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Field Notes is an art&science field laboratory organised from September 15-22 by the Bioart Society at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Lapland/Finland. Five groups work for one week in the sub-Arctic Lapland on questions located “above the ground”. Here first days in the logbook from the Second Order group hosted by Ewen Chardronnet from Makery.
“Field Notes – The Heavens” by Bioart Society turns its attention and experiments to the sky and looks at the role the unique sub-Arctic setting of the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station and its surroundings – at the Finland-Sweden-Norway border – can play in helping the 40 participants to learn more about what is above ground: life in high altitudes, the ongoing material exchange between earth and space, the atmosphere as a hyperobject, the politics of air and space, Sámi stories and life related to the sky and more.
Biochemist Melissa Grant and lab automation specialist Oliver de Peyer host the HAB group to investigate the relationship between ground ecologies and those in high altitudes. Some research suggests that there are microbes above us seeding snowflakes and rain clouds and are as such instrumental for life on the ground.
Artist Andy Gracie with his Space-Earth-Space group explores the tangible and conceptual connections and exchanges between Space and Earth. Among other questions this group investigates what kind of material has been exchanged between Earth and Space and how to devise methods on how to track, record or visualise such material and the process of exchange.
The AIR group of artist Hanna Husberg and environmental scientist Agata Marzecova works with the proposition that ‘Knowing the atmosphere’ is contingent on techno-scientific apparatus, epistemologies, and infrastructures of the “military-industrial-business complex” that cannot be thought of as separate from the histories and politics of capitalism and scientific thought. They inquire into the political and aesthetic practices that allow for apprehending and sensing the atmosphere.
Marja Helander, an artist of Sámi origin, the people whose land – Sápmi – we are guests on during our field laboratory in Kilpisjärvi, is hosting the Strange Weather group. The group is looking on the one hand into incidents of areal colonisation, like acid rain, Chernobyl or Climate Change and how it transforms indigenous livelihood but also gives the possibility to reset our preconditioned notions of the sky through situated indigenous knowledge.
Finally, as with every edition of Field Notes, the Second Order group has a different working model than the rest. Hosted this time by Ewen Chardronnet from Makery this group is composed of philosophers, theorists, independent researchers and other suitable practitioners. Their work is twofold, on the one hand, they do research on the rest of the groups, and at the other hand, they act as discursive agents introducing critical perspectives in order to go over traditional research boundaries, methods and practices.
Sunday September 15
Transfers and transitions, by Luis Campos
Moments of possibility. It is a rare occasion in one’s life to meet with a group of strangers at a train station at the Arctic Circle in northern Finland. Rarer still to see a busload of friendly strangers, each one a fascinating world in themselves as yet to unknown to one. But we each understood that by the end of the week the bus will be full not of people but of personalities, of individuals. As Rilke once wrote: ‘O, how we treasure the unknown: / all too swiftly a dear face takes form / from contrasts and analogies.” We head ever northward, into the unknown.
Monday September 16
First morning was dedicated to groups presentations. The afternoon was followed by a first common hike towards Saana mountain, before splitting in different groups.
Arrivées et possibilités, par Luis Campos
Our first climb past the treeline on Saana, with breathtaking views and breathless lungs. A mostly cloudy sky, but pierced by shafts of diagonal sunlight. We reach a mountain hut, on an alpine arctic lake, where we organize for the first time for our work ahead, and look to set some ground rules. We had been under the impression that the rules were for us to make, but we found the rules already written when we arrived:
“It is confidently expected of all persons who use this hut that they keep to these universally accepted codes of behavior in the wilderness.” What is wilderness in a place traversed by reindeer herders since time immemorial, and studied by a biological station for over a century already? What universally accepted codes of behavior will govern our conversations and interventions? The first rule implied its self-evident status, but its very invocation raised more questions for us.
“It may happen that the hut is not in the best possible condition on your arrival. Nevertheless, don’t add any comments to the latest visitor’s notes. If somebody has neglected his duties you probably don’t find his signature in the book.” What explorations can we make in this greater place, in the wake of both respectful and oblivious others? Is what is respect to one, obliviousness to another? Scars take decades to heal in this environment, we already learned. But the heavens, vaulting overhead, sustain themselves–how can we sustain ourselves and those who come after us? How can we leave the hut in the best possible condition for the arrivals of others—from above (inspiration, muses, micrometeorites, and other heavenly visitors), those climbing up from below (like ourselves), and those speaking to us from another time, unknowingly constituting the very ways in which we think?
“Don’t draw your initials in the walls of the hut. It is a foul and rejectable custom.” Traces are always visible in this land: trails, desire paths, airplane crashes, concentration camps, roads. What signatures will we leave in this place, intentionally or unintentionally? What foul customs shall we reject? As members of the second-order group, is it so necessary to insist on traces of our presence? To make things so inescapably our own?
“A weary tired newcomer has a greater claim on the hut than a traveler already rested and the latter should if possible, and necessary, vacate it. Reasonableness solves all difficulties.” We are new to this place and ready to be wearied—ready to feel our lungs and muscles burning, our brains aglow with new ideas, and new analytics. We prepare to rejoice in our conjoined existences, to work and wear and tire and… sauna. As Goethe once wrote: “When the healthy nature of man functions as a totality, when he feels himself in the world as in a vast, beautiful, worthy and valued whole, when a harmonious sense of well-being affords him pure and free delight—then the universe, if it were capable of sensation would exult at having reached its goal, and marvel at the culmination of its own development and being. For what is the use of all the expenditures of suns and planets and moons, of stars and galaxies, of comets and nebulae, of completed and developing worlds, if at the end a happy man does not unconsciously rejoice in existence?”
We were given no rules, we had thought. But these are rules we can follow.
Tuesday September 17
Strange Weather Group, by Sophie Dulau and Ewen Chardronnet
Today we followed the Strange Weather group on a hike with Oula Valkeapää, a Sámi reindeer herder. He took us on a journey in the sub-arctic mountains, and we followed his fast and vivid steps through the rough and beautiful landscape. He shared with us his way of living, as a reindeer herder, and his deep connection to the land and the natural elements that guide him through the eight seasons of Enontekiö. “Wind is a poem” said Oula, we hope we can be inspired by such poetics.
Oula Valkeapää showed us the multiple kinds of lichen that reindeer feed on during the winter season and brought us to the top of the mountain to see the “gárdi”, the old stone circular yards where they used to keep more than 1000 reindeer at a time.
As Wikipedia tells us “reindeer are the only large mammal able to metabolise lichen owing to specialised bacteria and protozoa in their gut. They are the only animals (except for some gastropods) in which the enzyme lichenase, which breaks down lichenin to glucose, has been found. The fermentation of lichen in their rumen keep them warm and allow them to stand the extreme cold despite little movements.” Looking at how lichen spores waft across Sámi territory, and how lichens are impacted by remote pollutions and climate change, are important issues to be considered at Field Notes. We encountered stories about Chernobyl’s impact on lichens and mushrooms, and also about more recent massive die-off of thousands of reindeer perishing of starvation in Siberia. The animals appeared to have died due to abnormally thick layers of snow and ice in their habitat, which made it impossible for them to access the lichen and other vegetation on which they survive. Caused by unusually warm temperatures, the melting ice produced high levels of evaporation and humidity, which in turn prompted heavy bouts of rain that soaked the snowy ground below (a phenomenon scientists refer to as ROS, or “rain-on-snow” events). The ROS events were followed by a sudden dip in temperature that caused the snow to freeze. Oula confirmed that ice is a problem for hungry reindeer.
We also collected various plants, lichen, algae and were enthusiastic when we encountered slime molds. Strange Weather’s work will continue tomorrow with microscopic observation in the lab back at the station.
In the evening the group also raised the question of how to respect rather than exoticize Sámi culture and to consider a modest understanding of Sámi perspectivism and Sámi nature-culture perceptions, as well as questions of ethics of documentation among the group itself.
There is a telescope in the middle of the room at Kiekula House. The Space-Earth-Space group is adjusting their equipment for the coming days: a wireless all-sky camera is being built following the introductions from instructables.com, and a telescope is being prepared for later activities.
Some are also thinking about the language of meteorites as poetry as today they are studying micro-meteorites. The group heads out on the trail past Saana to collect some samples from the bottom of a waterfall, a likely spot to sift for cosmic dust.
The group encounters the HAB group who are flying a helikite balloon near Saana. Everyone gets to try a VLF. Nearby, there’s a Second World War fighter plane crash site. The balloon’s up, a plane is flying by. There are many layers of connections and exchanges between Space and Earth present. In the absence of magnets a tablespoon becomes a high tech device. No telescope needed here.
After the walk, the tiny bottles filled with soil and water are taken to the lab. Just before dinner there is time to look at one of the samples. There might be gold, but the question of micro-meteorites remains unanswered.
From AIR to HAB, by Luis Campos
The day began with morning discussions in the Air Group, as we explored the concept of the atmosphere with theories of verticality, issues surrounding the privatization of the atmosphere, and questions of atmospheric sovereignty. From elementality to atmospheric laboratories, the group grappled with how to track the resonances and isomorphic linkages of methodologies of failure. After a break, we turned to engage with a video on the place of drones in our contemporary world that explored these themes through direct footage and voiced-over narration of flights and crashes.
“Crash Theory” by Adam Fish :
A provocative discussion ensued as to the many ways in which drones, the enclosure of the atmosphere, and the remaking of the world in the image of the database complicate our understandings of air, justice, environmentalism, intimacy, and care. How might crashes help us attend to images of breakage in our natureculture and moments of repair?
After lunch, it was time to launch, and I went from the heights of theory to a physical breathlessness in climbing up Saana with the HAB group, who are exploring the possibility of high-altitude bioprospecting. We headed above the treeline to launch the first mission of the heli-kite. Lugging 50kg containers of helium up the mountain path took the combined efforts of the group, who had previously scoped out an appropriate space a few minutes’ walk off the trail, relatively flat and free from rocks. Over the space of a half hour this mountain meadow was transformed into a launch pad as hooks were screwed into the rocks, tethers attached and lines run out, and the kite set up for inflation.
As storm clouds threatened in the valley below, we were joined for a moment by the Space-Earth-Space group, returning from their micrometeorite collections. While subsequent days would explore the prospects of bringing aerobacteria down to earth, today’s work was a test of orchestrated teamwork in the first launch, with frequent moments of improvisation and repair, as the group reconstructed a technical path skyward. Recording devices were tested and attached as the balloon was inflated, whistling as helium flowed in. Finally, with the tethers withdrawn, the heli-kite rapidly ascended into the lucky patch of blue sky directly overhead. Through digital mediation, the sounds of the wind whipping past the kitestring (the “Aeolian harp”) issued weirdly angelic heavenly strains, mingling with terrestrial exclamations of delight at the rising balloon, some 744 meters above sea level (and 200 meters overhead) and registering on the international directory of weather balloons.
From a morning of ethereal crash theory to an afternoon of physical launch, it was a challenging day of a variety of vertical ascents.
After lunch Adam Fish organises a session of drone flying.
As a “body philosopher,” Vishnu facilitated an activity, a ‘privilege walk’. With that experience Vishnu would reflect on the use of the concept of “situated knowledge” and decolonial methodologies applied to dominant regimes of air and space sciences introduced by Ewen Chardronnet during the introduction of the Second Order group the previous morning. The concept of “situated knowledges” was developed by the American zoologist and philosopher Donna Haraway in the context of feminist studies of science in the 1980s. Haraway encourages researchers to consider their point of departure, where they are “thinking from”. She says that situated knowledges require thinking of the world in terms of the “apparatus of bodily production”. The world cannot be reduced to a mere resource if subject and object are deeply interconnected. Bodies as objects of knowledge in the world should be thought of as “material-semiotic generative nodes”, whose “boundaries materialize in social interaction”.
Donna Haraway tells us to be “thinking-with” and the Second Order group suggests to the other groups to keep “thinking with”, thinking with the air, the reindeer, the lichen, the Sámis, the cosmos.
Liu Xin presented her work on smog in China raising critical questions of “natureculture” and the urban air. By investigating how social media both documents and demonstrates public responses to dramatic air pollution, Liu Xin collects evidence of a latent counter-culture that exists and resists the institutionalisation of climate monitoring.
The toxicity is defined and revised by means of our senses, experiences and measures; the quantification of health opens a space for capitalist exploitation in the form of over-the-counter pills, for example, or even potable water bottles. A Chinese NGO-produced advertisement crystallises particularly this tension:
Beyond the humorous aspects of this video, we can observe a transition from a numbed to more deeply engaged behavior. The character who trims his nosehair takes back power over his circumstances–he does not accept to put a bandaid on the situation, but rather decides to engage with his responsibilities, even if it hurts over the short term.
The following video was banned from China. In Under the Dome, director Chai Jing poetically criticises air pollution and calls for action.
Under the Dome by Chai Jing:
High Atmosphere Bioprospecting group, by Adriana Knouf
As I write this the snow falls in front of Saana on Wednesday afternoon. The day before I spent with the HAB group, High-Altitude Bioprospecting. With the eventual goal of collecting microbial life within the stratosphere, HAB’s time here in Kilpisjärvi is designed to explore different payload possibilities with a tethered balloon that rises to a height of 200m above ground level. The morning was spent going through the extensive gear and experiences that various group members have, from radio and biology, to drawing, photography, sound art, and textile design. Each person’s background with this transdisciplinary group melds tightly to the others in a way that is exciting. The afternoon goal was to have an initial launch of the balloon from a point halfway up Saana mountain. While this seems relatively easy to accomplish, it’s not when many tens of kilos of helium cylinders need to be transported up there by hand. Suffice it to say, we all got our interval workouts! Once there things proceeded smoothly, from balloon assembly and tie-down, to the eventual launch high above the small plateau. In short, this day was an entirely group effort and it was incredible to see the balloon right above us, hear its radio transmission, and pick up the vibrations of the kite line that kept this foray into the heavens above attached to the earth below.
Field_Notes is a program organised by Bioart Society as part of the Feral Labs Network series.
The Feral Labs Network is cofinanced by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. The cooperation is led by Projekt Atol in Ljubljana (Slovenia). Other #ferallabs partners include Bioart Society (Helsinki, Finland), Catch (Helsingor, Denmark), Radiona (Zagreb, Croatia), Schmiede (Hallein, Austria) and Art2M/Makery (France).