Uncanny Valleys, Forthcoming, 2019. (Image EcoDrones)
Uncanny Valleys, Forthcoming, 2019. (Image EcoDrones)

Uncanny Valleys

'Uncanny Valleys' is a forthcoming sepculative VR project that allows audiences to experience synthesised landscapes that are strangely familiar, and yet at the same time profoundly strange – with that experience challenging, or maybe even entirely altering, their understandings of the originating landscapes.

A 3D model of anywhere on the planet can now be recreated in surprising detail from multiple photos, captured by a drone programmed to fly along a predetermined grid pattern in a process called photogrammetry. However getting that 3D model ‘perfect’ is still fraught with technical pitfalls that can easily result in extraordinarily strange, yet highly evocative 3D imagery of a valley, waterfall or settlement. Such errors can however also help artists to create unique, strangely evocative imagery, well suited to become the basis of a work for VR, online performance and gaming scenarios.

During the R&D phase for this work I will work at a series of  iconic conservation properties, working with local conservation scientists to aerially map local landscapes with drones. We will then collaboratively exploit software & process errors throughout the map making, 3D model making & programming processes - ultimately building towards the artwork, 'Uncanny Valley'. This will involve a wearable-VR like experience, using approaches not unlike Google Cardboard’s accessible phone holder + App, accompanied by a range of gentle, sensory actuators for the scalp and face. This ‘sensual viewing’ device will present expectant users with a rich array of navigable imagery, spatialised 3D sound & subtle physical stimuli delivered to their scalp & face - to further enhance embodied sensations. The sensual viewing devices will be created again by experimenting with process mistakes - in this case using ‘inappropriate’ 3D printing/routing settings & materials – to further introduce unexpected errors into the viewer's lush physical form & materials – to further introduce unexpected errors into the viewer's lush physical form.

Collaborating Scientists: tbc
Tania Leimbach: Critical Writer


The visible exterior of our planet is almost entirely satellite-mapped & available on demand via Google Earth. Small sections of that world can now be created as either high resolution maps or feature rich 3D models, using drone-based photogrammetry. However a lot of time & energy goes into avoiding technical problems (eg the wrong time of day, incorrect flight paths, indistinct or moving objects, shutter blur etc.). Curiously however, 3D landscapes made with such ‘bad’ data still seem to possess the apparent feel & form of something immense like the actual valley, towering waterfall or village they were derived from; but now are made of strange bulbous glitchings, unfamiliarly stretched shapes, missing or mysterious textures, or apparent ‘inside out’ views - all of which confound easy description and often seem to possess a strangely 'uncanny' power. I assert that these errors can lead to the creation of more extraordinary 3D imagery than the close mimic of the originating landscape everyone routinely tries to achieve.

Artists understand how the creative re-purposing of mistakes are powerful triggers for seeing things anew. Re-imaging landscapes through the inadvertent mistakes of a contemporary technology offers powerful potentials to render a ‘world made strange’. This approach speaks to ecophilosopher Tim Morton’s idea of the “strange stranger” – something we are unable to completely comprehend or label, given the more we think we know about it, the stranger it becomes. He suggests if we wish to become sustainable humans, we must work to transform how we see & experience our world, rewiring our ‘ecological awareness’. In all these ways, Uncanny Valleys seeks to create unexpected strange encounters, both with the artwork & its originating landscapes, as a tactic for de-centring & expanding our ecological perception.