Artificial Ecologies – Venice

Independent curator Roland Fischer and Artistic Director Paolo Rosso of MicroClima invited Theun Karelse, Alice Smits and Ivan Henriques for a presentation of their work, to explore the possibility of collaboration and the potential of the Venetian Lagoon for Machine Wilderness field-work.

Alice Smith presented an overview of Machine Wilderness and other projects she hosts at Zone2Source in the Amstelpark in Amsterdam. Theun Karelse presented his Machine Wilderness research in the context of his longer running research into augmented ecologies. Ivan Henriques who was a workshop leader in the Machine Wilderness program presented his work in combinations of robotics and living organisms.


MicroClima is situated in a large greenhouse near the Biennial grounds in Venice.


Paolo took us into the Venice Lagoon to explore its potential for Machine Wilderness fieldwork. We visited various islands and discovered more of its complex history and human impact on the ecosystem of the Lagoon. It is certainly a vast expanse with a great variety of islands. Some inhabited, some abandoned, some are barely accessible for humans, some with a remarkable history like the quarantaine area that was used during the plague. In many ways this feels like a place with an amazing potential for Machine Wilderness fieldwork. All these differing biomes are like different stages of human presence in the landscape and different balances of influence. In some areas humans are now completely dominant, in others this dominance is waning, and only relics remain that are slowly eroded by natural processes. These time scales are particularly interesting in terms of our topic. The Lagoon draws you powerfully to see human technology from a longer perspective.


This is a derelict fortress on one of the islands in the Lagoon.


And below, a visit to what is probably the earliest settlement in the Lagoon.

By |2017-11-06T22:02:17+00:00October 25th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Artificial Ecologies – Venice

Machine Wilderness at Transmediale 2017


Machine Wilderness investigates the nature of technology in our landscapes. We think that an investigation of those hybrid ecologies is important in addressing our present situation of global environmental crisis. 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; a particular kind of ape. When you really think about that, it reveals an unbelievably self-absorbed design practice. And it has come at a price.

Edward O. Wilson describes 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 takes a radical turn towards the diversity in our shared environments. We identify the recent appearance of autonomous systems in biomes such as coral reefs, rain forests and rivers as sign of change in human technologies. They appear at a time of deep environmental crisis often dealing directly with the collapse of natural processes in ecosystems. In a way the crisis is bringing them out, it is forcing us to find design practices that are inclusive of non-humans.

This first generation of autonomous systems – the drones, ROV’s, UAV’s – are almost exclusively aimed at solving single issues in damaged ecosystems. They operate in a narrow bandwidth of landscape management. Machine Wilderness states the need to take our design processes much further, beyond crisis management or biomimicri, towards participation. We are interested in exploring the question of what design methods would look like for engaging with full environmental complexity.

Machine Wilderness is not about promoting the use robots in our landscapes or even environmental engineering in general. We identify the autonomous robot as a prime candidate for learning how our technologies relate to natural processes, and to learn this relationship can move towards holistic participation or even co-evolution. Robotic systems can move, sense and act, so they manifest themselves in the landscape almost like animals do. We think this exposes more of the issues of relating to a given landscape than, say, sustainable architecture.

Our program is centered on field-work sessions where we develop and prototype systems that try to engage with the local environmental complexity. The landscapes serve as case studies. This enables us to engage with real circumstances and stay away from generalizations and theoretical abstractions.


Image by Max Werner

Transmediale workshop:
In this workshop during Transmediale we ask if the behavior of a local animal can be a guide for designing technologies that are adapted to that environment. Through observation we want to build up a picture of a typical daily routine of an animal is really like.

[what are it’s daily goals?]
[what are it’s daily challenges?]
[what opportunities is it looking for?]
[how / where does it get information to act on?]
[what social communities does it belong to?]
[how does it avoid danger?]
[what is it’s energy source?]
[how does it celebrate it’s existence?]

By observing the phenology – the full spectrum of behaviour – of a local animal we aim form a picture of what it means to participate in the environment locally. This workshop investigates if the daily routine of an animal can serve as inspiration for designing autonomous systems to deal with these same issues. Can observation be the basis for designing technologies adapted to local conditions?

Ecologists are experienced observers of animal behaviour. Matthew Creasey is a behavioural ecologist who specializes in bird behavior. He introduced the idea of the ecological niche – the position or role an organisms holds within the ecological community – and he gave an overview of observation techniques used in ecology:

Focal-Animal Sampling – record all of the actions of one individual for a specified time period.

Continuous Group Sampling – record all of the behaviours that occur while the group is being watched, e.g. preening, feeding, flying, displaying, and the time & duration of the behavior.

Instantaneous Sampling – record the behaviour of an individual at predetermined time intervals.

Scan Sampling – record the behaviour of all group members at predetermined time intervals.

Sampling Occurrences of a Specific Behaviour – record each time a chosen behaviour is observed during a specified time period.

Ethogram a catalogue or inventory of behaviours or actions exhibited by an animal.

Then we went outside for fieldwork around the Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, starting with some excursuses in direct perception. After this we collectively explored some of the surrounding park with Matthew to get a sense of the observation methodologies. This was followed by an hour of individual exploration.

In the direct vicinity of the Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt participants observed mushrooms, trees, mussels, many different species of birds, moths, mosquito, bamboo and woodlice. Various tracks revealed activities of animals like woodpecker holes, hares, mice.  Many processes and relations in the landscape were observed: relationships between trees, the dance of mosquito.

Participants became aware of different scales of space, different scales of time – a butterfly may sit on my hand for a few minutes, but for that butterfly that may be a significant part of its lifetime. We considered the nocturnal world, seeing organisms as evolving processes rather than fixed. How do animals view us? Does weather affect their psychology? And what looks like playful behaviour in a pond in the summer, we may associate very differently in the cold of winter.

Some people tried to understand behaviour by copying it, flicking leaves on the floor with a small twig. Tried to feel what it is like to sing like a bird continuously and ongoing – what the duration of it does to your psychology. What is it like when a bird makes eye contact, or when you meet a mouse? Could we learn form corals how to live in heigh density of neighbours? How do the bodies of animals influence the way they relate to others – we relate differently to birds that mushrooms which don’t have heads with eyes. Could we bridge the different sensory worlds between species with technology? Even similar senses can be very different between species – birds seeing gravitational patterns.

To close the workshop we asked if the exercises with observation seemed relevant to the context of machine wilderness.Participants felt that the exercise exposed how hard it is to move beyond our given senses as humans and our own domains of experience, but that the challenge is enjoyable and relevant. They felt is not so interesting if it literally takes an animal as the starting point of a design method: it is not so interesting to replace an animal with a machine copy. It’s potential lies more with looking at behaviour – the social dynamics of groups of organisms or interspecies interactions in a landscape and finding new modes of relating that fit within that.

In conclusion we feel that real observation needs more time and that it would be interesting to do the same kind of workshop over a period of a week or more. Then you can really start to get a deeper understanding of the animals. This is something to try out in a future session of fieldwork.

A ‘raw narration’ by Julien Bellanger from Pingbase.


By |2017-03-06T15:58:51+00:00February 25th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Machine Wilderness at Transmediale 2017

Machine Wilderness at the V&A in London


In a yearly festival called the Digital Design Weekend, the Victoria and Albert museum opens its doors to the public for a hands-on experience of emerging technologies and design. Machine Wilderness set up in the museum garden to show prototypes from our program to human and non-human visitors.

We were joined by Ian Ingram from L.A. who participated in the Ars Bioarctica expedition in Machine Wilderness and by Matthew Creasey a behavioral ecologist who participated in the Cornwall session. Contributions included works by Spela Petric, Antti Tenetz, and a prototype from Cornwall was shown made by the group led by Ivan Henriques including Justin Marshall and Jo McCallum.

The museum reached full capacity, so we probably beat last year’s record of 14.000 visitors. We were met with great enthusiasm, interesting questions, and the occasional song. Telling your story several hundred times a day takes a lot of energy. But we handled it pretty well.

Thanks to Irini Papadimitriou and the V&A staff for two inspiring days!



By |2016-09-28T18:28:24+00:00September 28th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Machine Wilderness at the V&A in London

Machine Wilderness @ Pixelache 16



Wilderness Machines as empathic agents.
Interfaces for Empathy is the brilliant theme of this year’s Pixelache festival. In many ways it also describes what we’re aiming for in Machine Wilderness. Seen from our perspective empathy is one of the main characteristics we hope to generate. Current human technologies and infrastructures tend to dominate the landscape and their main focus is to serve people. In Machine Wilderness we’re looking at technology from the perspective of the other 99% that we share our environment with. Can our technologies participate in rather than dominate the complex ecosystems in which they are situated?

To explore this, we focus on robotics as dynamic agents in landscapes. Our field-work brings together mixed teams of people with varied backgrounds, working and teams work together on prototypes for specific landscapes based on local knowledge. In these diverse teams, different ways of knowing are pooled and varied ways of perceiving the environment are explored. The robot-prototype relates to it’s location as an animal or plant does to it’s biome. So technology becomes an expression of a specific ecosystem or landscape in the same way organisms are. The idea is not to promote the presence of robotics in nature or the use of  autonomous objects for solving our ecological crisis. That would just extend the idea of a human dominated technological fix as the way forward. Instead, we believe that designing artificial organisms with an ecological role helps to reveal many of the layers of interaction between technology and the environment. Current technological systems are out there without much considerations for nonhuman users. We’ve long underestimated the impact of our technologies on the environment. As a result of this, our planet has formed scar-tissue over a recent period which may soon be named the Anthropocene. In that sense our technologies need to function more like interfaces for empathy. The prototypes developed by teams in a series of field-work session throughout Europe have been created from that perspective of empathy, intimacy and participation.

Hacking Helsinki
During a meeting at the Day of Environmental Philosophy in the Netherlands Clemens Driessen mentioned that his interest in the use of technology in relation to farm animals recently had started extending to wild animals too. He’d just written an abstract called ‘SatNav for Wolves’ which explores the subject of how human technologies could facilitate animals to navigate human-dominated landscapes more easily and on their own terms. This became the starting point for our Pixelache workshop. Like in all other Machine Wilderness fieldwork sessions we would take the local landscape as our case-study. How can Helsinki be hacked for more non-human life to exist there? The workshop would be an exploration of urban mixed zones in Helsinki to prototype technological interventions for wild animals to navigate the local Anthropocenic landscapes on their own terms.


The method
Scott Smith works in facilitating groups of people – from designers to government – to imagine and develop alternate future scenarios. For this workshop we investigated with him the possibility of using cards as a way of building narratives that could help think about Helsinki from the perspective of non-humans. The cards would be a quick fire deck of cards build up from observations made during an exploration of Helsinki during the workshop. By combining cards from several categories we’d get unexpected combinations from which to work. From experience Scott knows it’s best if participants build up the deck of cards during the exploration without knowing it’s purpose. This prevents participants to think towards outcomes or be limited by existing conventions. Based on Scott’s advice Theun and Clemens came up with this structure: animals, activity, infrastructure. Three teams would go out and look at the perspective of one of these three themes. Then these would be gathered and made into three pacs of cards. By randomly picking cards from each pack you would get: an animal + an activity + an infrastructure (dung beetle + hibernating + railway station) This would form the basis for brainstorming and first conceptual designs.

The fieldwork
During practice the final preparations Clemens and Theun found that the distinction between an activity and an infrastructure wasn’t always clear. Should we describe it as flow of traffic or highway? In the end we decided to go in two teams. A team lead by Clemens and Antti Tenetz would look at animals and plants: this could be either the species that were there or species that are currently missing from Helsinki, species that urban infrastructure has pushed out. The other team would be lead by Theun and would look at infrastructures: what is there in the city that could be hacked for non-human habitation.

Before going out Theun gave an overview of what has happened in the Machine Wilderness so far and an overview of recent developments in robotics and information systems that are part of ecosystems and landscapes. Clemens introduced the participants to his research into technology relating to farm animals and his interest in exploring the SatNav for Wolves idea.


We had a pretty mixed team of people and backgrounds – garden design, politics, art, film, etc. So we set out with Clemens & Antti leading the animals team. They stuck to their task with rigor by listing animals and plants, bioprospecting the former asylum grounds, a cycle path between a glass façade and sheetrock, and the nineteenth century graveyard. Theun’s team however soon went in a radically different direction. The argument for that was that animals don’t look at their environment with this kind of intellectual focus: a squirrel doesn’t look at a drainage pipe thinking in which ways it can be applied / repurposed. Animals may relate to their environment more by direct experience. To look at the city from their point of view we adopted a mode of working more starting from our own direct experience. Each team member took some time apart to just experience what is there. Some explored nuts and fruits in the area by touch, finding that texture is also a means of communication. Others noted how one’s perspective could shift from being on top of the land to being at the bottom of the atmosphere. This resulted in more abstract cards like: orientation through sound, blindness of function, taste triggers memory, locate comfort zone. Meanwhile Clemens harvested different forms activity from these both these sets, like: predation, adapting, hibernating, migrating or germinating. We then proceeded to combine the three packs of cards and brainstorm on the results together. We would pick an animal + a plant + an activity + one of the abstract ones.

One of the combinations that came out was for example: chestnut + mimicking + finding patterns

This led us to discuss an existing project where drones are used for planting trees by shooting seeds into the soil. And how it could be interesting to link this with mimicking the natural patterns of seed dispersal for trees. We discussed how seeds are also strategies of dispersal by animals and these lead to different ways in which trees and shrubs live, in close communities that benefit from cross-pollination or far apart which makes a species less prone to disease.

The results
Some of the combinations were pretty tough, but all of them would trigger an interesting debate, often by wildly associating ideas and experiences. The sets of cards we gathered from our expeditions changed a bit in their focus. For some this was a positive thing in that it enables a process that is not narrowed down to solving an exercise. But others felt our aim had become unclear or didn’t quite know how to contribute. Overall it seemed that participants found the workshop to be interesting and we actually worked the entire day. As an experiment with this kind of methodology I think it would benefit from having more categories that are less abstract. Maybe next time we should include textures, senses, seasons, natural landscape elements and artificial elements. These could then maybe form larger sets of cards to work with? But as a first test in using cards as triggers for empathic perspectives on the landscape of Helsinki, and for reimagining current interspecies technological interfaces, it seems our day worked pretty well.

Thanks to all our participants – with special thanks to Antti – for your contribution and to Petri and Mari and the whole Pixelache crew for making this great festival happen!

By |2016-09-28T18:17:48+00:00September 28th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Machine Wilderness @ Pixelache 16

Ars Bioarctica

FieldRobotics session at Kilpisjarvi biological research station some 300 km into the polar circle in northern Finland.

As part of the Ars Bioarctica residency program we proposed a team residency consisting of L.A. based artist/maker Ian Ingram, Finnish artist Antti Tenetz and Theun Karelse.

The biological research station has been set up at Kilpisjarvi because of the relative slow pass and simplicity of the ecology in arctic Lapland. The extremely short growing season tampers the metabolism of the landscape so much that remains of a WW2 airplane crash are still visible some 80years later. Vegetation still has not regrown there. The visibility of causal relations in the landscape make it a particularly apt theater for the science of ecology, and for the research questions that Machine Wilderness asks; introducing technological interventions in this setting.

The team arrived at the station after several days of travel including some 7 hours on a bus. It’s the summer equinox. This means permanent daylight. It’s a strange thing to witness when a day doesn’t end. According to our host Leena who lives locally, people in the area just choose their preferred rhythm of sleep. Basically this is an ongoing day that lasts hundreds of hours. Local wildlife has adapted to this, with Cloudberry as an extreme example, this little plant only fruits where permanent daylight showers it with the energy it needs to fruit. It basically fruits in one day, but one that lasts hundreds of hours. It only does so here in the extreme north of Europe.

We start immediately after arriving with opening the windows, setting up equipment and establishing a ‘meat-pile’ to engage with local wildlife. The team will work on developing a robot that interacts with the local crows, adapt the camera system of a drone to see in the spectrum that local hawks see in and hunt rodents, and during the residency we explore additional experiments in ‘robochory‘ (the dispersal of plant seeds by machines).

A video impression of the residency by Theun: (click on image)

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By |2016-07-16T20:55:02+00:00July 16th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Ars Bioarctica

A Keystone Arching to Bridge the Gap – Machines in the Wilderness


A text by ecologist Matthew Creasey, based on his presentation during the Symbiotic Systems workshop. Matt was also a participant in the Cornwall workshop.

Arch – from the latin arcus, meaning ‘any part of a curve’
Architect – from the Greek arkhitéktōn, meaning ‘chief builder’

  • Arch – chief or principle
  • Tecton – builder
  • Derivatives such as architective, meaning ‘used in or proper for building’, may be formed from the Latin tectus, meaning ‘to cover, shelter or protect’


Keystone – “A central stone at the summit of an arch…locking the whole together” *

Keystone species – “a species exerting a major influence on an ecosystem, [especially] one on whose activities the survival of other species depends” *

            *definitions from the OED online (


Humans and ecology:

Since the 1st or 2nd century BC, and perhaps earlier, various peoples have positioned keystones at the zenith of their arches, to lock the other stones in place and distribute weight evenly among them. Roman architects, master builders, used them in the construction of the cities to provide shelter, food and water to their flourishing civilizations, which in turn were incendiary for so much human artistic, scientific, political, societal and technological innovation.

However, although such keystones have been at the top and centre of human building for millennia, they have held their place in the anthropogenic world for a brief moment compared to the period of time for which another type of keystone has been in its position, locking together Earth’s ecosystems. Keystone species are organisms which fulfill a pivotal and structural role within ecosystems. Their influence cascades through the web of life and to remove such a species would leave a missing link causing the collapse of many ecological interactions and other local extinctions. One example of a keystone species is the humble fig wasp (Agaonidae). Each wasp is only 2mm long and lives for just 2 or 3 days, but they are the sole pollinators of fig trees (Ficus spp., Moraceae). Females hatch out of the fruits, taking with them pollen, which they transport to other figs in the area as they find figs in which to lay their own eggs. And the figs are vital. Not only do they produce bounties of fruit which feed many species, but different trees do so at different times, meaning that figs are almost always available somewhere in the forest. Thus a critical food source for a whole pantheon of species relies on an insect no larger than a flea.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 23.30.24

To give an idea of scale, a Vespula vulgaris worker is 10x larger than the fig wasp.

But keystones are a comparatively small element of both ecological systems, and of human architectural design. So why have I focused on them here? Well, I think they exemplify two themes which are central to the concept of machine wilderness: (1) the interconnectedness of our world, and (2) how introducing or removing a single element in a system or structure can have a fundamental impact on that system’s ability to function. In explorations of machines in the wild, other ecological concepts like food webs, niches, and mutualisms could all also provide inspiration for ways to join the the human and wild made.


The workshops:

At Machine Wilderness Kernow, various ecological concepts were explored in the mudflats and woods of the Cornish coast. Water, reeds, the salt and the air. Most groups envisaged and built waterborne creatures. One swam across the surface of the creek, propelled by the wind, and harvesting plastics using its extended arm. The creation of a 2nd group took the shape of an electrically charged, wind and solar powered jellyfish, which collected and filtered out pollutants from the murky waters of the creek. Another lived freely among the reeds. Each individual collected biological, climatic, or chemical information, and shared this with others of its kind, collectively building a repository of information as deep as the surrounding mud.

In Amsterdam, participants spent their time exploring the lakes and woods of Amstelpark, deep within the urban landscape. Inspired by other projects which captured methane, a key gas in global climate change, which is produced by many forms of life.

Wherever we are in the world, the concepts of Machine Wilderness could, will, have relevance in an evolving and changing world. Two different approaches naturally emerge when exploring and implementing the ideas of Machine Wilderness – (1) biomimicry and (2) integration. In the first, humans can find inspiration from processes and species in the wild, and copy their designs to create new and innovative machines. In the second, through collaboration between ecologists with a complex understanding of biological systems, and the creative minds of artists, inventors, technologists and creators, we can find ways to integrate human made creations into natural systems, or natural phenomena into our human worlds. Thus, perhaps, we can bridge the gap between the wild and the human, reach common ground, and explore new, innovation and sustainable possibilities for the future.

And finally to return to the humble fig wasp, one might say that they are already ‘bionic’ organisms. The figs into which females must bore through to lay their eggs, are tremendously strong. To puncture them, the wasps have developed zinc tipped ovipositors, metalled spearheads on biotic birth canals to solve a puzzle of nature. Mechanics which truly are wild.

By |2016-05-11T21:55:04+00:00May 11th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on A Keystone Arching to Bridge the Gap – Machines in the Wilderness

Symbiotic Systems workshop, April 29-30, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 21.38.36

Prototyping symbiotic sytems based on specific landscapes in Amstelpark.

Artist Ivan Henriques led this two day workshop starting with a nice extensive introduction to his work in creating hybrid systems like Jurema Action Plant, Symbiotic Machine and his recent Caravel.


The first day started with terrible weather. Luckily we had a fantastic introduction to ecology through Skype by Matthew Creasey who participated in the Cornwall workshop. In his presentation he explored the ecology of machines in the wilderness. His thoughts are published in more detail in this blog post. We found having an expert tele-present works really well and what could fit better to Machine Wilderness that a Skype ecologist?!


After lunch the sky looked brighter and we set out for an exploration of the Amstelpark’s varied landscapes and what symbiotic systems we could imagine there. Not from a viewpoint of eco-engineering, but from the perspective that technological systems and infrastructures are already intertwined with landscapes but not very symbiotically. Our systems and infrastructures are predominantly and perhaps progressively not designed to share that space, but dominate it. The extent of this may be illustrated by the fact that we’re discussing weather our dominance deserves to be named as a new epoch; the Anthropocene. Machine Wilderness and Ivan’s Symbiotic Systems workshop re-imagines this power-balance by prototyping participating systems. Through participation we may relate more intimately and more holistically with biotic environments, ecological flows and their energy regimes.



On the second day scientist Vincent Friebe of Biosolar Cells with the help of solar cells expert Dr. Magdalena Marszalek introduced us to technology that bridges biological and man-made energy regimes: dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). He gave a fast and furious reminder of photosynthesis and set participants out on a mission to collect pigment/dye from sources in Amstelpark like flowers, fruits, and leaves that grow there. The team went out and soon spread all over the park kneeling and bending over possible pigment sources.

We used these materials and incorporated them into dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC). The pigment is extracted by grinding the material to a pulp with a mortar and pestle, with liquid nitrogen if needed, which makes the material brittle and easy to pulverize down to a fine powder. Water or acetone is added to the pulp, which is then strained through a cheese cloth to extract the pigment in a liquid form. The resulting dyes were kept in little jars and catalogued, and then painted aquarelle style on the substrates. Functionality was assessed by measuring voltage and current, with rather spectacular results!


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Schematic of electron flow through a Dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC).


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Catalogue of various Pigments, pigment sources, and application on TiO2 plates.



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Various Pigment sources in Amstel Park.


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Catalogue of pigment sources.


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Putting the D in DSSC.


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By |2016-05-31T16:49:36+00:00May 11th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Symbiotic Systems workshop, April 29-30, 2016

Forest Bathing workshop, April 7-9, 2016

Developing digital technologies for the enhancement of sensory experience

The Forest Bathing workshop is based on the idea that immersion in forest/green environments provides unique and essential benefits for organisms, and to sketch out ways in which our technological systems – as extensions of our own faculties – could become more multisensorial or even synesthetic.


During three days a number of people came together to listen to, otherwise experience, participate in, and discuss about, the sensory richness of our environments and how we can become more deeply embedded in the semiosphere, as participatory learners and designers.


Since the days were framed by the ideas that underpin biosemiotics, we set out to make more sense of the signals in our surroundings, and the first day was focused on migration. Specifically, what happens when plants migrate from their natural habitat, in this case the foothills of the Apennines in central Italy, to a lowland park location. To observe this, of course, is not possible within the scope of this short workshop, but a begin was made with planting and discussions followed.

Plants often migrate to other parts of the world, but mostly assisted by animals, and humans have carried plants over great distances for their interest. Plants can adapt, but we do not really know how they fully change their life and behavior. The idea behind the planting in Amstelpark of Italian plants was based on a small research project (Majectic that showed that plants that were transplanted from their natural habitat started to produce a different odour, even though they may still look the same.

Questions in our group arose… how would insects be attracted to these migrant plants, what other signals have changed that we are not aware of?

We already learned from the lecture given by Claud Biemans in the morning that some plants are no longer able to self procreate or bear fruit. And it was great to wonder about the life in the soil…. The Italian plants came from a poor clay soil in which they thrive well, now they are in a dark rich soil from a Dutch park…. To be continued.


The following day we continued our discussions and focused on what kind of methods and instruments could we use to find out about signals that we do not know anything about yet, characteristics of our life support that escape our attention, or no longer are aware of. Exploration! and translation: how can we make these signals sense-able within our limited sensing range?

The odor of plants is intriguing and as part of the afternoon was spent prototyping a field instrument to identify odors outdoors. Progress was made with the intention to continue this effort in later events, hopefully in the natural habitat of our migrant plants.

The second day ended with a wonderful dinner featuring the taste of the Italian location, processed by means of fermentation, cooking and other laborious efforts. Wines, truffle cheese and risotto with saffron…we are grateful that people are still transforming these wonderful resources in incredible foods and drinks.

(Italian contributions to the dinner: wine from; saffron from ; cheese from and some other good things from the land of Montefeltro)


The third day was a special experience lead by Sissel Marie Tonn and Jonathan Reus. During a short presentation in the morning Sissel and Jon showed how they are developing an ongoing project focused on a new way of mapping and experiencing the world. Starting from very special places, for instance where old growth is still allowed to thrive, but where other plants have also been introduced by early explorers and scientists. Collection in, now old, archives are evidence of these efforts, but also a fossil of what once was. Sissel and Jon use these archives as a springboard to find new ways to experience the living world, called Cartographies of Human Sensation.

During the afternoon we all used the devices created by Sissel and Jon, that translated and amplified our experiences, to walk and map the park landscape. Walking with your own rhythm and questioning what this means, puts you in touch with your surrounding in novel ways, the ‘silent’ vegetation, and the presence of other park visitors. It challenged your spatial consciousness, closeness, distance and so on. Experience the world, it is bigger than you can ever imagine!

We hope we can continue all these efforts in new settings …



By |2016-05-10T21:03:23+00:00April 17th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Forest Bathing workshop, April 7-9, 2016

Fásach Innealra


Fásach Innealra = Machine Wilderness in Gaelic.

Notes from Default a yearly voyage following a fold in the map of Europe. This year the fold led us on a straight line through Ireland.


On archaeology:
Initially I had archaeology in mind as my focus during Default in Ireland, having read about the research into rich ceremonial practices in Western European bog lands I was keen to find some way of doing roadside archaeology. The reality of the Irish countryside however, already became apparent on Tory Island, the magnificent little island the team prepared their trip on. At the Atlantic side of the island huge and spectacular cliffs fall hundreds of meters down to the waves crashing into them below. In this idyllic location some cliffs seemed to be used by the local inhabitants as trash-dumps.

This wasn’t a local phenomenon. Wherever we went there was a liberal distribution of trash scattered around almost cheerfully. This somehow made the idea of archaeology less appealing. You want to dig for something and whatever you discover is more attractive if its old. The older the better, really. In Ireland you don’t have to dig, there is stuff to be found everywhere, but most of it isn’t old at all, it’s from Mac Donalds or Tesco’s. So it doesn’t feel like your doing archaeology strutting along a roadside, you’re just picking up trash. It could have been interesting to just collect all of it. The sheer volume of disused artefacts available could have made that an interesting challenge. But soon something else gained my interest, already on the first day of cycling we encountered vast areas of turf.

A machine landscape:
The culmination of this was in the Clonfert area. We arrived there late in the afternoon in the second week of cycling and somehow the landscape just seemed to stop. The team was faced by what looked like a brown sea that stretched all the way to the horizon. A dry brown sea and in the middle of it, far away, stood a large factory building. Temporary train-lines ran along various tracks over the flat surface. Large machines were standing where the workers had left them that afternoon. This was an immense machine landscape of industrial turf mining. Somehow Ireland had a turf power plant! Sings warned of the machines crossing the road like moose in Scandinavia.

It just so happens that I had been preparing, before leaving, for Machine Wilderness and somehow this was it; a machine eroded landscape. We joined one last worker in his shipping-container / office. The man explained that the turf was almost depleted. Soon they would reach the bottom of the layer that must have been many meters deep long ago. On the wall was a small poster. It was guide on how to deal with archaeological remains embedded it the turf. One picture had a shoe on it, another showed what looked like wooden walls of an ancient little house. So some archaeology after all.

St Brendan’s tree:
In the middle of it stood an ancient Cathedral a testimony to the long economic significance of the turf resources here. The 14th century building looked massive and pagan. We spent some time there until we found a notice saying ‘stay-out, dangerous trees’. This called for investigation. We encountered there a scene I had never witnessed before, there was a big imposing tree there full of pictures, baby-clothing, Christian paraphernalia, underwear, candles in a big jumble of offerings. It looked African, or Indonesian, but somehow this was an Irish pagan cult site. So it was all there at Clonfert, the Industrial age, the Dark ages, and pre historic ages, all at the surface.


I made some sketches of machines that collect trash in the landscape and hang them in a tree: St Brendan’s machines. The journey through Ireland had a huge impact on my thinking about Machine Wilderness, a country where spirituality is still very closely tied to nature, but where the bogs are no longer sacred offering sites, but have also become synonymous with trash dumps. That is a dark ecology.



By |2016-03-15T18:44:44+00:00March 15th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Fásach Innealra