Surfing the Semiosphere.


In September 2018 Neal White embarked on Field Notes, a research trip to Kilpisjarvi, a sub-arctic field station project run by the outstanding BioArt Society, Finland (September 2018). Working with other artists, architects, curators and theorists, group fieldwork aimed to critically engage with ideas that explore the intersections between humans and/or between/with other species / life and emergent technologies.

Led by Judith van der Elst, the group analysed the scales and variation of a range of life, from lichen and moss, bacteria and algae, through to the nomadic reindeer followed by local Sámi herders across mountain passes, birch forests and barren steppes in pursuit of food. In this remote polar region, there is no doubt, we were immersed in what the BioArt Society calls an ‘ecology of senses’. As we learned from those around us including the reindeer herders’ families (special tanks to Lena), we began to apprehend how the ecology or field operates at frequencies such that we need to extend our own sensitivities, to enhance our perception of what is shifting.

So, we sought to compare our approaches in order to find new ways to sense the waves, the cloud and the fog – the signals and signs transmitting through a multiple of  intersecting spaces in which signs are exchanged between species (semiosphere /Jakob von Uexküll). This theory is now being applied to new forms of sensors in robotics,  the bio-semiotic field. As we moved from field lab to landscape laboratory, we were thinking about these advances alongside the range and breath of electronic sensing, of chemical and biological sampling, and the data clouds and transmitters that we also live among, even here.

Finally on reflection, the fieldwork by our group and other suggests that we need to consider not so much how we pass through such spaces sensing, collecting data, sampling, representing and counting the world, but instead attune our collective corpus to the multiple Semiospheres that pass through us, our group biome and our mass of porous bodies ( including our collective mouth and anus as Björn our deep time consultant and resident palaeontologist put it). Perhaps it is our ability to act as a social organism that means we can process and sense together other species, other scales. Far from being merely coincidental as singular living event structures in this landscape, we come alive when sharing our knowledge, intuitions and speculations on the forces of the seen and the unseen, the huge bandwidth of life unfolding through signal and reception, signs and signifier.  This bio-semiotic landscape that we started to sense how to process, becomes an insight into a potential new incidental field.

We could not have done it alone, we needed our group, just as we needed all of those other groups who took part in Field Notes to process, share and question. This was incredibly important deep fieldwork, and there was food, open fires, sauna and beer to bring us together and to bind us in our collective purpose.

For more information, please see these links:

Field Notes

Makery Article

With  Judith van der Elst, Björn Kröger, Pia Lindman, Paolo Patelli, AnneMarie Maes and Christina Gruber

Sensegrity – the tensegrity structure built with Paulo Patelli from scientific ephemera scavenged from the stores at the Kilpisjarvi biological field station, Northern Finland, is a concept for sensing new landscapes and is loosely based on the NASA tumbleweed drone. Created for our group presentation and discussion with other researchers at Field Notes.