The North Escaping by TALE
posted by Milla Millasnoore on 31 March 2024

Field_Notes is an art and science field laboratory organized biannually by the Bioart Society at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station of the University of Helsinki in the Sápmi region in Northern Finland since 2011. During Field_Notes – The North Escaping, three groups of five worked in the subarctic for two weeks developing, testing and evaluating specific interdisciplinary approaches under the theme of The North Escaping. soft and messy TranstemporAL Exploration (TALE) group set out to navigate the plurality of times that present themselves in the landscape in and around Kilpisjärvi. In this blog post, the group shares their journey and process during the two-week-long field laboratory. Wait and Hear was funded via the Rewilding Cultures Creative Europe project.


We imagined how we could die, how our remains would be mattering and travel forward in time, and finally, when, how, and by whom we would be found, and what conclusions these entities could come to. It might seem morbid, but it was fun. It wasn’t about death but about producing vehicles for thinking about the way time manifests itself.

The above description of the Mattering exercise, led by Solveig is just one of the many protocols our group followed during the two-week stay in Kilpisjärvi. While in the field, on the many hikes, and in the many places, we collectively conducted a wide range of other experiments and sessions: Dream incubation with Aurora, Attunement with Christina, Reverse Memory Palace with Katri, Readings with María Antonia, Registering with Taavi or Evidencing with Erich, to just name a few. The intention behind these exercises was to gain insight into time, how we experience it and how we produce it, as well as how it manifests itself in the landscapes around us. We set out to navigate and experience the plurality of times that present themselves in the landscapes in and around Kilpisjärvi by visiting places with marked temporal significance. Among those was a small river where the spatial distance between the shores is about 10 meters but the temporal divide between the shores is more than 1.5bill years; an unused reindeer corral, several hundred years old, but still of significance for Sami people in the contemporary; a uranium mineralisation, evidencing the connection of deep time with the energetic desires in the present; the fossilised ocean floor of a Precambrian sea where traces of the first animals we know of are preserved. These places were not backdrops for our conversations but catalysts for traversing through time, to de-temporalize ourselves and find what otherwise might stay hidden.

Preps. Photo: Katri Naukkarinen

Why soft and messy they asked? 

Attunement, Geiger meter, Worm world, Wormholes, Dreams, Radioactivity, Ticking, Licking rocks (when to and when not to), Material agency, Blue, Trace Fossils, Valley of time, Snakes and ladders, Beck‘s gamma-ray, Critical metals, Un/de/dis mattering, Spreading the virus, A car full of rocks, Invisible fences, Membranes, Liquid times, Transtemporalities (finitude, geological, cosmic, oneiric, everyday activities, history), Shoe gazing (embodiment), Fragmentation of the self, Collective sacrifice, Dry ice (eyes), Cloud chamber, Ice cube, Collapse, Flattening, Sedimentation, Layering, Metamorphic, Big chief/feminist perspectives, pieces of evidence, Scale of things, Ways of dying, 3,7 billion, 550 million, 440 million, Mountain top, Singularities, Palkiskuru, Blueing, Reindeer bones, Not hugging material, Sedimentation, Volecabulary, Zooming in …

From Pikku-Malla. Photo: Katri Naukkarinen

The significant contrast to deep-time was finitude. 

Because even if we can be conscious about Earth's unimaginable time, we still face our finitude and that of our loved ones. Therefore, we executed some thought experiments to relate to finitude and the anticipation of death. But time is not only the temporality of the awake but also that of the oneiric, the dreaming. The awake and the dreaming are two places which often enough are permeating into each other, time seeping from one place to another. With our (lucid) Dreaming exercise, we collectively explored to delve into the untimely time of unconsciousness and the psychic space. The time of experience was considered through the many hikes we did during these days. Nature was observed from different paces; the rapid pace of the walk that allowed for quick glimpses of the landscape contrasted with the languid pace of contemplation during the free time we had to wander about the surroundings. We climbed the now sacred mountain Saana. We experienced the wilderness and the Nordic landscape. There were no birds. No sounds of any animal but us. At the peak, we heard the stories of the past. Wilderness is enveloped in history. Saana, the non-sacred mountain, was for us, at that moment, for that experience, the result of the Sami people naming it sacred, the biological station doing research there, the ugly transmission antenna placed at the top, the stories about the WWII (called “world” war by the Western narratives), the Nazi Germans, the concentration camps, the forced labour, the prisoners, the roads that were built to invade the USSR, and our eyes staring at the marvellous landscape. The evening was clear; we could see at least ten kilometres away, the light was beautiful, and what-there-is was standing there, appearing in a magnificent presence for us to take a picture. Experience is constructed by and through time; time gets multiplied through the many experiences we had during our stay.

The Valley of Time. Photo: Erich Berger

The reindeer do not care about fences. 

They traverse wherever they find it fit. For two weeks we went around Mount Saana we went to Sweden and Norway, to east and west and we saw no reason for any nation-state borders to be there. The body we inhabit is like a radio. It picks up frequencies and cues, even when they are very subtle. Often we do not consciously notice this. We agreed to give attention to these weak signals and to try to sense what the body is attuning to. We attuned to the past, the universal and the future. Without prior planning, all groups ended up doing attunements. Attunement became a word that everybody was talking about, and practising. But what is this attunement? What is it for and why are we doing it? Some people said it was just another form of meditation. Some said they had experience with Zen-Buddhist meditation – so they could meditate for hours. Some said they had never done anything like this before or that they were not somatic people, but ready to give it a try, and some said they would rather dream and mix fiction and reality. All of us gave it a try and agreed to make it a daily practice. The results were poetic, surprising and invigorating. Some attunements allowed us to get a glimpse into something very abstract, not graspable by rational thinking only. It supported thinking past hopeless scenarios or issues too big to tackle or too far in the future to understand. Attuning to a possible future refreshed our views and transcended the rational thinking we often adhered to.

Saarijärvi wormwold. Photo: Taavi Suisalu

While TALE will often be late, we will be equally early, and always on time.

We are just about to leave for Saarijärvi. We get back just in time for dinner. I throw a big rock. We go to Worm World.

I am a future being on an arctic precipice, keeping my body warm in layers and layers of sheep wool knitted into different patterns. Pineapple waffle knit. Holds the air like this like that under a gore-tex outer shell, kept from wind and rain. This is my membrane. At 900 metres in blistering wind looking at worms worming their way across the tropical sea floor 550 million years ago. The Pre-Cambrian. Just went to my room to fetch Otherlands.

Deep time meditation. Photo: Solveig Settemsdal

What are we here to find? On top of this frozen post-glacier almost-mountain, searching for wormsign. Traces in the sand of our ancestors, made by the most simplified caricature of a being. A slithering tube, an in and an out. Before appendage. A wiggling mouth-ass worming its way across the mud in total darkness, fear and pain. Or is this just my projection, maybe they were happy wiggling worms. I’m picturing Helen Keller before the teacher arrives, hold the brain and the limbs. And the spine.

Maybe it was bright, free and spacious, with lots of room to wiggle and feel great while wiggling. And then sprouting all these limbs out of my worm body by sheer will power. Willing my way into new niches, my adapting membranes following my will. Willing myself to have reach, to poke a tentative tendril through into this much lighter place where I can't hold my tendril up for long, it suddenly feels so heavy. This Cosmos made of non-water. Where I am not held in connection-to the ocean brain where we all exchange cells, membranes, mutations and grow together liquidly. We try new inclusions, build new structures; antennae, eye spots, tentacles, ears, sonars, bones, suction cups, spines, muscles, veins, pores, gills, fins, arms, legs, noses, teeth, hair, feathers, beaks, proboscis.

Saarijärvi. Photo: Erich Berger

Reaching for fear and food. Somewhere to hide from the Others. Somewhere to make my own. I’m the only one who’s figured it out, I think. But I can’t see. Or hear. Everyone else is still down there in the soup. The planetary ocean brain Solaris, attempting to communicate via your strongest sense-impressions. Its Communications, from its own view, are innocent, curious and playful; but within the limited capacity of the simian brain, its own nightmares are overwhelming as they have been pushed down to the primal fear centres, rather than seen in the bright light of day as Life Teachings.

We go through the Feminist checklist for collective working. ‘Owning your intention and impact’ stuck to me powerfully. We open up and empathise, some voices more confident than others, some needing room to use their voice, some seen as more confident than they actually are. I become more aware of how I use my voice and body in this group, in any group. That there is much space to leave here and that to leave this space for others is infinitely better. That a combination of awareness and self regulation is the foundation. That in a group scenario, the ability to bring out the best in others is the greatest strength. We are attuned. I can’t remember what we were attuning to this time, the clock and the fire takes over. Our heart rates lower together, stressed horses nose to tail, comfortable but watchful, listening to the fire of the clocks around us.

Palkiskuru. Photo: Taavi Suisalu

A fox stared at the group, curious and waiting for a while.

The group visited Palkiskuru, a uranium prospecting claim area (68° North, 22° East). The preparation for the visit, on the previous day, shows some concern, both considering the radiation exposure (or the possible fear of it) and the difficulty of reaching the site on challenging terrains by bicycle, including crossing two rivers, and later continuing on foot. However, the group is determined to proceed.

During an hour-long car drive from the biological station, the “mattering” of two of the group’s participants takes place. The first to go is Erich, who describes how the ice has perfectly preserved the group in the cube of the hut, to be found (we still don’t know by whom or what) in the exact state it was when frozen. Katri is frozen in the process of reaching out to her cookie, and the others around the table are as well in their various positions.

Palkiskuru. Photo: Erich Berger

Maria Antonia has prepared for this by contacting a forensic expert to understand how the process of “disappearing” at the hands of the Mexican cartel takes place in detail. Contrary to the expectations of “no body, no crime” there are, indeed, bodies. They just become unrecognizable. The description is detailed and almost graphic. She insisted on not wishing to receive pictures, that the expert was about to send.

Once the site is reached, the group proceeds. The group started cycling along the old German (WW2) road. The landscape changes quickly, a muddy and rocky way through a valley and up a hill, two hours of biking and two rivers to cross. The bikes are abandoned shortly before the crossing of the second river. We cross by foot and stop for a quick break. We continue uphill and the landscape shows traces of reindeer excrement, lichens, and low vegetation, across the many water ponds and bogs. We spot the radioactive rocks from afar, they look different than the rest of the hill, dark-grey and of a reddish colour. When we reach the spot we stop for lunch in a non-radioactive zone, which we confirm by measuring beforehand.

Palkiskuru. Photo: Erich Berger

The group starts some activities: Erich points to the most radioactive location which is around 80 ySv. Erich, Katri, and Taavi start exposing films, and Christina cyanotypes.

Christina was trying to find a spot for the cyanotype printing, to experiment if the radiation could expose the paper and followed Erich to the ‘best’ spot.

Aurora gathers the group for the Dream incubation project, which is documented with both audio and video. She continues filming afterwards.

Erich sets up a cloud chamber, collects stones and finally flies a drone to take some images.

Katri exposed different kinds of films in several places.

Taavi went into a gorge (old river bed) and went all the way down and took some images with his pinhole and also scouted for radioactivity with the provided geiger counter.

Solveig took water samples and collected various things like reindeer antlers (a young female reindeer). She walked with a Geiger counter and went randomly to the most radioactive place until Aurora told her to move away. She was feeling unwell, found a better spot to lay down and draw and took a piece of quartz with her; filming herself helped her to process the intense experience.

Palkiskuru. Photo: Aurora Del Rio

Can we sense radioactivity? Some of us claim that they can. Some others assure that this is not possible.

As we were leaving Christina guided the attunement. We started in silence and walked back recharging our energies for the long bicycle ride back.

Milla picked us up by car. We were late at the station and missed the lectures, but later, we had pancakes in the Kota together with the others.

Saarijärvi wormworld. Photo: Jonathan Carruthers-Jones

Saarijärvi wilderness hut guestbook entry 20.-22.9.2023

We think we must have been here for months. Or, we have always been here? We thought of seven ways to die but there must be many more. Heading back to Kilpisjärvi with high spirits and heavy backpacks full of rocks and 550 million years old worms. 
A Shout Out to Andscapes and Wait & Hear!
Yours faithfully and eternally,

The Soft & Messy Transtemporal Exploration group. Photo: Katri Naukkarinen