Juha van Ingen (b. 1963) utilizes various mediums in his works ranging from objects and spaces to moving image and sound. Van Ingen lives and works in Helsinki.
A MESSAGE FROM HUMANITY TO ITSELF
In the late1980s’ I started studying art at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. One day I visited an exhibition-event in the building: a group of three artists were moving their artworks and some other objects in and out of a room. At the door to the room there was a video camera that documented the process with a time-lapse-video with one second captured in every minute. The work was called OneManGroupShow and one of the artists was Juha van Ingen. 1)
Van Ingen’s specific attention to temporality is obvious in his works. The pasts and futures of memory, machines, formats and platforms to the material world are referred to by the processes of different speeds of consuming, preserving and decaying. He seems to say that the harsh irreversibility of time is something that we always must deal with. For example van Ingen’s one-channel video work (Dis)Integrator (1992) deals with this irreversibility through the material decay of the video-image. Deterioration is an integral part of any material process, and for van Ingen the fragile and unstable VHS tape is a proper format to show that process.
Van Ingen was also one of the initiators in the series of 13 collaborative installments made by the artists group Industrial Situations (1993 – 1998). They were maverick exhibitions or events entangling with post-industrial technologies, the social systems of the art world and the strategies and tactics of the mediated society with more or less unconventional means. 2)
Another project in which van Ingen has been an active member is the still ongoing Forest Camp. The group of five Finnish artists started in 1998, and has since been faithfully following its strategy in making art: partly improvised anonymous collectivism. In all of the three collaborative projects the audience is invited to participate in the social use of technology. The approach might to some degree resemble curator Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept of “relational art”, by which he defined part of the 1990s art as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” 3)
However, according to Claire Bishop, relational art followed more or less the tendency of collecting cultural capital by giving the main role to the director-curator. 4)
In retrospective Industrial Situations was more in line with the approach of independent and antagonistic artists-led practices described by Bishop, but it was also critical towards socially engaged art projects. The same applies also to Forest Camp.
In his personal oeuvre, van Ingen often examines the structural and functional systems of different media tools in close connection to the spectators’ perceptive (or cognitive) systems and the social systems in the place of presentation. 5)
Van Ingen’s art is made in the spirit of 20th century minimalism and system arts practices. There are repetition, geometric forms, monochromatism, existing technological systems in artistic use, and much attention is paid to the sensing of temporal processes. The spectator becomes a receiver, an inseparable part of the apparatus in question. This gives the spectator or audience the chance for an experience of being both inside and outside of “the box”, without completely leaving it. The limits are set by the artist to reveal new dimensions of the everyday with the help of technological devices or even other, much simpler items. A good example of the latter is Van Ingen’s Audiola(shown in Arnheim in 1993 and in Helsinki in 1994), a piece that foregrounds the aural territories in urban spaces. The audience wore black-painted swimming goggles and was instructed to go into different locations in the city to listen to the existing soundscapes of each place.
Audiola gives a new aural version of the question of the spectator's/audience's space, which became an issue in art after the invention of perspective in the Renaissance and was elaborated even further in the Baroque. The unconventional composition of Diego Velásquez’s painting of the Spanish royal court, Las Meninas (1565, Prado Museum, Madrid), seems to situate the spectator at the same imaginary point where the king (or the painting being painted of the royal couple) seen in the mirror on the opposite wall is standing. It invites the spectator not only to engage in or travel inside and outside of the artwork, but to also think about his or her own absence and presence as a visitor in front of the artwork. According to James Elkins, Las Meninas is “monstrous” because of its ambiguity and the vastness of the interpretations that have been made of it. 6)
In the 19th and 20th centuries, new industrial systems to produce and reproduce artworks made it possible to re-situate artworks and affected our relationship to them. New apparatuses and new art were born. In Marcel Duchamp’s installation The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, 1915 – 1923), also known as The Large Glass( Le Grand Verre), the spectator could see her own reflection together with the reflections of the other spectators arriving in the room. Also, “the bride” and “the bachelors” in the work seem to be engaged in some kind of wireless interaction. Linda Dalrymple Henderson has pointed out that the relation between wireless technology and longing erotic desire becomes even more explicit in a painting by Suzanne Duchamp from the same period, Radiation de Deux Seuls Éloignés (Radiation of Two Lone Ones at a Distance, 1916). 7)
A similar kind of gesture of verifying the visitor’s impact of the work was presented in the 20th century by artists and artist-engineers influenced by cybernetics and other system-based methods. The artists of the early period of video art made explorations with multi-channel “environments” (a term used by The Vasulkas), performances (Joan Jonas) or closed-circuit video surveillance systems in galleries (Peter Campus, Bruce Nauman) – as much a comment on technological control systems as a venture into totally new fields of the artists’ own research. The practice of for instance The Vasulkas has always been about humans having dialogues with machines. 8)
Van Ingen’s art is close to these kinds of ideas, as they offer a relational position for the viewer to engage with the apparatus in question. Already in Audiola he prepared a place for the visitor as a receiver in the midst of the limitations and conditions of a partly pre-existing system, just as he did later in his pioneering net art works. One of them is Web-Safe (1999/2000), which consists of 212 web pages that open one after the other in an endless loop. The pages don't contain any images or text. The only content is the background colour, which is defined in the source code of each page and created by the web browser as the pages are viewed. The colours are from the Web-Safe-palette of colours, arranged in hexadecimal order which should look approximately the same in every browser and computer. The early computers displayed only 256 colours. When a color was unavailable, a different one had to be used. This led to attempts at making a standard color palette on 256-color displays. The most successful one included 216 colours. Van Ingen’s use of 212 web pages each with their own web-safe color is explained in his website: “In Web-Safe the colours 00 33 FF, 33 00 FF, 00 FF 33 and 33 FF 00 are excluded from the 216 colour palette as testing revealed that Internet Explorer did not correctly render them on Windows (according to: Macromedia Using Dreamweaver 2 first edition 1998)” 9)
Web-Safe is an example of browser-based art, a sub genre of net art. Sanneke Huisman writes about how browser-based artworks can push the boundaries and show the fragility of time-based media in her article “AS Long As Possible: 1(0)00 Years of Time-Based Media”, published on this occasion. Huisman brings into comparison Olia Lialina’s browser-based GIF-animation Summer and Van Ingen’s ASLAP, his magnum opus so far.
In a later version, Web-Safe Re-Mix (2002), the artwork was unplugged and presented offline for an exhibition at the Arka Gallery in Vilnius. For the exhibition, the browser window was divided into four frames, each playing the 212 color loop from a different point. The image was projected on the gallery wall to produce new combinations of a seemingly endless colourscape. The system created by the changing colourfields gives the spectator permission not to process everything, and to contemplate the difference between the human cognition and the computer’s “mind”. Indeed, another net art work from the same period of working, Black & White (1998/2001), is described by van Ingen as “a small trip into the mind of your computer’s processor” and a “reminder of the infallible structures of our times”. 10)
Black & White is made of a loop of three webpages. The first page, containing only a white background color, automatically refreshes to a black page, which in turn refreshes to a page that divides the animation into two frames. Each loop duplicates the amount of frames until finally the browser crashes. The continuous process of endless divisions was expected to end up with a textural surface looking like an illusively unified field. However, because of the limited capability of the computers, the process “got frozen” and created images of rectangular black and white silhouette-like flat boxes in different formations, instead of infinite multiplicity of the divisions. However, van Ingen was fascinated with the results and printed the freeze-frame images out as singular pieces of artworks. He describes them as “minimalist abstractions of suburban cityscapes”.
Van Ingen’s original aim of Black & White filling the frame could almost be seen continuing in the video work Grid (silent video loop, dur. 8 min, 2014). In it a graticule from an editing program in the computer is layered again and again in the same frame by repeating it slowly on top of the previous layers. Since the laid rectangular graticules are not completely in sync, the stacked grids transform into a manifold or plane so thick with its layers that there seems to be no difference between it and a unified field. The difference lies with the chosen tools, and how the whole process has a very slow rhythm. Once again, the treatment of temporality is crucial in the realization of the work.
The video work(Dis)Integrator (1992) shows the found images of a man and a woman in conversation. The shot and a counter-shot of the two characters are taken from the science fiction horror film The Fly (1958), directed by Kurt Neumann. The couple is having an argument over the invention made by the man-scientist. The invention is a teleporter, which for him is like a television transmitting images. “Yes, but this is different”, insists the woman. The short conversation is repeated over and over by copying it from one VHS-tape to another. With each generation it becomes more and more difficult to see the characters and hear the dialogue as the generation loss erodes the image and sound distinctively. Finally the appearances of the characters and the voices, reminiscent of a Studio Era Hollywood scene filmed with analog film technology, lose all of their colours, contours, contrasts and sounds and disappear completely into the noise of a magnetic video tape.
(Dis)Integrator reminds of Alvin Lucier’s seminal sound art work I Am Sitting in a Room (1969). In Lucier’s work a recording of the artist’s voice on an electromagnetic tape was played back into the very room where it was recorded, until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforced themselves over his speech. 11)
The possibility to preserve sounds and images gives us an illusion of governing and taming time. But the formats are not eternal. The sculptural installation 1996 (Exhibited in Gallery Artina, Helsinki in 1995) is an another work that deals with VHS tape as an analogy to the flow of time. Consisting of unopened packs of VHS cassettes stacked together to form a minimalist sculpture installation, the work conceptualizes the duration of one year into one spatial object. The virtual duration of the work is 365 x 24 = 8760 hours. The “embalming” of the period of one year renders the duration as “mummified”, or like a virtual break in time. The work can now be read as comments to the human tendency of building memorials and founding museums, where the fragments of recorded images from a lost time are collected, stored and exhibited. Made in 1995 and virtually containing the year 1996, it is also literally a work of the future at the moment of its making.
Is 1996 a silent virtual resource of all the alternative directions, choices, developments that the events during 1996 could have followed, a ghostlike branch of bifurcated time? The ghostliness of the work grows and becomes more evident day by day as analog video technology grows older. The reconstruction of the work is much more difficult now, twenty years after its making. Since 1996 doesn’t exist in any museum collection or gallery storage, and the VCRs of the world are being thrown away and disappearing, soon it will be impossible even get that many VHS cassettes anywhere.
When Van Ingen started his artist’s practice in the 1980s, there was a sense of understanding that the white cube of the gallery space was confronted by a wildly expanding field of the new tools of the post-industrial era. So there was room for c-cassettes, home movies, polaroid photographs, photocopying machines, mail art and street arts like graffiti and breakdance. Yet the technologies are as mortal as our bodies. The Internet prophets seem to have given a misleading promise of the limitless archive of practices otherwise doomed to vanish from the world. Even net art works have to be preserved and maintained.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper from the end of the 15th century has survived many centuries in spite of the experimental practice involved in his painting technique. When the work was finished its erosion had already started. However, because of the voluntary and sponsored maintenance by different human actors it has been preserved until present day. A different kind of example are Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies (1970’s –). They consist of monochromatic cheap paint on a sheet of paper with a black frame. Yellow Movies have a temporal dimension since they will change color as time passes because of the effect of light and the material qualities of the paint. Here the temporality is inscribed as indefinite duration, and the concept of the movie is extended radically as well. 12)
What Conrad does to the concept of movie, van Ingen does to the GIF format in his most important work so far. The eternal GIF animation AS Long As Possible (ASLAP) has 48 140 288 frames which change in ca. 65 second intervals. This makes the total duration of 1000 years possible for the animation. “Because the work has a loop function, the animation is intended to play for ever”, says van Ingen. 13)
In addition to this, and the several art projects of a very long, indefinite or endless length, ASLAP can be seen also a reminder of the project in the late 1970s, when NASA sent two space probes, Voyager 1 and 2, to deep space. They were equipped with recorded golden laser discs containing images, sounds and symbols as messages relating to life on Earth. There was hope that someday they might reach some alien civilization. Among the messages were spoken greetings from many nations to any possible intelligent life-form that the probes might encounter in the midst the infinity of cosmos.
In the one-channel video Hello everybody (HD, 8:15, 2018), van Ingen uses the Voyagers' greetings as an important aspect in the work. The video consists of a one-shot video depicting blossoming cherry trees and people of different age underneath them spending cheerful and freewheeling time in a garden. The image is shot with a hand-held mobile phone camera which moves around slowly, engaging the viewer into fragility and happiness of the passing moment. The texts that you would expect to find from greeting cards appear over the image:
"Hi. How are you? Wish you peace, health and happiness."
"Good health to you now and forever."
Some of the texts reveal that the sender doesn't know the receiver of the greetings.
"Greetings to you, whoever you are. We come in friendship to those who are friends."
Finally it becomes clear that the greetings are not sent to people of our planet at all:
"Greetings to our friends in the stars. We wish that we will meet you someday."
In the end of the video van Ingen reveals that the texts are English ranslations of the greetings spoken in different languages and sent n the Voyagers to deep space.
The last text in the video sounds more like farewell words of a performer: “Good night ladies and gentlemen. Goodbye and see you next time." Maybe there was at least a vague thought in the minds of the scientists who planned the Voyagers’ trip that the messenger could outlive the human species altogether. The Voyagers will fall silent around 2030, once their power sources can´t produce any more energy for the equipment. Now it seems probable that the humankind will still inhabit the planet by then. Although the golden records in the Voyagers will remain functional for “at least a billion years” before “succumbing to erosion from micrometeorites and cosmic rays”, the equipment to play them ill be lost14). ASLAP, he eternal GIF animation from the dawn of the ancient digital era, ill have a longer life, as a maintained message sent by humankind or itself.
1) Pontus Kyander: “Chronology”. In Marko Vuokola, ed. by Pontus Kyander and Marko Vuokola. Garret Publications, 2018.
2) Kari Yli-Annala: “Pieni jälkiteollinen tuotanto – taiteilijoiden liikkuva kuva Suomessa 1992 – 1998”. Kirsi Väkiparta (Ed.), Sähkömetsä. Finnish National Gallery/Central Art Archives, 2007
3) Nicolas Bourriaud: Esthétique relationnelle. Dijon, Les Presses du reel, 1998.
4) Claire Bishop: “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”,October Vol. 1 Issue 110, Fall 2004.
5)For instance, the extremely short video loops which he made in the early 2000s are repeated in such a rapid rhythm that they almost seem to be captured in some kind of a time prison.
6)James Elkins, “On monstrously ambiguous paintings”. History and theory, Vol. 32, No. 3, 1993. See i.e. Michel Foucault, Les Mots et Les Choses. Êditions Gallimard, 1966; Suzanne L. Stratton-Pruitt (Ed.), Las Meninas. Cambridge University Press 2002; Saige Walton, Cinema’s Baroque Flesh: Film, Phenomenology and the Art of Entanglement. Amsterdam University Press, 2016.
7) Henderson, Duchamp in Context: Science and Technology in the Large Glass and Related Works, Princeton 1998, cited in Dieter Daniels, “Sending and receiving”. Tout-fait, Vol. 1, issue 2, 2000 [accessed 13 Sept. 2018]. www
8) Marita Sturken (Ed.), Steina and Woody Vasulka: Machine Media. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1996.
9) [accessed 13 Sept. 2018]. www
10) Kari Yli-Annala, “On the Nature of the Artifact – Juha van Ingen’s Art” [accessed 13 Sept. 2018]. www
11) Alvin Lucier, Reflections: Interview, Scores, Writings 1965 – 1994. Edition MusikTexte, Köln 1995).
12) Tony Conrad, Yellow Movies. Greene Naftali/Galerie Daniel Buchholz, 2009 and “Exhibition Spotlight: Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies” [accessed 13 Sept. 2018]. www
13) The aspects of ASLAP as a time capsule and how it is related to other “longer than lifetime” artists projects are described by Pontus Kyander in his article “The Itch for Eternity” [accessed 13.9.2018]. www
14) “ Their weakening radio signals, currently reporting on the surprisingly complex plasma bubble that surrounds the sun and marks the designated boundary between the solar system and interstellar space, are expected to fall silent around 2030, when the Voyagers’ plutonium-powered electrical generators finally falter”, wrote the producer of the Voyager Golden Record,Timothy Ferris, in the National Geographic in 2017. Timothy Ferris: “Why NASA’s Interstellar Mission Almost Didn’t Happen”.National Geographic, August 2017 [accessed 13 Sept. 2018]. www