The social life of the Octopus

Researchers have found an 'octopus village' off Australia that reveals the creatures' social side, read more here.



Musings on mapping and (sea) monsters…

I find myself musing on the connection between mapping and the depiction of monsters. Mapping in the past, and mapping for the future. In the history of mapping, the charting of place and space has also represented the unusual, uncanny beasts which inhabit ‘the unknown’. Scary monsters, aliens, strange creatures in a strange land (inspiration for the terminology courtesy of Bowie of course, once again…).

In early medieval maps like the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the world (that is, the Christian world) is shown as a circle with 'the East' at the top. East represents Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The rest of the world is depicted as geographically - and historically - developing out from that top point. Cities and places are shown, also events, but what is significant is the inclusion of a variety of extraordinary creatures, which are indeed ‘scary monsters’ and super beasts.

The creatures depicted are part of the experience of the mapping. It is not about finding your way. It is about losing yourself in an experience of being placed. Or maybe it is not about being placed at all. Quite the opposite, perhaps. Dominic Harbour (Hereford Cathedral) speaking on BBC programme about the Mappa Mundi says: "It is... have to immerse yourself into it."

In these early maps, then, the creatures depicted are shown as strange, monstrous and unknown, yet the function of these disturbing depictions at the time was to show the power of God, in that if such beasts could be created by God's power, then this was the threat of what could exist in the afterlife. The unusual and the unknown, therefore, was used to ward off uncertainty, in that if such strange creatures did exist, then it confirmed God's power. The mirabilia (marvels) were necessary: they proved a moral point.

Yet, of course, now in the 21st century we have moved on from this imaginiative form of mapping.  Our Mappa Mundi is google earth? But what about the mirabilia - the scary monsters? Do they still have a function?

We do still seem obsessed with notions of scary monsters, particularly the unknown creatures of the sea, about which we still know so little. Several recent news stories are evidence of our persistent interest: giant whales washed up on beaches at Skegness and Hunstanton, giant squid seen alongside boat in Japan (and the recent Octopus Village…)…and we do continue to marvel at these creatures.

Yet, as we learn more about them as zoological species and our technology (and the numerous videos we can view on You Tube) gives us insight, is the marvelousness being diluted? We are even told they are not so unusual, not so remarkable. Smithsonian Zoologist Dr. Clyde Roper (2013) "the world's foremost authority on giant squid" tells us: "Giant squid are probably not rare, as was once thought. In fact, since sperm whales regularly feast on them, giant squid must be quite abundant, perhaps numbering in the many millions within the ocean’s vast inky depths. But they are hard to find because they occur at depths where it is challenging and expensive to work." 
Facts. Science. Measurable information. We might know everything if we could fund the expedition?

Yet, while the 'monsters' become more accessible and less scary, we remain fascinated by these creatures. Their mystery, their strangeness. Maybe we want them to remain mirabilia, even monstrous. Maybe we want to feel that we cannot be reassured by knowledge.

"She opened strange doors that we'd never close again......Scary monsters, super creeps. Keep me running, running scared." (David Bowie)

(1) Image by Olaus Magnus (born 1490) from a wood-block map titled Carta Marina (printed Venice, 1539). Magnus also wrote a book titled Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus ("History of the Northern Peoples") published in Rome in 1555, which explained the images of the sea creatures. 
(2) Hereford Mappa Mundi c1300.
(3) (4) The bodies of sperm whales washed up on British beaches on the east coast - Gibraltar Point in Skegness.

Fay Hoolahan (3.1.16)

Clyde Roper (2013)
The Beauty of Maps Episode 1 - BBC Four [TX: 19 Apr 2010]
BBC News Report -
David Bowie Scary Monsters, Super Creeps (1980)


following the Futuro House meeting 20 January 2016:



Futuro House gives sensingsite the opportunity to think other ‘ futures’ without the pressure of short term gain and an economy of repetitive re-production.

Futuro sits on the edge, a temporary space whose obsolescence re the modernist dreams of a utopian future, allows for a crisis of thinking and doing  to be aired.

Futuro is a meeting place of colliding thoughts, frustrations and musings which does not ‘push against’ but rather ‘pushes towards’ avoiding oppositional thinking. A mesh is not a network (Ingold).

Sensingsite in Futuro house considers the enriching powers of a poverty of means rather than accumulation of cultural capital.

We are thinking animals, we are octopus, possibly, not Major Thom.

Susan Trangmar

No solace in done senses

Owed to war, we construct ourselves a world we've learned to fight from afar.

To kill and take occasional showers.

Staunchest consumption is presented as the helping of others: the ideal vaccine.

Accident issues Manifesto. Historic kitsch Futurism. There's a certificate for that.

He sent these to me and a few others because we're going to bring things down, and start anew.

I like the coldness of you and your speeding. Is that your car?

Offend and connection. Certain clues to undermine the system.

The Temple as a graphical space?

You're making it sound quite utopian.

Here's a now where everything is exactly as it was in the city. Here's a now to take and develop from.

There is no actuality, only probability - a continual colonisation of the previous iteration.

King's Cross disparaging loveless move against a form of Marxist caution.

Make the sharp left turn. It’s one of those things that's become a bit trendy.

It’s all about a confusion of temporal connections, carried on the leftovers that you sent me.

And so it becomes a totally different project.

How do we perform within this framework, the customers who work on the other side?

You have to readdress it, your intention in the square corner.

Formative zoos and misting film - a cycle of kindness.

How to do that fission while the venture is merely an exploration of pretty fabric?

Spiritual particle physics.

Resilience and matter - the different register is more survivable.

Sciences are like particular words. If you push them as fast as you possibly can, they will eventually break.

The magic of problematics is the making of the thing. Is it space, is it time?

You know, maybe I don't know, and that’s why it becomes interesting.


Sam Burford

Futuro Writing 1
We are not they, we are Octopus, inside the Futuro, we do not care about they; it is time to leave the capsule if you dare...

We are billion year old carbon. Atoms fall through the sky, swerving and colliding across never ending galaxies. Plant Earth's magnetic journey around the Sun, bumps and grinds off kilter, because of human influenced global warming. The Earth's next predestined Ice Age falters and stalls. The Ice Age is unwilling to engage with the proliferation of human industry warming the plant, since the 1790s.

We not they, question the pursuit of deliberate work creation productivity. We seek alternatives, the unsuccessful outcome with no agenda. The ceramic Octopus had at some point broken. The Octopus fragments were carefully assembled and stuck, reforming the containers surface. Star Men / persons float across the sky. Prog rock Gentle Giant's Octopus sends out tendrils, time passes, and the Octopus tendrils still unfurl through blue rays surround sound waves.

We are stardust. We are golden. We are performing. Are the circuits dead? Is there something wrong? We are sitting in the fabricated tin can. The site contains us. What is retro, can become future dwelling formats, as shifts in perception occur. The valued bygone object allows ones generation of thoughts, words and conversation. The retro object is almost mythic, grasping at a purposeful reality of its own desire, not on the margins of society, but assisting a redirection of society. Groups of humans, they not we, construct desired lists directing values, sequencing transactions of products and services. Hawking argues science and technology fuelling progressive consumption of resources and Earth’s erosion will soon perpetuate the humans’ need to find habitation on other planets. Science and technology becomes a self-propelling imperative to fulfill the expenditure of Planet Earth.

How is it, suddenly, a much larger planet might exist beyond Pluto, unseen by humans on previous occasions? Did the Starman have to die in order for this information to be released? Art non-conforms where ever and whenever it can, elsewhere, in forms of activism, both seen and often unseen, stored on external hard drives. The stack of hard drives turns in to a mountain, reforming the Earth's surface, reconstructing Earth over a short space of time in Earth-time continuum. We have to get ourselves back to the garden, (to plant potatoes).

This conversation exists in an extended given moment, propelled as discourse through cybernetic technology. Human hands rearrange atoms of material in order to make this possible. Even the recording device looks like a retro component from a bygone era, and signifies itself as a desirable, collectable object.

The Octopus and Squid are part of Cephalopod taxonomy. The Giant Squid is hard to observe in deep water. Conversation is temporal but can continue over space and time. We are Octopods. Our (one’s) thoughts are tendrils reaching out to join or access other segments of Octopus mind. If we sat under a large Stargate (a copper energy device), would our conversation be the same or is it a particular to an individual site? Does Futuro, although circular, base its self on a crystalline construction (a geodesic dome perhaps), producing a higher vibrancy than an angular object? Crystals are arrangements of atoms. Some report crystals are not alive, yet paradoxically crystals grow. Crystals create energetic fields. Architecture is often angular. Through the oval windows our surroundings are glimpsed as ellipses. Inside Futuro it is calm. We avoid anxiety. Do curves constructed in the built environment allow for more bohemian, alternative thought and living; a possibility of thought influenced by architecture? Thrifty economy can be curved or angular directed by they or we the Octopus. We are counter-productive, but cultivating research, filling a black hole.

Jean Baudrillard, "Subjective Discourse or The Non-Functional System of Objects", (1968).
David Bowie, "Space Oddity", (1969), "Starman", (1972).
R. Buckminster Fuller, "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth", (1968).
Gentle Giants "Octopus", (1972).
Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock", (1970).
Stephen Hawking, Reith Lecture (2016).
Stih & Schnock, “Who needs art, we need potatoes”, (1998-2009).

Kate Corder



Trip to heave and ho, up down, to and fro', you have no word
Trip, trip to a dream dragon, hide your wings in a ghost tower
Sails cackling at every plate we break
Cracked by scattered needles, the little minute gong coughs and clears his throat
Madam you see before you stand, hey ho, never be still
The old original favorite grand, grasshoppers green Herbarian band
And the tune they play is "In Us Confide"
So trip to heave and ho, up down, to and fro', you have no word
Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!

Isn't it good to be lost in the wood
Isn't it bad so quiet there, in the wood
Meant even less to me than I thought
With a honey plough of yellow prickly seeds
Clover honey pots and mystic shining feed

Well, the madcap laughed at the man on the border, hey ho, huff the Talbot
"Cheat" he cried shouting kangaroo, it's true in their tree they cried
Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!

Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!

The madcap laughed at the man on the border, hey ho, huff the Talbot
The winds they blew and the leaves did wag
They'll never put me in their bag, the seas will reach and always seep
So high you go, so low you creep, the wind it blows in tropical heat
The drones they throng on mossy seats, the squeaking door will always squeak
Two up, two down we'll never meet, so merrily trip forgo my side
Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!

Syd Barrett

Futuro House Meeting, 16 December 2015

John Hartley, Adriana Cobo Corey, Susan Trangmar, and Steven Ball in conversation in Futuro House photo by Carali McCall
Productive Lines of Site?

We recently met in Futuro House to discuss and reflect upon the series of events sensingsite.

Futuro House is a site that references (now charmingly archaic) notions of technologically-framed improvement. It evokes a design ancestry excited about  opening up or reaching into new spaces (it's an interstellar house!). It speaks of change that is expansionist and techno-colonial. Its ways of changing feel Euclidean in some ways (direct, linear, planned, clean even?).

The site's vintage futurism remembers optimistic vectors of change that were to be realised through rational mastery of an ever-increasing domain (across spatial, social and technical frontiers). That these design references are now reduced to humour and kitsch underlines how we can no longer ride these vectors with a straight face. Its ideological geometries are bankrupt.

By comparison,
sensingsite has been an archipelago of events that examine located practices of different (sometimes tangled) forms and with different concerns. Each iteration has accumulated insights and learned from what has come before in some ways. The events (at least the ones that I have been part of) have repeatedly returned to question assumptions around 'site' and practices that engage with site; they rework the same ground many ways and many times. Yet moving between the iterations there seems to have been a form of development or narrative, and it seems to have activated connections and resonances that link, overlay or relate apparently remote loci. How can we be sure these events have not been doing the same work over and over? What changes as these geometries are repeatedly enacted and performed?

Meeting in the Futuro House challenges how we think about 'progress' when describing this process of iterative change. It demands different ways of thinking trajectories and repetitions (operators?) of discovery, critique and difference. It demands other ways of tracing connection between events and values of 'site'... different ways of recording flight and connection evident in the research process.

Do we (must we?) recall the ground we have covered? Previous events have shown site to be connected to past memories and remote or hidden social and economic practices. It is accessible in different ways depending upon authority, politics, shifting ownership and our own perceived or displayed socio-economic identity. Site is in the devices and technologies we bring to it. It is shaped by forces of the anthropocene... artefacts that entangle industry, weather, social habits, individual perceptions and imperceptions.

To recall the cliché attributed to Heraclitus, we both step and do not step in the same river twice. Site is here and it is elsewhere (elsewhen) simultaneously. So, what is the nature of these connections? Should we draw arrows and straight lines between them? Can we picture, reflect or represent the other within site? Or are other ways, other geometries, called for ?

Further touch points of interest:
Promises of Monsters, Haraway, (in particular diffraction patterns of interference p300)
Tracing Value, work with Chelsea College of Art for Cultures of Resilience UAL
De Landa's Deleuzian descriptions of attractors and unstable and emergent geometries
Our own ambivalence about the ideas of redundancy and obsolescence

John Hartley


Open/Collective Documentation: discussing future events in the Futuro House

Our first challenge is accumulating ideas about the space… How does the retro, future-seeking, kitsch, structure allow us to think differently about the site and how artists working on-site at CSM alter? 

In the Futuro House – we are hidden away in a reproduction / mock structure that ideally and metaphorically has the potential to transport us to the limitless outer space – the idea lifts one’s spirits in an amusing, comical way…  but how completely unaware or aware of the complex site can we be? 

On the roof of the institution with a view of the Kings Cross redeveloping area, overseeing people’s offices and apartments, train lines and the horizon of the cityscape / the slivers of economic growth; the space leaves us still questioning the institution, colonization, various connotations with branding, businesses progress and expansion.

Thinking about the space as a temporal, it creates an escapist route (an opening up of vector paths perhaps of what John H. speaks of), which could be tracked over far galactic distances in real time. The confusion of defining the space retro or futuristic, neither here nor there, addresses mobility and movement. But it is a static, heavy, mechanical structure and it places us in a fictional and fabricated context weighted by connotations. 

Is it a setting for exercising our relationships with what we know of each other’s work… a little at odds…. a circumstance, a mysterious / foreign-seeking perspective on what might be sensingsite – or, the act of sensing-site?

Is the space redundant? A movie-set of the future or what feels like a ‘choose your own adventure’ fictitious stage – proposing a 50/60’s sci-fi with us, as artists, undergoing (real) research… Perhaps not redundant but something that moves us into thinking about obsolescence and the making of artists’ objects.

What will we produce on the other side – the outcome of our discussions told and presented from our experiences? How is this sharing ideas and problematizing the site?

It is the content sometimes hard to find… we’ve looked at themes... we’ve been drawn together for different reasons or another, but mainly because of a link to site and this precise act of making of site. Now, to be meeting in a strange location approximately 7-storey’s high on a roof its called for a ‘checking in’ a shifting understanding of if we might present as productive work. 

Carali McCall

What if Cinema was a Place? Singin’ in the Rain as an Imaginary Cityscape by Sam Burford

The background to the whole project ultimately begins with my childhood experiences of visiting my grandmother and playing with a set of coloured wooden blocks - I’ve still got them in the original bag, though they’re looking a bit faded these days.
 Sam Burford writes about his project for Forage Press.

photographs from in this neck of the woods

Adriana Cobo Corey performs The Great Unwashed / Dirty Laundry in the Granary Square fountains
Nick Ferguson
John Hartley questions Sam Thomas,
Customer Operations Manager, Canal & River Trust London
Sam Burford's Malleable Cinema (detail)
Professor Jeremy Till
Dr Kate Corder
the aftermath of Kevin Logan's performance Snap-stick, (Slapstick), Crack and Rustle: locating sonic-signifiers
Thanks to Rachel Kremer for these photographs of In This Neck of the Woods. Sam Burford has also written about the event for the CCW Graduate School blog.

In This Neck of the Woods

In This Neck of the Woods
a sensingsite research event

Consisting of paper presentations, performances, and installation works by PhD and post Doctoral researchers from UAL and beyond, In This Neck of the Woods will present a range of responses to the environs of Central Saint Martins and King’s Cross, considered as sites for the production and reception of experimental critical practice and research.

Introductory presentations by:
Anna Minton
Professor Jeremy Till

Research presentations by:
Sam Burford (Chelsea)
Adriana Cobo Corey (CSM)
Dr Kate Corder
Dr Nick Ferguson
Maria Fernanda Calderón (Wimbledon)
John Hartley (Falmouth) 
Kevin Logan (LCC)
Dr Carali McCall
Dr Pat Naldi
Maria Papadomanolaki (LCC)
Ingrid Pumayalla (CSM)

More information and abstracts

09:30 – 18:00
Thursday 4 June 2015
Lecture Theatres E002 and E003
Central Saint Martins
Granary Building 
1 Granary Square 
King’s Cross 
London N1C 4AA