WINTER 2011_STRANGE TIMES: Far North Alaska 0 - 180 Longitude


“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." Kurt Vonnegut

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.

11/12 Division Roster

Leaders: Liam Young and Kate Davies

Troops: Samantha Lee, William Gowland, Ali Asad, Francesco Belfiore, Hannah Durham, Soonil Kim, Alex Laing, Dessislava Lyutakova, Mond Qu, Ashkan Sadeghi, Reo Suzuki, Rob Taylor

Here be Dragons: The Unstable Landscapes of GPS by Will Gowland
Unknown Fields Department of Landscape Glitches_Winter 2011_Far North Alaska 71°17’23.2″N 156°46’38.7″W

The world is now concealed and manipulated in ways that make answering the question of where am I an impossibility. Glitches in the big and fragile infrastructures of Global Positioning systems mean we are sometimes both here and there, as a pulsing blue dot locates us to within 500metres. What are the implications of a navigational system based solely on the virtual? Will Gowland, in our Department of Landscape Glitches has jammed the GPS networks and revealed an alternative virtual topography, a territorial architecture of spoofed cartography. It is an emerging landscape that operates and exits in two parallel worlds, the physical and the virtual. Imaginary protest icebergs drift through the autonomously navigated oil shipping lanes. We get lost in a wilderness of illegal signal jamming formations and we glimpse the faint flicker of covert militarised GPS territories, super stable under a secret sky of black satellites. Some are landscapes of misdirection, others are navigational markers guiding one safely through unstable terrain. We now put our faith in a digital territory that is just as unknown and fallible as the physical.

Imaginary gps ghost protest icebergs drift through the autonomously navigated oil shipping lanes.


Oil reserves are hidden below GPS mountains

An illegal oil field is hidden in a GPS spoof, a digital landscapes of misdirection.

Sedna, The Worlds Fastest Landscape Supercomputer by Samantha Lee
Unknown Fields Department of Landscape Glitches_Winter 2011_Far North Alaska 71°17'23.2"N 156°46'38.7"W

As a landscape in the state of becoming, its value is contested through its potential futures. Supercomputers become the new oracles as they attempt to calculate these variables to inform policy and long term strategy.  How much is a caribou worth? And is that worth more than the unknown quantity of oil in the Arctic Refuge? Is the cost of extracting that unknown quantity of oil, lower than the cost of cleaning up the possibility of an oil spill? As these supercomputers model the complexity of nature, they become increasingly indistinguishable from the landscape they are modeling. Samantha Lee in our Bureau of Earthly Computation has designed a hypertext landscape as a probability machine, a nature reserve re engineered as the worlds fastest supercomputer, where calculated predictions coexist with the unpredictable. Market values are attached to bio indicators, landscape survey equipment now measure computational outputs, nature documentaries are reimagined as petaflops of risk calculations and the multiple futures of the Arctic Refuge becomes a new form of representing the liminal landscapes at our Northern edges.

The swarming processing power of snow geese migrations have been used to run oil futures algorithms, where small ripples in the system are amplified to create changes in flocking permutations.

Rivers are manipulated and redesigned as large-scale fluidic hardware. Output ponds form computational microclimates of changing pH levels and plankton populations, as botanical processors run calculations through the capillaries of leaves.

When the majority of the system lies dormant, the inuit residents of Kaktovik survey the land through observations.

Ghosts in the Spectrum by Alex Laing
Unknown Fields Invisible Cartographies Laboratory_Winter 2011_Far North Alaska 71°23'32.0"N 156°29'16.7"W


In the Unknown Fields Invisible Cartographies Laboratory Alex Laing, sought to document an unseen territory. Using military grade infrared film, once used to spot artifical camoflauge in the vietnam jungle he was able to document a living landscape buried under the snow.

Using night vision goggles and drawing in the landscape using infrared powders we are able to create invisible architectures and structures that can only be revealed through contemporary optical technologies of landscape surveying and night vision imaging.

We have designed an invisible city on the arctic ice shelf, hidden in the spectrum, revealed only through infrared optical technology.

The ghosts in the spectrum are an alternative navigational system that marks sites of traditional Inuipiat myth and story. The ravens wing, now seen from the air by a passing oil geology survey plane.

Seen through the navigation scope of a passing oil tanker the traditional stories of place are now visible in economic surveys and land value mapping.

An invisible city. A landscape remapped through its mythology. An architecture of the invisible spectrum. Read through contemporary technologies of landscape navigation and scientific survey. Evidence of a cultural relationship to landscape infiltrating the data set of scientific, economic and technological view of that very same landscape.

Territorial Pissing by Francesco Belfiore
Unknown Fields Invisible Cartographies Laboratory_Winter 2011_Far North Alaska 62°46'12.0"N 150°03'12.1"W


Alaska preserves the image of wilderness in contemporary culture. It is also referred to as ‘the last frontier’, an idiom that constructs the perception of this remote territory as a pristine natural landscape. This cultural construct couldn’t be further from reality. The territories designated for preservation are defined by the politics of land use and economic interests with boundaries that only exist in the virtual space of GPS. The wilderness has become a landscape of management policies that govern the extraction of natural resources and curate wildlife for protection, tourism and calculated hunting. In our Invisible Cartographies Laboratory, Francesco Belifiore challenges the assumption that preservation must be tied to a specific geographical location by proposing a strategy for nomadic scent territories. The hunting technologies used to lure and track have been repurposed as a network of scent emitters and condensers that mediate a new set of relationships between human and animal. The fixed, politicized borders of hunting territories become seasonal migrating boundaries of engineered pheromone plumes. National park borders expand and contract around the movements of the animals they are containing and a cartography of smells choreograph herd movements across the landscape.

A contemporary scent emitting totem sits in the landscape as infrastructure for an artificial migration.

A pheromone boundary is hacked by poachers using human sweat, caramel, and deer urine.

A campsite territory is formed from swirling plumes of pancakes, bug-spray, trash, caramel, WD-40, sweat and cosmetics

The Energetically Encoded Electromagnetic Wilderness by Rob Taylor
Unknown Fields Invisible Extreme Measures Division_Winter 2011_Far North Alaska 70°17'54.3"N 148°28'33.1"W


In a vacuum of cold aloneness spins a giant ball of rock and iron. Its presence reaches out beyond its physical form as an electromagnetic field bulges out into the big nothing around it. An energy generating infrastructure sits above the empty oilfields of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. It exists as an example of the inconvenient lengths mankind is prepared to reach to fuel civilisation's convenient domestic technologies. The operation's denouement sees the residue ionic energy of the decommissioned oilfields provide the energy to launch huge energy harvesting meteorites into orbit around the rotating Earth to leech its electromotive power, only to fall back to Earth with catastrophic consequences.

The Galvanic Cell- The increase in the electrical fecundity of the soil makes the decommissioned Prudhoe Bay oilfield a prime global site for the deployment of galvanic cells used to generate electric currents under the principles of electrolysis. With the introduction of conjoined zinc and copper electrodes into the soil a stream of electrons carried on zinc ions depart the zinc: This is the basis of an electric current that carries an associated electrical energy equal to 95.7 Joules per second, or enough to almost power an 100W lightbulb.

The Electromagnetic Accelerator- The astro-molecular power station can support 23,600 electromagnetic accelerators each charged by the electrical energy of 10,000 galvanic cells, enabling them to each launch an electrodynamic satellite to an altitude just below the critical ceiling of escaping the Earth’s gravitational field, peaking at an orbital altitude amid the Van Allen belt, a field of charged plasma that encircles the Earth.

The Aluminium Armature- The electric charge from 10,000 galvanic cells accumulates in a bank of capacitors adjacent to a pair of aluminium rails facing due north and pointed to the sky at an angle of 27 degrees. A composite carbon-aluminium armature bearing the satellite secretes a liquid aluminium lubricant rests between the parallel rails, completing a circuit so that upon the capacitors’ daily discharge the resulting electric current propels the armature skyward at a speed of just below 11300 metres per second.

The Electrodynamic Satellite- Each electromagnetic accelerator’s payload is a single electrodynamic satellite designed to accumulate and store electromagnetic energy under the same principle as a dynamo. A 10km long 0.67 mm diameter copper tether is deployed from its casing upon escaping the Earth’s ionosphere. As it travels away from the Earth and into orbit around it, a copper ballast at the end of the tether is dragged through the plasma latent in the Van Allen belt. The potential difference that results across the tether due to its intersection with the Earth’s magnetic field lines draws free electrons from the plasma into the ballast, through the tether and out of a tungsten thermionic emitter at its top. The electrons departing the circuit ionise the plasma above the satellite to the extent that an aurora plume trails the satellite tracing a whirl of double slow-mo colour across the sky visible from Earth at night.

The Most Rudimentary Electric Generator- After the satellite falls, blazes through the atmosphere and smashes into the Earth at an impact speed of half the speed of sound, the surviving core has been magnetised to such an extent that even in the most rudimentary of timber, hand wound electric generators electrical energy would be yielded at a rate of 1.3x10^13 Joules per second, or the equivalent of 2165 barrels of oil a second.

A Rational Absurdity- However, 2 years after the first electrodynamic meteor impact the cost of its energy per cent of investment 1600 years ago equals 194 million J per cent with this figure rapidly asymptotically falling towards zero as more electromagnetic meteors impact. The same ratio for the war in Iraq is 2.73 million Joules per cent, not including extraction costs, making Prudhoe Bay Astromolecular Power Station over 70 times more cost effective in the long term despite its initial operational costs being four times the US annual federal reserve budget.

The World in a Grain of Sand by Ali Asad
Unknown Fields Bureau for Geochemical Politics_Winter 2011_Far North Alaska 76°25'11.9"N 158°10'48.5"W


(0,0) The first implant on the ocean floor of the Arctic marks the inception of the Autonomous Arctic Corporation, its Foundation Stone.

The contested Arctic region has always been seen as a realm of contingency, a geography which is estimated to contain a quarter of the worlds untapped petroleum resources. As the climate warms and the ice shelf retreats we watch an unprecedented land grab play out as nations contest claims for sovereignty. Scientists analyze the ocean floor geology of newly revealed territory and assign ownership based on whether the geochemistry can be matched against that of an adjacent country’s landmass. The intricacies of deep sea microbiology resonate at a geo political scale. Ali, from our Bureau for Geochemical Politics, has formed a counterfactual organization, modeled after the UN, which contaminates ocean samples and terraforms a neutral arctic territory from protocellular growth. The organization challenges the geological weaponry that nations employ in the narratives of their claims to the Arctic seabed and its resources, and the fictions of ownership and entitlement that they perpetuate in the political processes of those claims. It is a speculation on a future reality that is not too distant from our own, where science is utilized in support of policy-making, and engineered to make assertions of nationhood and political space.

Autonomous Zone Marker- The Protocellular Agents seek to metabolise specific shales and limestones, identified within the Corporation's Tactical Strategy. As the geological composition of the seabed shifts, increasing its autonomy from the surrounding shelves, it begins to create anomalies within the scanners and sounders of research vessels. Submersibles wade through the dark abyss of the basins, to find these markers of autonomy.

Declarations of Autonomy- As the Corporation's territorial reach increases across the basins and into the potentially claimable territories of Canada, Russia and the US, the corporation resorts to employing the same mechanisms and undergoing the same laborious processes of sediment sampling of the past. Sending its own evidence of entitlement, gathering its own Declarations of Autonomy.

An Endemic Citizenship- The emergence of new endemic ecosystems within the arrays of Protocellular spread creates its own array of environmentally protected areas within the basins, further substantiating the need for the corporation to maintain and preserve the seabed and its citizenship.

Zone Marker- A simple bouy marks the extent of the zone. Gently bobbing above a seething landscape of political territories formed by geochemistry. The world in a grain of sand.

The Autonomous Arctic Zone- The extents of the Autonomous Arctic Zone, a geography not laid bare to its geology but defined by it. As the activities of the Corporation increasingly shift from expansion and intervention, its role as an arbitrator of forceful ambitions and claims becomes more prominent.