The siren of progress weighs on the intentions of scientific study like a pathology. Advancement is a dirty word and research is only a means to get somewhere. Science is sullied by its ability to initiate change, so much so that it becomes a self-perpetuating end, an overarching goal and overbearing justification. As a condition, the idea of moving things forward is a distraction from scientific method, a deviation from its basic functions of observation and description. In this view, understanding comes from looking and recording, and progress is left as abstract.
Henrik Håkansson uses the tools and methods of scientific research with this fundamental flaw in mind. Since the early nineties, Håkansson has built an art practice that links scientific study to cultural production, reworking the terms and technologies of science within the discursive realm of aesthetics. In science the function of observation refers to a system of acquiring knowledge; in aesthetic terms this knowledge or amassing of information remains ambiguous. Uncertainty in art is generally understood as positive, leaving meaning open to interpretations that are informed by immediate and lived experiences. Vague findings in science are more likely attributed to poor research practices, unfinished work or flat-out failure. If ambiguity can be a point of difference between the two fields, what does bringing them together mean? Does it simply draw out their differences or does it remind us of a common goal.
In using the tools of science and scientific data to make art Håkansson manages to bring out something base in both disciplines. He pares them down to their most fundamental elements, which rest in the formal apparatuses linked to information gathering and presentation. For From Here to Eternity (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), The Wind Tunnel Sessions, Lund, October 24-29,2004, Håkansson rebuilt a large scale, low turbulence device originally designed to test and document bird flight in the confines of the art gallery. He formally mimicked the rounded and elongated cone shape of the recording apparatus to scale and displayed a selection of black and white high speed video taken from just below and to the side of where the original scientific recordings were being made to study body and wing movement. In the gallery the wind tunnel became a beautifully crafted sculpture to be walked around and the slow motion video, which in the original experiments was transformed to dots and colours, created a dramatic effect.
The research tool and data became forms for aesthetic contemplation. A shift in reading and approach occurs by presenting scientific equipment in the art gallery, taking them out of their original context and intended usage. But this move still leaves the fundamental method for scientific research intact, highlighting a similarity between the way aesthetic exploration and scientific research privilege the process of observation.
Håkansson starts as an observer. In a interview with UK writer Will Bradley, Håkansson states, “At the moment, I’m developing methods that work more directly with the idea of observation and a relation to time and space: what I see, what I believe I see, and a reflection of the state we’re in.” So the state of observation is both a part of the process of production and also linked to subject matter. Collecting information starts with looking and listening, which is then transformed into data through recorders or cameras and presented to an audience. Looking, listening, receiving information is primary to each step. How the information is collected and described is essential to its presentation, and its presentation refers to the initial mode of observation.
Aug.26,2003 – Aug.27,2003 (Vespa vulgaris) Håkansson’s installation for the Contemporary Art Gallery, started in his backyard, watching and listening to wasps. Using a specialized high-speed video camera which is often used for research purposes to collect information related to growth and motion, he documented individual wasps in flight, capturing their unique movements in slow motion, a fifth of a second in real time equals approximately 30 seconds of film. The wasps are isolated in the video frame, edited into approximately 30 second to 1 min flight patterns and divided into ten sequences. The separate videos were then transferred to 16mm film, put through individual looping systems and projected onto individual screens. Although the films are silent, Håkansson turns the white noise of the ten 16mm projectors into sound. The repetitive rotation of each film and the high frequency noise of the projectors’ cooling systems turn into the buzz of insects.
The noise is inescapable, cacophonic and meaningful. The technology factors in the work’s meaning. Håkansson never hides it under seamless white boxes or in a completely darkened room. In his film installation Aug 6 2004 (Bembix rostrata) the viewer has to walk past the 35mm projector in order to view the image it projects, and in the sound piece A Different Day, A Different Dream, the speakers and wires that generate two different bird calls are formal elements in the construction of the overall sculpture. In Aug.26,2003 – Aug.27,2003 (Vespa vulgaris) all the electronic cords, projectors, loopers and stands are formally arranged, not necessarily for better viewing of the filmic image, but to create movement and define a way to view the installation as a whole. It is as if the image is not enough or the sound waves too unstable.
The apparatus that produces the images or sounds figures prominently in the way the work is read, drawing attention to process, which here is for the most part about observing. The transfer of technology from high tech to old school plays a part in this framing of attention. One must pay attention to the way images get produced and why they are chosen for presentation in order to understand why they are important. In these terms, the language of science is more familiar than that of aesthetics. We know how to use scientific data to make an argument. But then this line of reasoning has to lead to a point. In transferring the technologies from digital to analog, Håkansson has stepped out of that particular system of knowledge, presenting a mode of observation that sees our relation to nature in more aesthetic terms; in terms that are more open ended, questioning the very nature of observation and attempting to articulate our wonder of things without any other goal in mind. In this manner, Håkansson draws a line between science and aesthetics, providing reasons for both to exist that don’t need to go beyond our own amazement of whatever may be around us. – Jenifer Papararo