On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

»Do you have any memory of the Pinatubo eruption? What led you to Pinatubo?« Web resident Mica Cabildo for Adaptive Radiations Working Group (ARAW) and artist Dennis Dizon traverse into a diary-style travelogue exchange in which they ask how to build a sustainable biodiversity and landscape, and how to become more resilient as a person who experienced the traumatic 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption that took place in the Zambales region in Central Luzon in the Philippines. The personal-political conversation around planetary-scale climate interventions and techno-ecologies accompanies the launch of Cabildo’s Web Residency project Cloudrunner: The Pinatubo Field Guide to Solar Geoengineering, created for the web residencies by Digital Solitude and SAVVY Contemporary on the topic »Magical Hackerism or The Elasticity of Resilience.«

Mica Cabildo, ARAW (Adaptive Radiations Working Group) in conversation with Dennis Dizon — Mai 31, 2023

17:51 Barcelona, Spain

Dennis Dizon: I look up, and the color of the sky is just a tad gray. The sun, though, still spits hints of burnt yellow, hitting the white walls outside. The clock tells me it’s sunset; Time tells me it’s spring.

The shorthand for your working group – ARAW – is Tagalog for »sun« or »day.« And in some use-cases, the word also indicates facets of time. Throughout Magical Hackerism, how has ARAW (trans)formed over time, and what’s your relation to and relationship with the Sun?


March 16, 2023, 21:31 Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, Philippines

Mica Cabildo: ARAW is an experiment in collaborative working, originally derived from evolutionary biology, where ideas can radiate from a single »mainland ancestor« project and adapt to novel »island« contexts where they can evolve into entirely new and specialized outcomes. JM Quiblat and I began the Magical Hackerism online residency in December onsite in Zambales, one of the three provinces surrounding Mount Pinatubo on the west coast of Luzon Island, Philippines. For weeks, we waited in the town of San Felipe for the Zambales trail to the Pinatubo crater to reopen. There wasn’t much to do in San Felipe, but it was great for surfing and watching sunsets. About a hundred sunsets later, I came to realize that ARAW collaborations, while radiating outwardly, are inwardly held together by gravity, orbits, and alignments. ARAW, like the setting sun, can also be quite solitary.

09:41 The Troposphere

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

Sunrise horizons. Photo: Dennis Dizon, 2023.

DD: There’s a planetary intimacy in what you describe as being held together by gravity and orbits and alignments – pushing and pulling and revolutions in any and every which way. Much more to explore for embodying these in collective and collaborative practices, for sure. I’m in the troposphere somewhere – 11,000 meters above Sukkur in Pakistan – now en route to the Philippines. My immediate view is this in-flight television, showing the plane’s horizon as the curve of the earth. We’re racing with time as we glide over clouds, so I’d be remiss not to connect this with the title of your residency project. How did Cloudrunner begin, and what were your motivations?


March 18, 2023, 10:36 Laoag City, Ilocos Norte

MC: I’m traveling up the western coast of Luzon and am now in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. This »Sunshine City« is named after the Ilocano word for light or brightness, and experiences more clear, sunny days than most of the country. The midday sun has been unbearable these past few days. Today, I’m staying indoors until late afternoon.

I’m interested in what historical geographer Greg Bankoff calls »cultures of disaster.« Years ago, I did initial research on the failed nuclear power plant in central Luzon and briefly touched on volcanic risks posed by nearby Mount Pinatubo. I revisited the idea of Pinatubo after reading reviews of two recently published climate fiction novels on solar geoengineering, both of which mention the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption as the basis for stratospheric aerosol injection proposals. The eruption was catastrophic and it remains a traumatic memory for the people, biodiversity, and landscape of central Luzon, yet the Philippine perspective appears nowhere in fiction and scientific literature on solar geoengineering. I wanted to work on something that would include those who were displaced and directly affected by Pinatubo in discussions on planetary-scale climate interventions.

According to Lawrence Heaney of The Field Museum, cloudrunners, or cloud rats, evolved on the island of Luzon in a spectacular display of mammalian adaptive radiation. A few species of cloud rats live in the Zambales mountain range, along with the Pinatubo volcano mouse. Apomys sacobianus was thought to have gone extinct after the eruption, but was rediscovered by Heaney’s team in 2011. I hoped to learn about the small mammals of Pinatubo during our remote residency in Zambales. Instead, I ended up at a sea turtle sanctuary, releasing olive ridley hatchlings while pondering on the Aeta legend of Bacobaco.

sumpong1 (2023) and »Cloudrunner« seem to be looking at different sides of the same mountain. Are you coming to Angeles to get a glimpse of Pinatubo?


18:11 Makati, Metro Manila

DD: Yeah! It’s timely, and let’s say, serendipitous to be connected for this conversation when we did. I’m in the city now; sticky skins, basking in the tropical humid. It’s been a while since I’ve been back but a much needed and desired return. With Pinatubo, as the host of this homecoming, I hope for nothing but a warm embrace (and, if the volcano’s feeling extra hospitable, maybe a Pinatubo rodent round-up).

Awful jokes aside (jet lag), these narratives of and encounters with, or that are in proximity to, the volcano warrant surfacing as shared matters toward a »planetary thinking« – what many scholars advocate for and what Indigenous peoples like the Aeta embody. In the project, the volcano mouse and the cloud rat seem peripheral to the eruption, but actually, they exemplify survival by resilience, all while having thrived in disaster.

While in Zambales, how has ARAW’s »situated knowledge« of »cultures of disaster« before, during, and after the residency – evolved from immersion, with participation, in risk and in presence? I’m also not opposed to hearing more about the sea turtles (please).


March 20, 2023, 23:03 Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

MC: I’m on the northwesternmost part of the coast of Luzon now. The sand is coral white instead of volcanic gray, the northern wind is fresh with sea smells and the beach is teeming with beings dead and alive. This is clearly no longer Apo Namalyari’s domain; the region is powered by wind farms and not the heat of the earth.

Do you have any memory of the Pinatubo eruption? What led you to Pinatubo?

I remember looking out the window of our Parañaque family home and seeing the entire street covered in gray ash. My grandfather joked that it was snowing. At five years old, I knew about typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and power cuts, but this was something else. Thirty-two years later, I still haven’t experienced anything else like it.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

Santo Tomas River silted with lahar, San Felipe, Zambales. Photo: Mica Cabildo, 2022.

During the residency, I met two kinds of people: those who lost their ancestral domain in the old, extinguished jungles of Pinatubo, and those who found new land on the expanded coast of Zambales. The thing about Pinatubo is, it has an established cycle that is very, very long. Knowledge of this cycle was almost eradicated through centuries of colonization; weeks before the 1991 eruption, locals thought Pinatubo was »just another mountain.« Someday, the coastline will erode into the sea once more, the rainforests will grow back, ways of life will return, and all this will remain as distant dreams and legends in cultural memory, until the volcano erupts again.

This brings me to the sea turtles. The Origin of Pinatubu Volcano, a documentation of an old Aeta legend, tells of a giant sea turtle pursued by spirit hunters. To escape the hunters, Bacobaco burrowed into the ground, throwing up mud and rocks. It sounds like a volcanic eruption. It also sounds like a pawikan digging a nest and laying eggs.


16:34 Makati, Metro Manila

DD: Thank you for sharing your memories. In parallel, I was where I am now – only a couple of towns away from where you were – when the eruption happened. Like »matte snow,« as I often describe it, dropping from the skies. I vividly remember the textures: soft ash and grainy sediments. I had jars of these as a kid (having been told they’d be worth something someday), the heavier matter settling toward the bottom. With my volcanic microcosms and little sense of the scale of the eruption, who knew its »value« would be at the scale of the earth?

Researching geoengineering proposals some years ago, I read that Harvard University’s SCoPEX program (Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment) seems to have been inspired by Pinatubo’s eruption. I kept seeing Pinatubo as a model reference for reducing the increasing surface temperatures of the earth but with little context apart from the proposal’s speculative impact. The strategy to inject the stratosphere with aerosols is quite controversial when it comes to understanding the geographic complexities of externalized costs (like an increase of precipitation in one region might reduce that in another part of the world). These uncertainties are what led me to pull, instead, from lived experience and memory….

DD: My dad grew up in Bacolor, in Pampanga, so we visited his hometown often. We’d eventually return after the eruption, a year or so later, seeing the area completely wiped and destroyed from the lahar. And thirty-odd years later – you’re right – it already feels like a distant dream. So, this trip, for me, is a reconnecting and (re)embedding of sorts. Confusing emotions and warped expectations from years of faint transmissions.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

Sapa (stream) in San Antonio, Bacolor in Pampanga with Dad and Ochie. Archive: Redentor Dizon, 1990.

How has your meeting with the Aeta, who lost their ancestral domain and those who have settled in Zambales, their stories, beliefs, and legends reignite cultural and (the importance of) Indigenous memory? How have these, or other encounters, given form to ARAW’s sci-fi radio broadcasts, and what have been transmitted on-air?


March 23, 2023, 08:54 Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

MC: Was it a ScoPEX experiment that the Indigenous Sámi Council petitioned to shut down? I have been reading about the International Non-Use Agreement on Solar Geoengineering initiated by scholars from Utrecht University, calling to prohibit funding, ban experiments, and object to the institutionalization of solar geoengineering. What is your personal or artistic position on solar geoengineering, particularly on Stratospheric Aerosol Injection proposals?

Your collection of jars of volcanic ash reminds me of vials of sand, dust, and ash falls displayed at the Pinatubo Museum in Holy Angel University, Pampanga. There was also a small section in the museum’s timeline about Bacolor. The museum guide said that the town was »sacrificed« to lahar to spare the densely populated city of Angeles. It’s unclear to me now, whether the »sacrifice« was natural due to Bacolor being a geographical catch basin, or manmade due to megadikes rerouting lahar away from Angeles. I suppose externalization of costs occurs on different scales. How do you feel about Bacolor’s »sacrifice« and the possible »sacrifices« that might come along with solar geoengineering?

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

Paskuhan sa Tribo 2022 at the Aeta Resettlement Site in Sitio Kalangitan, Capas, Tarlac. Photo: Mica Cabildo, 2022.

I volunteered for a Christmas outreach program in an Aeta Resettlement Site in Capas, Tarlac for just one day. Many of the Aetas have returned to the mountains or settled elsewhere, yet there are those who choose to stay in »temporary« resettlement sites for lack of better options. The land in the Capas site is barren and nothing like the lush, biodiverse rainforests of Pinatubo before the eruption. I didn’t interview any of the elders like I’d hoped, but I listened to the stories of the activists who organize these outreach and educational programs regularly. According to one of the organizers, knowledge of medicinal plants is still strong among the resettled Aetas, despite being removed from the environment they know. I do hope they retain many other aspects of their culture and indigenous memory.

Most of what I know about the Aetas are still from books about Pinatubo and old ethnographic studies. All I could really do was observe their presence in Zambales, read about their legends, and find parallels in my own experiences during my stay near Pinatubo. We have not broadcasted our sonic explorations yet; I needed some time away from Zambales to decompress and process the material we’ve gathered. Traveling north on the western coast, walking on different types of sand and watching sunsets on other horizons have helped me think more about Pinatubo, ash, and the sun.


15:38 Angeles, Pampanga

DD: It’s been a few days since our virtual exchange; I hope the radio silence wasn’t deafening. Your taking time to decompress and process your experience in Zambales resonated, so between Manila and Pampanga, I thought I’d pause. These textures and (re-)orientations you’ve since encountered, I’m sure, will appear in your sonic explorations, and I look forward to feeling them ⚡

It was the Indigenous Sámi Council along with some environmental organizations that petitioned to stop SCoPEX in Sweden. I’m curious how the International Non-Use will develop (or how it has developed so far), particularly how involved different Indigenous communities might be in dialogue about governance. On a local scale, what types of cooperation did you observe between the activists, organizers and Aeta during the volunteer work? How might these have informed ARAW’s experiment in collaborative working?

What started as curiosity in climate intervention strategies, for me, found its way to the personal; hence, this trip 🙂And the personal – in many ways, straddling both safety and risk – is now only shaping an artistic position that plays with these. The political, though – while inherent – isn’t without a challenge. What seems to be one lesser known fact about the many aftermaths of the eruption is that the ozone also thinned from chemical reactions (since »healed,« I believe). If a negotiating table exists in Solar Radiation Management (SRM), lines are drawn between proponents and opponents. But in artistic practice, consequence (or »sacrifice«), intention and the impossibility of grasping or ever knowing is where I currently find myself in. Geoengineering at whose and what expense? And how might artistic research dance in a standstill? sumpong (2023) has been my attempt at articulating these awkward encounters and confusing feelings in a more poetic way – in movement and language, sound, and soft rock.

»Cloudrunner« through Magical Hackerism, I think, also sketches these out. What do you think? What other parallel experiences have surfaced for you? And as I make arrangements and inch closer to the volcano, when the trails to Pinatubo from Zambales reopened while you were there, what was the hike like, and were there any encounters with the volcano mouse and cloud rat?


April 1, 2023, 14:04 Claveria, Cagayan

It’s good to take a breather. During the pause, we (my next ARAW collaborator and I) moved to the northernmost town on mainland Luzon. It feels like a major transition, after months of watching sunsets and observing the sun as we traveled up the west coast. Mountains obscure the sunset from where we are now, and soon we’ll head south on the east coast. I was a bit sad to say goodbye to sunsets indefinitely, but seeing the sun rise on our first morning here was invigorating. It made me feel like I was running toward something again.

I’m also curious how inclusive SRM governance might emerge, although I worry that the last to know are the ones most affected. There was a strong push to move attitudes away from the power imbalance of aid and relief towards egalitarian cooperation and recognition of the Aetas’ knowledge and self-reliance. It was also important for the activists to understand who and which forces were responsible for the injustices and deprivation the Aetas have experienced since the eruption. I’ve always maintained that ARAW projects should be neutral and researchers should be observers; but when living so closely and working with communities for extended periods of time, it becomes necessary to take a position and be clear about it.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

Gayaman Aeta Learning Center at Sitio Kalangitan, Capas, Tarlac. Photo: Mica Cabildo, 2022.

Mount Pinatubo remains a mystery to me. I never went. Even before the western trail reopened, there was always the possibility of taking a guided tour from the east, but it just felt too touristy. I heard of an extended two-day trek to the crater through the Zambales mountain range, that would have been fantastic. It would also be amazing to hike through the »cloud bridge« between Pinatubo and Arayat, and the ancestral Capas trail traditionally taken by the Aetas. In the meantime though, I’ll be focusing on my experiences on the coast, imagining the magnificent sunsets that follow major volcanic eruptions. Please say hi to Bacobaco for me!


19:19 Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac

DD: Hyping myself up in advance, I’ve since visited the Pinatubo Volcano Observatory in Magalang (closer to Mount Arayat, abode of Apung Sinukuan in Kapampangan myth), and made stops at the Pinatubo Museum from the Center for Kapampangan Studies in Angeles plus the Clark Museum near the former United States Air Force base – two exhibitions with quite different approaches to speaking about the 1991 eruption. The latter I could’ve skipped, but hell, the 4D theater called for me, only to be disappointed by the 20-minute film’s end as (seemingly) a measly disguise to attract future foreign investments in the region. This – with the development of New Clark City in Tarlac – encroaching on Aeta Ancestral Domain seems a whole other issue that has surfaced in the past few years.

Now, after a bus and a couple of trike rides, I’ve made it to the closest (little-big) town at the base of the eastern side of Pinatubo, well within an arm’s reach to receive that embrace. Though, with not much planning, ignorance, and presumption may have gotten the best of me, thinking I could just show up and hike. The existing trails seem to be under heavy regulation; though without much surprise and tourism aside, this might also have something to do with Philippine military camps dotted in and around the mountain range along with the moody climate of the tropics.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

Glacial lahar (volcanic mudflow). Photo: Dennis Dizon, 2023.

I’ve pocketed all this information about and around Pinatubo, but there’s still much left to explore. But before I embark on the rest of this trek and share your greetings, tell me what »magical hackerism« has been for you? Or, how has it changed? What has emerged, what else could emerge, and where else, in immeasurable time with the sun, do you think it will take you?

And as you and I continue our travels, I’m reminded that there’s really nothing like moving through geographies and topographies, and grounding in forgotten cultures and communities – all while under ominous conditions that signal and might only initially appear as trails of deep sweat.


April 3, 2023, 23:41 Claveria, Cagayan

MC: You are so close! I share your sentiments – while walking around Clark Museum I felt like corporate entities were presenting their development projects as a way to help the region rise from the ashes. I’m eager to see how sumpongdevelops after your Pinatubo pilgrimage.

My journey through »magical hackerism« has been a reconnection with the old gods, at first setting out to chase after the great protector of the mountains, only to be summoned by a terrible turtle spirit of the sea. Tomorrow we head southeast inland to Tuguegarao, notoriously one of the hottest places in the Philippines. I wonder, as temperatures start to rise in the Philippine summer, if our Lenten escape will resemble scenes from climate fiction novels about solar geoengineering. Before month’s end I will return to Baguio to resume research into the 1990 Luzon earthquake which is speculated to have triggered the Pinatubo eruption.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Solar Engineering – woe is us?

Olive ridley turtle hatchlings at Pawicare Hatchery, San Narciso, Zambales. Photo: Mica Cabildo, 2023.

I hope Pinatubo rewards your fervor and persistence with secret knowledge and magic of your own. Until our next contact, I leave you with an excerpt from a Negrito myth:

But now, you do not see the smoke coming out of Pinatubu mountain no longer, and many believe that the terrible monster is already dead; but I think that he is just resting after his exertions, and that someday he will surely come out of his hiding place again for a hearty meal of deer, and then, woe be to us.

Mica Cabildo is an interdisciplinary artist interested in island ecologies, adaptation and culture-based survival strategies.

Dennis Dizon is a research-based artist and writer, currently living in Barcelona.

  1. sumpong (2023) is a research performance by Dennis Dizon, see: https://2023.transmediale.de/en/event/sumpong (accessed April 11, 2023).

Beteiligte Person(en)

Find more contributions in the archive