A warm early morning, almost hot even before the sun is up, that is exceptional luxury here. The weather will be mainly sunny for the rest of the week, and there are warnings of a heat wave, since more than 25 degrees celsius is considered heat wave here. The sun rose 4.19 or 4.20, but the big red fire-ball showed up above the horizon only later. The sky and the sea were almost pink long before that, and especially the clouds high on the western sky, which were capturing the first rays of the sun.
After a break of only one morning the leaves of the aspen seemed to have grown overnight and were now big and green. They transform the image from a deliberate aesthetic composition into something messy, haphazard and undefined. The bare branches somehow marked or accentuated the water behind them, in a very conventional composition, but now the leaves take up too much space and the foreground simply takes over. But of course it is nice to see the transformation, the advance of Spring or Summer.
Yesterday I did not record the day break here, since I spent the night watching performance art at gallery Augusta on Suomenlinna. The program finished only in time for the first ferry at six o’clock. I did greet the rising sun there as well, though, by performing a small collective action with my little blue swing, which I had fastened in a tree next to the building. Going out in the fresh morning just before sunrise was more of an intermission than a real performance, although I called it “Swinging at Sunrise”. I placed my camera on the slope to record the tree against the sky and invited people to try out the swing, which they did. I have not looked at the material, but it is probably not very exciting, too large, probably. Perhaps I could nevertheless edit something out of it, and then project it back on the tree during the next event in July, sometime during the night when it is darker.
A similar idea, inviting people to swing and record them on video, I will try out at the opening of the Water images exhibition here on Harakka Island. The swing relates to the other videos I will show there, from Year of the Snake Swinging, which is shown at Muu gallery at the moment, finishing today, actually. But how does it relate to these “Mornings in May”, or rather, what do these mornings have to do with the swing project? How can they be combined?
This is the drawback in “doing first and thinking afterwards”; it is sometimes hard to conceptualize one’s intuitive decisions. If you make work by impulse and as a practice rather than starting with a concept, you might end up with material that has no point, that has no conceptual relevance at all. And to start to invent some intellectual meaning and add it on top of the material does not always work. There are only a few days left, so I should start editing, and thinking about what to do with all these mornings…
The sun was supposed to rise 4.28 and showed up as red stripes between grey clouds already much earlier. The spot for sunrise is moving further and further towards North, coming closer to the edge of the image frame day by day. Perhaps it will be out of sight before the end May, for the camera, that is. In some sense it is already out of sight, since my camera cannot record the true colours, or let’s say the colours I can see. What I see as glowing dark red the camera registers as nearly white light. These are the white nights; it seems there is no darkness at all during the night.
The exceptionally warm weather and the repeated rain showers have turned all vegetation into summer mode suddenly. The birch leaves are big, the elder bushes are blooming and the bird cherries will begin any moment. Only the aspen on the shore and in my image are slow to react, but even their buds are finally showing signs of life. In Swedish there is a saying “between bird cherries and lilacs” to describe those few days in the beginning of summer when everything is fresh and blooming. Normally that would be in June, but this year everything is early, even by the sea, so they will be here soon.
I was proofreading a text on artistic research by Teemu Mäki, and he claims there are five main reasons for artists to combine art and research or to engage in artistic research, namely to make better art, to understand and enjoy art more, to explain art better, to understand more of the world through art and then change it with art, and to gain respect and better pay. He approves of the four first ones although the fourth is what he probably propagates. Yes, why not. If I would call this project artistic research, would my motives fit in one of those categories?
I am not doing this in order to make better art, am I? Or perhaps you could say that I try to make art in a slightly different way, and that difference could be towards the better, too. I am not doing this in order to understand and enjoy art more, unless you mean understanding this particular artistic process, and the same goes for the third category, to explain art better. I am not trying to explain art, except in the sence of trying to explain or record or comment this one process. And I am not doing this in order to get respect and better pay. Or perhaps I am in some way, since I gain some self-respect by completing my self-appointed task, and at least in theory I would not mind somebody buying the video work that this might turn into.
The category that I find easiest to sympathise with is the fourth one, to understand more of the world through art and then change it with art, although I would emphasize understanding rather than changing. I could say that I am recording some small details of the world in order to understand and enjoy it and by giving attention to some aspects of the world I hope to focus other people’s attention on them as well, and thus to influence their values, of course. This is nevertheless a very modest approach to change compared to strategies like satirical posters or social practice.
When the sky is clear it turns reddish or orange long before sunrise. This morning the sun was supposed to rise 4.35 (or 4.34) and I was down at the shore around 4.20. A few light clouds above the horizon were shining bright while the horizon was turning brownish red. The moment when the first slice the bright red sun disc appeared above the horizon I had already turned off my camera. It cannot record the colours of such a strong light. Actually I can only capture the moment of expectation or anticipation before sunrise. After all those grey mornings it nevertheless feels nice to actually see the sun.
Yesterday was the first warm day for weeks, the beginning of summer, or so it felt. People were walking in sandals and T-shirts and everybody was out by the shore. There was probably a party in the park for most of the night, because I could still hear some voices from the mainland across the water. And a car driving along the shore playing load music with headlights on sounded like Saturday night rather than Sunday morning.
Regarding these mornings I am more than half way through now; approximately ten more days to get up at dawn until the exhibition. I wonder if the aspen will have leaves before it is time to finish. The buds are swelling, slowly, but compared to all the other trees and bushes, they are exceptionally slow. When I chose to include branches of aspen in the image I thought of the possibility to follow the development of the buds, but I could not imagine they would need so much more time than the other trees. In one warm day the leaves of the birches and rowans have visibly grown, and now the old bird cherries on the slope have big leaves and flower buds too. On the mainland some of the bird cherries are already blooming, and in a few days they will probably turn into white flowering clouds on the island as well.
Yesterday I transferred the first part of the material onto my computer, but did not do anything about it yet. To begin with I planned to add a black sequence for those mornings I have been away, but now it seems slightly superfluous. It is probably not important to emphasize an exact record; these are only some mornings in May. The main question is probably how long takes I should use, and whether they should be of equal length or not. Some mornings I have recorded only a few minutes and some mornings, like yesterday and today, I have more than ten minutes of material to choose from.
The other question is, what to do with the sound? Normally I use a very rough 100% recording as the sound, as it is, and more often than not the wind dominates the sound scape. This time the birds probably dominate in most images. I would not add any music, but I could write a text and read it as a voice over, I guess. Right now it does not seem like a good idea, but of course it could be a way to add a human presence. It is way of “adding content”, as it were, and as such perhaps stupid or unnecessary in this case. The shifting colours should be the main thing.
After a break of two days I returned to the island full of expectations, and when I saw the sunset colouring the sky beneath the clouds last night I had high hopes for this morning. But no, the cloud cover on the horizon in north-east was too thick to let any traces of the sun come through. Higher up in the sky the clouds were unevenly spread with slices of a bright sky in between. And on the western sky the clouds had a rosy lining. All this beauty was not visible to my camera, whith its fixed framing, of course. Some of the openings in the clouds could be distinguished as brighter reflections on the sea, though. The wind from north-east was not too strong, although it made enough waves to create a regular splashing sound on the shore. Perhaps I noticed it because the birds were less noisy than usual. And there was no rain in the air this morning. The day might turn out sunny after all, although the daybreak is overcast.
The summer exhibition on the island will open on May 29 and my plan is to finish this experiment by then, perhaps to edit a version of the material to show there as well. Since the title of the exhibition is Water Images, it could be fun to include a video which takes the title literally. And although I am focused on the sky, and the rising sun, the main part of the image is covered by the sea, a rather strange framing, now that I think of it. For the purpose of the exhibition it will be fine, though.
Last night I read a translation of Boris Groys’ article Art and Money from e-flux 24/2011, and was fascinated by some of his side remarks. He notices that the aesthetic attitude is by definition a consumer’s attitude, while contemporary art is focused on production, on analysing the tools and tricks of image mass production. “In fact the aesthetic attitude does not need art and it functions much better without it”, because “in terms of aesthetic experience, no work of art can stand comparison with even an average beautiful sunset”, he writes. From the perspective of aesthetics art has no privileged position, it is something that could and should be overcome, something that comes between the subject and the aesthetic appreciation of the world, he adds. And for this reason the role for professional art is something else, that is, “to investigate, analyse and demonstrate the technical means” by which the contemporary production of images takes place, and “the economic social and political conditions under which images are produced and distributed”. Well, sure, I agree. That is what most contemporary art worthy of its name tries to do, in one way or another.
So why on earth am I recording sunrises, instead of devoting myself to critical investigations, why do I not leave them for retired nature lovers and bird watchers and everybody else? Or perhaps I should ask, why sunrises, since they do not seem to provide much by way of aesthetic experiences and are in any case unnecessary strenuous to record compared to sunsets, for instance. Am I some how attached to an older notion of art, related to early performance art and avant-garde movements, where trying to fuse art and life was somehow relevant? I guess I try to analyse the production of aesthetic experience rather than simply produce it (although the videos might do that as well), but that is not the same as analysing the material conditions of image production, for instance. So what am I actually doing? For an intellectual artist this might seem like an absurd question, since if you are critically engaged you would probably try to carefully plan in advance what to do and how and why. This way of “doing first” and “thinking later” is not only naive but could be dangerous as well. I could be producing harmful effects without even understanding it. Although more likely I am simply wasting my time.
Rain and mist, a grey carpet covering the sky, not the slightest stream of light visible on the horizon, not a trace of the sun, simply a slowly increasing light evenly spread over the whole sky. The daybreak at 4.54 am, when the sun was supposed to rise in Helsinki, took place over a misty sea. According to forecasts there are no rose-colored sunrises to be expected these days. The recurring uniform grey, however, which seemed rather disappointing at first, turned out to contain a wealth of nuances and hues, ‘fifty shades of grey’ if seen by the naked eye, and many shades of blue, as seen by the camera.
The camera on my phone, which I use to take snapshots to add to this blog, and the video camera I use to document a few minutes of the sunrise, might of course look at the light and the colours differently. I use automatic functions on both of them. The two snapshots for today were taken before and after recording, with something like three minutes between them. In that time the rather turquoise shade (the image above) had transformed into a soft blue with the increasing light (the image below). That difference I would not notice while standing there on the ishore, and probably the slow change will be hard to notice on video as well.
The mist is fascinating, of course, because it transforms the landscape. Most of the thick mist or fog last night disappeared before morning, but some of it remained over the sea, hiding the details of the city on the horizon. There is nothing at middle distance in the view, except the small buoy perhaps, that would show the effect of the mist more clearly. The branches at close range would be visible even in rather heavy mist.
To my surprise the small aspen on the shore show no signs of leaves yet. The birches are already green, and a small rowan nearby has large leaves. The aspen are not dead, however, only more slow than the others. The tall aspen, too, are still bare. And when I think of it, last year, during the year of the snake, when I returned once a week to a the small swing attached to an aspen on the western shore the aspen had leaves rather late and all at once. Instead of the soft light green shimmer surrounding the birches the aspen burst into bloom, as it were, with huge yellowish brown buds. I am curious to see what happens with these small ones, and when.
The fourth morning in May was supposed to be rainy, but luckily the rain subsided before sunrise and remained only as drops on the branches and my tripod, waiting by the shore. Today the sun was to rise at 5.08 or 5.09 depending on the forecast, and I was ready at five. There was enough of a gap between the horizon and the clouds to show some colour, but at first it seemed like the sun had moved towards north, since the gap was wider there. Although I have decided to capture the moment before sunrise, the actual sunrise is spectacular for the naked eye, but the camera sees it differently and the bright light burns away the colours. I waited for the sunrise to end my recording and wondered whether my watch and phone had the time right. And then, a few minutes later, the red sun burst forth from behind the clouds, a true spectacle to behold. Actually the moment before is even more fascinating, since all the hues are more subtle and there is a sense of expectation. This morning, however, probably because of the clouds, the image turned exceptionally blue.
The sounds are perhaps the most interesting part of the experience of standing at the shore by daybreak. All the various birds are communicating, and today there were some birds I did not recognize, with a strange howling sound, but softer, almost like owls, and several of them. The usual seagulls were screaming of course, and the barking sounds of the omnipresent geese filled the air every now and then. The main difference to my previous experiences is the lack of wind. On Harakka Island it is always windy, and very often it blows from south-west, hitting the camera microphone and cracking all other sounds. In the early mornings, now, at the northeastern shore, where i am sheltered by the slope, the wind does not disturb and all the sounds can be distinguished more clearly. Today there was no wind anywhere on the island, only soft rain in the air.
After seeing some exhibitions with works referring to landscape yesterday, like the video with a strange artificial looking and regularly repeated lightning by Liisa Lounila, the handwritten word ‘landscape’ framed in a small round golden frame by Aleksi Linnamaa or the five hundred thousand dead bees on the floor in a piece called Nemesis by Timo Wright, all impressive in their own way, I cannot but wonder whether I am somehow missing the point by trying to capture these small changes in the landscape without irony or distance. I know landscape is a cultural construction, I know depicting landscapes has a loaded legacy in colonial overviews of territories, I know the romantic attempts at capturing the sublime and the spectacular still linger with us. And so does everybody else. I see no point in telling people that landscape is part of nature-culture. Today advertising provides us with all the pretty pictures we could dream of needing. Why would I make more of them, with or without reflexivity. So what am I doing then? Maybe I want to see the small changes, not the one spectacular image that captures the essence of what everybody expects to see, but the small non-spectacular shifts that happen from day-to-day. Or perhaps I am simply playing for time, practicing receiving what is given to me…
At the northeastern shore of Harakka Island at 5 am in the morning, watching the sky slowly turn red, waiting for the sunrise, freezing in the brisk wind (+ 4 degrees Celsius, but feeling colder) I tried to calm the Canada geese couple nesting nearby, close to the spot were I had placed my a tripod. I waited for sunrise; the official time was 5.17. Impatient I started my camera at ten past five, to have some extra material. And then, to my horror the camera started to warn: change the battery pack. For a moment I considered whether running up to my studio to fetch a new one would be an option, and then decided to wait and see how far the battery would last. And it lasted until 5.16. Fair enough for a start.
This was the beginning of a new experiment, or perhaps I should call it an exercise, Mornings in May (working tittle), that I decided to do now, when I have to opportunity to spend some time here. Most of my work on Harakka Island has been recorded in the afternoons or evenings. The Year of the Rat, for instance, was documented once a week before sunset, and Year of the Rabbit in the afternoon at three o’clock. Now I decided to focus on the mornings, but only for one month, at least to begin with, the month of May. In May the sun rises early in the south of Finland, earlier every day until midsummer and the first of May or May Day, which is a carnival here, is a good day to start.
Early spring is a beautiful time out at sea, when everything changes slowly at first, because the sea is still cold, and then bursts into bloom. Especially the old bird cherries here are amazing when flowering at the end of May. From the spot I finally chose at the shore you cannot see them, though; I wanted to have a clear view of the sky and the sea, and no foliage to hide the view later this month. The bare branches in the image are of small aspen, I think, more slow to grow than the birches, which have tiny leaves already. The aspen, too, will have big leaves soon.
I am not sure if I can make an image every morning, since I have some trips to do, but my aim is to have enough mornings to see how the spot where the sun rises moves towards northeast. It is actually rather hard to determine where exactly the sun rises, and ordinary calendars indicate only the exact time at each location. There were some clouds on the horizon this morning, but I think the sun was a little to the right in the image. That means it has space to move to the left, towards northeast.