Exhibition: Unknown Fields

SoA Exhibit:  Views from the Landscapes of Unnatural History
Curated by Liam Young and Kate Davies
November 15 - January 31

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. 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. Here we are both visionaries and reporters, part documentarians and part science fiction soothsayers as the otherworldly sites we encounter afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.

The natural world is being redefined radically through technology and our culture will be shaped by our response to the questions this raises. The sun might just be setting on our idealistic and preservationist views of the natural world. With the unfamiliar landscapes of climate change, our industrial legacy, geo-engineering and bio-technology, we are beginning to encounter a form of engineered nature that we are not yet able to fully categorize. As the specters of nature and technology become increasingly indistinguishable the Division journeys to the ends of the earth to explore and understand our shifting relationship to both and to examine these emerging trends and forge alternate narratives for another kind of wilderness.

We present here a scenic tour with the Division, through real science-fiction landscapes. The journey is the site, along which we construct a series of parallel narratives, partial fabrications and speculations, which are built and crafted as tools with which to probe reality and reveal fictions. This speculative travelogue chronicles some of the potential worlds we have imagined in response to the extraordinary and troubled landscapes we have witnessed.

See films below:

Experimental Flight Lab
Unknown Fields Winter 2011. Outback Australia

GravityONE: A Choreogrphy for Militarised Airspace

The remote territories of the Australian Never Never are anything but empty. The history of these landscapes is one of nuclear testing, rocket launches and black military technologies. The skies over this red earth are scarred with the contrails of experimental weapons flights and charged with the militarised electromagnetic waves that reach out to US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Forgotten,  somewhere in this landscape, is an abandoned missile tracking station. From here Oliviu, in our Experimental Flight Lab, is launching a choreographed  flock of autonomous gliders, to drift through the air in silent protest.  Floating on engineered thermal currents their wingspan antennas broadcast white noise through the electromagnetic landscapes over Australia’s Pine Gap military base, momentarily jamming their telecommunications signals.


The Bureau of Earthly Computation.
Unknown Fields Winter 2012. Far North Alaska

Landscapes of Plausible Uncertainty

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 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.  As these supercomputers model the complexity of nature, they become increasingly indistinguishable from the landscape they are modelling. Samantha in our Bureau of Earthly Computation has imagined a hypertext landscape as a probability machine, 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.

Department of Landscape Glitches
Unknown Fields Winter 2012. Far North Alaska

Here be Dragons: The Unstable Landscapes of GPS

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, 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.


UNKNOWN FIELDS Field Work Footage

Unknown Fields Summer 2011. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to Baikonur Cosmodrome
Filmmaker Jonathan Gales

The Atomic to the Cosmic

In the Summer of 2011, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, Unknown Fields  packed their Geiger counters and spacesuits and charted 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 surveyed the irradiated wilderness and bear witness to a sobering apocalyptic vision. We skirt the retreating tide of the Aral Sea and mined the ‘black gold’ in the Caspian oilfields and caviar factories. We wandered 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.

UNKNOWN FIELDS Field Work Footage

Unknown Fields Summer 2012. Roswell to the Burning Man
Filmmaker Jonathan Gales

Alien Encounters

For Alien Encouters 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.



Laboratory for Animated Natures
Unknown Fields Summer 2011. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone


In a post-nuclear future, when the earth is riddled with radiation, a new urban developer proposes to regenerate the cities back into civilisation. GAMMA sets out to stabilise the atomic mistakes of yesteryear for the re-inhabitation of future generations. Using its patented 'Nuke-Root' technology; part fungi, part mollusc, GAMMA intends to soak up the radiation and remove it from the irradiated cities, rebuilding them in the process. Setting out from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, GAMMA launches its RIG_01 BETA and heads east to the iconic disaster sites of 1980's USSR. The film follows a group of researchers investigating GAMMA's practice from launch to deployment. Moving through a trail of unsuccessful ships across the desert, we follow the researchers from Aralsk's littered sea bed east to the Ukraine.