The Artist that invented Computer Animation
Aapo Saask on the artist
On an island aptly named
Magnetic Island off the coast of Australia, a Swedish artist lives in
exile. Just like so many others in today's media-landscape, he was first
praised and then brought to dust. However, he has left a lasting imprint
on the world. As early as the 1960's, he made the first electronic
animation. Had he been an inventor, he would have been celebrated as a
genius today, but because he is a predecessor in the world of art, things
are different. In that world, the great ones often have to die before they
"the origins of video art" pages: 116, 117, 118 and 181, 182 and 183.
by Chris Meigh-Andrews
During the period between 1965 and 1975, which could be considered as the defining period of video art, there was significant research activity amongst artists working with video to develop, modify or invent video imaging instruments or synthesizers.
The first generation of video artist/engineers include Ture Sjolander, Bror Wikstrom, Lars Weck, Eric Seigel, Stephen Beck, Dan Sandin, Steve Rutt, and Bill and Louise Etra, in addition to the well-documented collaborative work of Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe.
The work of these pioneers is important because, in addition to exploring the potential of video as a means of creative expression, they developed a range of relatively accessible and inexpensive image manipulation devices specifically for 'alternative' video practice.
In September 1966 Swedish artists Ture Sjolander ( 1937-, Sweden) and Bror Wikstrom broadcast Time, a 30-minute transmission of electronically manipulated paintings on National Swedish Television. Sjolander and Wikstrom had worked with TV broadcast engineer Bengt Modin to construct a temporary video image synthesizer which was used to distort and transform video line-scan rasters by applying tones from waveform generators. The basic process involved applying electronic distortions during the process of transfer of photographic transparencies and film clips. According to Modin they introduced the electronic transformations using two approaches. The geometric distortion of the scanning raster of the video signal by feeding various waveforms to the scanning coil, and video distortion by the application of various electronic filters to the luminance signal.
Sjolander had begun working with broadcast television with the production of his first multimedia experiment The Role of Photography, commissioned by the National Swedish Television in 1964, which was broadcast the following year. With the broadcasting of Time, his second project for Swedish television, Sjolander was well aware of the significance of his work and importance of the artistic statement he was making:
Time is the very first video art work televised at that point in time for the reason to produce an historical record as well as an evidence of original visual free art, made with the electronic medium - manipulation of the electronic signal - and exhibited/installed through the television, televised.
In 1967, Sjolander teamed up with Lars Weck and, using a similar technological process, produced Monument, a programme of electronically manipulated monochrome images of famous people and cultural icons including the Mona Lisa, Charlie Chaplin, the Beatles, Adolf Hitler and Pablo Picasso. (Separate text of this work as below)
This programme was broadcast to a potential audience of over 150 million people in France, Italy Sweden, Germany and Switzerland in 1968, as well later in the USA. Subsequently, Sjolander produced a Space in the Brain (1969) based on images provided by NASA, extending his pioneering electronic imaging television work to include the manipulation and distortion of colour video imagery. A Space in the Brain was an attempt to deal with notions of space, both the inner worldof the brain and the new televisual space created by electronic imaging.
Sjolander, originally a painter and photographer, had become increasingly dissatisfied with conventional representation as a language of communication and began experimenting with the manipulation of photographic images using graphic and chemical means. For Sjolander, broadcast television represented truly contemporary communication medium that should be adopted as soon as possible by artists - a fluid transformation and constant stream of ideas within the reach of millions.
The televised electronic images Sjolander and his collaborators produced with Time, Monument and Space in the Brain were further extended via other means. The television system was exploited as a generator of imagery for further distribution processes including silkscreen printing, posters, record covers, books and paintings that were widely distributed and reproduced, although ironically signed and numbered as if in limited editions.
It seems likely that these pioneering broadcast experiments were influential on the subsequent work of Nam June Paik and others. According to Ture Sjolander, Paik visited Stockholm in the summer of 1966 and was shown still images from Time while on a visit to the Elektron Musik Studion (EMS). Additionally, Sjolander is in possession of a copy of a letter dated 12 March 1974 from Sherman Price of Rutt Electrophysics in New York, acknowledging the significance of Monument to the history of 'video animation', and requesting detailed information about the circuitry employed to obtain the manipulated imagery. In reply, Bengt Modin, the engineer who had worked with Sjolander, provided Price with a circuit diagram and an explanation of their technical approach to the project, claiming he 'no longer knew the whereabouts of the artists involved'.
THE PAIK-ABE SYNTHESIZER
The Paik-Abe Synthesizer, built in 1969 is one of the earliest examples of a self-contained video image-processing device. As we have seen, Ture Sjolander and his collaborators had brought together video processing technology in temporary configuration to produce their early broadcast experiments, Paik's synthesizer was a self-contained unit built expressly and exclusively for the purpose. The instrument, or video synthesizer, as it came to be known, enabled the artist to add colour to a monochrome video image, and to distort the conventional TV camera image. -.......
Extending a dialogue that they had begun in Tokyo in 1964, electronic engineer Shuya Abe and Nam June Paik began building a video synthesizer in 1969 at WGBH-TV in Boston, possibly spurred on by the work of Sjolander in Sweden.
from Chris Meigh-Andrews book,
A HISTORY OF VIDEO ART, Publisher BERG, Oxford-New York. First Edition October 2006
representative video art works
pages 181, 182 and 183
MONUMENT, TURE SJOLANDER AND LARS WECK (WITH BENGT MODIN), 1967
( BLACK AND WHITE, SOUND, 10 MINUTES. COMMISSIONED AND BROADCAST BY NATIONAL SWEDISH TV, 1968)
Monument, characterized by Ture Sjolander as a series of 'electronic paintings' is a free flowing colage of electronically distorted and transformed icoic media images. Set to a similarly improvised jazz and sound effects track, images of pop stars, political and historical celebrities and media personalities, culled from archive film footage and photographic stills have been electronically manipulated - stretched, skewed, exploded, rippled and rotated. The relentless flow of semi-abstracted monochromatic faces and associated sounds seems to both celebrate and satirize the contemporary visual culture of the time. In its fluid mix of visual information it generalizes the television medium, draining it of its specific content and momentary significance. It creates a kind of 'monument' to the ephemeral - all this will pass, as it is passing before you now.
Archive film footage and photographic stills of familiar faces and people, such as Lennon and McCartney, Chaplin, Hitler, the Mona Lisa - the 'monument' of the world culture - flicker and flash, stretch and ooze across the television screen. In some moments the television medium is itself directly referenced, the familiar screen shape presented and rescanned, images of video feedback and, at one point, its vertical roll out of adjustment, anticipate Joan Jonas's seminal tape, although for very different purposes. The work anticipated a number of later videotapes, particularly the distorted iconic images of Nam June Paik.
Gene Youngblood described the psychological power and effect of these transformations i his influential and visionary book Expanded Cinema (Youngblood 1970):
Images undergo transformations at first subtle, like respiration, then increasingly violent until little remains of the original icon. In this process, the images pass through thousands of stages of semi-cohesion, making the viewer constantly aware of his orientation to the picture. The transformations accur slowly and with great speed, erasing perspectives, crossing psycological barriers. A figure might stretch like a silly putty or become rippled in liquid universe. Harsh basrelief effects accentuate physical dimensions with great subtlety, so that one eye or ear might appear slightly unnatural. And finally the image disintegrates into a constellation of shimmering video phosphores.
Sjolander and his collaborators at Sveriges Radio (the Swedish Broadcasting Company) in Stockholm had worked together on a number of related projects since the mid-1960s, beginning with The Role of Photography, Sjolander's first experiment with electronic manipulations of the broadcast image in 1965. This project was followed with the broadcast of Time (1966), a thirty-minute transmission of 'electronic paintings' produced using the same temporarily configured video image synthesizer that was later used to create Monument.
The system that Sjolander and his colleagues used involved the transfer of photographic images (film footage and transparencies) to videotape using a 'flying-spot' telecine machine. This process produced electronic images which they transformed and manipulated by applying square and sine signals with a waveform generator during the transfer stage, often using this process repeatedly to apply greater levels of transformation.
For Sjolander and his collaborator Lars Weck, the broadcasting of Monument was the epicentre of an extended communication experiment in electronic image-making reaching out to an audience of millions.
Kristian Romare, writing in a book published as part of an extended series of artworks which included publishing, posters, record covers and paintings after the broadcasting of Monument, describes the scope of Sjolander and Weck,s vision and aspirations for the new image-generating technique they had pioneered:
see separate article Sjolander,s CV on the Internet. www.monumentintime.homestead.com/
In this process images are produced using a television camera rescanning an oscilloscope or CRT screen. The display images are manipulated (squeezed, stretched, rotated, etc.) using magnetic or electronic modulation. The manipulated images, rescanned by a second camera are then fed through an image processor. This type of instrument was also used without an input camera feed, the resultant images produced by manipulation of the raster. Examples of this type of instrument include Ture Sjolander,s ' Temporary " Video Synthesizer (1966-69), the Paik/Abe Synthesizer, and the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor (1973).
----Original Message Follows----
From: Christopher Meigh Andrews <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: turesjolander <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Monument
Date: Wed, 01 Jun 2005 12:14:19 +0100
As you rightly say, there is a sense in which the American artists have
written everybody else out of the history of video art. I would like to
put some people (such as yourself) back in! I would like to use an image
or two from the stills of Monument that I have found on the web, but
they are very low resolution. Would you be willing to e-mail an image of
greater resolution? (300dpi would be best- jpeg or tiff, if possible)
also, i attach a little form so that you grant me the rights to
reproduce the image in the book. Is this OK? if so, please fill it in
and send it back to me.
I would like to do more than simply paraphrase what Gene (Youngblood)
has written in Expanded Cinema, which as you say is what M. Rush has
done. Any chance that you can tell me a little bit more about your ideas
with Monument and how it began? I will of course piece togther what I
can from the web site, and from what Aapo Saask has written. I also will
talk to Brian Hoey and Peter Donebauer. i also have the Biddick Farm
catalogue from the exhibtion at Tyne & Wear, which has a little info.
All best wishes to you- and i will certainly send your regards to Brian
Dr. Chris Meigh-Andrews PhD (RCA) MA, HDCP
Electronic & Digital Art Unit
38 St. Peters Street
Preston PR1 7BS