the Images of "Sol"
Images have existed for about 15,000
years. In the beginning, they served as symbolic depictions
of much coveted and vital animal prey, as we find them
in the caves of Alta Mira. Only since the form of representation
using central perspective turned into the symbolic form
about 500 years ago, the use of images in the arts of
depiction — part of which are photography since
the beginning of the 19th century and film since the
end of that century — obtained their specific,
documentary quality. Standing in this tradition, the
depicted obtains a claim to reality, even if it might
not pertain to the physical possibilities of our world
— as carried to the extremes by the Surrealists,
As described so far, an image is an object standing
in the tradition of cultural history, referring to the
possibilities and impossibilities of its very existence
and relating the object to reality. Since the early
1960ies, images can be produced by machines. The issue
raised here is the relationship of the depicted to reality.
The images produced by these calculating
machines are indeed within the described tradition,
yet they show important new features and characteristics.
In what way do the new tools of the digital, electronic
world differ from the tools of the analogue, physical
In his essay “A Short History of Photography”,
Walter Benjamin uses Camille Recht's analogy of painting
and a violin on the one hand and photography and a
piano on the other. He uses this metaphor to emphasize
the painter respectively musician using these media
or instruments has to be fully aware of the totally
open and free form on the one hand and of the closed
form with inherent principles on the other in order
to be able to use them artistically, playing with
the borders of perception. If we extend this analogy
to the computer, we can describe it as an instrument
with certain limitations (pertaining to, for example,
CPU speed, screen resolution, and memory size). However,
it is not determined by inherent principles and with
regard to software, provides the user with nearly unlimited
possibilities within the frame of his/her knowledge.
It is at this very point that we can
now start talking about the images we are confronted
with in the project “Sol”. Which of the
elements that are used to generate these images in motion
can be described at first glance? "Color"
and "form" are terms that stem from the tradition
of still images; "movement" and "rhythm",
as terms for describing pictures, rather pertain to
the more recent tradition of moving images respectively
We see four projection screens with four different
combinations of form, color, and rhythm. If we try
to describe these to give persons not present an idea
of their appearance, we succeed only partially. As
suggested by the title, we can say that three of the
based on a round form.
Whereas the first projection, "Irradiance",
consists of two circles — the smaller of the two
pulsating and embedded in a larger circle —, the
second projection is based on one circle acting within,
and interacting with it’s surrounding square:
"Mean Solar Magnetic Field". The action of
the third projection entitled "Sunspots" consists
of a circle with horizontal lines which in turn is
set out in color against the necessarily rectangle
form of the projection screen. Visible within this circle
is a so-called butterfly diagram as described below.
The fourth projection, "Solar Wind", which
differs from the others in its basic form, depicts a
horizontally blurring motion of vertical lines, wandering
from left to right. Each form has at least three color
modes which were assigned by the artists on the basis
of aesthetic criteria. This is how far we succeed in
the description of these images in motion. But is
what we actually see, what we perceive?
The titles of the projections refer to science, more
precisely, to the context of solar research. They
describe four measurable phenomena. The corresponding
data gathered via satellite by different research
between 1978 and 2000 serve as the artistic material
and starting point for the project "Sol".
Also this material is part of a certain tradition,
inevitably, measurements are results generated in
the context of a particular theory, which in turn very
often constitutes the basis of a technical apparatus
used for the respective measuring. The technical apparatus
accommodates diverse algorithms and transformation
processes. The reality measured is constantly being
while being observed and measured. The projection "Sun-
spots", for example, shows how the specific data
is necessarily collected as a geometrically segmented
form, thus leading to a visual result, which, in turn,
is correlated with the already known visual appearances.
The disk-like appearance of the sun
was divided into 50 horizontal stripes equal in height,
so-called "bins". The sunspots are counted
within these segments. By visualizing the measured
values in this way, the so - called butterfly diagram
becomes visible. It is the abstract image of the regularity
observed within one solar cycle. The sunspots, that
merely occur at the two poles in the beginning, wander
towards the equator and increase in frequency over
an 11-year cycle, create a form reminiscent of the
of a butterfly, if the color is depicted accordingly.
So the visual form transposed into an artistic context
closely follows its scientific origin. For the projection
"Mean Solar Magnetic Field", the artists
developed a completely different form of dealing with
the existing data. The battle of the central circle
with it’s surrounding rectangle visually questions
the concept of field structuring and the a priori
of the construction of space. These questions are
fundamental, and are here — in spite of the
data being sun-related — visualized as general issues.
The installation "Sol" introduces scientific
data and its already partially pre-formed visualizations
into the context of art, to be more precise, electronic
art, and processes it as material in this context. In
contrary to early computer graphics of the 1960ies,
the result is not solely based on the elements 'instrument'
(calculating apparatus) and their 'rules' (program)
and therefore, as for example the well-known Mandelbrot
Set, a mere statistic visualization of complex mathematical
formulas; "Sol" however, takes this further,
since the decisions to aesthetically process a seg-
ment of four parallel sets of measurements and to represent
abstract numerical series as an installation, entails,
that this installation is permanently in motion - just
as the observed natural phenomena, the sun, changes
at any given point of time.
The 'liveliness' and the apparently irregular pattern
contain and claim reality at the same time. With "Sol",
the solar processes that are invisible to our senses
are transformed aesthetically. All of the four visual
fields convey data simultaneously and in real time.
We are thus faced with the task to perceive these separate
channels, as well as the acoustic impressions as one
phenomenon. Here one might raise the question on how
this makes sense to us, to what extent this is art.
Yet, one could refer to an example, such as —
to choose a static one — the facade of a Gothic
cathedral and its harmonic numeric relations. We can
only guess, to what extent the mathematic relations
impressed people in the 13th century. By being given
the opportunity to visually and aurally experience
the aesthetically mediated data of two 11-year solar
cycles, which otherwise cannot be perceived sensually
by looking at the sun, we are able to understand nature's
complexity maybe for the first time.
The visualization of impressions gained from reality
(may they be obtained by means of mere observation in
the Stone Age or by 20th century, high-tech measuring
instruments) does not obtain the status of an image
in a cultural sense as a mere depiction. It rather shows
the limits of the beholders' perception in a new way.
The visual impression of these extremely complex units
of moving imagery is not only based on the perception
of each individual unit, but moreover on the connections
made between them.
Whereas the four channels of moving imagery are presented
individually to our projective visual sense, the acoustic
part is presented, right from the very beginning,
as a composition of the four series of measurements.
Therefore, the relation of the acoustic and visual
is, in a sense, as complex as the interrelation of
the four fields of moving imagery. It is about the
changing proportions in each image, as well as about
the proportions of the four fields. Further it is
the simultaneous perception of aurally perceivable
proportions of numeric ratios all synchronized with
In spite of the many transformation that occurred from
the moment of measuring to the moment of presentation,
"Sol" mediates the liveliness of the sun.
It evokes the impression of actually seeing the sun
and not artifacts of a technical apparatus.
And this should, for this time, answer the initially
posed question regarding the relation between the depicted