History - memory, place, representation

PLACE AND MEMORY - traces of the flows of life


The technological development gives us greater opportunities to build a story based on data generated in a place. Sensors and equipment for the gathering of data is becoming cheaper and is incorporated in our every day use of applications. A explosion is expected within this area during the coming decades. But what data is meaningful and what is missed? And which data put together would challenge our integrity? Which contexts could be highlighted and given form in order to function as a collective memory?

Aim and goal

The aim of the project is to research how collected data from life in a public space can be filtered, organized and given form with artistic methods to work as a collective memory platform.

The artistic process will be structured to systematically research questions such as: When using a place as starting point to create a memory, what memory is created? Does it represent the place? What associations can be developed between the collected data and the final artistic presentation?

The project proceeds during three years. In the first research phase the aim is to decide which forms of sensory data is the most interesting to use as basis for the process of giving form to a work of art, especially in terms of what insights the data can give on human behaviour and the dynamic of humans?relation to the place. This will be done by developing and testing several prototypes together with engineers.

Several types of sensors will be used to obtain a multi-dimensional data source that can be given form in different ways. The sensory system will be construed taking into consideration integrity aspects based on existing regulations on identifying individuals and the management of gathered data.

This will give a basis for the next phase of mapping and data collection. It will be done during at least one year, and focus on patterns of movement and sound scapes in the place, and their relation to time, climate and special occurrences. In parallel the collected material will be analyzed and processed artistically.

I imagine that we observe and are aware of the present in a totally different way than the context as a whole. Thus I want to follow our traces over time. My hope is that by doing so the dissonance between control and chance become visible. To measure human flow in a chosen place can be perceived as temporary, however the life of a human collective has a direction and acquires a meaning which also creates the place. So, if this information is transferred on to something completely different, can the origin be made visible ?the traces of an ongoing memory?

Another aim is to contribute to the discussion about the boarder land between scientific and artistic research. Focus will be on the meaning of representation in order to interpret and experience both spheres. The borderland between action research and artistic operations will also be highlighted through interventions in the form of installations.

Project description
The planned work

The first phase of the project will determine which type of sensory data is needed as a basis for the artistic process. Sensors that can be used can be visual or audio based, sensors that detect movement using IR or ultra sound, sensors that detect environmental parameters, light intensity, wind speed, rain and humidity, or chemical sensors that measures the concentration of different substances in the air.

Public data gathered by the municipality and other authorities may be used as well. First of all, the ambition is to catch patterns of movement and their dependence of climate and light, also the differences between various parts of the place and during different times of the day, week and year, and also the sound scape. It is about many concurrent parameters, that are activated by the collective life in the place, and which total effect also determines this life. Temporary sensors will also be used to investigate interesting patterns or to document specific events. Changes that occur in the place and special activities will be documented by myself with images/stills.

To provoke established patterns a number of temporary installations will be made to explore how they affect the human flow, rhythm and sound scape. It can be screens with a reflective surface that makes people change their path across the space, and which also influences the light conditions. Various techniques can be used to direct people’s attention to forgotten or hidden spaces, or to different perspectives. Other installations will highlight processes of change in the environment that are so slow that one would not notice them.

All these installations will give an immediate artistic experience, they will also contribute to a long-term raising of awareness about the meaning of the place and ongoing transformative processes. Furthermore, this can give a picture of the stability of the established patterns, how easily affected they are and initiate interesting changes. This can be compared to action research where interventions in a course of events are used to make visible underlying dynamics [12].

The processing of data will be done continuously with the support of a specially developed computer system. Experiments of different forms of representing the collected knowledge will also be done continuously. The representations will mainly be digital and the ambition is to have a couple of screens somewhere in the space that can show what is happening in real time, so the development of the work of art can be seen, including representations of processed data that have been made over a longer period of time. My earlier work with graphic representations in “Lifeline? where my own movements creates a score, is a starting point. The project will also explore various possibilities of a physical and dynamic representation of the place that slowly and constantly documents its every day choreography.

Methodological considerations

The ambition is to be documentary in the sense of doing the data justice. The complexity will not be reduced, nor will the perspective be restricted in other ways than to make clear evident patterns and tendencies. In a way, the work is thus similar to scientific practice.

The question of the meaning of the form of representation is vital both within science and the arts. It does not only influence the method of working but also the orientation by establishing a kind of filter that makes some conditions emerge and others to fade away. There is a tendency to use the methods for what they are useful, which is pointed out by Latour.

Scientific work considers the measuring instrument’s capacity to focus on what is required, the output to be readable and useful, and the effects of the forms of representation that show the relationship amongst what has been identified. Within art the traditional working methods of painting and sculpture have for a long time been limiting. With digital technique, often in combination with other new technologies, the possibilities have expanded significantly. Different media can be combined in new ways. At the same time it is important to use historical artistic experiences. Lessons from the traditional work with history and memory within the arts are however not so useful in this context as they generally concern permanent monuments that give form to and bring up to date separate events and individuals.

In this project the concern is the creation of memory in a place, in the midst of an ongoing flow of events. Earlier, historic courses of events will not be an influence, other than through the spatial relations they have generated, and the effect that peoples awareness of history may have on their actions in the place. When it comes to the philosophical problems of history and memory, the project will seek support in the ongoing, multi-disciplinary research programme Time, memory, representation at Södertörns högskola led by Professor Hans Ruin. Persons from the research team will be a part of the project’s reflection group. During the project several seminars will be arranged together with the Time, memory, representation research programme.

Ethical considerations

A more general discussion on ethical considerations like issues of integrity and how artists can approach these will be held during a seminar within the framework of the project. Artists, researchers and representatives from authorities ( for ex Länsstyrelsen and Datainspektionen) will be invited to this seminar.

Preliminary results

An illustrative example is the art work “Lifeline?from 2004 which I realized in collaboration with Innovative design. During 506 days (and nights), I carried a GPS-receiver on my shoulder. It registered my geographical position once every 10 seconds. Once a week all data was transferred to a hard drive. The GPS was battery driven and needed to be recharged once per day. These restrictions ?to constantly carry around fragile equipment that needed to be protected and looked after ?had a considerable influence on my life. The idea was to quit the project in the middle of its process, thus the 506 days. To visualize the stored data in a form of animation, a special programme was developed. The programme automatically generated movement and zooms to manage walks, trips on trains and planes across a vast geographic space. The 506 days were comprised to 80 minutes of animated film. A red dot moves across a white sheet and leaves behind a black line. The line represents my trajectory in space. In the film date and time is shown. The work of art includes a hardback book in which every page shows data from a specific day, together with scale, latitude and longitude. A viewer of the film can find a date in the book and orient himself or herself in the world. There is also a private dimension of notes on memories and events in the book.

The GPS must have visual contact with satellites that are constantly hovering around the earth and sending out signals. For this reason the person carrying a GPS, the carrier, becomes invisible on entering a building, the signals show when the person has entered and exited a building. In the beginning the project was about the traces of the carrier, but along the way the time when the carrier did not leave any traces became just as important. The theme of surveillance has an equal importance both from the private and the public perspective. “Lifeline?is a work of art that is about reading and defining a person through her pattern of movement. She leaves her own unique pattern behind like DNA and finger prints. It is a sophisticated method of observing an individual through time and space. Using data from several individuals, large flows can be analyzed upon specific events, altered behaviour makes specific traces. Since “Lifeline?was done in 2004, when GPS was a foreign term for everybody, the technology has become a usual phenomena, everybody is leaving electronic traces behind ?traces that can be seen in real time and that can be reconstructed. The mechanism of surveillance raises questions about the human need to be seen and documented. Owned by Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Other related projects

”Bitumenkub?1998-2009 . Several cubes have been placed in different places from 4-24 months. For instance at the Venice Biennale, Chelsea NY and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The cube has the measurement 1500 mm, and weighs 3200 kr. Depending on time, temperature, viscosity and density, the cube slowly shrinks.

”Reflexion?2009, the place is registered over a long period of time, it is converted and presented in real time as an immaterial form in constant change. The glass façade of Kulturhuset in Stockholm was covered in reflective film. 50 sq. m. on ground level, and 30 sq. m. on level five, was draped in reflex film. The idea was to show the place in an indirect form, to make it visible by altering it. Since the reflective film is highly sensitive to light, all activities in the space that take place between the film and any light source will be reflected. All activities are shown in a semi mirroring so that the concrete events get a more dissolved, abstract form, like a light phenomena. Like a film being replayed in real time, the reflection is also an image of communication and a reaction to events day and night.

”Texterna?1998 (“The texts? Glass cabinet 2500 x 1250 x 500 mm. Eight experts within different disciplines were asked to leave a list over “mankind’s most important texts? The 75 texts that were mentioned more than once are represented here. Each text is encased in a sealed glass box that is filled with oliveoil. Owned by Linköpings Länsbibliotek.

See more on my website www.mikaellundberg.se
© Mikael Lundberg
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