A World Adrift
South China Seas
The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to bear witness to alternative worlds, alien landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These distant landscapes – the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, the irradiated and the pristine – are embedded in global systems that connect in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. Unknown Fields remaps and reimagines the city and the technologies it contains, not as discrete independent collections of buildings and devices but as a relational object that conditions and is conditioned by a wide array of local and global supply chains, a network of vast but elusive tendrils that twist threadlike over everything around us, crisscrossing the planet, connecting the mundane to the extraordinary. In such a landscape of interwoven narratives, the studio deploys time-based media to animate this network of hidden stories and reimagine the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures.
This year we ride aboard massive container ships to trace the shadows of the world’s desires along supply chains and cargo routes, to explore the vast unseen constellations of dispersed choreographies and atomised geographies that global sea trade brings into being. These are the contours of our distributed city, stretched around the earth, from the hole in the ground, to the high street shelf. Commodities, contraband and stowaways are suspended in maritime space on vast Panamax, Aframax and Suezmax loaded to the plimsoll line with a medley of abundant and exotic ingredients. Consignments of the precious and industrial, raw and refined, mechanical and alive, drift across infrastructural seas from cavernous factory floors via the huge ports of Shanghai and Singapore, of Busan and Rotterdam and through the bottleneck excavations of Panama and Suez, which funnel the world its supplies of anything and everything. Our design speculations will operate within this dislocated city, where intense pockets of activity in wildly unexpected places supply cultures far removed with the fulfilment of their every need and desire.
Madagascar Expedition: 14 days, Mid July to End July 2013
The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These landscapes - the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine - are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. Each year we navigate a different trajectory as we seek to map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures.
In times past an anarchist community of pirates called Madagascar home. It was an island beyond the law and off the map, a place of rogues, booty and bounties. These were outlaws moored on a marooned ecosystem. Set adrift 88 million years ago, the island is a castaway in the Indian Ocean, inhabited by a band of ecological stowaways. In this splendid isolation it has evolved into an unparalleled wonderland of the weird and unique, diverse and unbelievable.
A political coup in 2009 left the country adrift once more - isolated from the international community, deprived of foreign aid and conservation funding. One of the planet’s most precious ecological treasures is home to one of its poorest nations and it raises difficult and complex questions about the relationship between necessity and luxury. Amidst political uncertainty, the island’s fragile and unique ecology is being smuggled out illegally, boat by boat, gem by gem. Rare tortoises leave in rucksacks, forests are carved into the ebony fingerboards on Gibson Guitars or $1million rosewood beds sold in China.
Central America 2012 - 18.104.22.168.0
The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on biannual expeditions to the ends of the earth exploring unreal and forgotten landscapes, alien terrains, and obsolete ecologies. Far from the metropolis lie the dislocated hinterlands that support the mechanizations of urban life. A city like London is thoroughly embedded in a global network of landscapes and infrastructures that are typically forgotten, unseen, ignored or only presented through particular media narratives. Each year we navigate a different global cross section and seek to map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures. For Unknown Fields the journey is really about seeing our familiar world differently; we explore these alternative worlds as a means to understand our own in new ways, either through physical expeditions or the design of speculative future projects.
This year as the world of new agers, mystics and psychonauts pilgrimage south, Unknown Fields journeys with them to Central America to ponder the rise and fall of cities, civilizations, and empires, both ancient and modern, and to investigate the cultural and technological infrastructures that underpin them – a network of complex systems that have proved critical to their prosperity and ultimately often implicated in their collapse.
Empires rise and fall and the infrastructural traces they leave behind are evidence of their greatest dreams and their deepest fears. They are the remains of a speculative future, the skeletal frames of world building dreams, the ruled lines on a page soon to be filled with the goings on of a day soon to come. In this time of crisis the future is becoming a project again. As the Mayan long count calendar begins a new phase we will imagine what comes next.
Unknown Fields: Visiting Program
Roswell Crash Site - Burning Man Festival
Unknown Fields is a nomadic studio that throws open the doors of the AA and sets off on an annual expedition to the ends of the earth exploring unreal and forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and obsolete ecologies. Each year we navigate a different global cross-section and map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures. You will be both visionaries and reporters, part documentarian and part science-fiction soothsayers as the otherworldly sites we encounter will afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.
This year the Division will be heading off on a reconnaissance road trip to chronicle a series of extraterrestrial encounters from the borderlands, black sites, military outposts and folkloric landscapes of the United States. From the ‘illegal aliens’ of the New Mexico border towns we will head north exploring territories of negotiation and conflict, zones of transgression, suspicion and speculation. We will rumble along the UFO highway, past the mythic territories of Area 51, listening to tall tales from conspiracy theorists amidst the sonic booms crackling in the quiet desert air.
We will visit covert military test sites and the alien technologies of the aeronautics industry as we shape our own experimental craft to launch in the skies above the psychedelic community of the Burning Man Festival, where our journey ends. By the bonfires we will examine the mysteries and conspiracies that surround what lies off the map, off-grid and below the radar as we propose new truths and expose alternative fictions.
Joining us on our travels will be a troupe of collaborators from the worlds of technology, science and fiction including Geoff Manaugh [BLDGBLOG], Nicola Twilley [Edible Geography] and UFOologist, folklorist and author Mark Pilkington. Together we will form a travelling circus of research visits, field reportage, rolling discussions and impromptu tutorials that will be chronicled in an annual publication and travelling exhibition. Throughout our journey the Division will identify opportunities for tactical intervention and speculative invention as we examine the unknown fields between truth and fiction.
0 - 180 Longitude. Far North Alaska
"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center."
Far from the metropolis lie the dislocated hinterlands and remote wildernesses that support the mechanizations of modern living. Diploma 6 - the ‘Unknown Fields Division’ - probes the fertile territory between nature, technology and culture to explore our contemporary condition through critical acts of speculation. We map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures.
The Division is a nomadic design studio embarking on expeditions to explore these unreal and forgotten places, techno-landscapes, alien terrains and obsolete ecologies. The otherworldly sites we encounter afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.
Last year we speculated on the reinvention of nature and spun aboriginal creation myths with the modern mining technologies of the Australian ‘Never-Never’. This year we continue to slip suggestively between tradition and science as we voyage to the edge of today, through the strange times of far north Alaska.
As Winter Solstice approaches we will head into the darkness of an eternal night. We will dance along the Date-Line, our paths illuminated by twin electric skies, as we spend neon afternoons in the city and bask under the flickering Aurora in the wilds of the frozen tundra. We will stalk the arctic fox, marvel at the vast military outposts scanning the frontier and listen for the roar of ice road truckers snaking along the oil lifeline stretching south.
It is a cyclical landscape of natural and artificial time. Alaskan Inuits, informed by ancestral memories of their environments and its patterns, embrace the uncertainties of the future with a deep belief in their own adaptability. Meanwhile, environmental scientists attempt to assemble their observations into climate models in order to predict the future as precisely as possible. Caught between improvisation and premeditation these cultural relationships to landscape and time will define the future of the North and in turn our cities beyond.
Here in the darkness we will be explorers in time, deploying time-based media. Film, animation, storytelling, gaming and choreographic drawings will define dynamic spaces of motion and commotion, cycles and shifts, ebbs and flows. We will draw on the rich uncertainty of this territory, speculating on possible futures, rewriting histories and altering the present. Joining us in the division will be fellow time travellers from the worlds of technology, science and fiction and together we will examine the Unknown Fields between cultivation and nature and spin cautionary tales of a new kind of wilderness.
"The future is not google-able."
Unknown Fields: Visiting Program
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone - Baikonur Cosmodrome
"After Sputnik there is no nature, only art."
Unknown Fields is a nomadic studio that will set off on an annual expedition to the ends of the earth exploring forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and obsolete ecologies. Each year we will navigate a different global cross-section and map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures. You will be both visionaries and reporters as the sites we encounter will afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.
This year, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, we will pack our Geiger counters and spacesuits as we chart a course from the atomic to the cosmic to investigate the unknown fields between the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in the Ukraine and Gagarin’s launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Beginning in the shadows of nuclear disaster we will survey the irradiated wilderness and bear witness to a sobering apocalyptic vision. We will skirt the retreating tide of the Aral Sea and mine the ‘black gold’ in the Caspian oilfields and caviar factories. We will wander through the cotton fields of Kazakhstan and tread the ancient silk road before reaching the shores of the cosmic ocean bathed in the white light of satellites blasting into tomorrow’s sky. In these shifting fields of nature and artifice we will re-examine our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world and document a cross-section through a haunting landscape of the ecologically fragile and the technologically obsolete.
Joining us will be collaborators from the worlds of technology, science and fiction including the Phillips Technologies Design Probes research Lab and Archis/Volume magazine. Together we will form a travelling circus of research visits, field reportage, rolling discussions and impromptu tutorials. Throughout our journey The Unknown Fields Division will identify opportunities for tactical intervention and speculative invention that will be chronicled in a publication and touring exhibition. Together we will examine the never-never lands between cultivation and nature and spin cautionary tales of a new kind of wilderness.
"To be the first to enter the cosmos, to engage, single-handed, in an unprecedented duel with nature-could one dream of anything more."
Never Never Lands: Prospecting in Dreamtime
West Australian Outback - Kalgoorlie to Broome
“In the Land of the Never-Never; in that elusive land with an elusive name – land of dangers and hardships and privations yet loved as few lands are loved – a land that bewitches her people with strange spells and mysteries, until they call sweet bitter, and bitter sweet.”
This year in Inter 7 Diploma 6, The Unknown Fields Division continues to enter into new relations with the territories of science, nature and fiction. We explore the complex, rich and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures and probe our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world. In Galapagos we mused on evolution and in the Arctic we contemplated the end of the world and now we look to strange new beginnings as we embark on a voyage to bear witness to the reinvention of nature through technology in the Australian Never-Never.
The Division will head off on a dust blown road trip across Australia, into the vast and mysterious interior of this remote island continent in search of its ancient tribal hinterlands and its vast techno-landscapes. This land of rich resources and sparsely inhabited expanses houses huge feats of engineering; technological incisions into the narrative landscape of the Dreamtime – the creation mythology of the indigenous Aboriginals. Stories and ceremonies of dreaming beings that once shaped the sacred sites of mountain ranges and river-beds are now spun with the ghosts of modern technologies.
Here beneath the Southern Cross, telescopes listen to the beep-beep from alien worlds, solar arrays track the sun, observatories scan the Milky Way and all the while, machines harvest the earth for the precious ingredients of our daily lives. We will venture ‘out back’ into a hidden terrain - a strange landscape behind the scenes of modern living - visiting the vast mines of the interior, stalking mechanical beasts the size of buildings and exploring excavations the size of cities. Violent gestures of accelerated geology employed across these vast expanses create landscapes of erasure, excavation and re-articulation. Towering mountains of tailings, articulated valleys and vast lakes emerge from these incisions; re-made as new nature. We will be both visionaries and reporters, critically engaged with the conditions of today through speculation about the coming of tomorrow. Clambering over the wreckage of the future, our architecture will operate in the no-man’s land between the cultivated and the natural: a new Dreaming for a new kind of wilderness.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
The End of The World And Other Bedtime Stories
"The End of the Universe is very popular’, said Zaphod… ‘People like to dress up for it… Gives it a sense of occasion."
We stare out through Hubble at the light from the creation of the universe. At CERN we hurl electrons at each other looking for clues to its beginning only to set in motion our collective anxieties about our demise in black-hole oblivion. We sit in wait for the end of the world. We have always regaled ourselves with unnerving tales of a day yet to come. Tomorrow is a dark place and our culture is full of tales of a natural world out of control. Whether it be nuclear apocalypse, viral epidemic, tumbling asteroids or eco catastrophe our anxieties about our future demise chronicle the flaws and frailties of the everyday.
This year Inter 7 continues to slip suggestively between the real and the imagined, in the space where architecture enters into new relations with the territories of science and fiction. It is an experience of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures. Last year in the living wunderkammer of the Galapagos Islands, we explored the origin of the species and breathed life into a menagerie of architectural monsters. This year we will once again investigate our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world but this time we embark on a voyage to bear witness to the alien landscapes of technology. We have mused on evolution and now we will flirt with extinction.
We will set forth on a psychedelic road trip, a last chance saloon tour of sites at their point of collapse. We will clamber over the wreckage of the future to visit a no-man’s land between cultivation and nature and spin a cautionary tale of a new kind of wilderness. Here the radio crackles, skies darken, the weather warms, grey goo seeps from between the cracks, mutant crops roam free – it’s a beautiful day in the strange landscapes that lie behind the scenes of modern living.
Our projects may be militant solutions or last gasp redemptions; a call to arms or a head in the sand; swan songs, manifestos or glorious celebrations in the shadow of an imminent end. We will be both visionaries and reporters, part documentary and part science fiction, we will critically engage with the conditions of today through speculation about the coming of tomorrow. Standing at the brink we will contemplate an end that is laden with fears and inconsistencies yet at the same time proves to be ripe with unknown escapes and wondrous possibilities.
Necessary Monsters: Where the Wild Things Are
Ecuadorian Amazon - the Galapagos Islands
"Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century."
A dark menagerie inhabits the pages of Borges’ “Book of Imaginary Beings”. This register of curious specimens forms a zoo of mythology, a miscellany of ‘necessary monsters’ that are imbued with the dreams and fears of those who conjured them. These monsters inhabit both the realms of nature and culture ‘slipping suggestively’ between the actual and the imagined – a ‘combinatory capacity’ of infinite and unsettling possibilities.
Necessary excursions into myth and play can disrupt the surface of the familiar to reveal gaps of useful uncertainty. We can then wander off the map, through the speculative landscapes of science fiction, on a future safari into brave new worlds that have mutated from our own.
The Unknown Fields Division navigates this critical space between the real and the imagined, a space where architecture can enter into new relations with the territories of science and fiction. We will survey foreign fields whether literary, biological or electronic and experiment with devices such as futurology, film, gaming, animation, photography, exquisite drawing and meticulous making. We will consider the mythic dimensions of emerging technologies as a way of critically engaging with the conditions of today and the coming of tomorrow.
This year the Unknown Fields Division will trawl the wilds of genetic modification, augmented bodies and neo biological invention to query today’s idealistic and preservationist views of the natural world. We will re-imagine the quiet mysteries of wilderness as we encounter the novel reality of engineered ‘monsters’ and manufactured landscapes.
Our projects will be ‘necessary monsters’, fashioned through speculation and projection. As critical instruments they will instigate debate and raise questions about architectural practice in relation to the social and political consequences of various environmental and technological futures. It would seem that ‘going mad is the only way of staying sane’.