Category: Fieldwork

Deep Field Research – Surfing the Semiosphere

Surfing the Semiosphere.

Neal White has recently returned from Field Notes, on an Office of Experiments 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 ( 2008- )

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.

Credits

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