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Field_Notes is an art&science field laboratory at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Lapland/Finland. Five groups work for one week in the sub-Arctic Lapland to develop, test and evaluate specific interdisciplinary approaches in relation to the notion of Ecology of Senses.

Kilpisjarvi Biological Fieldstation

Ecology of the Senses

Ecology of Senses will explore the role of sensing within this convergence: the ways we make sense of the world, how worlds are made through our senses and the changing sense of self which comes along. We expanded our original sensorium considerably with technology. The spectrum is wide: in it we find our own human body senses, but also animal- and bio-sensors we learned to appropriate, chemical and electronic sensors and also the future prospect of a fully quantified computational planet with its first implementations of orbit tracked, networked bird swarms or fully wired forests already being tested. Our excitement into technological sensing possibilities with its reliable production of objectivity has led us to give less value to the human senses or phenomena and environmental indicators around us, considered to be subjective.
During Ecology of Senses we will explore this gap. Our aim is to engage with the inner and outer landscapes, create field experiments, find and establish test sites, set up observatories and excavations. We will breath, smell, taste, touch, listen and walk with open eyes as well as install the sensors brought with us or made on site.

Surfing the Semiosphere (Judith van der Elst)

All organisms perceive and react to certain sensory data as signs, carriers of significance picked up in their own perceivable surrounding or Umwelt. This concept was introduced by Jakob von Uexküll during the early 20th century and became the foundation of the current field of biosemiotics. The semiosphere is then the sphere in which sign processes operate in the set of all interconnected Umwelten.
As hunters, herders, gatherers, artists, and scientists, we will come together to experience, explore and inventory carriers of significance in, often radically, different, subjective worlds within the larger electric and magnetic fields in which we are all ‘suspended.’ Inspired by von Uexküll who anticipated many computer science ideas, especially in the field of robotics and theories of embodied cognition, we are guided by the question how these signals interact and interfere within our sphere to enable effective communication and navigation between and among organisms and their environment.

Judith van der Elst is an anthropologist/archaeologist specialized in humanistic approaches in the geosciences. Her work focuses on understanding multimodal perception of the land, through merging embodied learning, sensing technologies, and ubiquitous computing within a biosemiotic framework.

Spatial Ontology: an ontology for respresenting spatial concepts, anatomical axes, gradients, regions, planes, sides, and surfaces. These concepts can be used at multiple biological scales and in a diversity of taxa, including plants, animals and fungi. The BSPO is used to provide a source of anatomical location descriptors for logically defining anatomical entity classes in anatomy ontologies.
Icon, Index & Symbol

welcome to the group list for Surfing the Semiosphere hosted by Judith van der Elst.
Judith van der Elst, intro-judith.pdf
Björn Kröger, intro-bjoern.pdf
Pia Lindman, intro-pia.pdf
Neal White, intro-neal.pdf
Paolo Patelli, intro-paolo.pdf
AnneMarie Maes, intro-annemarie.pdf
Christina Gruber, intro-christina.pdf
Erich Berger
Piritta Puhto
Leena Valkeapää

Research Question

What is happening with the ages-old bacteria that are set free from the gletsjers of the permafrost?
Besides the horror stories of invasive virusses…
The simplest definition of permafrost is ground that has been frozen for at least two years.
The top few inches (up to a few feet) of the permafrost is what’s known as the “active layer.” This topsoil does thaw with yearly seasonal changes, and is home to a thriving ecosystem.


Tundra is a type of biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра (tûndra) from the Kildin Sami word тӯндар (tūndâr) meaning “uplands”, “treeless mountain tract”. Tundra vegetation is composed of dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and lichens.

The word “tundra” usually refers only to the areas where the subsoil is permafrost, or permanently frozen soil. Permafrost tundra includes vast areas of northern Russia, Canada and northern Sapmi and is home to several peoples who are mostly nomadic reindeer herders, such as the Nganasan, the Nenets and the Sami.
During the summer, the permafrost thaws just enough to let plants grow and reproduce, but because the ground below this is frozen, the water cannot sink any lower, and so the water forms the lakes and marshes found during the summer months.
Most of Antarctica is too cold and dry to support vegetation, and most of the continent is covered by ice fields. However, some portions of the continent, particularly the Antarctic Peninsula, have areas of rocky soil that support plant life. The flora presently consists of around 300–400 lichens, 100 mosses, 25 liverworts, and around 700 terrestrial and aquatic algae species, which live on the areas of exposed rock and soil around the shore of the continent.

Plants in the sub-tundra: Ferns, Meadowsweet, Raspberry, Achilea millefolium, Angelica


Riding waves

Surfing the Semiosphere coalesced a group into a coherent entity for sensing the local ecologies at Kilpisjärvi. As a single sensing field, the ‘I’ of this group attuned themselves to the granularity of waves formed between bacterial signals and the signs emitted through invisible technologies.

Field Notes

Frothing at the orifices of our I, a peristaltic gurgling foam; signals, signifiers, symbols, meaning, language are inseparable.

‘When I’m sitting on the inside bowl, and I get a huge set on the head, I expect it to happen. I enjoy that part of it too. I’m used to it not coming easy’.
(The Surfers Journal – current issue)

I live for one week, and then I am dispersed. I become dormant. I need new words for my time in the Kilpisjärvi semiosphere, the intersection of places once called the Umwelt, at the threshold between scales. Symbols emerge as moments of enlichenment.

I start at the mouth. These moments create traces and marks, like the Saana fossil, a geological surface that marks the emergence of peristaltic life measured by hundreds of millions of years of human time. This is a wave that breaks at the gurgling edge of a rivers bed, an interstitial lowway between high ground and deeper waters.

A cascade of events, the waterfall on which I stand is a torrent and swell of inorganic life, with boulders washed toward the deep waters below. I pull in the microbial sphere, bacteria, particles, spores. I feel the coolness of this new air. I take it in and let the microbes inoculate and ventilate my system. I sense a multitude of semiospheric formations
As I breathe out, that which I no longer need within this collective body becomes sign and signal in the semiosphere of other life. Here in this arctic landscape, between nose, eye and ear, membrane and frequency, signals erupt across my senses.

And I recall tensegrity, as it becomes sensegrity.

‘island of compression in an ocean of tension’.
(Buckminster Fuller)


[Interpretant] moment of meaning making

[semiosphere] first defined by Yuri Lotman, refers to the sphere of semiosis in which sign processes operate in the set of interconnected Umwelten, whereby Umwelt refers to the concept defined by von Uexküll. Organisms experience life in terms of species-specific, spatio-termporal, ‘self-iin-world’ subjective reference frames.

[Sensegrity] EXoSkeletal Model (XSM), web, field, continuous flow of sensorial signals producing a fluctuating semiosphere

[senses/sensors] A sense is a physiological capacity of organisms that provide data for perception (and meaningmaking), through sensing changes in their environment

[Surfing] the term surfing refers to the act of riding a wave, regardless of whether the wave is ridden with or without a board and regardless of the stance used.

[Tensegrity] Skeletal structure / continuous tension of members / producing a rigid form

[ventifact] category of potential semiosis

[waves] a wave is a disturbance that transfers energy through matter or space, with little or no associated mass transport. Wave consists of oscillation of a physical medium of field, around relatively fixed locations.

fieldnotes_biosymbiotics.txt · Last modified: 2018/10/13 13:06 by ami