Category: Fieldwork

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.