and artificial, micro and macro, or biological and geological to define and relate processes of different condition, scale and temporality. From the vast agro-industrial complexes that feed our cities, to the photosynthetic micro-organisms that sustain the invisible chemical balance of the atmosphere, any system defined by a process of material or energetic transformation, can be understood in metabolic terms.


In the context of the current climate crisis, the search for the “sublime” in the geochemical dance that moves the world is both a chimera and a provocation. A chimera because it implies confronting the technological, ecological and political constraints of our current governance models, which are unable to address ecosystemic issues that transcend the sovereign limits of their territorial jurisdiction. And a provocation because it reveals the urgent need to question the cycles of capture, amalgamation, extraction and energy expenditure in which we are immersed, and to ask ourselves what other infrastructures, institutions and diplomacies are required to change them.

What would it mean to design a sublime metabolism on a planetary scale? What protocols would it entail in terms of the coexistence between humans and non-humans?

Achieving a metabolic sublime would mean establishing new dynamics of food production, distribution and consumption, and of an agro-industrial regime capable of feeding the world without devouring the planet. It would not only imply having to design alternative strategies for waste management - both in the short and the long term - but also a crucial redefining of the very concept of waste. It would demand a new relationship with the land, and an energy macroeconomy that is conscious of and consistent with its social and environmental implications But, above all, it requires addressing these and other issues holistically, not as isolated processes, but as constituent and interdependent parts of a vast global metabolism. One whose transformation requires an act of radical ingenuity and imagination if we are to overcome the dualistic discourses between environmental degrowth and idyllic techno-solutionism, and build eclectic and operative structures of thought capable of navigating the ambiguities and contradictions of our entangled reality.