Amphibious Trilogies

Travelling with Serres

I’ve been visiting Hong Kong for the CUMULUS design research conference. Its a city that asks we daily consider the vibrancy and challenges of urban living. I’ve been seeing old friends and discussing the passing of time, the passage of our culturally diverse experiences and learning more about the energies and creativity of this magnificent city.

There are many routes, and levels, overlays and underpasses, passages within and between the routes and railings. Crossings, transits and transitions. People on the move and moving through their urban infrastructures, involved in the activities of their lives and work.

I see this iconic intersection and just stand and watch it, walking, people talking to one another, beside each other and on their mobiles, cars, signs, walkways, a multi-vectoral mesh of movement. Multi-kinesis.

No, the real is not cut up into regular patterns, it is sporadic, spaces and times with straits and passes. . . . Therefore I assume there are fluctuating tatters; I am looking for the passage among these compli­cated cuttings. I believe, I see that the state of things consists of islands sown in archipelagoes on the noisy, poorly-understood dis­order of the sea, . . . the emergence of sporadic rationalities that are not evidently nor easily linked. Passages exist, I know, I have drawn some of them in certain works using certain operators. . . . But I cannot generalize, obstructions are manifest and counter-examples abound.

Serres, M. (1980). Hermes V: Le Passage du Nord-Ouest. Paris: Minuit. pp. 23-24.


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In the Amphibious Trilogies project, passage has been taken up a metaphor for different experiences, conditions and encounters, journeys and emergences that are connected to movement out in the world and ways our worlds move and in so doing shape us. Central to these forms and formulations is interest in the artistic and poetic playing out of way finding and design-artistic-communicative-performative relations of becoming. By this we mean movement in and as and about relational co-creative and emergent ontology.

Here we might rather be saying passaging than passage. The meanderings, unfoldings, swerves and surfacings that have been part of engaging experientially and analytically in moving in and through and with key societal issues and phenomena and their forces and weightings in the second decade of the 21st century. We work in times and conditions and changing environments and values where a climate emergency, human migration propelled by war and economic need. We are entangled in researching movement artistically and via poetics in a world where aspirations and certainties are undermined by an ethos of uncertainty. We try to shift or work beyond spaces and settings where expectations and trust are often bridled with dissolution and deception.

How then are we to set out into the world together and alone as a project team and embroil ourselves in experiences and settings where the ice is literally shifting beneath our feet – as much as metaphorically, psychologically and affectively. What are the poetics of such endeavours? How might they be understood as performative acts of inquiry while remaining creative and even prospective offerings for others? Where might we travel and land and wait and dwell? How would out diverse backgrounds and experience and expertise meld and shear apart? In what ways might they challenge us and enrich our understanding and pursuits?Might we notice and elaborate on their ‘arrivals’, those we aspire to and those slipping through into different and unexpected rhymes, rhythms and routes?

We work in a moving mesh of artistic practice and its related critical experimentation and enunciation. We address the psychological and anthropological, the discursive and the performative, the mediational and non-representational, historical and future facing.

Passage. Rite of passage. A transition, a cultural threshold, a piece of text, a narrow straight, even a funnel, another piece of text, the process of writing, acts of composing, simply having gone through something together, a transit, a transition, a conveyance, travelling through time and space, a course of events, but also the interchange of experience and events, less dispute and altercation or the passage of arms, but a passing through, or a crossing, across terrain and territory but also concepts and ideas, from separation to limnality and ceremony and alteration and reconstitution. To see how much movement is implicit in artistic, professional, academic and dictionary definitions, to be surprised that there is so little explicit mention of the sanguinity of movement, of a lexicography of kinesis.

The word ‘passaging’ we meet rather rarely. A Google search returns ‘to passage subcultures of cells’. These are minutes and day and months and times, long futures too, while our bodies and minds, histories and aspirations are entangled in the Anthropocene of the now as we too drift along in the debris of our contributions, ice melting, waters rising, wealth concentrating, conflicts proliferating. We move in the present, increasingly aware we tilt towards tomorrow, on terms we partly understand and direct, swirls of information and anxieties alongside the insistent pressures of the present to survive and to find ways to move together creatively and even responsibly.

To open out and go within and through a passaging, that gerund or present participle being all about anticipation. Not only to take care ahead of time, in its medieval European sense. But to take care to move and to find out how it too is a central part of sustainable, vibrant and fantastic futures. Where artistic performativity, design co-creativity and social ‘accounting’ and critique also move alongside one another, now connected, then entangled, unfurled and projected, deeply questioned and joyfully addressed.


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Website design #1

An interview between Jon Olav Eikenes, interaction designer and Amphibious Trilogies’ Andrew Morrison.

Andrew Morrison (AM): Hello Jon Olav. And thanks for taking time to reflect back on design work in shaping the interface for the Amphibious Trilogies project.

You have been working with interface and web design for quite some time now and I was fortunate to be a small part of this in supporting your PhD in Interaction Design at AHO. Could you tell us what the title term ‘Navimation’ means? What is it about the term and its activities in an interface that works as a design material and as a means to augment the mediation of different forms and modes of information, data and content.

Jon Olav Eikenes (JOE): websites and apps increasingly include various types of movement, ranging from animated icons to smooth transitions and visual changes that happen when scrolling. Navimation is a concept that describes the intertwining of the activity of navigation (for example on a web page) with the appearance of visual motion in the interface. The basic idea is that movement can be used to explain what is happening as well as create something unexpected and playful as the user is navigating the digital space. In my experience, describing the phenomenon and analysing different types of navimation made it available as a design material.

AM: When we first approached you about developing an interface for the practice based arts project Amphibious Trilogies and the focus on movement in the world, what sorts of associations and ideas came to mind about a possible project interface?

JOE: To be honest it was a bit hard to grasp what the project was all about in the beginning. One thing was clear – this was not a traditional web design project. Normally I start projects by focusing on user needs and goals, but in this project the process was more centred around metaphors, connotations and visual expression. What really helped us to get started was to look at various existing dynamic interfaces and websites, and discuss what worked, didn’t work, and why. When I showed you (Andrew and Amanda) an example from a specific digital Virtual Reality tool, you felt that the digital space it presented matched well with what you were looking for. That was an important moment, and the tool became a central reference for the rest of the project.

AM: Could you please tell us a little about how you went about developing the interface. As your reply may interest others than the project team, perhaps you could comment on how you arrived at the specific forms of motion and the modes of communicating them, graphically and kinetically?

JOE: The use of movement in this interface is primarily connected to navigation – zooming, panning and “flying” around in the virtual interface space. As such the movement is very much directly connected to the user’s actions and follows common conventions for navigation in 3D space. I was able to make a prototype quite early in the process by using the before-mentioned VR tool. This made the process a lot easier than it otherwise would have been. In addition, I made traditional sketches, experimenting with layout, colours and typography. As usual, the design process becomes much easier when including sketches and material examples rather than only thinking and talking about what the artefact might become.

AM: Part of your making the site was to work with our Canadian web site developer Boris Kourtoukov. What did you each bring to the development process and outcome? Could you please comment on the relationships to the platform and programming and the motional and graphic design of the interface. 

JOE: Boris had experience from developing dynamic websites before, and he implemented the solution, which in itself is impressive. In addition, he brought fresh ideas and artistic perspectives to the process. When developing highly kinetic interfaces it can be hard to envision how the end result will feel like based on static sketches. Therefore, it is necessary to work iteratively, and went back and forth several times testing various aspects of the interface. Another challenge with such interfaces is that the technological solution is quite complex, and it can be hard to make it work well across all kinds of browsers and devices. I am positively surprised by how well it works!

AM: In our view, as people who have worked with the design and entered content, the site is working very well. Do you have some favourite elements or features? 

JOE: I’m glad to hear that! I really like the colours and the overall visual style of it. And the “fly to post” transition is quite neat.

AM: Now that you see the site with material – relating to concepts such as amphibiousness and the three themes island, pond, passage – how satisfied are you with the dynamics of your interface? 

JOE: This was a small project with very limited resources, and still we managed to pull off something that is quite unique and intriguing. There are things here and there I would like to improve, but in general I am satisfied with the result.

AM: Work on Interaction Design for some has a tendency to steer away from Art. Do you have any thoughts, having done this project, on the relationship between the two in terms of practice based inquiry? 

JOE:  The consequence of bad (interface) design has real world implications, ranging from unhappy users to large accidents. There is a huge need for digital products and services that are useful, safe, easy to use and enjoyable. Seen from that perspective, I would say it is a good thing that interaction designers are most often concerned with solving real-world problems for people in their daily lives. That is also the type of interaction design I am most comfortable working with, as I believe the largest impact I can have as a designer is to help solve some of those problems. However, that doesn’t mean that such design solutions can’t also be enjoyable and playful. In any case – once in a while I find it refreshing to do something that is a bit different, where there is room for more exploration, ambiguity and playfulness. I believe that there is much to learn and bring across diverse types of projects, and this experience makes me a better designer overall.

AM:  Thanks for your frank and informative replies Jon Olav. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

JOE: Thank you for the opportunity to work on this projects, and good luck with your seminar!


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Movement in the interface

In designing the website for Amphibious Trilogies we wanted to include some degree of motion and a sense of movement as a core element for users.

Part of this interest arises from the filtering of motion graphics and dynamic characteristics of games into interface and interaction design. We were interested to draw on insights such as those colleagues and former PhD students, Synne Skjulstad and Jon Olav Husabø Eikenes.

Synne has a talent for seeing interface and for reading them as cultural constructs, especially where they contain connections between the kinetic and the mediational. In his doctoral work, and subsequently commercial design and media innovation work in interaction design, Jon Olav has developed the notion of ‘navimation‘. Here’s what he says:

… navimation is the intertwining of the activity of navigation with the appearance of visual motion. The word motion seems more appropriate than the word animation, since animation often is understood as a specific genre or technique for making movies.

There are many ways to study navimation. For example, using cognitive psychology one can study how navimation is perceived by a specific user, and how navimation can help the user perform a specific task. From computer science, one can study how the underlying software technology can efficiently support navimation interfaces. From an artistic point of view, one can look at how navimation can be explored aesthetically and used for personal expression. From a marketing point of view, one can study how navimation can be used for strategic purposes, for example as part of visual identity and branding strategies.

However, my focus is somewhere else. As a design researcher, I am interested in how navimation can communicate. What can designers communicate by using navimation? How do you actually go about to create a navimational interface? What does navimation offer that visually static interfaces cannot? And – how is navimation engaging us at the affective level? 

Try out the Amphibious Trilogies website for yourself as an example of navimation. We’ve been lucky enough to involve Jon Olav in its design.

One of the things we have found in entering material is that that it’s possible to also move elements of the interface to relate to the content, as allusion, by shape, as a way of linking horizons, seascapes and motions, as is suggested above

Try it out, see if you can find correspondences or divergences between the tilting, zooming, or moving horizontally through the interface and the content windows that you select or may prompt you to look for. Take a leap ….


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A dynamic relational terrella

Movement in the interface. Moving interfaces. Interfaces of movement. A miniature world of activity, an expanse of sky and land and sea, of islands, ponds and passages. These you see manifested in the Amphibious Trilogies website. It was important to develop a graphic, dynamic interface to convey the kinetic and the communicative in the project’s overall relational ontology where ‘journeying’ and becoming were central.

Mercator’s 1595 map of the Arctic. Mercator, Gerhard, 1512-1594

This a site that has drawn on an underlying game engine architecture to allow users to navigate a pseudo 3D space. In doing so, elements in the interface move, and through graphic and spatial design relations between diverse and connected elements may be identified, pursued and distinguished.

The site is more than a set of disparate elements, more than a distributed flotsam and jetsam of plural participants. Entries are written and imaged on themes, and linkages between items are made through the use of categories and tags. One needs to move about the interface to explore its surfaces and depths, to rotate and zoom to investigate its content and diversity of images and contexts.

The circular default image of the whole site is a terrella of sorts. The terrella was developed by William Gilbert and published in 1914 and taken up by the Norwegian Kristian Birkelund in his experiments with magnetism and the earth’s poles, and the aurora borealis.

The latter we have pursued actively in the project, resulting in collaborative work with another former AHO PhD interaction design student and interaction designer/artist Dr Anthony Rowe from Squidsoup in the UK. See our Aurora Imaginaris, one we envisage as a new terrella for dark times ….

Our project contains two terrella. One is the Aurora Imaginaris, an actual space of 3D projection inside our world. The other this website itself. A mini-world of moving, floating, filtered, drifting and connected elements that are like atomic particles, linked and distributed, in motion but each made of matter. Together mattering in their being made and moved in a relational whole. Being in and of and about the world where choreography may be more fully appreciated as providing expertise and embodied knowledge about movement as material.

‘Movement as material’ in interaction design is the stuff of yet another former AHO PhD design student, Assoc Prof Lise Hansen. There is much more than meets the eyes in connection design’s knowledge on interfaces, exhibitions, materials inquiry and mediating interfaces than is present in mainstream choreography. Lise’s thesis is an excellent read, as are he many other publications on movement as design material.

To think about movement in today’s world in the context of climate emergency, or perceptions and practices of fake and trustworthy news, of the societal pressure and forces of migration, survival and sustainability. Of a globe exposed to its own carnivorous actions.


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PASSAGE: An artistic research event

31 October 2019 : 1200–1700
Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO)
Academy of Dance
Host: Amphibious Trilogies Artistic Research Project
Free attendance, registration required

Amphibious Trilogies is a developmental arts and practice based inquiry realised through an extended choreography.

The main goal is to artistically explore and monitor littoral spaces via an extending choreography of related literal, bodily and border conditions, environments and communication.

This event draws together experience and insights from this leading senior level three-year collaborative transdisciplinary artistic research project. The event leads up to a final artistic research seminar to be hosted by the project in early 2020.

This seminar will focus on the theme of PASSAGE, partner to Island and Pond, in the Amphibious Trilogies project.

The seminar is free and open to KHIO colleagues and students, and to others motivated to participate on the theme of Passage in the context of extended choreography.

Welcome to PASSAGE: An artistic research event

Stay tuned for updates

1145 TAI CHI TAI CHI A session for early birds
1200 WELCOMING Coffee and greetings
1215 INTRODUCTION Amanda Steggell

Amanda Steggell: Why Islands
Hans-jørgen Wallin Weihe: What ponds
Brynjar Åbel Bandlien: What does dancing do
Efva Lilja: The Hidden – On artistic research and dance as a distortion of reality
Andrew Morrison: On passage
Commentators: Ingri Fiksdal, Jeremy Welsh


Jeremy Welsh: Artistic research, transdisciplinary and amphibiousness
Ingri Fiksdal: Affective choreography, Diorama
Dina Brode-Roger: Arctic Imaginary
Commentators: Hans-Jørgen Wallin Wiehe, Snelle Hall

1550-1620: OCTOPA
Andrew Morrison: ‘OCTOPA’ A toolkit for extended choreography
Group activity session


Moderator: Andrew Morrison

Guest speakers and movers: Snella Hall (Dean, Academy of Dance, KHiO) Ingri Fiksdal (dr), Efva Lilja (artist, Prof. of choreography), Dina Brode-Roger (Ph.D candidate, KU Leuven), Prof. Jeremy Welsh (Trondheim Academy of Fine Art, NTNU)

Project members: Prof Amanda Steggell (Academy of Dance, KHiO), Brynjår Åbel Bandlin (Ph.D candidate, Academy of Dance, KHiO), Prof Andrew Morrison (Institute of Design, AHO), Prof Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe (Institute for Pedagogy, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences).


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The passages of culture

Historically, Arkhangelsk is one of the key strategic cities in the Arctic. For centuries it has been a nexus of riverine and maritime trade: for the movement of vast swathes of felled timber from the region; for the operations of regional, Russian imperial administration and admiralty; then later key Soviet bureaucracy and military operations.

Prior to the epic terra forming of St Petersburg from swamplands, Arkhangelsk was the most powerful northern arctic city. Astride the sprawling delta of the Dvina river, the city has a long maritime and related technological infrastructural and communication history. This is evident from the air, from the ground and from the water. The city is a central passage point, where salt and fresh water mingle, where land and water rise and fall, channels and routes, sandy deposits and shifting currents.

There is something enchanting about the flatness of the area, the nearness of the horizon. Yet his is a city that is anything but flat. It’s a strategic point of passage that has shifted between its liquid and frozen states between the seasons, open and flowing, icy and bound. A cityscape and an environment that has been a venue of intensive development, use, change, and productivity. It has been a location and destination for urbanisation over the centuries, from early religious settlement to its current mark on the future map of the Northern Sea Route (NSR). 

The city. Classical. Sovietistic. Contemporary. A mosaic of architectures that have grown out of the sandy deltaic setting. Reputed to be a site of arctic climatic inhabitation for population of about 350 000, this is also a cultural hub for the region with its medieval history and future facing location for wider Arctic development. It is now also a strategically positioned arctic oriented university city, with 20 000 students, and sizeable international student profile, including medical students from India. This is a city that has long been connected to Moscow by rail and to the vast interior by rivers and canals, and to the open sea for half the year.


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Off to Arkhangelsk

For over a year and a half weeks try to find out more about the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and see what travels into and through it. Despite fairly frequent coverage in national and international media – whether in terms of trade, security or environmental matters – it’s turned out to be less straightforward a ‘passage’ then we had hoped.

Tomorrow Amanda and I are off to Arkhangelsk in Russia, to be joined by Brynyar on the 21st of the month. This is one of our ways to experience and investigate artistically what an arctic passage may entail.

As a journey, as an experience, both physical and psychological. A conceptual and allegorical trope. We will visit this historical and strategic Arctic city to try to understand its past and future. It runs largely along one side of the vast Dvina river in the midst of its emerging delta leading into the White Sea. Frozen half the year, we will see flowing passage inland and to the waters of the Arctic.

Amanda and Brynyar want to take part in the Northern (Arctic) Federal University (NArFU) Arctic Floating University Expedition 2019. This year this international research platform makes the voyage from Archangelsk to Svalbard and back. It’ll take perhaps 25 days, with a mix of mostly scientists, students and researchers aboard the Professor Molchanov. This is an steel hulled, ice protected vessel that will accommodate 60 travellers and a crew of 20. It has lab and seminar facilities. The programme has run for five years and has hosted a diversity of applied sciences, less cultural or artistic connections such as we hope to forge.

Such voyages takes some organising and we’ve only learned recently that this year’s route has been changed. Amanda is a little disappointed. She and Brynyar will not see or land on the mix of islands in Russia, from the White Sea into the open Arctic waters. Visiting Svalbard and will be a novelty all the same, as it’s a large archipelago, a slight work island and passage will meet in diverge again.

We visited Longyearbyen in the depths of winter in January of this year. The vast mountains around the town and across the fiord with mostly invisible, occasionally looming shadows. On this excursion they will be lit by the midnight sun, visible in summer skies. And the floating university will dock there, after Barentsberg and its research centre, we presume, shifting understandings of sea, land and sovereignty in this remote but now globally known destination.

The abandoned mining town of Pyramiden is on the itinerary too. So too is the still operating coal mine of Barentsberg and it’s small wooden church and larger swimming pool, a human-made all year pond. A hotel now open for tourists, less the cold war outpost, more a strategic Arctic foothold in 21st-century climate times. Narratives and trajectories of the future untold. A visit to the international scientific research station at Ny Ålesund. Experiences, exposures, expressions form an artistic project embedded as it were in the needed scientistic discourses and data of the changing Arctic.

What of this artistry and its passages? The passage an allegorical device, a narrative accounting tool, immaterial artistic messages for moving actions for climate emergencies. The travellers for Amphibious Trilogies have a set of themes, problematics, curiously framed concepts and questions, an a number of tasks to try to perform. These digital texts will give details of some of those engagements, on the water, through time and with many new companions, most technical experts, and when landing on the very different venues of the archipelago. Passage and islands connecting, a series of long spaces of open seas and short landfalls.

We wait to see what will play out. How we can use the choreographic in the world, in contexts that are transversed. to accentuate the workings and potential roles of movement, in an artistic voice, on board with experts measuring, probing and observing the conditions and changing contexts of the Arctic.

Our amphibious notions will be on the move. Our persona Octopa will be on a boat, land in distant venues, slither back to the continental scale. Experimentally launched we will be in a few days.


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Welcome to the world of Amphibious Trilogies, an artistic research project centered on islands, ponds and passages. In times of rapid climate change, what may happen if we think, move and do amphibiously?

This site is designed kinetically, a little planet that contains project posts and media, a terrella of sorts, quirky, glitchy, ever moving and evolving.

To explore, use your fingers. Navigation will vary on different devices, so play around. Below is one version.

Menus, floating images and categories: Click
Pan: Click, hold + scroll (1 finger)
Zoom in/out: Pinch

Bon voyage!


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Rising out of the taiga & delta

The sandy soil and pools of rainwater that lie still beside brand new apartment blocks suggest that the city is built on shifting surfaces. This is an urban landscape where water seeps into the reedy roadsides not only beside the airport runway and road into the city but beside the repeated concentrations of dilapidated square wooden houses, whose peeling surfaces and curtained windows cannot detract from the way they lean and have shifted in the passage of time. In the city centre these buildings have been restored, a marker of the city’s history and now a tourist attraction.

This is a city that has seen much change and yet remains afloat beside the delta. The delta too is a symbolic and cultural one, marked out across the built character of the city. The force of the movement of the river and changing economic and political climates are apparent above ground. The city sits some three metres above the water yet the horizon is pitted with numerous lofty structures, the church domes a cultural religious revisionism of sorts against the ever present 1964 Soviet TV tower that must have foundations the are sunk deep into these lowlands.

Today, we meet light rain, a peal of thunder, and changing reflections of the sky on the river’s surface. Intermittent shafts of bright light illuminate the flow of water between sky and river, between puddled city streets and the movement of new model cars and the grinding gears of the fleet of rusty Soviet era city buses with their plumes of polluting diesel.

This is an industrial city to where massive pulp and paper works have leached their chemicals back into the environment. There are cycles of the human on non-human here, where the Anthropocene is present and where changes in state between land and sea, between soil and water and anchorage and passage are dynamic.


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