STEVE ROWELL


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Uncanny Sensing, Remote Valleys

Currently in production as a series of regional prototype exhibits and fieldwork experiments, is scheduled to premiere in 2017 as a multi-screen, immersive video and sound installation. 

Project prototyping schedule:

March 2015: Uncanny Sensing (TX Prototype), part of Placing the Golden Spike: Landscapes of the Anthropocene group show, INOVA Gallery, Milwaukee
April 2014: Uncanny Sensing (TX Prototype), part of CounterCurrent 14 festival, Mitchell Center for the Arts, Houston
June-August 2013: Uncanny Sensing (WI Prototype), solo show at INOVA, Milwaukee

Uncanny Sensing, Remote Valleys is aimed at investigating ecology, post-natural landscapes, and the philosophical dilemma of the anthropic principle. It’s about the rise of machines in the age of the Anthropocene, and how we perceive the environment using technology – giving us a view of the world around us that some say is incomplete, synthetic, uncanny. The title of the project is a reconfiguration of the terms “remote sensing” (a method of data collection from the physical world via sensors and other remote technology) and “uncanny valley” (the cognitive dissonance caused by lifelike replicas of living things). Through the use of autonomous aerial cameras, camouflaged sensors, and remote audio monitors, I present raw media gathered in the field, documenting animal behavior, industrial processes, erosional effects, and other elements of the landscape and environment. By relying on unmediated data, I intentionally reduce my role as an artist in the conventional sense and expand my role as interpreter, editor, and curator of the landscape. Beneath the technological elements of the project are evocations of animism, activism, and indeterminacy. 

Sites of fieldwork, interviews, sensor deployment, and filming include:

  • Remnants of primeval forest and geologic-time resource exploitation (frack-sand, glacial till, aquifers) in Wisconsin
  • Industrial plants, sinking neighborhoods, synthetic airspaces, and doomed wetlands along the petrochemical Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana
  • Sites of refuge from global warming and direct action history in the Pacific Northwest
  • Techno-institutional landscapes of transhumanists / futurists in the Silicone Valley
  • Interviews with climate change deniers (e.g. Florida, Washington D.C.)
  • Remote sensing laboratories at federal sites (e.g. NASA, USAF, USNAV)
  • Geoengineering efforts at institutional sites (e.g. CALTECH, Arizona State)
  • DARPA supported robotics, autonomous tech, and artificial intelligence projects (e.g. Boston Dynamics, undisclosed private corporations)
  • Remote sensing sites at sea (various off west / east coasts)
  • The Arctic and Antarctic (e.g. Beaufort Sea, Alaska; Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, Svalbard, Norway)

    Uncanny Sensing, Remote Valleys is supported from a 2013-14 Creative Capital award.

    A work sample from one of three video projections from the Uncanny Sensing (TX Prototype) installation. More text about this video.

    A note on the sound: The tones are generated using acquired data from the City of Houston Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention’s air monitoring network. Six primary toxins – carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide – present in our atmosphere have been extrapolated as audible frequencies. These are then fed into a digital harmonium, or drone generator used in classical Indian music. The variable concentrations of these pollutants, from February 10, 2014 are audible as increased timbre, pitch, and volume. Harmony and dissonance ebb and flow. This 22 minute “composition” is paired with the aerial drone footage, which has been edited to the sound.

    "The Uncanny Valley Is in Fact a Gigantic Plain, Stretching as Far as the Eye Can See in Every Direction"

    Timothy Morton, January 2015 lecture, Rice University, Houston


    Evidence of subsidence in the coastal areas of the Gulf Coast is clearly seen from the perspective of a drone. Here, what's left of the subdivision of Brownwood (formerly housing Exxon executives) is literally sinking into the rising waters of the Houston Ship Channel. The neighboring Exxon-Mobil petrochemical refinery, the 2nd largest in the US, can be seen to the right. The oil giant literally undermined its own employees. Subsidence in the Houston metro-region is caused by the extraction of water, gas, and oil from underground salt domes which formed during the early Cenozoic Era over 50 millions years ago. The unbridled extraction of fluids and gas has, in turn, caused the entire coastal plain of Texas and Louisiana to tilt more than it would naturally, subsiding (or sinking) this synthetic, anthropic landscape of hydrocarbon splitting furnaces. In some cases, this subsidence has occurred more than 10 feet over the past half century. As the sea rises, due of manmade climate change, flooding will accelerate and entire neighborhoods, towns, wetlands, and ecosystems will be submerged beneath the murky, sub-tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is now altered on the molecular level after more than a century of petrochemical leaks and dumping from a largely deregulated petroleum industry, the most powerful in the world.



    Two minute work sample of video projection from the Uncanny Sensing (WI Prototype) installation. More text about this video.

    The first public presentation of this project occurred in February 2013, at the Artistic Research Science Fair, hosted by D. Graham Burnett, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

    Examples of imagery and exhibition documentation from Uncanny Sensing (WI Prototype) and my Uncanny Sensing (TX Prototype) are included here...

    http://steverowell.com/files/gimgs/th-52_Rowell-UncannyTX-010-corr-1000px.jpg
    http://steverowell.com/files/gimgs/th-52_Drone_Brownwood_700px.jpg
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