The North Escaping by Wait and Hear
posted by Milla Millasnoore on 27 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. Wait and Hear group proposed an open exploration based on listening and the groups activities were based on both listening and somatic experience. 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.


How do we deal with the retreat of the North as we know it? How do we navigate the ever-approaching
uncertainty and wickedness of change?

As part of the Field_Notes – The North Escaping, the Wait and Hear group started out with an invitation to encounter, experience and comment on Kilpisjärvi – the region, the lake, the settlement, the living – through which a manifold of consequences and influences of human intervention, their diffusion, and their interrelations are starkly noticeable.

While we spent time in the field and critically analysed our surroundings, ourselves, and our interrelation to the different forms Kilpisjärvi presented itself, we tried to resist the urge to immediately engage for as long as possible. We, in this context, are (in alphabetical order of given names):

In this text, we intentionally employ the pronoun “we” to emphasise our collective journey. In the We there is more than just us – human persons. The group has been filled with others on shorter or longer timescales. We shared the experiences in the North with deers, birds, weather phenomena, soil, microbes, viruses as well as social constructs. The encounters often involved moments of silence.



During the two weeks of Field_Notes, we structured our days around the biological station’s rhythm, adding parts we deemed important. We started our day every morning at 8am, just before breakfast, with a 20-minute routine of going outside to quietly walk, listen and be around the biological station.

We would listen to the changing waves of Kilpisjärvi (the lake), be confronted by wind and coldness, stare into the distance, or observe lichen and other fellow creatures.

Depending on whether it was a day to go out or stay inside, we would either go outside for a long walk or hold reflection sessions inside with the entire group.

Most of the days were concluded by dinner and sauna, sometimes interspersed with evening activities such as talks by external experts or a programme curated by one of the other groups.

The rest of our time we spent walking, listening, waiting, and discussing. Most days were spent in the field. Soon, practices and, generally, the practice of trying out practices emerged. Some of our activities included sensing vibration through our bare feet on geological forms; engaging with the wind considering human, deer and other phenomenological perspectives; constructing aeolian instruments from dental floss and electronics; collective shouting at waterfalls; creating impressions of both our environment and ears with the ink-rubbing technique Takuhon; crossing borders by foot, car, and boat; collecting berries of the Cornus suecica (dwarf cornel or bunchberry) as part of the Arctic Seed Germination Ecology (ARISE) project; adjusting our bodily postures to encounter natural noise from water streams; enacting anthropological observation techniques; varying our walking pace and focus; sensing and collecting bacteria samples; and considering linguistic and terminology choices.

Reflecting, Documenting

We reflected upon our activities collectively and documented our experiences through field recording, stereoscopic photography, inflatable microphone sensing, ink rubbings, text. The full list you find at the bottom of this text.

Our presence as hikers became temporarily part of the life-world of animals and plants, and, in turn, they became a part of our hiking experience. Some of us were intimately connected with flu viruses for a certain period. Our bodies provided an environment for viral replication while the viruses, in turn, influenced our health and well-being, shaping our experiences and perception of other beings around us.

Mutually, we were parts of our shared experiences in the given time and space, which influenced the way we perceived and interacted with the world around us. While we may not possess the ability to access the perspectives of these other entities, and language may fall short in fully encapsulating these relationships, we are committed to acknowledge and embrace viewpoints of all, human or other-than-human, in our narratives.

Herding / Un-

Because of the context of the place, we found the concept of herding to be a fitting term for the way we approached our collective exploration. We embodied the idea that we were all part of a larger herd, moving and learning together. Herding stood in contrast to the solitary nature of hunting. Instead of seeking out individual experiences, we tried to focus on collective activities. Most of the time, we moved as one, while exploring our surroundings individually.

During our walks, observations and experiments, we interpreted ourselves as part of a larger herd of human beings that share their unique journey and space with others. We walked in each other’s steps and found it more or less comfortable. We followed each other in attunement with the herd.

During hikes and discussions, we asked whether herding extended beyond the realm of human interaction. Did we collectively herd with the landscape, sounds, and the surroundings? Through herding, we explored the notion of being one organism within an organism. Sometimes we consciously directed our focus towards the environment, recognising that, by collectively paying attention, we were able to have deeper insights and recognise varied perspectives.

The unavoidable part of the approach was unherding. Throughout the whole experience, we were considerate of individuals within the group and we also recognised the importance of individual moments and exchanges with other groups. The final unherding played out when our time in Kilpisjärvi came to an end.


Apart from listening and waiting, we asked a lot of questions, not necessarily trying to find direct answers. We organised them into two groups, the first one with the questions that are mostly relevant to the group, and the second ones more widely. From this latter list we kindly invite the reader to pick those that resonate most, and observe possible answers, some immediate, others of the slower kind.

Photo: Bartaku


Questions for the group Questions for the reader
From down to up, from left to right is sound? Where the hearing happens?
Is it silent? Can you hear when you walk?
Can you close your ears? Is stillness necessary for deeper listening?
Are you hearing with your left ear? Are you part of a herd?
Was it a fruitful harvest? What does it meant to be heard, as part of a herd?
Who hears you? What is hearing?
Who can you hear? Does your notion/perception of silence transforms? How?
How much space is there in yours mouth? Are we, ourselves, hearing?
How do you hear? Why listen?
Why are yours stepping on mine? Are yours cracking?
Who/What did yours scare? What sounds belong in any environment?
What are the sounds of Kilpisjärvi / this environment? Why to hear?
Is it reflecting, sounding blue or green? What happens when we wait?
Can you listen with your feet? Why to wait?
Can you wait with your ear? Do we want to be better?
Can we be better? How to not judge but still behave responsibly?
Are you aware of your listening biases? Is there such a thing as a neutral listening position?
Are yours landing? What are yours taking from here?
Who/What would yours most want to be with now? Are we waiting or are we hearing?
What organism are we? Why are we here?
Did you hear the land? Are you your own audience?
How does it feel to put your face into the moss / icy water? Who waits for us?
Listening, and then? Do you feel like a hunter?

Observation of observers

We experimented with walking while observing one another. Within the herd, each of us became both an observer and observed in a multi-layered narrative of looking. The approaches to the observation were as diverse as the individuals within our group. During the practice, we focused particularly on two approaches: internal and external observations. We explored our feelings, expressions, and positions as observers and observed, as well as the group dynamic as a part of the environment, movements, and herdness.

Choreography emerged as an unintended consequence of our dynamic exploration. We moved fluidly, weaving in and out of positions within the group. It seemed almost as if movements were guided by a desire to ensure that each observer found themselves at the optimal point for observations. We were aware of the sonic dimension, by attuning to the individuals’ and group’s gait, breath, and clothes sounds that accompanied the practice. Diverse strategies for gaining desired positions in the group independently developed: sitting down, leaving the group behind or anthropological lacing of shoes.

The practice revealed, among others, the complexities embedded within the bilateral act of observation itself. And a question was raised, are we a single organism through a herd of multiple perspectives?

Walking meditation

We practised walking meditation, inspired by the teachings of late Thích Nhất Hạnh and Vipassana. For many, walking meditation can be experienced as a soothing complement to sitting meditation. Since it can be done anywhere while walking, we practised it in and with the tundra.

The first part of our walking meditation practice was to scan our individual body, i.e. to focus on one part at a time on the in-breath and thanking it on the out-breath: tow, foot, ankle, knee, thigh – first of one leg then the other one – then the hip, pelvis, gut and its microbiome, heart, lungs and lung microbiome, chest, lower back, spine, then both arms separately from the shoulders down, then atlas, left ear, right ear, mouth, teeth, tongue, left cheek, right cheek, nose, left eye, right eye, third eye, left eyebrow, right eyebrow, fontanelle. After a first iteration, we repeat until the end-of-exercise signal was given after about eleven minutes. Each iteration dedicated more detail to the individual body parts.

The second part of the meditation was to do the same focussing-thanking cycle with Anything that surrounded us while walking: a particular stone, a particular branch, the soil, a leaf, a bird.

Black Dental Floss, Aeolian instrument

Photo: Till Bovermann

Black dental floss is woven into a tree. Wind moves the floss, the tree, and the people interacting with the structure. Contact microphones attached to floss strands pick up the vibrations of the wind, the tree and people touching the floss. Any vibration, no matter how small, no matter where it originates, is amplified and audible through the floss and the connected headphones.

We interpret the interconnectedness between the tree’s branches, the thread, the wind and the people as a metaphor for the complexity of interrelations we witnessed in Kilpisjärvi. It is an artificial spider web of interconnections, a web that is constantly changing and evolving.

The face as a surface receiving and exchanging sensations

Photo: Mari Mäkiö

On our overnight hike from the Biological station to the Saarijärvi hut we acted on an idea that came from Alicja some days ago. Alicja’s research on the Finnish version of Shinrin-Yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing, was an inspiration for us to find soft inviting moss and explore the possibilities of our faces as a surface receiving sensations as well as breathing both in and with our surroundings. We soon realised that the reception of sensations is not limited to the skin of the face but, as we breathe in and out, we also participate in the exchange of microbes and chemicals with our environment.

On our earlier walks on the hills around Kilpisjärvi we had experienced the scarceness of the land and how hardly any scent reached our noses. When lying flat on the ground, ready to press the face against the soft moss, however, a place opened up before our eyes, ears and noses, with all of its various tiny layers, surfaces, and smells. It has been there all along, only the upright position prevented us to experience it. We all pressed our faces or cheeks against the moss while breathing in the earthly scent. There were feelings of the weight of our bodies against the soft surfaces and experiences of our muscles slowly relaxing and allowing our bodies to mould into the ground, while small moss fingers massaged our faces and skin.

Another similar experiment took place on our trip to Norway, at the Steindalsbren glacier. The water coming from the glacier had a milky turquoise colour, the result of the glacier grinding away the rocks and producing a fine-grained powder of silt and clay, a glacier flour. Next to the milky glacier lake we searched for a suitable rock from where to dip our faces into the water. One by one each of us lowered down to our bellies against the rock and submerged our faces inside the lake. This time the act became more performative as we did it one after another while others watched and took photos. The water felt soft to the skin and was surprisingly warm leaving a salty mineral aftertaste. We each had our own way of dipping, some more gentle and some diving in with the whole head. Some of us made a long exhale while going under water, making the water fizz. After walking back to the station and printing out the photos of us with faces submerged in the glacier lake, it seemed like we were reaching to look through the milky surface to another dimension.

The sensations on the face, both times, blocked a lot of the other stimulus coming through the senses of hearing or seeing. Almost automatically our eyes closed when approaching the soft surface of the moss or the coolness of the glacier lake. Both times the act created feelings of different kinds of closeness, an intimate connection with the elements of the environment and an exchange different from those perceived through other senses.

Technological Vision- and Hearing Extensions

The diversity of practices within our group unfolded a multiplicity of approaches to how we observed, took in, or explored the relations within our surrounding environment through our senses. While most of the time, we engaged with ourselves and our environment through our pure bodily senses, we also experimented with mediation through different forms of technological devices that extended our perception.

We augmented our hearing with a floating microphone that was used to register its surrounding environment through an inflatable resonance body equipped with piezo-electric microphones. On a windy day, we released the microphone into the lake next to the Biological Station and listened via bluetooth- connected headphones to the sounds produced by the waves pushing it along the shore. Our viewfield changed by attaching an endoscope to the driftbody, submerging us in an underwater-perspective on the rock-paved, shallow banks of the lake. On the day we visited the Steindalsbren glacier, the “pillow” came with us to record the acoustics around the glacier body, capturing the sounds of a little waterstream entering the glacial lake.

Photo: Joshua Le Gallienne

Throughout the two weeks we extended our vision into the microcosmos with various tools, allowing us to investigate the environment in-situ during our walks or conduct research on samples in the laboratory. Two pocket-microscopes, one of them mountable on the smartphone camera, unfolded a view into a world that didn’t seem to be accessible with our bare eyes. Stone-covering lichen, mushrooms growing on the side of our path and frozen plants coated with clear ice by the vaporise water of the Gihcigorži waterfall revealed their patterns, structures, shapes and micro-topographies on a broad spectrum of bright and vivid colours. Living organisms coming into view under the microscope in the laboratory expressed the vibrant aliveness of the ecosystems we dwelled upon and gave space for us to connect and form relations to these visible micro-environments.


During a little examination-tour of the Biostation’s facilities, we came across a couple of scientific apparatuses, instruments and tools from which one device caught our special attention: a stereoscope. An optical tool for viewing a pair of photos of the same scenery, but with a slightly shifted perspective, that – when watched through the binocular lenses of the stereoscope – appear to merge into one image, positioning the viewer into a seemingly three dimensional environment. The stereoscope gave depth and tangibility into the pairs of static analog photos and allowed us to re-enter moments of our hikes, re-hear the sounds, re-feel the wind, re-see the vast horizon and invite other fellows of the Field Laboratory to share our encounters from this lively perspective.

Photo: Jan Schulz


Bearing Witness

Photo: Mari Mäkiö

Near the end of our time in Field_Notes, we took a trip across the border to Steindalsbreen, a glacier in the Steindalen valley in Northern Norway. We hiked a beautiful route through the valley of the fjord, with its autumnal colours, lush forests, winding rivers and steep rocky peaks. Steindalsbreen is only 50 kilometres away from Kilpisjärvi but the climate was wildly different from what we had acclimatised to over the previous ten days. Here, the land was coated in golden vegetation, which shone in the sun in great contrast to the milky blue waters weaving through the fjord in multiple streams and confluences. The rapid waters provided a constant but constantly fluctuating bed of white noise as we headed towards the glacier. Subtle changes in elevation, proximity, or orientation provided dramatic changes in how the sound of the water was perceived. There was also much birdsong, of which we had experienced so little during our time in Kilpisjärvi.

On the final approach to the glacier, there are a collection of signs that mark certain points along the pathway. The signs are utilitarian in their construction; small sheets of plate metal bolted onto industrial-looking rods. Visually, the soft metallic sheen allows the signs to blend in with the rocks and terrain that immediately surrounds them. However, the meaning of each sign carried a weight that causes it to profoundly stand out from the environment. Each sign charts the decline in the glacier’s mass, acting as a marker of where the glacier once stood at previous moments in time. In Norwegian, the signs plainly state: Her var kanten av Steindalsbreen [Here was the edge of Steindalsbreen], with a date underneath. The first sign we encounter on the path dates back to the 1980s. We continue approaching the glacier step by step and further signs come into view. The dates on these signs lurch forward... 1998... 2002...2010... Seemingly accelerating ever closer to the present day. On foot, we traverse several hundreds of metres through the glacier’s recent history, on grounds it once occupied. We move literally through its absence.

The Steindalsbreen glacier has existed for over 8,000 years. This deep timescale is on some level utterly incomprehensible to us as humans. However, the signs at Steindalsbreen confront us with a timeline that is not so vast, but instead one that is palpable. It is a scale that all of our group members have personally lived through and directly experienced. The signs could be considered a highly effective way in which to communicate the reality of climate change, in a way that media, graphs, or datasets might struggle to replicate. It is neither the content, nor the form of the signs themselves that are poignant, it is the specific framing and experience that they provide us when one is there. They augment the environment with an additional layer of understanding that allows us to conceptualise vast change in a comprehensible manner. Perhaps, the mere acknowledgement of being physically present in a site of considerable change creates the potential for a deeper and more meaningful consideration of climate?

When confronted with the glacier’s impending loss, it was hard to shake off a sense of grief. We contemplated our group’s impact on the glacier. What were the consequences of our physical presence there? Did the heat of our bodies advance the acceleration of the glacier melting on some level? Did the kinetic and mechanical energy from our voices and our footsteps contribute too? Philosopher Timothy Morton might reassure us that such actions are statistically negligible and that the problem with climate-based guilt is that from a political point of view, it always scaled down to us as individuals. Perhaps, on reflection, it was not guilt that was felt at the glacier, but a sense of responsibility.

In animal activism movements, there is a practice known as ‘bearing witness,’ whereby vigils are held for industrially farmed animals during their final transit to slaughterhouses. At these events, activists gather collectively to pay their respects, and to witness the animals in the final moments of their lives. These events are not really about action, political or otherwise, but about being present and experiencing it first-hand. It provides an opportunity to hear and to see other entities who have far less agency than we do and whose lives we are unable to save.

Such activism came to mind whilst at the Steindalsbreen glacier. Whether we intended to or not, we bore witness to an entity in its demise. We listened as streams of post-glacial water congregated and dispersed. We interacted with the many forms of the glacier through our bodies, adapting our posture and orientation to meet it. We stood with bare feet in the icy water, experiencing a rapid energetic exchange as our bodies scrambled to maintain homeostasis. We laid down on our fronts and submerged our faces into the glacial pool to experience its vibrations through our skin, gaining an immersive, tactile intimacy with its materiality. The milky, sediment-rich ice water left a distinctive flavour on our lips long after the colour returned to our cheeks. We documented our presence through various soft, analog, digital, and imaginary technologies.

This glacier (along with countless others in this area) is predicted to completely vanish within two decades. What did it mean to be in its presence at this time and will this meaning change once the glacier ceases to exist? Is there any meaning in listening to a glacier in its final stages? Regardless of meaning, we were present and we listened.

Sharing with others

Photo: Till Bovermann

As part of Field_Notes, we were asked to curate an evening for the other participants. Apart from the concrete date and a rough time frame, we were free to do whatever we wanted. Luckily, the evening allocated for us was rather late in the stay and we could fall back on the experience we gathered during about 10 days of closely working and living together as a group. Our intention for the group evening thus was to convey some of our practices to the bigger group.

The evening began with a simple yet powerful experience – a sheet of semi-opaque bioplastic on the
station’s flagpole, moving slowly in the wind and emanating quiet sounds. The sheet remained uncommented, allowing each individual to interpret its meaning in their own way. It set the tone for the curated evening, inviting participants to engage in a unique and introspective experience. We gathered in front of the main building, directly next to the flagpole. Without exchanging words, we began to walk together towards Kota, the first designated space for the evening’s activities.

Upon reaching Kota, we formed a circle of about 20 people. One of us initiated a whisper circle: A simple question was transmitted from one person to the next, being transformed and interpreted along the way. Surprisingly to us, this created a lot of laughter and joy, possibly because of the absurdity of the situation and the way the question transformed along the way. After the whisper circle, we invited the group to follow us down to the pier in quietness/silence. Everyone was asked to find a spot to stand by their own, and to take off their shoes, grounding themselves in the moment. We engaged in a minute of attuning to the place through shaking, releasing tension and distractions. This was followed by a 5–10 minute standing and breathing meditation, where individuals can choose to keep their eyes open or closed.

Photo: Till Bovermann

The next part of the evening was an installation with black dental floss as described above. Three people at a time were invited to share their thoughts and experiences from the past few days and breathe them into the BDF. Contact microphones connected to the BDF amplified the sounds of the breath, creating a unique soundscape that could be listened intimately by the acting participants, and, via a speaker in Kota, by the rest of the group.

While waiting their turn, our guests encountered photos and questions hanging from a tree. They were invited to engage with these visual cues, reflecting on the images of our group’s activities and reading through the questions we pose. After some time, the group was invited into Kota, where we formed another whisper circle. The question remained the same. The evening concluded with a silent walk back to the front of the main building. As the participants reach the front of the main building, they encounter the bioplastic sheet again.


At the end of the two-week gathering, our collective gazing through the bus’s rear window, in silence we share the felt sense that the fragment of the North that fades from view will morph into an altered reality very soon.

We look back at a journey of transformation and adaptation. We engaged with the North’s metamorphosis and impending complex change through a collective, empathetic practice of wait- and witfully listening and inquiring. Our entangling with moss, liken, boulder, buzzard, phantom tick and - mosquito, alarmed lemmings, deer, berry-bird shit and other poo, human stories old and newer allowed us to resonate at least to some extent with rhythm, vibrations and tonalities of “the North”.

Gradually, through the shared practicing, the individuals of the Waiting and Hearing Group evolved in fourteen days into a considered creative collaborative microcosm. One that is walking a soothing poetic pathway, furthering full of failure the artful practice of ways of questioning, understanding, relating and becoming.

Instigated by the Wait and Hear group practice, following moments of sharing with fellow artists and researchers are noted:

  • October 2023 — “In conversation with Tundra, Glacier & Bartaku” - Open studio at science lab X-LAB's biennial art & science X-Festival, University of Hasselt (BE);
  • November 2023 — Artist talk by Christina Stadlbauer & Bartaku on attunement practices during Field_Notes, at the NeuroEpiGenetics Conference, department of Philosophy, University of Antwerp;
  • 19–23 August 2024 — We shared our listening practices so to contribute to an installation by Max Bautista Perpinyà, Alicia Jeannin and Dmitry Arzyutov that will be displayed at the 4th World Congress of Environmental History, at Oulu University (FI).
  • An interview by Till Bovermann with Elsa Ferreira about Field_Notes and Wait and Hear for Makery


We would like to thank the joyful team of the Bioart Station, namely Kalevi Laurila (caretaker), and Mervi Haapala (kitchen staff) and her crew, for generously welcoming and hosting us throughout the two weeks of the Field Laboratory. A heartfelt thank you, to Maija-Susanna Sujala (field team), Hannu Autto (service coordinator), Oula Kalttopää (field team), Anu Ruohomäki (research coordinator), and Pirjo Hakala (station manager) for inviting us to their insights and knowledge with curiosity and excitement.

Additionally, we would like to thank Lisa Kalkowski (producer), Milla Millasnoore (communications), Piritta Puhto (managing director), Erich Berger (former director) for creating a space for inspirational exchange, mind-expanding conversations and a great amount of memorable experiences! A big thanks goes to Leena Valkeapää (artist relations of bioart society) for building up shared realities and for being a source of knowledge while guiding us through the tundra. We would also like to thank Oula Valkeapää, Liisa-Rávná Finbog and Joshua Rutter for their inspirational thoughts and practices they shared with us. To the members of the TALE and Andscapes group, thanks a lot for the valuable discussions on a daily and nightly basis and for making this collective two-weeks-endeavour a wonderfully-magical one! Not least, we would like to thank the more-than-humans for their conversations and unexpected encounters, for sharing their habitat with us, and for attuning with us. Thank you, for all the new seeds and thoughts planted in our minds. They will grow with and within us.

Suggested reading

Title Author
Tricksters, cracks & exit from the death spiral of colonization Akomolafe, B. & Krull, H.
A little guidebook for home listening (2020) Annea Lockwood et al.
Bioart Society: Navigating the fine madness of art and science Berger, E. & Kröger, B.
The Ethics of Deep Listening: A Practice for Environmental Awareness Bjelica, M.
A Series of More-Than-Human Encounters - artists video conversations Crosstalks - Kaaitheater BRU - Various artists
soundmapping as critical cartography engaging publics Droumeva, Milena
Earth is a solar powered jukebox Hempton, Gordon
The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill Ingold, Tim
Listening: Jean-Luc Nancy and the “Anti-Ocular” Turn in Continental Philosophy and Critical Theory Janus, A.
Walking as Intelligent Enactment: A New Realist Approach Lovasz, A.
Field Guide to the Patchy Anthropocene

Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna and Deger, Jennifer and Saxena, Alder Keleman and Zhou Feifei

Deep listening a composer’s sound practice Oliveros, Pauline
Quantum Listening Oliveros, Pauline
Walk like a mountain the handbook of buddhist Parchelo, I. Ray
Critical terms in futures studies Paul, H.
Degrees of freedom living in dynamic boundaries Rayner, Alan DM
A sound education 100 exercises in listening and sound-making Schafer, Murray
Walking meditation Thích Nhất Hạnh
Five protocols for organized listening Ultra-Red (Ed.)
Le dérive (`drift ́; see also Situationism) Wikipedia

Photo on the top of the page: Till Bovermann