13-16 October 2016 | FUTURE FICTIONS WORKSHOP |  Location: Ásbrú, the site of a former NATO base on the Reykjanes peninsula.
22 October 2016 | 15:00 - 17:00  |  Location: Reykjavik Art Museum, Tryggvagata 17, Reykjavík.

During 13 – 16 October, 2016 A___Zooetics (a project exploring intersections between human, non-human and poetic knowledge spheres—zooetics.net), invited an international group of scientists, artists, designers, theorists and writers to stay and work at Ásbrú, the site of a former NATO base on the Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland. The four days of explorations that took place on and near the base was staged and performed at Reykjavík Art Museum in conversation with a keynote lecture by sociologist Jennifer Gabrys (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, author of Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet).

The transition of Ásbrú from a fenced-off military zone to a creative-economy incubator inspires a lot of questions about the technoscientific imaginaries feeding this transition and fueling our sense of the future. These kinds of military infrastructures are already incorporated into the future fictional narratives of a seamless transition towards innovation, resource extraction and subservience to global market forces. The Future Fictions Summit enacted a think tank that performed a variety of excavations into past and future narratives of Ásbrú as a laboratory of Iceland and the high North. The findings of this gathering comprise of a series of models that invite a reprogramming of relations between the body, territory and nonhuman forms of life, opening up alternative temporalities and uncanny sensorial powers. In these models, algae that resides on Hafnir shores in the vicinity of Ásbrú were offered as a source of transformation on a variety of scales—from the intimate to the oceanic.

The Future Fictions Summit was finalized with Gabrys’s lecture: Sensing Environmental Conflict with Lichens: Bioindication and Expressive Modes of Environmental Politics

                                               Lichen and Moss Magnified, documented during an art-science residency at the Kilipsjärvi Biological Field Station, hosted by the                                                          Finnish Society of Bioart. Photo: Jennifer Gabrys (2011)

                                               Lichen and Moss Magnified, documented during an art-science residency at the Kilipsjärvi Biological Field Station, hosted by the                                                          Finnish Society of Bioart. Photo: Jennifer Gabrys (2011)

Bioindication is a process that occurs across multiple organisms as they are affected by, sense and even transform their environments. Many vascular plants can be studied for ozone injury. Still other organisms such as bryophytes (or mosses) can be examined for evidence of air and soil pollution, while fungi can be assessed for indications of forest health, and molluscs can be probed as indicators of water quality. Some organisms such as lichens are particularly well known for their bioindicator characteristics, and have been frequently studied for their ability to signal air and soil pollution. Lichens are sensitive to common air pollutants and heavy metals. Their presence or absence in environments, as well as health and morphology, can indicate the quality of air, soil and water. Bioindication as a process is expressive not just of other ways of doing environmental sensing, but also of other engagements with environmental politics that attend to the lived effects of pollution as experienced by nonhuman organisms. 

                                              Jennifer Gabrys. Photo: Holly Revell (2016)

                                              Jennifer Gabrys. Photo: Holly Revell (2016)

Jennifer Gabrys is Reader in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, Citizen Sense, which engages with inventive approaches to participation and monitoring in order to test and query environmental sensing technology. Her books include a techno-geographical investigation of environmental sensing, Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2016); and a material-political analysis of electronic waste, Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011). Together with Gay Hawkins and Mike Michael, she has co-edited an interdisciplinary collection on plastics, Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic (Routledge, 2013). 


Future Fictions Think Tank
Visitors had a chance to take a look at a selection of diagrams and accompanying reports of human-algae symbiosis research that took place at Ásbrú amidst the narrative of Cold War. Sensory algae session enabled by participation of Ari Jónsson, Eydís Mary Jónsdóttir and Hinrik Carl Ellertsson. Moderation of the evening by Gunnar Theodór Eggertsson, Thomas Pausz, Hildigunnur Sverrisdóttir and Gediminas Urbonas.

Future Fictions Summit contributors: Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, artists (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA), Tinna Grétarsdóttir and Sigurjón Baldur Hafsteinsson, anthropologists (University of Iceland, IS); Oksana Anilionytė, fashion designer (Royal College of Art, UK); Nikola Bojić, designer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA); Garðar Eyjólfsson, designer (Iceland Academy of the Arts, IS); Lucas Freeman, writer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA); Eydís Mary Jónsdóttir (IS); Ashley Rizzo Moss, performer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA); Thomas Pausz, designer (Iceland Academy of the Arts, IS); Kristupas Sabolius, philosopher (Vilnius University, LT); Hildigunnur Sverrisdóttir, architect (Iceland Academy of the Arts, IS); Viktorija Šiaulytė, curator (LT); Sigrún Thorlacius, designer (IS); Tracey Warr, writer (UK).

Sources within the think-tank confirm that much of their work was aided by field-notes, report fragments and diagrams of a research project carried out at the base during the height of the Cold War and recovered from the base some years ago by an anonymous Icelandic special intelligence officer. Written in many languages, they revealed the presence of a communications bunker at the centre of a vast network of cable sensors running out into the North Atlantic and a hidden pipeway or ‘swim-tube’ linking the bunker to a series of open air tidal tanks which appear to have hosted experiments in human-algae symbiosis. According to members of the think-tank, there are still considerable gaps in the material due to a combination of file redaction and natural corrosion of the abandoned technology; and the principal investigators, moreover, are nowhere to be found. What’s more, even the best intact reports were hard to digest—one of the most intriguing of these, dated to 1971, contained four confounding diagrams or “visions” of interscalar and trans-systemic relationships supporting these experiments in interspecies exchange.   

‘We’re having to do a lot of guesswork here, but it’s exciting stuff. At first we thought they were simply researching marine life or tracking Soviet submarines, but after taking a closer look at the site facilities, archival reports and recollections from former personnel stationed here, we discovered we had something altogether unexpected on our hands. They were developing some sort of bio-cybernetic feedback loops and new ecologies. But why here? We’ve only just scratched the surface of this world they were trying to create.’

[Surmised to be an extract from Icelandic officer’s transcribed recordings dating from November 2005. The author could not be identified or located.]

To whom it may concern,

The base grounds are bleak. It’s November in Iceland—horizontal rain, banshee winds that get into buildings no matter how they’re sealed. Most of the facilities are already abandoned. Much of the classified files and sensitive technology was removed in September, I’m told.

Gaining clear information on the research being carried out is proving extremely difficult. There appear to be four divisions: Modifications, Temporalities, Communications, and Biointerfacing. The project start date was 1971. I have been informed of the project peak-personnel numbers: twelve P.I.’s – three in each section – a total of eight men and four women. When I arrived only one of the scientists was present: one of the later arrivals to the Communications division—Dr. Dora Kepes, an ecologist specializing in rhizomatic migration. Contact with the others—especially the original PIs—is proving impossible. They were an international group—getting records from the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union is a task… ongoing.

I carried out a series of interviews with Dr. Kepes, but many of my questions went unanswered. Unclear how much she knew about the first decades of the research. Did soldiers volunteer for the project? Were there casualties? Have any casualties been identified? It seems that some scientists and soldiers went missing—are missing…

I asked: What was the aim of this symbiosis project? To produce a human-body enhancing transspecies interface? My interview subject responded: No. They were working towards finding new feedback loops between both terrestrial and marine environments via multi-temporal analytics among other methodologies.

It appears that the research team eventually started experimenting on themselves, and all of the researchers in the Temporalities and Biointerfacing Sections were involved in that. I wondered how they managed to record their results. They seem to have decided that experimentation and experience were necessarily one and the same. The observations they have been recording appear to be reducing, at least in any recognizable form.

Did the symbiosis take effect? I mean, this is a system that worked (is still working?) right? Transported to another location? “Did you have access to the tanks yourself, before they went offline?” I asked. She said no, but I don’t know how to read her. She claims this research is over and that no strategy for disseminating or releasing results was in place. But vibrations are still coming down the swim pipe from the tidal tanks, a kind of residual song. Currently seeking tank access. Slated for removal in April.

Division 1: Modifications

Diagram: Evolutionary Situations of the Environment

Reports: Working Hypothesis – symbiosis, new indication capacities, interspecies communication and knowledge enabling counteraction of predicted progress towards hypertrophy and entropy. Without radically new knowledge enabling shifts in culture and actions, our futurecasts and all projections display rapid trajectory through health damage, environmental damage, hypertrophy of exploitation, hypertrophy of the environment, hypertrophy of humanity and ecological disbalance.

Stage 1. Subjects began a program of algae ingestions, soaking in tidal algae tanks, eel windings. Initial tidal immersions were undertaken with breathing apparatus and tethers. After one week bacteria patches were applied. Varying individual tolerances to high levels of iodine noted. Psychosomatic/placebo effects factored in. Obs.: Enhanced taste capacities in salty range; pigmentation shifts, thickening of skin which is demonstrating patches of heavily whorled textures.

Stage 2. Subjects developed holdfast feet complexes. Under-skin vesicles developed, particularly clustered around collar-bone area. Arms have lengthened and are tending towards frond-like flagellata. Experiencing increased difficulty in releasing holdfasts. Obs.: regulating body temperature for cold water; osmoregulation; development of conceptacle cavities containing viable reproductive organs. Rhythmic shifts in verticality and horizontality observed i.e. Subjects are erect during sea immersions and layered horizontally in periods of air exposure.

Stage 3. Subjects are demonstrating increased blindness and reliance on enhanced haptic, tactile and olfactory capabilities. Tethers are no longer necessary since holdfasts are functioning adequately for anchorage. Flattening and softening of skeletal structure and tendency to apical morphology noted. Vesicles are making underwater breathing feasible for duration of tidal immersions. Subjects appear to be integrating with surrounding algae colonies and are displaying mixotrophic energy derivation.

Division 2: Temporalities

Diagram: Spherical Curves Representing Rhythmical Shifts of Human-Algae Symbiotic Interaction
Reports: The Modifications experiments examined continual contact between human subjects and algae, as a newly installed and technologically tested symbiotic interaction. Although the precise mechanisms remain unknown, the consumption of different species of seaweeds, inhalation of the algae extracts, algae skin applications, and reproduction of aquatic environment of algae had an effect on the circadian, biological and social rhythms of the participants. Registered effects include desynchronization and resynchronization along the axis of what is traditionally called a human temporal structure.

Varying species and quantities used as well as calibrations of light and salinity. Obs.: different algaematic sets caused accelerations and slow-downs within the system of metabolism, blood circulation, functioning of hormone system, processes of rejuvenation and senescence as well as increase or decrease in exposure to extreme temperatures. Noted shifts in mental activity, attention span, memory storage capacity, enhancement or diminishment of sensations, improvement or weakening of IQ, boost or decline in activity of imagination.
Modifications experiments produced a dehumanizing impact on the perception of time, intertwining with different temporalities imposed by marine plants and consequently proposing a speculative notion of “aquatic time”.


Division 3: Communication

Diagram: Interaction of Human Systems and Natural Systems of the Environment
Reports: Attempting cross-species perception and cross-species learning to counteract projected ecological disbalance. Analysis of symbiosis-based communication to assist in developing a program for biosphere equilibrium. Initially other modalities appear incomprehensible. Symbiosis may produce results leading to enhanced understanding of the optimum operations at all levels: atmosphere, lithosphere, pedosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cosmosphere.

Stage 1: Subjects’ initial immersions producing sleep-like, trancelike consciousness shifts; the mouth can function as a knowledge sensor; ingesting, digesting, metabolic structure, playing a role in consciousness. Nothing intelligible yet, however embodied sensory dialogue with algae appears increasingly likely.

Stage 2: Subjects are reading wave power, wind strength and direction, tides, phases of the moon. Subjects are able to taste impacts from chemical and other marine contaminants. We have been able to derive what appear to be algae sensing and desires; plans even. Analysis of sounds and vibrations created by the kelp colonization of the severed acoustic sea-cables is in progress.

Division 4: Biointerfacing

Diagram: Structure of Techno-Media of the Environment

Reports: Analysis of algology symbiosis evidences positive results. Some subjects demonstrate adaptation to tidal and seasonal rhythms. Greatly enhanced consciousness of interscalar and trans-systemic relationships are being recorded. Prolonged rhythmic immersions are resulting in reflexive consciousness, a form of self-archaeology. Consequent to this aquatic marine research phase, further symbiotic exploration is planned involving freshwater, aerial, lichenic, parasitic and motile algae.

Mycelial power supplies and transfer chains to be incorporated in the next phase of algo-human co-perception to improve receptor binding and reduce neuro-toxin uptake in the human system. Planning timescale needs to change to 100 years or more. Visions of new ecologies glimpsed. Confronting light is the darkness. The awe-ful rainbow.

Supported by: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and Lithuanian Council for Culture, Nordic Culture Point, University of Iceland, Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, The Icelandic Art Fund, Kadeco, Keilir, and Uppbyggingarsjóður Suðurnesja.

More information:

Reykjavik Art Museum
Frontiers in Retreat

See also
Press Interveiw with Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas