SAY IT LIKE IT IS BECOMING


SWOON

Catalogue essay accompanying the SWOON exhibition
Metro Arts Gallery One, 20 July - 5 August 2009


Like all the bodies of work in my practice, the Long Shots series emerged unexpectedly.

I had been using a digital camera since around 2002 to document my spatial installation work, and so the camera became a constant companion for me even though at this time image-production (something fixed, discrete, bounded, in view, more or less permanent) was the last thing on my mind given the sort of very subtle, ambient installations I was making (something unbounded, diffused, peripheral, ephemeral, in streets, parks, offices, homes, galleries and so on).

And then, when I got my hands on my first digital SLR camera around 2004 (fully manual, with control over aperture, shutter-speed, ISO, white balance and focus) I just started playing around. Making blurry images. The first group of images I have on record was taken at a bus stop in the city. Nothing special mind you, but what a physical and psychic release not to have to worry about holding the camera steady and keeping everything in focus as had been my goal when documenting the installations.

More and more, I would stuff around with the manual settings of the camera, and especially its long-exposure. Playing around a lot with lights at night, in whatever city I was walking through as part of my ambient travels. Up until then, this was for amusement, hardly thinking of it as serious work. Of course, something happened to change this.

It happened on a bus to Hobart airport, in 2006. Again, with camera in hand, having just documented some subtle installation work (scratching geometric gaps in the moss that grows between pavement cracks), I was blurring away. But the game this time was to try to keep a single tree in the middle of the image, selected from the many trees in the hills and paddocks whirring past. In this moment of myself, camera and the surrounding moving in one accord, the resulting images came alive, captivated me more than all the other throw-away blurs I had been doing. The trees I had tracked were sort of in focus, with all the hills and trees either side of it splaying out into the edges of the image, and the foreground road and fields, having moved relatively much faster past me than the hills, were even more greatly blurred and streaked. So, in a single image created 'in the lens', there were layers, foreground-background differentiation, counterpoint of gesture, ambiguous form and spatial depth. It helped too that, when opening up the digital files in Photoshop, some simple colour correction through 'auto-levels' and 'auto-contrast' brought out a lushness of colour and light that took me by surprise, but was somehow there in the image all along.

Not only did the images excite me, as an excited landscape, which prompted me to continue on in this practice, but a particular ambition began to grow in me. This ambition was to create new images, the quality of which no one had seen before. Visual innovations. In particular, via long-exposure, blurry photography. This ambition maybe even more ambitious than in previous decades and centuries, given the incredible amount of visual imagery being produced by people all around the word, via ever affordable digital cameras, mobile phones and other devices, much of which is uploaded and circulated around the web. Flickr.com, the world's foremost photo sharing site, boasts the number of new images uploaded to its site in the last minute. Today, it’s averaging over five thousand a minute. That's nearly eight million images a day. And the ambition of creating new visual worlds is perhaps even more stretched given my choice to use a typical, vernacular method of making images. The thing about blurry photography is that everyone has done it, whether meaning to or not.

So, not surprisingly, many of the images uploaded to Flickr deal in blurry photography, and there’s over two hundred social photo groups dedicated to this genre. And that’s not to mention the vast number of other images searchable in Google Images. I have been very interested in scanning this rampant online archive of blurry images because it helps me work out which images of mine are just like the throngs of others, and which are unique. It has certainly sharpened my eye.

Searching through Flickr and Google has also helped me determine how a blurry photograph might take on a unique presence. After looking at enough blurry images online, it is easy to see that there are about half a dozen ways of making a blurry image, which get employed time and time again by millions of photographers world wide: camera shake, a moving subject, a moving camera (laterally, or randomly), shifting the zoom whilst taking a shot, a foggy veil between camera and subject (eg, frosted glass or lens fog), or being out of focus. I have come to understand that in the Long Shots series, I am not coming up with new ways to blur images, but instead finding ways to combine and interweave this stock of movement-techniques in hybrid, multiple ways. Not just zooming in once, but zooming in and out over and over again. Not just sweeping the camera from left to right, but also zooming in a little at the same time. Or spinning around and around again so that the 360 degrees of surrounding compacts and smudges on the image frame. Many more movement-combinations have emerged, each complicating, weaving and undoing the gesturality of 'move camera this way and image turns out that way'. Each semi-improvised, choreographed procedure then gets grouped and named to create clusters of images, such as: smudges, sweeps, swipes, swivels, scribbles, strobes, swivels, scrapes. For this exhibition it’s swoons, swerves and swishes – lines no longer parallel, horizons collapsing on themselves, lights (flickering faster than are eyes can normally see) throbbing and pulsing across the image, curving around one another, bleeding back into themselves, fading out, swirling about and so on.

The other thing required in all this is the taking of many, many shots, and the use of the thumbnail preview on the back of the camera to work out if the particular movements are getting anything interesting. The improvised nature of the practice requires the immediate feedback of the thumbnail vision, something unavailable in the older analogue SLR cameras that needed the delay of chemical film processing. In this way, I have taken thousands of images over the last two to three years. In fact, a thousand over the last week alone. Not that many of them turn out. It's a long shot if they do.

When the images do turn out, they move beyond particular techniques, and enter a visual world, an ambient scape that sucks me into the picture plane, getting me lost, floating away, enter vast space via what is otherwise a framed print right in front of you.

As the archive of the Long Shots has grown, a strange relationship to the visual cannon has arisen, to which the Long Shots seem to attach themselves after the creative act: geometric and expressive forms of abstract painting; digital abstraction and effects; aerial landscape photography that heads towards abstraction just because it renders deserts, flood plains, valleys, rivers etc as strange almost deliberately painted schemas; and vernacular, everyday visualities like screen savers, ambient video scapes, dream sequences in film and so on.

Such connections reach back throughout the history of abstract painting, film and photography at least a hundred and fifty years to when the camera turned up in the middle of the nineteenth century. From this time on there has been this unfolding, symbiotic, parasitic and complex relationship between captured image (still and moving) and created image (painted and drawn). It is as if each cluster of Long Shots – each S-word – takes on a particular zone of historical abstract visual practice. The Romantics of ambient light, space, sky and water in the work of Turner and Constable. The steaks, skreets and squeegee-ing and slurping within abstract paintings like Richter's Red-Blue-Yellow series. The strobing, spotting and sequencing of pop art, Riley’s stripes and some of Sol Lewitt's later more cloud-like line drawings. Super-surrealism of dream-like squishy, squashy, smouldering forms. Not that the Long Shots are copies. They can't be. They are a product of very contemporary technologies (digital SLR camera) and yet they are also part of a longer, classical aesthetic approach. The ambient visual aesthetic, we might call it.

So that's how it is for all the Long Shots images. Born out of a relationship between my sensing body, the digital SLR camera, and the luminous land, revealed further through digital darkroom techniques of mild colour corrections. Attempting to go beyond the bounds of what we know of, and know through, long-exposure photography.

I make to discover what is around and beyond me, to open up things lurking in the familiar and test out ways to approach them, and, when it works, enjoying the grace one feels when welcoming in something at the edge of our being.

Luke Jaaniste
5th August 2009



ETHER SPACE

Text accompanying a submission
as short-listed finalist for the Jeremy Hynes Award 2011
through the Institute of Modern Art



ETHER – EARTH – HEARTH – HEART – AMBIENCE – ART

THE THING ABOUT AMBIENCE, OR ETHER-SPACE, IS THAT IT IS EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME, ALL AROUND US, ENVELOPING US, THROUGH ALL OUR SENSES, ACROSS ALL OUR FACULTIES. SUCH IS THE CASE WHETHER WE NOTICE IT OR NOT.

AS BOTH RECENT AND ANCIENT PRACTICES ATTEST, VISUAL, SONIC AND SPATIAL ART MAKING CAN OPEN US UP TO THE MYRIAD SUBTLETIES OF THE ETHER-SPACE — IN ITS DETAIL AND IN ITS EXPANSE.

IT’S THIS SUBTLE, ETHEREAL ENGAGEMENT THAT I’VE BEEN EXPLORING WITHIN MY SEVERAL ONGOING BODIES OF WORK, WHETHER PHOTOGRAPHIC, VIDEO, SONIC AND/OR INSTALLED.

AMBIENCE CREEPS UP ON YOU, AND SO DOES THE TRACES OF MY AMBIENT MAKING...

A VIDEO MIGHT APPEAR TO BE STILL OR PAUSED, BUT IT IS ALWAYS CONSTANTLY EVOLVING. A PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGE HAS MORE LAYERS AND MICRO-DETAILS THAN FIRST APPREHENDED. A SOUND WORK SEEMS STUCK ON A LOOP, BUT MOVES ON. A PERFORMANCE-INSTALLATION SEEMS CONTENT TO HOVER WITHIN A FEW TONES, BUT THINGS ARE FOREVER GLIDING ABOUT.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT IS THAT OUR BODIES, OUR MINDS, OUR SELVES, MIGHT RE-CONNECT TO THE FRAGILITY OF BEING IN OUR SURROUNDINGS, SO THAT OUR PLACE, AND OUR POSSIBLE RE-PLACEMENT WITHIN THE WORLD, IS RE-LEARNT — ONE MOMENT AT A TIME.



AMBIENT CAFE

Text accompanying an exhibition at create café, Kelvin Grove
In situ works by Luke Jaaniste 
11 Sept – 20 Oct 



Our surroundings are ambient, pervasive and enveloping. All around us. In an exuding material excess. But how much of it do we take notice of? How much do we see and hear? What is the state of our being in those surroundings?

My practice over the last few years has orientated itself around such questions, ultimately coming up against the question of the ambient mode of being – in which our surroundings are experienced as the ultimate aesthetic place. Wherever we are, there is so much to see and hear, that instead of wanting to add to it or fill it with content (as if it were empty or inadequate), I simply want to tweak the ambience of a place in such a way that we are drawn into a closer relationship with the ambience that has been there all along, regardless of our to-ing and fro-ing, our busi- ness and our particular tastes.

My main creative process then is one of ambient tweaking or inflecting, which has several recurring traits. It is quite formal, in that I focus on highlighting the repeating patterns and forms in urban settings in terms of their material shape, colour, timbre, texture and the intervallic relationships between such things (this is not to deny there are other meanings that adhere to the work in terms of the social spaces where such formalities take place). It is also quite subtle because any large gesture tends to dominate the pre-existing ambient and draw too much attention to itself. Furthermore, I use simple found materials or what we might call readymade units, whether the pre-existing units I find in a certain place or those I introduce to it. The readymade is a classic tactic in creative practice within the twentieth-century, which means I can divest any interest in the objects themselves (not being expensive or intricate or skilfully hand- made etc) to instead focus on the interrelationships that the units have with each other and with the pre-existing ambient place.

One of the creative tensions in my practice is the tension between the subtly of the work and the desire to bring this to the attention of audiences. Previous exhibitions have been experiments in how to navigate this tension. I have come to realise typical signage is either too heavy-handed for the work or too much like spoon-feeding audiences. Rather, it is a question of hints and clues, almost like a treasure hunt – providing a password or cryptic key with which one can unlock the experience of the work and then via this work, the ambience of a particular place. Pointing out the work tends to kill the element of discovery and surprise, and short-circuits one’s approach towards an ambient mode of being.

So what clues may I give you regarding the work in Create Café? How about...

Lego (white, grey and black) in various corners 
Marks (yellow, blue and green) on glass 
Holes punched through leaves 
Stickers (white) on metal 

This café exhibition is a satellite of the exhibition titled approaching the ambient, 3-6 October 2006, located in The Block and surrounding areas of the Creative Industries Precinct, QUT Kelvin Grove. This is the final exhibition in the practice-led doctoral (PhD) research that I have conducted since early 2003 through the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT, and is one of the components submitted for examination. The other components to be submitted include audio and visual documentation of works made since 2003, and a substantial accompanying text.

I would like to thank Duane and the staff at Create Café, and also La Boite, for this opportunity.



A KIND OF 'BOOM BOOM' BETWEEN THE MICRO AND THE MACRO

'city living' catalogue text
solo exhibition, Metro Arts Main Gallery, December 2004



Near the conclusion of his eight-month residency at Metro Arts, Brisbane-based artist Luke Jaaniste is interviewed by theatre director Nerida Jaaniste about the art of living in the city.

Well the very first question is, why did you call this exhibition 'City Living'?

I like the different meanings the phrase elicited. One of them is that being a resident at Metro Arts for the year has been a form of city living for myself as an artist who otherwise lives in the suburbs of Brisbane. It's been great to have a base camp in the city from which to make work and so in a sense I've been living in the city via my residency.

Secondly, there is also a sense for me in which my art practice is a form of city living, in that, what I tended to do in the past and what has solidified this year in my residency is that I'm really interested in various subtle interventions in everyday public sites, and usually in the city or in urban environments – so my art works are a form of city living.

I also like the fact that 'city living' almost sounds, especially when it's put on the front of an art catalogue, like a slogan befitting an interior design or inner-urban real estate or a furniture brochure; ‘city living’ being a kind of catch cry for modern life and chic inner urban dwelling. I like that connotation because I sense in my own work – and I think others sense it too – that my work either is or is very close to interior decoration or design. Not architectural design where you're building sites but the design that comes after that where you redecorate or renovate or rearrange the objects in the site.

I suppose that term for me relates to that yuppie, or post-yuppie sensibility that somehow living in the city and having access to resources and cash affords you a kind of aesthetic experience… you can be an aesthetic creature if you can afford an interior designer, designer furniture or the latest chic stainless-steel fridge. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, then, because my practice is clearly not about expensive goods. In a way I am suggesting that anyone can access an aesthetic of the everyday, an aesthetic of their immediate environments, because anyone can rearrange the simplest of objects in a way that are highly artful, aesthetic, beautiful, atmospheric, a kind of poetic…

You've used the word rearrange a number of times…

I've been rearranging items in the Metro Arts building all year. Dust has been a kind of revelation to me this year. Grill Dusting involved the removal of dust from the grilled inward-sucking air vent in the alley way which must have has dust pile up on it for maybe five or ten years. I simply cleaned and removed dust off a small square of the larger grid. That's rearrangement on the level of removal.

Another example is rotation of elements. In my Shopping series, unbeknown to shop assistants, I have been rotating various shelved products, such as rows of paint bottles or cat tins, so that the labels across a row shift from front to back.

Sometimes I also introduction something new into a site. This is what I have done earlier this year at The Cupboard Space on Level Three of Metro Arts. Small lego bricks were arranged on top of the red signs that exist above the studio doorways in that space, a work that is part of my larger Lego Blocking series.

You have also described your work as being subtle interventions, so I am curious to know whether you set out to make your audiences work hard at finding these so-called artworks?

I would say that in the moment of making work, I am not thinking about perceiver difficulties; I am not thinking about wanting to make it hard for people, but inevitably, without trying to, that’s the kind of thing that keeps returning again and again, so it’s a trait, a definite trait of what I am doing.

I enjoy this kind of subtlety; I enjoy as a viewer of my own work the kind of discovery process that is involved; I enjoy it when other people enjoy that way of working and perceiving as well.

I used to say that “I would like to take up space without taking up volume” and that could be a motto that is played out in my current work. In creating little points in a site, little moments of rearrangements or moments of introductions of a material, this takes up very little physical volume, but in another way, for me, they enliven the whole space, because I am very careful to create intervallic relationships between the elements that are rearranged and put in a space. For me, this somehow echoes or shudders out into a space, and makes very small objects connect with very large objects. So, for example, Lego pieces that are stacked vertically have right angles, have horizontal and vertical planes, and so do the walls and floors in a room, so there is a kind of ‘boom boom’ between the micro and the macro. The use of regular repeated intervals creates echoes in my perception of a site…

In answer to your question I suppose the works might be acting as a kind of filter system, filtering out the kind of person that would walk into the gallery and says ‘hit me!’ Rather, the person that either wants to or is able to ‘stop and smell the roses’ is probably the sort of person that is more likely going to engage with my work, simply because they will have more mental space to take in something subtle in what is otherwise a quite busy and hectic city life.

There almost seems to be an inverse relationship then: you ask time of your audience to find, locate and see your work, but when you create work, you don’t even seem to put in that amount of time… that’s not entirely true though – if you look at your Ice Cube BBQ, that was actually a time-rich task in which you spend hours sticking ice cubes together in a freezer...

But that was an older work… Making my works does take time, but not usually as long as making a theatre work or painting a massive intricate landscape. So yes, relatively speaking, I put less time into making the work, and yes, in a sense I am asking for more time, a lot more time of those who experience the work, including myself… Maybe because the experience of the work is so important to me, I have developed a practice whereby I spend less time making it so I personally can spend more time experiencing it – I love big empty spaces, I love uncluttered cleared-out zones, whereas often in creating the work it’s cluttered: I’ve got Lego scattered around, I’ve got blu tac, I've got the Lego tub, I've got a chair, I’ve got a camera, but I don’t want to be in that sort of cluttered space for very long.

Do you think differently about interiors than you do exteriors? When you go into an interior space, do you ask yourself as the artist finding possible works different questions than you would ask in exterior spaces… Or, is it a matter of always reading lines, shapes and patterns?

I think outdoor spaces would generally have a different set of lines, shapes and patterns to interior spaces, but I don’t think I consciously ask different questions. I think different sorts of spaces are thrown up.

But, in fact, that whole inside-outside logic is something I have abandoned or am abandoning for a while now…

I would say that all of my recent works have set up some form of interior that is also exterior. The gaps between the elements that I’ve rearranged in my work – whether they are in time or space, the gaps between each lego block, the gaps between strands of sticky tape, the silent gaps between each articulation of sound in my sound works – those gaps are interior to the thing we see as the artwork. They’re 100% interior; they form a vital logic to the kind of grid that I set up. But they are also 100% exterior to the work because they’re the actual real physical space and time of the site.

So if the gaps of time and space in my work are both in the work and in the site, then the artwork and the site bleed and making distinctions such as where the artwork ends just falls apart. I really love that idea. There are obviously points of intensities where you can say: well, there clearly… there where there is no dust next to the dust, that clearly is where Luke has worked, that’s where the work is. But then, the dust next to the not-dust is part of the work too, because the removal works because of the fact that there is something to remove. And so where does the work end, you know? Using The Cupboard Space example, is it the Lego, is it the sign on the door, is it the wall that the sign is on and the door under it, is it the floor, is it the room or the level the room is on? Of course the work peters out to the point where you don’t see the point of intensity, but, it seems to me that theoretically and very practically that there is no end to the work.

So if you like to create this kind of ‘continuous presence’ of the work, this ‘ongoing resonance’, when you go into a gallery space can you have multiple interventions in the same space?

That’s a question that is interesting to me. In the past I felt like I had to empty out a complete room before I could make anything. And in fact, if I was working at home, I would empty out an entire room of furniture, bits of fluff, and I would vacuum it and clean it and dust it until it was as empty as it could be before I could start to put work in it.

But, nowadays that’s changed. Now days I am making work in spaces that are completely cluttered because it seems to have shifted for me a little in that, if my work and site are bleeding into one and the sort of distinction doesn’t carry anymore, then it’s quite possible to make a work that occupies the whole space of the site without occupying any volume. So if you notice the work, the work is the space and you notice everything, but if you don’t notice the work, then you carry on with your washing up or going about your business and it’s not there at all – it’s invisible. The works that we have around home are kind of like that for me… when I notice it, it’s like: ‘boom’ there it is. But you know, 90% of the time or more I don’t notice it, so it's not there.

Until recently I haven’t thought of putting more work in a space at once. The work I am currently doing for QUT Art Museum – in fact I’ve got four works in there - is for a group show, and I have thought for a while I wouldn’t be able to do group shows because of that fact of wanting to clear out the whole space – so we will see how that works…

You used the phrase ‘perceiver difficulties’ in the context of the audience finding the work. How do you think about the perceiver when you create the work?

I think a lot about the perceiver. I think I think almost entirely from the perceiver’s point of view – I mean me as the perceiver. It strikes me that some artists might make their work without thinking about how it will be once installed; the installation process is as second stage in making the work for them. But for me, in one sense I am a ‘pure’ installation artist in that I only make and design work in the moment of installing it. I am absolutely an ‘in situ artist’. I might have an idea to make a Lego piece for a room, but until I am there physically there taking in the Lego bocks to see which bits fit where, to see which bits create this kind of resonance or echo, if you like, it’s not until this happens that I have even designed the work.

So if it is absolutely installed, then I am reading and perceiving the work as a user of that space might, since I am making the work in the space, not in the studio. I stand, I work around the room, I try to do the sorts of things that I would do when I walk into a gallery or if I was going to use a space, see it from different angles, notice the shadows…