the images



On 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, for example.
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 world?
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 that 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 music.
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 projections are 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 institutions 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, since, 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 processed 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 outline 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 impressions is, in a sense, as complex as the interrelation of the four fields of moving imagery. It is about the continually changing proportions in each image, as well as about the proportions of the four fields. Further it is about the simultaneous perception of aurally perceivable proportions of numeric ratios all synchronized with the images.
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 and reality.

Susanne Ackers