Jukka Hautamäki: The Unheard and the Cacophony
by Elizabeth McTernan
Hautamäki’s artistic cosmos is made up of sound performances and installation works that challenge viewer and listener perception. The objects of his installations are ubiquitous and disposable, whether discarded plastic, wires, or Ikea desk lamps, unambiguously unmysterious. These objects become the sites of cinematic image-making.
Fragmented phenomena – at times produced by his DIY sound contraptions, other times incidental to the space of the event – are channeled through electronics and spit out as live feed, showing us what is already observable, but not necessarily decipherable, by either visually increasing the scale or sonically shifting frequencies into the audible realm. The result is an encounter with what has always been, even if overlooked, now made uncanny. Sometimes the artist is the performative variable, sometimes the viewers become the variable by simply occupying and thereby defining the space with their attendant shadow puppetry. At other times, the devices themselves twitch and move with ambivalent agency. All present elements, human or inanimate, have instrumentality.
The current exhibition, Theia, is a world constructed of apparatuses, light and shadow, objects and their ghosts. Theia itself is a conjecture of a phantom, theorized to be the planetary-mass object that collided with the Earth billions of years ago, later forming the Moon. It follows that the rock of the Moon would largely be made up of this ancient ghost object, a translation of one body into another. With this metaphor as the fulcrum, Hautamäki presents a body of artwork that likewise uses absence to make visible presence. With time and space as the stage, materials are entered into trans-medial sequence. The original object is rendered a relic by its formal transformation into something much bigger than it could have ever been on its own, its presence cannibalized by its representation.
Upon encounter with the work Carmina Laetitiae, the patterns of light thrown up on the walls are less like the organic flickering of flames and more like a programmed language. Light and dark oscillate as if in a hieroglyphic binary code; it is a kind of proto-cinematic post-technological shadow-play. A sequencer manipulates the lights, conducting a musical piece without sound via the rhythm of moving image. The immersive environment connects the viewer inextricably to the shadows splashed on the surfaces of the room, in a shared agency. It recalls one particular Youtube video, a compilation of clips taken by parents as their small children discover their own shadows for the first time. Veering between horror and excitement, one child tries to run away from the dark figure clinging to his feet, while another tries to catch it. There is no outside, no eluding the contingencies of this world. There is also no escaping the spectre of the self.
Between the dualities that light and shadow summon and the deepened integrity granted the objects and surfaces, at the heart of the work is the reconsideration of presence, and the mediated experience of what could be called “real life.” It recalls two other contemporary works: a performance by artist Diego Tomus, The Spectacle of Disappearing Money (2012), and Jon Kessler’s The World is Cuckoo (Clock) (2016). In both works, the output of one medium is inscribed into others in a chain of translation, ultimately using projected image to create a visual rotation to alter perception of the real-time happening. In the case of Tomus’ disappearing coin trick, a sleight of hand that fails when viewed in person succeeds as magic when viewed as a live video projection directly next to the performer. In Kessler’s installation, the movement of a single small gear is transmuted through a series of other larger gears and live video feed, culminating in a carnivalesque montage of grinding clock parts, flapping feathers, and spinning imagery. Common to all three artists is a manipulation of the mundane into something reconsidered, even disturbing.
Hautamäki’s push to render components and processes transparent negates the mysterious in one way, but in another way approaches its limit on two sides: one being the black box of software coding, invisible despite the thorough dismemberment of his devices, and the other being the uncanny, the strange familiar of the visceral encounter. There is an insistence that there is no magic, but at the same time, an unquantifiable is at work. It is both real and referential: It refers to the thing and to the thing as we see it, arguably just as real as the thing itself. It is the wall and the cave, the unheard and the cacophony, the humdrum and the far-out. These tableaus become models for possible worlds; cause meets effect, and possible futures are tested.
Elizabeth McTernan is an American artist and writer based in Berlin.
Text published along Theia exhibition in Gallery Sculptor, Helsinki 12/2016
Text re-published in HIAP Yearbook 2016, Helsinki 6/2017
Leena Kuumola: I skuggornas värld, Hufvudstadsbladet, 12/2016
John Gayer: Focus: Jukka Hautamäki’s EMPYREAN, Eyeballing Art, 2/2014
Martta Heikkilä, PhD
Jukka Hautamäki: Transforming the Invisible into Visible
Jukka Hautamäki’s works of art occupy a space of their own. At the same time, they give a sensible appearance to time: to the movement amid unknown things. In his recent works, most notably in Instruo (2014) and Empyrean (2014), Hautamäki reveals something hitherto undiscovered. In these installations, a particular truth concerning the world is born at the very moment when our senses meet the untouchable reality of the reflected images.
In January 2014, Hautamäki presented his new installation Instruo at the Kuva/Tila gallery of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, Finland. Instruo consists of eight overhead projectors and the projections they cast on the walls of a whole room, filling it with light. On the projectors, Hautamäki has placed heaps of colourless transparent plastic used in packaging of goods. The projectors, standing in the middle of the exhibition space, then enlarge the heaps of plastic. Along with the light, a quiet, yet distinctive humming of the cooling fans fills the room.
The projections bestow a definite form to the cheap, formless plastic, as the artist has transformed the waste material into precise images. But what are they images of? Instruo offers the viewer an imposing vision in which he or she becomes at once immersed. The surrounding sight immediately overflows the viewer’s sensory faculties.
Yet, in addition to its ability to engage the audience by plunging it to the all-encompassing light, the work makes a definite image out of indefinite masses of material. The plastic used in Instruo is almost without substance in itself – as a sheet it is weightless and has no colour of its own. When folded, piled, illuminated and projected, its shadow on the wall does, however, have a greyish colour, darker than any piece of the plastic itself. These facts compel one to ask where the “work” really is – is it in the tangible, material substance, that is, the crumpled sheets of plastic placed on and around the abandoned overhead projectors that Hautamäki has carefully collected?
Or, in the case of Instruo, is the work rather in the process of mediating that creates “pure” images to be viewed at an appropriate distance? In it, matter turns into seemingly more immaterial light, which becomes mediated at least twice: first, as it is emitted by the “internal” light of the array of projectors, and second, by their mirrored reflections as the images are projected. What is thus visible on the walls is like an inverse image of the dark shadows described by Plato in the Allegory of the Cave of Republic. Which one is more real, seems now to be the question that Hautamäki makes to the viewer – is it the luminous reflection on the wall, or the things on the floor that give cause for the projected images? Or could the truest thing be the very medium of the work and the event it creates for us to see?
Another installation by Hautamäki, Empyrean, has obvious similarities with Instruo. In Empyrean as well, there is a heap of colourless plastic arranged on the floor. A camera transmits live image of the plastic, while LED lights beneath it turn randomly on and off, highlighting different areas of the transparent material. As a result, the video projection is in slow yet constant move.
Empyrean, which in ancient cosmologies meant the place in the highest heaven, can be seen as a version of Instruo. Still, Empyrean brings with it the novel aspect of movement and chance, familiar from other works by Jukka Hautamäki. The space of this installation is both more open and more dimly-lit.
Here also, the spectator has to face the question concerning the work’s identity, which is related to the role of the artist. If the artist is considered a magician who transforms material into new constellations, here the magic works in front of our own eyes, only to deconstruct its own birth as a work of art. Nothing in Empyrean is hidden; what appears to us is only a question of where we focus the attention – on the steady pace of the lights, or again, on the projections? The plastic material remains the same in the process of illumination and movement, whereas the impressions are always different.
In the context of contemporary art, Instruo and Empyrean can be seen in the same lineage as expanded cinema, a tradition which became increasingly popular in the late 1960’s. Even though Hautamäki’s installations are not cinema in the sense of moving image, they share the structure of real-time projection. This is also a feature that connects them to the art forms such as shadow theatre and camera obscura, as well as the liquid light shows in emblematic of psychedelic art. In contemporary perspective, one can see affinities to the works of Olafur Eliasson and his immersive, large-scale light environments.
Both Instruo and Empyrean alike make one think of formations of nature: the folds of the crumpled plastic evoke images of mountain ranges, of ice and caves. The act of the artist – folding of the material – becomes equal to the processes of nature, such as the displacement of the earth’s crust can be compared to the way the artist handles the malleable thrift material. Thus, one might even suggest that Hautamäki bestows life and luminosity to inanimate, barely noticeable material.