Time to Reflect Reality
"It's the rails. It is the people who laid the rails, who perhaps died years ago, who are still steering the tram."Lars Saabye Christensen, Echoes of the City, p. 73.
In the kinetic video installation Time to Reflect Reality, we approach different modes of knowing and experiencing the city through a media archaeological investigation of machine vision.
The video installation is comprised of two kinetic video projections, a Mylar curtain, and red-tinted windows. One video projector is attached to an autonomous vehicle in motion and shows a combination of historical tram films from Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim (1908-1950) from the National Library's film archive and tram videos from today's Oslo. These are so-called phantom rides, i.e., footage where the camera is attached to the front of the tram while it traverses the city's network of rails. The other video projector is attached to a slowly rotating mechanism that causes the video image to travel in a 360-vertical loop across the exhibition space. This video shows the recording of the Earth’s surface from the perspective of a NASA satellite in orbit around the planet.
The work addresses the current race to build real-time digital geographies for autonomous vehicles in the future smart city. The time it takes for the system to produce this contextual high-definition map for the autonomous vehicle is referred to as Time to Reflect Reality (TTRR). In this project, however, we are less interested in the concept and future functions of the self-driving car and more concerned with how the advances in machine vision will change our conception of the physical world.
The installation is set up to produce alternative cartographies in the exhibition space through a combination of old and new technologies. Here, we further research and combine the two phenomena we call cinéma trouvé and proxistance. Our intention is to develop a more-than-human approach to knowledge that already figures in the urban environment, but which can easily be overlooked and forgotten in the future smart city.
The autonomous vehicle in Time to Reflect Reality has been developed in collaboration with Christopher Myers at CITRIS Invention Lab, University of California, Berkeley, and Tønnes Frostad Nygaard at the Department of Informatics, University of Oslo.
Cinéma trouvé station
Screening program curated by Bull.Miletic
Cinéma trouvé station is a screening program of phantom rides curated by Bull.Miletic. The program serves as reference material for Time to Reflect Reality. The films in the program are courtesy of The National Library of Norway and citizen scientists. The program is open for submissions! Please email the link to your phantom ride to studio [æt] bull.miletic.info
- Trondheim (1949-1950), The National Library of Norway, 0:14 min.
- Oslo (2019), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 8:24 min.
- Oslo (1950), The National Library of Norway, 1:07 min.
- Oslo (2019), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 13:29 min.
- Oslo (1950), The National Library of Norway, 0:35 min.
- Oslo (2020), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 35:07 min.
- Oslo (1950), The National Library of Norway, 0:02 min.
- Oslo (2020), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 8:00 min.
- Bergen (1929), The National Library of Norway, 0:06 min.
- Oslo (2020), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 11:59 min.
- Bergen (1929), The National Library of Norway, 1:09 min.
- Oslo (2020), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 10:08 min.
- Bergen (1929), The National Library of Norway, 0:31 min.
- Oslo (2020), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 11:42 min.
- Bergen (1929), The National Library of Norway, 0:06 min.
- Oslo (2020), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 3:12 min.
- Trondheim (1908), The National Library of Norway, 4:04 min.
- Oslo (2020), Ciel Waagenes Udbjørg, 12:16 min.
- Oslo (1920), The National Library of Norway, 1:14 min.
Urban Biology after Cybernetics: Neurons / Brain / Sponge
“Urban Biology after Cybernetics: Neurons / Brain / Sponge” will be a book chapter in the forthcoming anthology Urban Ecologies.
In the early 1960s, architect and urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis envisioned the city of the future to be “a continuous network of centres.” In order to explain and validate this urban schema, Doxiadis pointed towards the biological logic of neurons—in opposition to the centralized logic of a growing tree. Architect Kenzo Tange envisioned the city as an extended brain: “Large metropolitan areas or megalopolises in our day are becoming the brains for the body of modern society. Whirling around in these brains are the people, and the information. The citizens are like electrons flowing in an electronic ‘brain.’”
Throughout the 20th Century, the city has often been described by referring to biological metaphors: the city as a human body, as a tree, as tissue, or a nervous system. Yet in the 1960s, the equations between a city and a brain were founded on a very specific branch of biology: the biological metaphors of the city as an extended brain were grounded in a branch of biology closely linked with cybernetic theory and advanced computer technology.
Biologist Conrad Hal Waddington (1905 – 1975) was a pioneer of such new developments and his ground-breaking theory of epigenetics laid critical foundations for the field of systems biology. Waddington has been labelled a “Marxist biologist” and in the 1960s and 70s he worked closely with Doxiadis and Tange to conceptually redefine the urban system grounded in his biological theories. His proposition for an urban metaphor was not, however, a cybernetic brain—but a sponge.
Focusing on Waddington’s biological urbanism, this chapter revisits the biological landscape of the urban tissue of the 1960s and shows how Waddington’s urban biology transgressed conventional cybernetic theories of the city as an extended brain. Instead of an open-ended cybernetic network system, the Marxist biologist suggested that cities needed to be planned, built, and developed as solid structures in combination with a soft and flexible tissue—like a sponge with its dense but porous skeleton. For Waddington, the city was not a planetary city of free-floating information as in an electronic brain, the city as sponge was a contingent city, but at the same time fixed and conditioned by particular topographies. Only this urban schema, Waddington claimed, could contain seeds for new beginnings.
Glass can do so much, and is almost incomprehensible in its nature as it originates from the sand. Imagine that something that is dense becomes transparent. Imagine that something that disappears between the fingers suddenly becomes firm and sharp like a knife. The material can do the ultimate architectural trick; to define space without hindering visual paths or obstructing light.
Physically, the glass forms the facades of the growing city, and figuratively the glass is an apt metaphor for modernity. Smart use of glass has not only given us the opportunity to see the city and thus experience it in a new way, the glass has also allowed us to look into microscopes and out into the universe.
When it comes to ecology and urban development - or the problematization around growth and population - the discussion is often limited to how technology should save us by applying new techniques into buildings. But in the project Urban Ecologies, the concept of ecology is rather understood as a way of understanding the city: different contexts, wholes and cycles.
How can we live ever closer in the city, but at the same time separated? How can we preserve the need for daylight when we have to build closer and higher? RE FLUX investigates how glass can both delimit and open up. What degree of boundaries and sense of space can the transparent create?
RE FLUX consists of two spatial installations in glass that are situation-specific to ROM for Art and Architecture. Both rooms connect to the gallery's existing window openings and thus spread daylight further into the room. A small room connects to the window to the west and a smaller object on the window to the east. Each of the installations has its specific program, which springs from the location in the gallery room. The rooms are not intended as autonomous installations, nor as groundbreaking works within glass constructions. These are rooms that directly relate to the functions of the gallery.
RE FLUX examines the relationship between place, space and light to highlight the importance of glass for how the city is perceived.
Objective Enactive is a sculptural installation on a sliding door. The installation consists of two recognizable symbols: a point and a cross, made of artificial materials: hydrothermal quartz (amethyst) and the composite material Corian. Together, these two symbols form a well-known instrument for discovering one own`s blind spot (discus nervi optici). Through the installation, the viewer can choose to look at the city scene that unfolds on the outside or explore the tiny "empty hole", which is a small field with reduced peripheral information in our field of vision.
The light flows into the eye through the pupil and is refracted in the iris and the lens (lens crystallina) before it hits the retina. The retina is surrounded by light-sensitive proteins, photoreceptors, which send electrical impulses to the optic nerve. The impulses are sent via the optic nerve to the visual center of the brain, which processes, and further interprets the information. Inside the soft body of the eye, right where the optic nerve exits the retina, there is one small spot without photoreceptive cells. A "blind" spot. When the brain does not receive visual information, it fills in the information by retrieving it from the surrounding image. Thus, we are never aware of the existence of the blind spot in our daily lives. The blind spot is known as the inexplicable in the relationship between the conscious and the nonconscious, it illustrates the most prominent problem in science of the cognition of the human race: what do we register as objective truth? What is subjective knowledge and is it reliable?
In computer technology and machine learning, errors in the execution of a command are referred to as "non-performativity" or a "glitch". With this work we ask if it is possible to understand glitches as technological relatives of the blind spot of the human eye? If so, it is an argument that technology is an extension of ourselves, imitating and evolving from the biological organism and taking part in the meaning-making, as our companions? How will this change the way we perceive our surroundings through our many lenses (in our own eyes, in the smartphone`s camera lens and in other digital gadgets)?
With Objective Enactive, we propose to redefine the blind spot in our field of vision, to a biological glitch: a ubiquitous protest in our perception of the environment. By examining the sense of sight by activating the biological glitch inthe consciousness, we may move from being a passive observer and recipient, to participating in a world through enaction, where the experience of being a body in a space, in a city, will be crucial for our future.
As artists, we are engaged in the exhibition space as chairman and technician. We have taken this point of view seriously, when we were invited by Bull.Miletic to participate in the researchproject. Through artistic reflection, we have developed the installation Objective Enactive and are challenged in this context to look at our roles in artist-ecology.
Ghosts of the Past? (Un)Mapping Urban Iconography
On 22 June 2020, a news article in the Nordic online journal Kunstkritikk informed the reader that a public monument in the city of Nuuk, Greenland had been covered with graffiti, bearing the word DECOLONIZE and Inuit patterns. The monument in question is the statue of Norwegian-born priest Hans Egede, who was the first missionary setting foot on Greenlandic soil and seen as a key figure in the colonization of Greenland. The statue has in fact been residing, cloaked as a patron saint, in this place since 1921 – with the city in its back and facing the sea - bearing witness to Denmark’s colonization policies and the urban transformation of the capital Nuuk which Egede once founded. While Hans Egede’s role in the colonization of Greenland has been debated – though not fiercely - the image of the statue had inscribed itself into the urban fabric, becoming part of the city’s iconography. According to Kunstkritikk, there had been several attempts to remove it, though without success. Also, in 2020 there was no success. As a result of the incidence, the inhabitants of Nuuk were asked to vote for or against the removal of the statue. The majority voted to keep the statue in place (921 vs 600). At the same time, the vote makes visible that only a fraction of the city’s population, namely less than 10%, had cast a vote (the total population of Nuuk was, according to Statistics Greenland, 18,326 as of January 2020). It appears to confirm that the issue is multi-layered and complicated, despite the current global wave – in alignment with the resurgence of the #Black Lives Matter movement – of demands for the removal of statues embodying public persona representative of dark chapters in the history of humankind.
Like many other European cities, Oslo has a number of statues worth examining in a decolonial context. In fact, also Oslo owns a statue of Egede which stands next to the Trinity Church on Schandorffs square. It is in the immediate vicinity of OM for kunst og arkitektur, the hub for the Urban Ecologies project and therefore the starting point for my research. Methodologically, it will begin with a provenance analysis of the Egede monument, tracing not only the monument’s ‘biography’ but also the biography of the missionary it represents. In this process, my aim is to draft a map of the traces Egede has left in the Northern hemisphere, both physically and symbolically, particularly embodied in the form of monuments as well as street and place names. Although my general focus will be on urban spaces in the Northern hemisphere, my particular focus will be on the city of Oslo, where the overall research project is anchored. The purpose of this mapping process is to uncover the forgotten stories, but also to make us aware of what goes under our radar and what kind of relations exist between different places, how histories are interwoven. And not least, to ask how we should deal with these histories today? How shall we treat these blind spots?
My motivation for this research is related to my research conducted as a Ph.D. fellow at UiT The Arctic University in Tromsø, where I am examining contemporary artistic production in the North (in particular the Arctic) with a gendered, (post)colonial and research-based perspective. But my situatedness is also related to the fact that I am an immigrant to the city of Oslo. In 2018, 33.1% of Oslo’s inhabitants were counted as immigrants/non-Norwegian (these are defined by the City of Oslo as not born in Norway or born in Norway to immigrant parents). This means that close to one-third of Oslo’s inhabitants presumably has selected and only recently acquired knowledge about Norway’s history, habits, language, and culture. While these immigrants, including myself, all bring their own stories, histories, cultures to the city, they also bring an outsider perspective and specific interests that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
In a recent seminar organized by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, the anthropologist and photo historian Elizabeth Edwards talked about the phenomenon of «mass-visible invisibility» brought about by the so-called «views trade» in urban contexts. In reference to a historical photo agency called Alinari, Edwards advocated that these visual networks of reproduction reach into the present through different forms of dissemination, while they also contribute to shaping our memories and ideas of nationhood. In this case, Edwards articulated how visual images, and in particular photography, infiltrate the urban landscape and how these creep into other spaces such as libraries, homes, classrooms, railway carriages, school prizes, newspapers, cigarette cards, casual postcards. All these are sites where the past is monumentalized while the images at the same time have a pre-cognitive presence, a quality of «just-thereness».
In my textual contribution, I will argue that also street and place names, as well as historical monuments (and thus their “presence” as place makers on city maps) have a similar status for the following reason: place names and monuments can equally acquire a status of «just-thereness». Even if one could counter-argue that place names or public monuments (or other types of urban place markers) are not mass-visible in terms of their repetitive appearance/mass-circulation like photographic images that appear/re-appear in various formats in urban space, they are incessantly used and looked at as orientation markers in the city and its corresponding maps. They become urban place markers that are infinitely and repetitively passed when maneuvering the city. They become visual tools for orientation, urban images whose function is predominantly not for knowledge acquisition. They are instead, to return to Elizabeth Edwards’s proposition, things that are not processed or consciously experienced but get absorbed into everyday street topography and urban iconography. In a sense, they become “just” image. In reference to Nigel Thrift’s concept also used by Edwards, there is a "non-cognitive awareness" at play. However, as Edwards herself has pointed out, the term is not unproblematic because pre-cognitive images are not located outside of history. They in fact contribute to shaping memories and histories. To see these urban images as such, will be the key point of my argument: while paying attention to urban images that are supposed “just there” (like place names and monuments), it is possible to reverse the status of unawareness and argue that these images are a crucial element shaping individual and collective histories. In their iconographic status, they contribute to how we sense and perceive our (urban) surroundings and thus how we act in the present. The statue of Hans Egede in the vicinity of ROM for kunst og arkitektur will hereby act as a case study. Through this approach, I will map and – metaphorically – un-map parts of the urban fabric that not only speak of multi-layered histories and urban transformation processes but also examine who claims ownership of history and how we can let others speak about it.
Everywhere is Now: A Cartography of Remote Daydreams
Can a smartphone camera operate on its own? How does a phone sense spatial conditions and urban environments? This project explores latent and imagined spatial narratives in video, images and screen shots from an incidental lifelogging archive captured by a smartphone that randomly documents my everyday spaces. Through investigating a ‘machine’ perspective on memory, emotion, and dream as vital components in perception of space, I question if there is such a thing as a transsubjective, or even cyborgian, digital topophilia (a strong sense of place or love for peculiar spaces).
In search of the algorithm of daydreams and sense of self and place in a networked and hybrid reality, the project discusses simultaneousness, crowd sourced and digitally constructed memories, quantified data and machine learning. An important question in my artistic research is how the surveillance technology and AI functions integrated into the everyday smart-devices that surrounds us intermingles with – and possibly even co-develops our spatial episodic memories, and such also our future spatial perception. Not to mention our existential ideas of identity and subjectivity.
The work consists of a spatial multimedia installation. 20 simultaneous projections are used to explore images and video material from the life-log archive as spaces on the threshold between the physical, the digital and the imagined. Based on the idea that a space always is experienced simultaneously in its reality, and in its virtuality, and that the individual's subjective spatial experience is formed in a cycle where every previous spatial experience, encounter or memory become active building stones in our future perceiving or imagining of new spaces, the work is intended as a kind of serendipity machine. In the projections' continuously changing overlap, new dreamlike spatialities constantly emerge in an eternal exchange between the spatial universe of the "sensing" smartphone and 'my' spatial preferences.
In realizing the installation, Kjersti has worked closely with Nicolai Fontain