Bad data (KLH)
At a distance from Hyytiälä, I’d considered walking in parallel somewhere as close to a forest as I could find in East London, Zooming in for as long as the data plan on my phone would allow. But the morning of the walk I wake up sick, my body too weak for walking long distances, my senses slightly blurred. Propped up in bed with my headphones in I roll a spiky London plane seed I’d picked up a few days earlier – waterlogged, dried out again, and now light and hollow – around in my hand.
A few weeks before, I’d listened to Andrea give a paper about more-than-human data and stories at Hyytiälä as part of The Forest Multiple workshop in Cambridge. Andrea mentioned conversations with and between scientists at Hyytiälä about what to do when trees start producing "bad data", when the information they offer about their environments becomes unreliable, suggesting interference or depletion in the trees’ capacities to support monitoring technologies. When this happens the scientists often swap the sensors and other monitoring devices from one tree onto another, taking into account their differences.
A few minutes after the walk begins, the laptop Andrea is carrying around to guide remote participants runs out of battery. From Markéta’s phone, we see Andrea rummage around in a rucksack, get another laptop, try again. This time the battery power lasts – and we are taken along boardwalks across berry bushes ("it’s the wrong time for berries", says Andrea, and yet there they are in the changing climate), through birdless trees ("the birds stay away from here", from the incessant hum of the forest’s data infrastructures that Zoom suppresses as background noise), up scaffolded steps into the canopy in the winter afternoon’s slanting sun. While the in-person walkers catch their breath, remote walkers share vignettes about the forest objects they have brought to the meeting, and then the in-person walkers share theirs.
In these moments of hybrid gathering – incompletely, sometimes glitchily – I’m reminded of disability culture activist/artist Petra Kuppers’ series of poems "Moon Botany". Kuppers writes:
"The Moon Botany series began as an exercise in armchair botany: my friend and visual artist Sharon Siskin went on wheelchair-inaccessible nature hikes and brought back found materials for a creative exchange with me. She arranged the physical objects on the wooden table of our artist-residency hut in the Oregonian outback, and I provided new narratives and emotional containers."
In one poem tracing the journey of a ‘wet Redwood forest’ remade into pond decking, Kuppers locates these objects in histories of dispossession and extraction in the place currently called the United States. At the same time, she suggests possibilities for sensing across different, distributed, and interdependent bodies via technological and storytelling devices. Remembering this, from my perspective in bed and not (not) in the forest, the experimental walk becomes a way of assembling, attending and attuning to "bad data" – the noise of unsound bodies and technologies – differently.