Steve Rowell

Uncanny Sensing, Remote Valleys


Uncanny Sensing, Remote Valleys is a project aimed at investigating ecology and post-natural landscapes. It is about the rise of the machine in the age of the Anthropocene and how we understand, perceive, and experience the environment using technology – giving us a view of a life-supporting Earth that is incomplete, synthetic, strange, and uncanny.

Through the use of autonomous aerial cameras, air-monitoring sensors, and sound detectors, I present media and data gathered in the field documenting animal behavior, plant cycles, waste, displacement, erosion, and other elements of the human-altered landscape. Some of this material I’ve collected myself, some has been appropriated from various sources: federal and municipal agencies, the US military, watchdog non-profits, university research groups, and from members of the public.

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 

Uncanny valley
The cognitive dissonance caused by lifelike replicas of living things. First discovered by robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970, The uncanny valley is defined as a level of realism in which the human observer has a negative reaction. Any less realistic and we feel empathy; any more realistic and we can't distinguish that it's artificial. the valley in between produces repulsion, disgust, fear, etc.

  • Do we experience the uncanny valley when encountering nonhumans, those of flesh and blood or built in a lab?
  • Do other beings, sentient or not, experience the uncanny valley when encountering us?
  • Have we become undead to them?
  • Do they recognize our ruins and human-made devices when they encounter them in "nature"?

Premiere exhibition:

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
University of Oregon
January 23 to March 28, 2021
Virtual version of the exhibition
Video: In Conversation with Steve Rowell and Emily Scott

Uncanny Sensing, Remote Valleys is supported with funding from a 2013 Creative Capital award, and 2014 Mitchell Center for the Arts commission, and a 2019 Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.

November 2020 interview at Creative Capital.