Absent Minds

Renja Leino: About the DIGITAL INVASION, Some thoughts taking out from my report to IPRN Changing Faces after the recidency in J.E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem, Tzech Republic 2005.

...I felt, that the use of the mobile was in fact the most logical choice to use in my attempt to study people where ever I was, spontaneously or in a more controlled circumstances. The content of my work handles the digitalised human being –so latest technology was most convenient to my purpose to emphasise the content of the work “Absent Minds”. People are staring in my images - they become like faces in foreign landscapes, absent minds in front of these pixel boxes. In my imagination their brains are slowly been absorbing by the screen… Where are their minds when the machines so totally are catching their full concentration?

The digital invasion has already happened. There is no way to turn back time to the point before the digital era. We see this kind of staring faces that I show in my series “Absent Minds” all around us. They are like new archetypes of human faces. They are recognisable, like signs.

At homes can connections be open to work by e-mail and by mobile. This is a new norm; we are available to reach at any moment. The private is no longer private, at homes there has to be taken decisions to close the digital invasion out by closing the connections. When this technique well is in hands at homes it is natural that children just regard them as a natural thing. They are curious and fearless with them. The fact is that we are dealing with a completely new invention -just a few years old- and that it creates new forms of behaviour and habits; our children take it for granted.

Handling all this surrounding technique demands complex skills. To learn these techniques is quite demanding for an adult. Look at children – they learn by playing. They grow up surrounded by different techniques. Normally playing at the computer is considered to be good for children as they also learn new skills and will have better chances later in life in a computerised world. Education to working culture has to start in early age because of the complexity of our time.

Central question is also who manages to overview the content that comes in to our living room. Children are good customers of computer games –Entertainment industry is huge. Digital technology also brings war scenes and catastrophes to our homes by television and by computer in real time.

The children in my images are necessary in my attempt to visualise the situation we are living in: required skills regarding the computer are the same at work and in private space. Is childhood sacrificed for profit making in the long run? Because computers are the most important tools in communication – regarding different working practises but likewise gaming, DVD-technology and private communication – they become part of the furniture in private homes.

Even social life has changed since the age of computers; there is no necessity anymore to be only in one place to work in several professions. Having sunbath and to work goes almost hand in hand – the private and common/ public have begun to mix up. We have lost our intimacy and our innocence considering the private in this digital era; the mobile phone as a hybrid of communication – also visual communication – is a mini computer to take along when ever needed. This is bringing unexpected discoveries for individual understanding, skills and practices in private/ public. Social barriers are arisen in our countries and the world around us because of the knowledge and skills to use these media. An interesting question is in what extent a lack of equipment and computer skills is influencing personal perspectives in the long run in this global economy? In our culture, who can manage with out the newest technology, with new programmes? In an even wider view: how can a country manage if not having up to date skills and modern equipment in its use?

Another intriguing problematic to polemisize is to ask the question made in the beginning: to what extent technology, required skills for it and the developed practices are making the border between private and public transparent, or are these two to be mixed socially as something new?

Our children are prisoners of the screen no matter about the nationality.





Interview with Agnes Matthias, November 2005:
www.theiprn.org

Please describe your experiences with commissioned work – did it give you the chance to develop something different from your former projects?

The commission came at just the right time. I was finishing a long term project called “Life of Bubble”. A new work had been developing in my mind during the last year. When I got the commission to the Czech Republic I was ready to start working. Of course I hesitated before my first journey – I am not a straight documentary photographer and therefore I could not think of working in this way for my contribution to the 'Changing Faces' project. But I had been thinking about the enormous changes in working culture and had also experienced them myself. So I decided to make an attempt at handling this phenomenon both conceptually and visually.

What was your picture of the country you were travelling to? How did reality affect the photographic work in your host country?

I had not visited the Czech Republic before, so I took information from the internet, I visited homepages of artists, I read a little about the country, its history and literature. I had received great emails from my hosts so I felt welcomed. What really hit me the very first morning in the country was that when arriving at the academy everybody was busy in front of computers. It was exactly the same situation that I had left behind in Finland and that I had observed at the airports during my trip. Up in the air some people were working with laptops above beautiful white clouds. All this encouraged me to work on the issue of digitised human beings. In other words, I aim to use faces with staring eyes in this series as a metaphor for the changing character of work culture.

Where would you see the advantages respectively the disadvantages of working in a foreign country? Was it a challenge or hindrance for your photography?

While abroad all senses are open and seeing is fresh. Having time to think without being involved in normal daily routine is valuable. It is possible to concentrate completely on work and to enjoy everything new.
On the other hand language was a problem; that only few people speak English was a real hindrance for working. I had to leave out some ideas for this time; to visit computerised homes felt difficult to work through. Besides, summer was not the best time of the year for the work I was doing because people were mostly on vacation.
I was also working on other ideas during my residency – some hundred images different from the 'Absent Minds' series are still waiting on negatives and digital files for my attention.

Did you get in touch with traditions and current trends of local photography? Was that of any impact on your own project?

My hosts made it possible to meet a lot of local artists during both stays in the Czech Republic. Together with my hosts I visited several exhibitions, including both huge Prague Biennales and we often had lively discussions on the art field. In Ústí nad Labem, at the academy of J.E. Purkyne University, in the Department of Art and History of Art, and in Prague I had a chance to see student works. I have a long experience in art education so it was really interesting to see what the young ones are doing in the Czech Republic. I liked the atmosphere of working at Ústí academy very much. There is a strong trend towards digitalisation and conceptual photography. I found this interesting. It is also close to my way of thinking so I felt comfortable continuing to work within these surroundings. I have even included some students from the academy in my images. “Boy in Wonderland” brings back many warm memories of my friends in Ústí nad Labem.
When having my public artistic presentation at the university I also showed some images done with a mobile phone during my residency. The positive reactions I got from the audience – mainly art students – encouraged me to continue with this project. Part of me was still worrying about using a mobile phone, regarding the technical quality of the images – at that time I had not done any big proof prints yet – although I felt that this was the right media to use for visualising my ideas.
At the end of my second visit I also had a public space presentation at the Billboard Gallery Europe: at the academy we produced two huge images with the size 2,5 _ 5 m, that were presented on billboards in front of the academy in Ústí nad Labem. It was a most interesting experience to see my own works in a city landscape gathering an audience other than one from the art world. This fresh way of presenting art gave me a lot to think about; it also convinced me to work with large size images.

Please describe the process of developing your photographic concept within the overall theme of Work? What approach did you choose to get an insight into social and economic structures of your host country?

As I had already been thinking about the technological invasion via computers into our workplaces and into our homes I felt that it was a good idea to continue developing this issue even if I felt uncertain about what I was expected to do. My main problem was how I could find an adequate solution for visualising this topic. How could I solve the formula from concept to images, how could I be clear enough and at the same time leave space for viewers’ own imaginations?
My knowledge of the Czech Republic came mainly from the Internet and from discussions with people I met and of course from what I experienced when travelling around. Internet cafes are a common phenomena almost everywhere. I could also deal with my work connections in the Czech Republic in most places by emails and by mobile phone.

Were do you see the connection between your series on “Absent Minds” and today’s working culture?

The digital invasion has already happened. There is no way to turn back time to the point before the digital era. We see this kind of staring faces that I show in my series “Absent Minds” all around us. They are like new archetypes of human faces. They are recognisable, like signs.
Emails, documents and images are sent within seconds to the other side of the world. In factories processes are controlled by high tech. In working culture all these techniques have in a way even accelerated time; perspective of time has changed – and not all of this is to be considered positive. Time for making decisions is getting rare. Compare getting back a letter with trying to get back an email after pressing a button, it is impossible. There is heavy pressure to get things done as fast as possible.
Handling all this technology surrounding us demands complex skills. To learn all this is quite demanding for an adult. Look at children – they learn new skills by playing. They grow up surrounded by different technologies. Normally playing on the computer is considered to be good for children as they will also have better chances later in life in a computerised world. Education for working culture has to start in early age because of the complexity of our time. The central question is also who manages to oversee the content that comes in to our living rooms. Children are good customers of computer games – the entertainment industry is huge. Digital technology also brings war scenes and catastrophes to our homes via television and via computer in real time. The children in my images are necessary in my attempt to visualise the situation we are living in: required skills regarding the computer are the same at work and in private space. Is childhood sacrificed for profit making in the long run? Because computers are the most important tool in communication – regarding different working practises but likewise gaming, DVD-technology and private communication – they become part of the furniture in private homes.
Even social life has changed since the age of computers; there is no problem in being only in one place and still being able to work in several professions. Sunbathing and working almost goes hand in hand – the private and common/public have begun to merge. We have lost our intimacy and our innocence concerning the private in this digital era; the mobile phone as a hybrid of communication – also visual communication – is a mini computer to be taken along whenever needed. This is bringing unexpected discoveries for individual understanding, skills and practices in private/ public.
Social barriers are rising in our countries and the world around us because of the knowledge and skills to use these media. An interesting question is to what extent a lack of equipment and computer skills is influencing personal perspectives in the long run in this global economy. In our culture, who can manage without the new technology, and new programmes? In an even wider view: how can a country manage if it does not have up to date skills and modern equipment to use?

Taking pictures with a mobile phone is a very recent photographic approach, taking pictures casually, as a kind of snapshot, as you did, however has a long tradition. Where would you situate yourself within the visual field between new digital photographic technology and pictorial traditions?

I work conceptually using a strategy of taking snapshots. The use of the latest digital media is the most logical one for emphasising the content of my work “Absent Minds”. A mobile phone with its incredible multimedia is a wonder of technology. To my surprise I learned to love pixels and their visual looks, and the mobile’s own strange way of organising light and colour. To see these large images produced from a small file is almost to see paintings. You can see how the digital image is constructed, how a colour is built. I find this fascinating. For me this has been a discovery of a new world. On the other hand, it is important to remember that technique is just a method.

Did the commission give you new impulses for future projects?

Absolutely. I will continue working on this issue. New images and videos are developing in my mind. Some videos are at the finishing stage.



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