Machine Wilderness, an introduction

Machine Wilderness investigates the nature of human technology in our landscapes.

The challenges associated with the anthropocene make evident that the Earth’s systems are not separable. We can conceive of domains like the biosphere or technosphere, but they do not exist out there as independent realms. Its a hybrid environment. This may seem obvious, but is not manifest in human infrastructures and technologies that are deployed in our landscapes.

Even complex machines have been part of our environment for many centuries. Pioneers like al Jazari already made programmable automata around 1200AD. Machines came to dominate our landscapes dramatically since the Industrial Revolution. The word that comes to mind is brutality.

During these many centuries we have shared our landscapes with a myriad of all kinds of creatures; spiders, kangaroos, salmon, turkeys, ants, dolphins, hermit crabs.. all kinds of beings, each with their own perspective on things. But all those centuries we’ve designed our technologies in that shared environment to cater for the needs and preoccupations of only one species; one particular kind of ape. Our’s has been an unbelievably self-absorbed – and frankly tedious – design practice.

Edward O. Wilson described our current age of mass extinction as the ‘Age of Loneliness’ and in many ways our technologies in these shared environments have been technologies of loneliness.

Machine Wilderness aims to take a radical turn towards the great wealth that is present our landscapes. What if we were open to the great plurality and diversity of life? What could technology look like if our technologies related to landscapes in the way organisms do; participating in local material flows, food-chains and layers of communication? How do you address the levels of complexity, subtlety and grace within natural systems? What would an ecologically inclusive design practice look like? How can this be open to a multispecies perspective?

We propose that these levels of complexity are best addressed in situ, rather than a clinical lab setting. Our program is therefor centered on field-work sessions where we develop methodologies and prototypes that try to engage with local environmental complexity.

These prototypes are not conceived of as devices aimed at efficiently performing a rudimentary utilitarian task, but rather as man-made nodes that act according to, or enable flows and processes in the environment. A series of landscapes serve as case studies to engage with distinct sets of circumstances and move towards diverse ways of knowing.

This program starts from the viewpoint of organisms and technologies as expression of habitats and works within a longterm view of interacting populations surfing collectively on the geological and meteorological currents that carry them.

Medieval robotics; a miniature from the Automata of al-Jaziri or the Book of Knowledge of Mechanical Devices.
from Latin machina: “engine, device, instrument”
from Greek makhana: “device, means”
from Proto Indo-European: maghana“that which enables”, from root magh“to be able, have power”
c. 1200, “wild, uninhabited, or uncultivated place,” with -ness
from Old English wild-deor: “wild animal, wild deer”
Similar formation in Dutch: wildernis, German: Wildernis, though the usual form there is Wildnis.
note: Machine Wilderness was the theme given by Andrea Polli to the wonderful ISEA 2012 symposium, and originates from writings of cultural geographer Ron Horvath in the 1960s. It is used here with full respect for that context.

Theun Karelse

Theun Karelse studied fine-arts at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam before joining FoAM, a translocal platform for artistic research. Machine Wilderness was born from a longer term research project by Theun into augmented ecologies, and developed into a program in cooperation with Alice Smiths of Zone2Source.


Alice Smits

Alice Smits studied Art History at the University of Amsterdam. She ran a project space Hotel New York at PS1 in New York, was a curator at Smart Project Space, Amsterdam, was the co-director of the Amakula Kampala Cultural Foundation in Kampala, Uganda and is currently the initiator and director of Zone2Source.

Main contributers include:

Amber Griffiths is a co-founder of the FoAM Kernow studio with a background in applied biosciences research, currently navigating the gaps between society, research, education and policy, and creeping towards generalism.


Ian Ingram is a Los Angeles-based artist who is interested in the manmade object’s future as a willful entity and the nature of communication.


Ivan Henriques is a transdisciplinary artist and researcher working in multimedia installations examining living systems.


Judith van der Elst is an anthropologist / archaeologist specialized in humanistic approaches in the geosciences.


Antti Tenetz is a artist and naturalist at the crossroads of media-, bio- and urban arts with strong current of Interdisciplinary Sci/Art approach.


Špela Petrič combines natural sciences, new media, performance in her artistic practices.


Kenzo Kusuda is a choreographer, dancer, performer, improviser.


Clemens Driessen a lecturer / researcher in cultural geography at Wageningen University, Environmental Sciences


Matthew Creasey is a behavioural ecologist, freelance writer, and science communicator. He is a junior editor at the magazine Current Conservation and Chair of the British Science Association (Cornwall Branch).

about FoAM:

FoAM is a translocal cultural laboratory re-imagining possible futures at the interstices of art, science, nature and everyday life. Current studios: FoAM Brussels, FoAM Amsterdam, FoAM Kernow Machine Wilderness is a program run by the Amsterdam studio.


about Zone2Source:

Zone2Source is an international platform which invites artists to develop projects inside and outside of the glass pavilions of the Amstelpark, in which alternative practices and experiences of our ‘natural’ environment are being proposed.  Zone2Source is concerned with a return to the source to observe and experience anew in order to explore new relations between humans, nature and technology. In exhibitions, workshops, presentations and discussions alternative imaginations are being offered to reorient ourselves with what a 21st century way of dealing with our world could be.

website: zone2source