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 translations of the greetings spoken in different languages and sent in 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 will be lost14). ASLAP, the eternal GIF animation from the dawn of the ancient digital era, will have a longer life, as a maintained message sent by humankind for 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
Hello Everybody :
un salut comme ceux adressés à ses proches, au quotidien, sans formalisme.
Sa simplicité pourrait augurer une vidéo-home de celles qui avec le VHS - vidéo home system- introduisirent l'art vidéo " à la maison"; ces vidéos s'approchaient du journal de bord, de la chronique familiale et familière, ainsi Joël Bartoloméo, de mars 1991 à 1995, filme-t-il sa famille, dans son appartement étroit et les situations les plus triviales sinon les plus hilarantes; ainsi Lili, sa femme, découpe aux ciseaux la tarte au citron récalcitrante ou Coline, sa fille se "sert" du chat comme jouet...
Support devenu rare or, Juha van Ingen qui a consacré diverses de ses oeuvres à l'enregistrement et à sa perte, en a conçu, en 1996, une installation en empilant un grand nombre de cassettes VHS vierges susceptibles d'enregistrer la durée d'une année soit 8760 heures. Il y assemblait la question du temps comme celle de la conservation des sons et des images que l'homme pratique dans l'espoir vain de rester maître de ce qui passe, maître du temps et de la mémoire.
Sa quête se poursuit sur les nouveaux formats, nouveaux supports, ainsi a-t-il composé une animation GIF durant AS Long As Possible/ASLAP qui comptabilise 48 140 288 images changeant environ toutes les 65 secondes; ce qui implique une durée de 1000 ans pour l'animation totale voire l'infinité puisque le processus est en boucle.
Les changements de médium, leur nouveauté enclenchent sa réflexion mais aussi sa manière de créer toujours en prise sur le questionnement concernant la conservation des données - il a certes travaillé avec l'ordinateur, le numérique et sur leur réception; très logiquement, les images autour de l'arbre en contrepoint de Hello Everybody ont été prises avec son téléphone portable.
Et Juha van Ingen ne pouvait pas négliger le projet de la Nasa qui, en 1977, lors des envois interplanétaires des sondes Voyager 1 et2, les équipa de disques laser en or - pour leur pérennité - sur lesquels furent enregistrés des images, des sons et des symboles significatifs des civilisations de la Terre, censés atteindre une civilisation extraterrestre; y figuraient, en diverses langues, les salutations de nombreuses nations à toute forme de vie intelligente.
Juha van Ingen retient ces formules, les accumule en contrepoint de plans de branches sous le vent de cerisiers en fleurs. Le vent et le déplacement du téléphone autour de l'arbre font varier la taille des fleurs, en révèlent ou en cachent certaines. Plan heureux, beauté des corolles, légèreté, couleurs jusqu'à la pirouette finale littérale : un plan à l'envers, des humains passent dont un enfant faisant la roue sur l'herbe, écho en accord avec les vœux réitérés avec quelques variations selon la langue originelle de chacun, en intertitres.
Hormis quelques "tu" avec "bonne santé à toi" et "contactez-moi', les souhaits s'adressent à des inconnus "qui que vous soyez" que l'on rassure sur les bonnes intentions de l'expéditeur " nous venons en amis" et qui s'avèrent des extra-terrestres : "nos amis dans les étoiles." si loin de nous qui sommes sur la "troisième planète de l'étoile-soleil". Cependant les derniers souhaits reviennent à une formulation échangée entre interlocuteurs qui se connaissent ainsi un " au revoir et à la prochaine fois". En une pirouette, celle-ci métaphorique, Juha van Ingen donne la source de ces salutations et précise que les sons-bruissements accompagnant les mouvements des branches du cerisier- sont ceux d'autres enregistrements de la Nasa outre le cri du dernier Moho de Kawaii enregistré lors de la dernière observation qui ait pu en être faite en 1987.
Ce carton n'a pas pour fonction première de créditer les auteurs et participants au film ainsi identifié ; ni même de se gausser de la bonhomie ou de la naïveté de la démarche des savants de la Nasa, il revient aux préoccupations essentielles de l'artiste.
Un enregistrement, le dernier d'un cri d'oiseau disparaît avec le support de cet enregistrement, dernier rempart contre l'oubli mais rempart périssable; à son tour, ce film le retient mais enfoui sous des sons d'entre les planètes, difficile à cerner. Les traces par lesquelles les hommes cherchent à garder leurs productions mais aussi leurs créations artistiques sont périssables or il s'avère que les signaux radio, ceux rapportant vers la terre les sonorités interplanétaires mais aussi ceux apportant nos sons- nos salutations vers ces lieux-là partagent ce sort. En effet, les disques fabriqués pour la Nasa ont beau être en or, ils ont beau avoir été conçus pour résister à l'érosion durant un milliard d'années, l'alimentation au plutonium des générateurs électriques nécessaires à leur diffusion, embarqués dans les Voyager, faiblissant, ils devraient s'éteindre vers 2030; Timothy Ferris, le producteur du disque lui-même, l'a reconnu en 2017. Des supports conçus pour un milliard d'années mais impossibles à lire après moins de cinquante ans.
Le désir d'apporter au futur et au lointain, nos traces actuelles- ou pas si anciennes celles des Voyager- reste soumis aux supports qui sont, eux-aussi, soumis à l'obsolescence, souvent programmée par l'homme toujours avide de la performance technologique et croyant, peut-être, conjurer la perte des enregistrements en qualifiant un de ses derniers supports d'enregistrement, le disque dit dur. avant d'inventer une autre machine et de perdre la possibilité de lire ce disque-là.
On peut, dès lors, penser que les vœux re-adressés par Juha van Ingen, le sont vers nous - les humains, afin que nous restions dans le vif de la parole recommencée y compris dans l'espace où le corps fait la roue dans un jardin auprès de tous ceux auxquels adresser nos souhaits de bonheur et le partager.
Des vœux aussi, adressés à nous, amoureux du contrepoint provocateur de nouveaux sens avec d'anciennes images fussent-elles sonores, puisque l'artiste redonne vie, force en ses montages et pensées nouvelles même si elles reviennent à s'inquiéter de leur sauvegarde.
AS Long as Possible (ASLAP). GIF animation, 2015. Duration 1.000 years. An art project by Juha van Ingen. The animation is realised in collaboration with Janne Särkelä. To be launched in 2017.
The half-life (t 1/2) of Uranium 238 is approximately 4,5 million years. It is good to know that something is left when we all are gone. But the waste from a nuclear energy plant is considerably less radioactive already after 1.000 years, just 1/100th of its original levels. In Olkiluoto Island in Eurajoki, where the Finnish authorities have decided to store the Finnish nuclear waste, the 1.000-year anniversary will be a day to celebrate. 1) If they have it still, I think that moment will call for champagne and butter cookies. The uranium clock will continue to click, the underground deposit will pursue yet another 1.000-year circuit on its multi-million year journey towards its first half-life.
We deposit material in the ground, and we deposit it simultaneously in time. 100.000 years is a figure mentioned as a guaranteed safe period for a nuclear waste repository. It is a bold assumption that humanity will still be around to check on it.
* * *
We are slowly sinking through time, like a submarine falling through the depth and darkness of a bottomless ocean. If we ever knew how to operate the ship, the skill is long since forgotten. We paint simple figures with our fingertips on the condensation of the round pressure-safe windows. A diminutive message to the outer world. A smiley, maybe. We are here. We were here. Are you?
* * *
It takes me 3,5 minutes to walk from my home to the gallery where a prototype of AS Long As Possible (ASLAP) is shown, a work developed by artist Juha van Ingen, realised in collaboration with Janne Särkelä. Every frame in the GIF-animation is roughly 10 minutes long. There are 48.140.288 frames totally in the finished loop. Each frame is numbered, and the images consist of its number at the centre of each black frame. Gasp. There is no way I am going to survive the completion of this work. It will finish its first round in 1.000 years. After that, it continues from frame nr 1, for future generations to enjoy a new beginning. Walking back from the gallery takes close to 5 minutes, as it is more uphill. Have I proved the relativity of time, or my relative shortness of breath?
* * *
ASLAP is not the longest existing artwork, but due to its loop it is endless, intended to be an eternal work. It departs from John Cage’s composition Organ2/ASLSP (an acronym for As Slow As Possible) from 1987, a composition made to last for 639 years and which is played on the organ of St. Buchardi in Halberstadt, Germany, since 2001. It will finish in 2640. Simultaneously, Jem Finer’s (of the Pogues) Longplayer is sounding from the Trinity Buoy lighthouse near Canary Wharf in London, where it has played since 2000. It will continue working its way through time until 1 December 2999. 2)
1.000 years is a deliberate limitation. Any amount of time has to make sense. Canadian artist Rodney Graham uses in Parsifal (1882 - 38,969,364,735) from 1990 an additional sequence to Wagner’s opera Parsifal written by the composer’s assistant Engelbert Humperdinck. This short sequence was designed to be added and played in a loop, to extend Wagner’s music at a change of stage sets that continuously proved taking too long, the music ending up too short. By using this loop together with a system of prime numbers and applying it to instrument by instrument, the printed score (which consists of only a few pages) will when executed extend over 39 billion years – three times longer than the estimated age of the Universe. “In some ways it is a musical joke”, says Graham. “To me it redeems itself only because it is a joke of cosmic proportions”. 3)
Somehow parallel to Juha van Ingen’s ASLAP is the Japanese artist Tatsua Miyajima’s LED based number sculptures and installation. In these works, the numbers keep changing, while intentionally omitting the number zero. Although Miyajima’s works change, and have an intention to last “forever”, they don’t develop over time. They will appear very similar over time. It is probably easier to link ASLAP to conceptual artist On Kawara’s series of paintings Today (from 1966 until the artists death 2014) where he painted the date of the day meticulously on a canvas, and his One Million Years (conceived in 1969) where a million years preceding the date of the conception of the work are listed, as well as a million years following the same date. This work exists in printed form and is frequently also performed in readings. In it’s minimal aesthetics, ASLAP reminds of Kawara’s Today series, while having less in common with its concept of registering the passing of time and places – the latter indirectly by the choice of different languages, depending on where Kawara made the paintings. Contrary to both these works, ASLAP is not a work relying on a specific physical object (paintings or books), nor on the human interaction with it, and neither is it tying itself to any given place or space.
One distinct difference between ASLAP and other enduring digital artworks, is that it already exists in its totality. It is not waiting to be executed. It is like a nuclear deposit, or a sculpture sunk into the abyss of time. It is a digital Stonehenge, primitive in form, intended for eternity.
* * *
GIF is an image format of almost antediluvian age on the Internet, as it was launched already in 1987. It is versatile and reasonably simple by means of programming, if not necessarily in terms of usage. It might not be the best of applications developed since, but it has the enormous benefit of being free of charge to use. With Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram and other recent social media, it has regained momentum after a period of decline, and also has a great application as used (at least in the period around 2015) in the little squares showing very short animations or just brand or institutional logos on the margins of various web magazines and home pages.
In the digital art world as well as the tech savvier parts of printed and digital media, ASLAP has raised more attention than within the wider art world. This is most likely due to the lack of art institutional support; instead the project has created a buzz outside the art circles. True, Hyperallergic online art magazine was the first to acknowledge the unusual quality of ASLAP. “The work turns eternity into a composition, unraveling the dimensions of time into chunks we can comprehend while also invoking questions of digital decay”, writes the contributor Claire Voon. 4) The attention so far is astonishing, as it is given to a work which does not yet exist in its final version, and whose prototype so far was seen only by the few taking the extra steps to one of Helsinki’s smallest and most idiosyncratic galleries, Fish, on their rare opening hours.
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Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. The Book of Revelation, 20: 1-5
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In Robert Musil’s huge novel The Man Without Qualities, an important element in the fiction is the preparations for the 70-year anniversary of the Austrian emperor due to occur in 1918 – as this coincides with the 30-year anniversary of the German emperor, the event is secretly labelled “The Parallel Action”. For some in the inefficient and generally useless festival committee, the occasion will be an opportunity to leap into a new Millennium, a Utopia built on the greatness of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. We know from the history books, that this year proved instead to be the end of that same empire. The Millennium realm later discussed in Musil’s novel is a vision of selfless mysticism on a much more individual level.
ASLAP will officially be “unveiled” in 2017, on the 30-year anniversary of the GIF file, and the centenary of Finnish independence. This is certainly a “Parallel Action” of memorable standing. The ironic gesture is obvious, but still intriguing: will there be a humanity in 1.000 years, or a nation called Finland, or GIF files, or technical platforms familiar with any such formats? Will there be an ASLAP there for future generations to enjoy? If so, what a venerable piece of work, having absorbed all that time, all the fateful events passing through the ten centuries, the thousand years, the more than 48 million frames having moved ahead one by one without a sound, only to be restarted for yet another millennium round.
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In Christian Millennialism, it is usually assumed that the Millennium realm is either the preamble to the return of Christ, or its aftermath. Hitler’s Third Reich was yet another variation on this dream of a world perfected. The Marxist’s claim that the revolution will lead to a benign dictatorship of the proletariat and the subsequent state of Communism is certainly a version of these utopian and escapist visions of untroubled futures. But imagine the future really being untroubled – by humanity? Imagine a world where nothing human exists anymore, apart from peculiar remnants like the mysterious black monolith of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The dystopian trope of an Earth without the presence of humans is one which over time will gain increasing credibility, simply because it is unlikely that our species would be exempt from the fate of most other species of higher order the day the Earth is hit by a comet – if not extinct already by its own means. But before that has even happened: will our current civilisation be remembered by anyone, even by our own species in, say, only a couple of thousand years’ time? We know of numerous other civilisations only through what’s been preserved in physical form: majestic temples, inscriptions on stone or clay, brittle papyruses, objects from metal or stone, the occasional organic specimen preserved by almost miraculous coincidences. We find entire cities buried under the ground, dating no further than 1.000 years back, and still being forgotten about. They certainly had written documents, maybe archives, but our longstanding preference for paper, vellum and similar materials – rather than more enduring materials like metal, stone, glass or clay – means we miss records for the communities of our own ancestors dating only 25-30 generations back. What will be left of a culture that finally digitized most of its knowledge and its communication? That only rarely inscribed any messages of importance onto materials more solid than paper?
The pyramids were certainly meant to preserve for an afterworld (Earthly or Heavenly) the remains of the Egyptian Pharaos and their most important property, rulers of the most powerful and developed culture in the Western world for more than 2.000 years. Only a few centuries after its final decline the understanding of the Egyptian hieroglyphs was gone. It took yet another 1.500 years before the hieroglyphs were deciphered again. What will happen to our alphabet, our languages over time? Oblivion is almost certain. We can see how technical platforms and “languages” are invented, flourish and disappear with increasing speed. Walkmans, VHS tapes, Hi8, MiniDV, Laserdiscs, short lived video discs, a variety of cables designed to transport digital information, etc. have found temporary rest in cardboard boxes in basements, attics and garages while waiting to be brought to the nearest waste separation station. Who can handle our digitized information in a couple of thousand years’ time – or maybe just a century ahead? Of what use will a GIF file be?
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Inspired by the pyramids and the spectacular findings of archaeologists in the beginning of the 20th century, modern efforts have been made to preserve our civilisation – or at least a selection of its artefacts. At Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia (USA), a “Crypt of Civilization” was built in the years 1937 to 1940, filled with a myriad of books, images and objects considered representative of our modern culture and finally sealed with all due precautions to ensure its content wont be destroyed by neither decay nor disaster. It is intended to be reopened in 8113 – based on a calculation assuming that the earliest fixed date in the Egyptian calendar was in 4241 BC, and extending this distance in time symmetrically into the future from 1936.
By 1970 the crypt had already been virtually forgotten, but a new interest came in the years around the most recent new millennium and a trust has been formed to somehow warrant its preservation. 5)
Numerous “time capsules” have been created before and since – most notably the 1939 Westinghouse Time Capsule that also coined the expression time capsule (though originally called “Time Bomb”). But a distinction needs to be made: some time capsules are made for the future of our own civilisation, others are meant for the posterity of it, when it is lost and forgotten about. In a way, this expresses almost contrary views of the future. The founder of the Oglethorpe Crypt of Civilization, Thornwell Jacobs, addressed the future explorers of the crypt with the words: “The world is engaged in burying our civilization forever, and here in this crypt we leave it to you”. 6) With a world on the brink of war (but which had not yet witnessed its climax, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), Jacob’s concern is understandable.
A totally different expectation is expressed in a more short-lived time capsule found in 2012 in Vulkanny, Kamchatka (Russia). It was planted under the foot of a Lenin sculpture on 15 July 1979 in what was still the Soviet Union, greeting the “Socialist society in 2024”: 7)
"We say to you, who will join us in 45 years, … let your character be courageous. Let your songs be happier. Let your love be hotter. We do not feel sorry for ourselves because we are certain you will be better than us," the message says. "Improve the world and yourself in the name of communism, as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin taught us, as the Communist Party teaches us! Lenin is always with us!"
Time capsules like Crypt of Civilization are intended to overcome time. The 10.000 Year Clock being realized by the Long Now Foundation inside a mountain in Western Texas is a different story, as it is all about hanging on to time. This huge mechanical clock is designed to be rewinded by the occasional visitor – but if visited by no one, it will source the energy needed by other means. In one sense it is an optimistic work (just as its makers claim) as it will keep measuring time, and play its ever-changing chimes for us and for our descendants. But it will assumedly continue to measure time even without humanity present. It might have a rendezvous with posterity, without humanity attending.
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The certainty that future generations will be better than our own may be in decline today. But nevertheless, the importance of a time capsule increases with the time it travels. For a long time, the importance will mainly be anecdotal or sentimental – like for the whisky bottle and newspaper from 1894 retrieved inside the foundation of a bridge in Kingussie, Scotland, in August 2015. 8)
Also ASLAP will gain increasing importance, while simultaneously the likelihood of its survival decreases. In a way, it exists and is realized already in its programming status, as a file. Like a folded blanket, it remains a blanket also while folded, but it is affirmed in its totality when unfolded. ASLAP, in its current form, is folded time. When playing, it will unfold over the great plains of future, from the tiny platform of a GIF file.
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1 http://www.posiva.fi/en/final_disposal/general_time_schedule_for_final_disposal#.Vj9Xl0uRNuZ. Read 7.11 2015.
2 Jem Finer, Longplayer is a project originally commissioned by Artangel in London which started playing on 1 January 2000. It is run by the Longplayer Trust. http://longplayer.org/about/. Read 1.11 2015.
3 Alice Sanger, ”Rodney GrahamParsifal (1882 - 38,969,364,735) 1990” on the Tate homepage; http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/graham-parsifal-1882-38969364735-t11933/text-summary. Read 29.10 2015.
4 Claire Voon, ”The 1000-year GIF” in Hyperallergic, September 21, 2015; http://hyperallergic.com/237627/the-1000-year-gif/. Read 29.10 2015.
5 Oglethorpe Crypt of Civilization homepage; http://crypt.oglethorpe.edu. Read 29.10 2015.
6 Quoted after ”Crypt of Civilization” on Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crypt_of_Civilization. Read 31.10 2015.
7 Unsigned, ”Time Capsule Found Under Lenin Statue” in Moscow Times web edition 20.6 2012; http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/time-capsule-found-under-lenin-statue/462327.html. Read 31.10 2015.
8 Unsigned, ” 121-year-old time capsule found at bridge near Kingussie” in BBC News 26.8 2015; http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-34054847. Read 1.11 2015.