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Deep Field – Part 1

Deep Field Part 1. Initial Conditions

A primary edit of the first part of three films reflecting on the Deep Field was screened at RIXC FESTIVAL 2019, THE 4TH OPEN FIELDS CONFERENCE ON ART-SCIENCE RESEARCH AND UN/GREEN EXHIBITION. The short 6 minute piece, drawing on field recordings by Neal White (UK) and Jol Thoms (CA) in USA (White) and Siberia (Thoms), develops underlying conditions that are used to define how artists shift their work into the field, or as fieldwork, with a specific emphasis on scale. Narrated by Jol Thoms, the film depicts three acts of capture, with two giant scientific cameras search for the infinitesimally small in Utah and Siberia, and the archive team from the Getty Institute using weather balloons to record Robert Smithson Spiral Jetty, also in Utah.  Two further films, exploring the deep field are in development. Please contact us for further information.

A project supported by Office of Experiments

Contingency Vehicle Prototype

Contingency Vehicle Prototype (Finland  – September 2018)

Outside Helsinki in the quiet region close to Espoo, we dropped into see Tapio Makela‘s new artist residency for a few days. The interaction with our host would be fruitful and highly engaging. In addition to acquiring extensive knowledge on gathering and cooking a variety of wild woodland fungi and mushrooms, and wandering the many rooms of the vast former old peoples home currently under re-construction, we finally had the chance to start building our prototype for a stable rowing platform that we might later adapt as a contingency vehicle.

The prototype was developed from an intention to look at building contingency vehicles; human powered rescue vehicles or low cost unmanned sensing platforms. We were inspired by Rob La Frenais ongoing work on the future of transport, but also thinking about scenarios ranging from climate change through to migrations at sea. The contingency vehicle would therefore be intended to have a very low cost, a DIY approach to some extent, whilst drawing on a long forgotten design.

Built from used and unused construction materials lying around Tapio’s extensive property, which is still in progress, the design is based loosely on the ‘needles’, Buckminster Fullers very own rowing boat for taking him and to and fro from his lakeland home without dunking him in the water. Creating a stable platform, the prototype was constructed from water pipes, discarded timber, the seat of an unused Magis One chair, and some hardware from the local store.


Surfing the Semiosphere

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.

Field Guide to Dark Places

Online Database

The Field Guide to Dark Places (South Edition) was a key tool used to catalogue our research into sites not normally accessible to the public in the UK. The sites that were initially selected for documentation were selected on the basis that they were engaged with scientific or technological research, most often in non-urban landscapes. As the process of research continued, it was clear the extent to which the scientific and technological complex has overlapped and become engrained within corporate, military and intelligence applications, and funding. Additional sites included in the final guide also included historic communications infrastructures, often military.

Sites were documented by combining field observation, alternative knowledge gathering and experimental geography techniques with a range of other standard and non-standard research methods.

The transparency level of sites were compared by looking at available public information on the research and knowledge being produced. Further information was gathered on the published papers, activity as well as funders, corporate or state actors and networks to which each site was connected, and this was annotated alongside the physical and geographical location of each of these sites.

In some cases, our research led us to false or mistaken public perception of these sites, and these misunderstandings became an important aspect of our work. For science this is now aligned to important democratic challenges in the era of false and fake news. Conspiracy culture remains a rich yet toxic field of inquiry.

All initial research was conducted by Office of Experiment artists using the overt research approach in plain sight and without compromising either staff privacy or any other legal requirements when documenting landscape and public space in the UK. 

The website would allow anyone to sign up and contribute, if they had attended a workshop or bus tour.

The site was developed with Lisa Haskel, designed by Mark Shufflebottom and is archived on Arts Catalyst servers. An update to the mapping data will be performed in the near future. 

Experimental Ruins

Experimental Ruins

Participatory Research for Experimental Ruins

The twenty places of our Experimental Workshop were filled immediately. The aim was to introduce to participants questions around how our personalised knowledge of urban and rural landscapes is shaped. Probing how we might respond to new sites that might in turn inform our own understanding of a recent cultural and political heritage.

Following a brainstorm, the group was divided into two groups; Knowing and Not Knowing. Each were taken to the Ossuary at Museum of London. Led through a steel framed retail park scale catacomb by Dr Roy Stephenson, this archive of death contains 17,000 exhumed skeletons from London excavations. In this smoke black brick building, the centre of a major roundabout in the heart of the City of London, a context was given through which volunteers might explore how best to approach experimental fieldwork.

Exploring in turn, the impact that an informational landscape makes to such experiences, with personal responses, individuals worked on ideas of how to interpret this institutional trespass; from digital recordings, to work with pinhole cameras, from situational interventions and personal mapping, a range of experimental approaches through which this landscape can be explored and represented were devised.

Experimental Ruins – Critical Excursion

A few weeks later, the Experimental Ruins critical excursion took place. Workshop participants were joined by other members of the public in a day long tour through the transport and production infrastructure of military power and its temporary sites of resistance within the context of cold war landscape of West London’s suburban fringes.

The day was framed by JG Ballard writing on suburbia, as we headed to Dollis Hill 1970’s housing estate, situated above the second (now abandoned) cabinet war rooms that ushered in the Cold War. A tour devised by our partners for the day, Subterranea Britannica, provided the perfect start to a journey which headed west beyond the M25 to extracts from the Ian Sinclair film, London Orbital.

In a circuit that led us towards the Atomic Weapons Establishments at Burghfield and Aldemaston, we stopped to take on a guide who would inform participants how and where these nuclear/military /scientific sites are monitored buy anit-nuclear groups. Contrasting the temporary sites of peace camps against the backdrop of these seemingly unassailable sites, we headed towards Greenham Common Air base the former US Nuclear Missile site, an acclaimed trophy of the CND and Womens protest movement. 

Extracts from experimental film maker Bruce Connor’s acclaimed work ‘Crossroads’, with haunting soundtrack by  Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley, were supplemented by archive footage of nuclear explosions. These in turn were juxtaposed with footage of protest and occupation, problematising the official historical representations of such sites.

Provoking volunteers and the public alike, the project questions what we know and understand about the nature and dimensions of our shared heritage.

Participatory Publication

As an addendum to the workshop and tour, participants were asked to submit their own images, thoughts and reflections of the events and sites. A temporal map was created and published, and distributed to those who took part. Further copies are available upon request to Arts Catalyst.


Experimental Ruins was conceived through a number of projects, the first being an ESRC funded workshop led by Dr. Gail Davies at UCL Department of Geography.

Participatory workshop was conceived and produced with Lisa Haskel, Lala Thorp and Luce Choules

Experimental Ruins was funded by Arts Catalyst and the Heritage Lottery Fund with support from The Museum of London. 

Experimental Ruins: Extract from the Office of Experiments publication: Experimental Ruins. West Edition.
Designed and printed by Luce Choules.

Experimental Ruins Workshop – Arts Catalyst
The Ossuary, Museum of London. Experimental Ruins Workshop
The Ossuary, Museum of London. Experimental Ruins Workshop
Experimental Ruins Workshop
Experimental Ruins Workshop – with Roy Stephenson at Museum of London
Overt Researcher ID for participants
Tour of Cabinet War Rooms – facilitated by Subterranea Britannica
Sites of Interest: Experimental Ruins
Experimental Ruins – Map and Guide

The Secrets of Portland

A One Day Field Guide to the Secrets of Portland (2011)

This Bus Tour took in a number of sites around which rumours and conspiracy have helped shape the experience of Portland, an island situated off the coast at Weymouth. Home to military research, bird watching, prisons, and not least the quarrying of Portland Stone (as used in many buildings in London), the place has a reputation shaped by a unique landscape.

The tour of some of the now defunct sites on the island were punctuated throughout the day by extracts from an interview conducted by Neal White with local activist, Mike Kenner. Mike introduced himself and then responded to questions relating to specific sites, information that circulates as both conspiracy and as fact.

One of the sites discussed, the Portland CEW R1 ROTOR Radar Station, a subterranean bunker site was according to Kenner, a site that his father worked in and which has a concealed entrance in the moat that surrounds ‘The Vern’ a local prison and Citadel. Both were sites we visited. Kenner drew attention to the sites that were used by nearby Porton Down to test Biochemical Weapon distribution on the public – an Experiment known as The Lyme Bay Trails.

Alongside Kenners commentary we provided information about the experiments conducted by Porton Down with maps and former Classified and Secret Documents. ‘Operation Portland’ by Harry Houghton, a book about the ‘Portland Spy Ring’, which was based in the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment was distributed in book form.

Information films on contemporary Underwater Weapons Technology, to be used in the Olympics the following year, were played alongside film extracts, including the The Damned (Joseph Losey, 1963). The film, which is an unusual mix of biker gangs and science fiction, explores the idea of an experimental underground city in which radioactive children are kept. Key to the film are the sculptures of Elizabeth Frink, featured as the work of an artist whose studio on the cliffs and abandoned quarries of Portland features key action.

The Critical Excursion was commissioned as part of ExLab – a festival of contemporary art and took place on the 14th May 2011.


Secrecy and Technology – Mediated Bus Tour

Secrecy and Technology Bus Tour (2009)

On the final day of the exhibition Dark Places, at John Hansard Gallery, the Secrecy and Technology bus tour took place, exploring the Cold War’s legacy in the South. Neal White and Steve Rowell led the critical excursion, a performance -led, mediated experience meticulously planned with Lala Thorpe of Arts Catalyst. The journey was timed to allow an in depth spatial and archival tour of sites of advanced technological development in the South of England, focusing on points of interest that emerged during the tensions and paranoias of the Cold War. 

The tour visited the sites of Chilbolton Observatory, Porton Down and RAF Boscombe Down, stopping off at a nuclear bunker, before lunch at the International School for Security and Explosives Education. In the afternoon, we took the bus of experimenters to RAF Blanford to visit the Signals Museum, pausing for tea, before heading back to the John Hansard Gallery, where a small evening event laid on by the gallery launched Office of Experiment’s publication The Redactor and allowed the bus tour participants to view the exhibition.

Being the first critical excursion, the tour was in an experimental form at this stage. Further to gaining access to sites, additional material had been obtained as part of the Overt Research project that gave travellers through the landscape access to a narrated series of films, you-tube videos, archived materials, and some classified films that we had gained access to through our research. One or a number of these were played between each visit, and informed the tone and sense of unease at the veracity of information both being shared on the bus, and with the public at each of the sites of interest.

The Office of Experiments’ Overt Research Project was supported by UCL Department of Geography and The Media School, Bournemouth University. Led by Neal White with Steve Rowell and Lisa Haskell.

Dark Places is commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and co-curated with the Office of Experiments, John Hansard Gallery and SCAN.

Further information is available at: (14/2/2013)

Participants arrive at the observation point for Chlibolton Observatory
Approach to Military Drone Site
Winners of a Raffle get to explore hidden Nuclear Bunker
Down the Hatch
Miscellaneous artefacts inside the bunker
Arriving at ISEEE
Inside the Signals Museum

The Redactor

The Self-Experimenter