The Albedo video installation is an edition of 2, with one sold to a collector last year. This is what the artwork looks like when presented, it also includes prints of stills from the videos on archival paper.
My friend, Rupert following the instructional video and trying not to be seen at the Tate. I think his pixels are too big.
Hito Steyerl’s instructional video shows the viewer how to avoid detection by various digital surveillance technology. The title references Monty Python’s spoof Government Public Service instructional that showcases the benefits of not being seen e.g. not being shot or blown up, which is particularly important if you are a whole country avoiding nuclear annihilation.
The narrator in Steyerl’s video explains that visibility is dependent on resolution, whatever is lost by resolution becomes invisible. The videos are shot against a green screen at an old US airforce ‘resolution target’ that was used to test the resolution of aerial cameras and the artist (plus assistants) attempt to not be seen by the camera by employing various techniques that are explained in detail to the viewer.
The use of the .mov file extension and the exploration of very particular technologies sets this work firmly in a specific time and place where ideas around surveillance and our images being captured and held as digital images, with or without our permission, has become a topic of political, cultural and artistic conversation.
I read Steyerl’s essay “In defence of the poor image” a couple of years ago and found this piece to be a great accompaniment. They both examine how digital image quality – and degradation of quality – can be used within contemporary art to explore issues such as comprehension, visibility, passage of information and the place of perceived visual quality in value judgements.
The NASA announcement today of their new solar system discovery immediately made me wonder how Carl Sagan would have felt on hearing this news. There are 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting a small star 40 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius, they could hold life, they could even support our life. Sagan said it was time for us to ‘venture to the stars’ if we manage not to destroy ourselves.
Because of my interest in working in the zone where science and mysticism overlap, I find Sagan a continuing source of inspiration.
We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
Sagan, Carl (1990). Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann (1997). The Demon-Haunted World.
We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.
Sagan, Carl (1980). Cosmos
Something about remembering your own tininess and insignificance along with acknowledging that you have the ability to create something wonderful despite only ‘fluttering for day’ is infinitely liberating. A bit hippie, but there you go.
My stay at Arteles has been very rewarding; I have created many new ideas, the beginnings of new works and have made some fantastic friends from around the world. Among my new artist friends is a woman from the US, Ellery Royston, who works with sound. We have decided to collaborate on immersive sound and video installation, which is an exciting prospect.
Time moves slowly and silently out in the countryside in the middle of the Finnish winter. Long nights, short days and the sun low on the horizon create an environment very different to the one back home in NZ. I decided to explore time and duration in the context of a silent ordeal. I would invite my fellow artist’s to participate by enduring the slow melt of ice against their skin and to experience the thoughts and feelings this awakens.
I was informed by the old Finnish story of the Sielulintu, or soul bird, who visits the human body at birth and death. I gave the participants the chance to experience the cold of the bird melting into their skin on an area of their choice; perhaps where they felt they might experience the passage of their soul. The pain of the bird against their skin stretches time while it is being endured, but is a fleeting moment that quickly fades.
I discovered that the constraints of shooting the videos at Arteles actually created some unexpectedly interesting results. For example, I found it necessary to use natural light which created variations as the clouds shifted and the light changed. This gave an added dimension to the durational experience that I would not have discovered if I had been shooting in a studio with artificial light.
My intention is to continue working with the project to create a multi-channel video installation with accompanying soundtrack which, hopefully, I can show here in New Zealand.
Right now I’m sitting in Hong Kong airport trying to drown out the sounds of yelling children, people coughing and sneezing, departure alerts and all the other hubbub of airports. There is a small child staring at me over the back of her chair with a spoon in her mouth but I’m too tired to even smile at her.
I’ve been travelling for a long time. Since I left my hotel in St Petersburg, took the train back to Helsinki and got here has been around 28 hours I think. It’s hard to know because I’ve forgotten which time zone I’m in. When I’m sitting still I feel like I’m still moving; a combination of the swaying high-speed Allegro train and the first half of my long haul flights.
It’s curious talking to people in Europe about travel. When the learn I’ve come from NZ they invariably say “That’s a long way” and then make some sort of guess about how long the flights are. Ten hours, that’s a long way isn’t it? Try doubling that and adding a bit. It’s the same with my friends at Arteles who have come from the Americas, they’ve come on a long international flight, but nothing in comparison to travelling from the other side of the world.
The thing that really hit home to me on this trip was how much more accessible things are for artists in Europe and the Americas. Most of the other artist’s at Arteles have done other residencies and plan to do more in Europe and they are quite blasé about it because it’s so much easier logistically, financially and it is expected of young artists.
A very positive aspect of modern technology is the ability to collaborate long-distance. This is especially true for artists working in new media. The amount of value I can get from going on a residency is, I think, amplified because I am so aware of the fact that I am unable to do this sort of thing very often and that it is actually a huge privilege. With that in mind I don’t waste my time, I work hard and I try to see how I can work with other international artists.
I’ve been working to create a durational video using small stylised bird objects that are informed by my research into Finnish bird mythologies. I have 2 benches set up in my studio; one for wax-working and the other for drawing and latex mould-making. I have a rather ad-hoc jewellers peg attached to the bench which is a bit wobbly but does the job! The below pictures show some of the process for making bird-shaped moulds for later casting.
I’ve been looking into Suomi mythology around birds – they appear very prominently and I see a direct correlation with Maori mythology in some of the stories. Being a Celtic-descended Pakeha it’s a weird place to be because I don’t have ownership of either of these mythologies; I feel a great deal of kinship with the Maori mythology because I think of Aotearoa as my home and as I’ve worked directly with birds and bird conservation to the point I can identify the calls of even rare endemic species. The Suomalainen don’t really fit in with the other Scandinavian peoples of whom I also have ancestry (although Finland has been variously invaded by Swedes and Russians over much of it’s history). I’m moving carefully around cultural appropriation issues, I try to keep my work *informed* by but not *taking* from because I want to incorporate ideas from what I am learning and experiencing here.
Saunatonttu – the spirit of the sauna
Last night I had my first opportunity to use the sauna at Arteles. It is a traditional Finnish sauna with a wood-burning heater and water boiler. The sauna is a central part of Suomi life:
“After centuries of temporal use, the sauna acquired spiritual significance. The sanctity of the sauna was supported by ritual and strict propriety. “These stubborn people,” wrote an astonished Swedish economist in 1776, “even connect the sauna with their theology and think the sauna building is some kind of shrine.” An old saying, still heard in Finland today, says, Jokaisen on kayttaydyttava saunaaa samalla tavalla kuin kirkossa.” (“In the sauna one must conduct himself as one would in church.”) This strict reverence protected the Finnish sauna from the corruption that befell most other bathing institutions in Europe.”
The sauna provides an egalitarian venue for unencumbered discussion. It is a place to be yourself amongst others and to discuss deeper matters that might not be broached on a day to day basis.
The traditional wood-burning sauna at Arteles is a small wooden building off to one side at the edge of the forest. It is comprised of three rooms: the first is not heated and so is freezing in winter! This is where you undress and leave your clothes. The second room is the washing room which has a wood-burning boiler and basins to mix the hot and cold water to your tastes for bathing. You can use ladles to pour the water over your head and body before entering the sauna. You can also come out of the sauna into this room to cool off and re-wash, which is very refreshing.
The third room is the sauna itself and consists of several benches at various heights seating 4-5 people dependent on the heat that you can handle. The sauna is generally heated to 90-100c but can be intensified by ladles of water being poured over the rocks on the top of the stove to increase the heat and humidity, this steam is known as löyly.
Last night we spent around an hour in the sauna and in coming out to re-wash or stand in the snow. On our final round we came out into the snow and rolled around! It was amazing to me to see what the body can withstand when it is warmed up enough – last night was -22˚C and I was having trouble dealing with the cold even wrapped up in my snow clothes, but somehow the sauna allowed me to come out into the cold winter night completely naked and lie in the snow. The body has such a capacity for dealing with situations and adjusting it’s functions to cope. The sauna makes you feel somewhat superhuman in it’s ability to allow a human to withstand such extremes without pain or physical repercussions (eg shock or frostbite).
I’ve spent a couple of hours outside today despite the -20c temperature. The sun is out low on the horizon turning the world blue and yellow. There is a phenomena called ‘diamond dust’ that is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen; ice crystals hang in the air, catching the sun and sparking like glitter. Everything comes alive in a shimmering haze.
Ellery and I walked out onto the frozen lake as it clouded over a little and started to snow. The flakes that landed on our clothes were each perfect brittle stars. Our hair became crunchy with ice around the humidity of our faces.
The frozen lake is black beneath the snow and walking on it has a different timbre to the land. There were small animal tracks crossing the pristine surface and we wondered if they could be from a wolverine.
I tried to capture the diamond dust then the snow fall on video without much success. The camera seemed to be struggling with the low temperature and its ability to focus in video mode was compromised. When we came back to Arteles I went out to the forest to collect sticks for an idea I’m mulling over.