Since 2008, the Unknown Fields Division has been venturing out on expeditions into the shadows cast by the contemporary city, to uncover the alternative worlds, alien landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness set in motion by the powerful push and pull of the city’s desires. These dislocated landscapes – the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine – are connected to our everyday lives in surprising and complicated ways. They are embedded in global systems that form a vast network of elusive tendrils, twisting threadlike over everything around us, crisscrossing the planet, connecting the mundane to the extraordinary.
The Unknown Fields Division makes provocative objects and films from this expedition work, exploring the dispersed narratives that coalesce to form a contemporary city. Its films include documentary shooting, animations and infographics, that, when screened, are typically presented in a performative fashion, with the collective’s participants narrating live over the moving images.
Co-founded and directed by Kate Davies and Liam Young, Unknown Fields Division has involved in its expeditions small companies like DJI, the market leader in easy-to-fly drones and aerial photography systems; but also reportage photographers, writers, designers, filmmakers and visual and media artists.
Such expeditions began in 2008 with a trip that traced Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands and South America. Discovering there “a precious and fragile wilderness teetering at the point of collapse, an ecology in crisis bearing the scars of a ravenous tourist economy”, they intervened with a project of “augmented ecology”. The following trip brought them to the Arctic Circle (Winter 2009). On this pilgrimage to visit the glaciers before they melt away, they shed a tear under the electric skies of the Aurora Borealis; yet the camp was not only a chance for contemplation and documentation of “the last wilderness” of the Arctic Sea, but also for developing some seemingly unrelated projects focused on the materialisation of immaterial digital data (Data Fossils by Tobias Jewson) and on the construction of the internet as an artefact, as a supercomputer server-farm (Scatterbrain: A Cautionary Tale by Jack Self).
In the following years, they embarked on trips to the West Australian Outback (2010), the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Baikonur Cosmodrome (2011), and the far North Alaska (2011). They took a reconnaissance road trip to chronicle a series of extraterrestrial encounters from the borderlands of the United States, ending at the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada (2012); headed to Madagascar to catalogue the push and pull of economy and ecology and to trace the shadows of the world’s desires across the landscapes of this treasured island (2013); travelled, on board a mega container ship, to the manufacturing heart of Southern China (2014); and visited the Lithium Mines of Bolivia and the Atacama Desert exploring the infrastructure behind the scenes of our electric future (2015).
Each of these trips offered the chance for a variety of visionary projects that will be illustrated in this screening event.