Tor Jørgen van Eijk
Tor Jørgen van Eijk
When I start composing a new video, my point of departure is an ambition to through vivid experimentation discover a never before seen video image. Within the confines of this unseen image, any type of thematics can thrive and evolve.
The works of the Norwegian video artist Tor Jørgen van Eijk position themselves not only in present times, but create visible and believable an intersection in between past and future of video art. Despite the excessive use of well-known special effects origin from the childhood days of video and the principle of repetition, the artist succeeds to create a new contemporary expression by combining established ingredients.
The above methodology has roots in the beginnings of video art, which emerged alongside the first commercially available portable camera in the mid 1960s. In parallel with the emergence of video art as a critical counter to mass media, a significant interest in the aesthetic possibilities inherent to the video signal itself developed. Working within the signal focused tradition today can seem like an anachronism, as digital work flows have long since replaced many of the techniques that van Eijk makes use of in his work. A counter awareness of this is Tor Jørgen van Eijk´s continuing digital distribution through social media.
HD Video / 62:12 min / 2015
Pulsating colour, rolling scan lines, noise and crackling sound – In Tor Jørgen van Eijk’s video series “Infinite Monologue” the video signal is in dialog with itself. One of video’s distinctive qualities is the ability to manipulate the video signal in real time, without any form of external reference. By pointing the video camera towards its own playback monitor – like van Eijk has done here – electronic feedback occurs. The feedback effect can then be modulated through minute adjustments of zoom, aperture, camera position, as well as colour and level-adjustment on a colorizer.
The above methodology has roots in the beginnings of video art, which emerged alongside the first commercially available portable camera in the mid 1960s. In parallel with the emergence of video art as a critical counter to mass media, a significant interest in the aesthetic possibilities inherent to the video signal itself developed. Artist such as Nam June Paik, Steina & Woody Vasulka and Peter Campus, as well as institutions like Experimental Television Center, The Kitchen and The Department of Media Study, University of Buffalo were crucial to this trajectory.
Working within the signal focused tradition today can seem like an anachronism, as digital work flows have long since replaced many of the techniques that van Eijk makes use of in his work. The signal focused tradition was never very particularly prominent in Norway, with only a few exponents, such as van Eijk’s artist colleague Kjell Bjørgeengen. For his part, Bjørgeengen has been a central influence on van Eijk’s practice over many years of friendship.
To work with analog video in 2017 is to work within a limited formal and technical framework, often with equipment that requires specialized knowledge and maintenance. Van Eijk’s use of old and impractical technology may seem uncompromising, but it is worth noting that he doesn’t shy away from showing his work on LCD-screens or as projections rather than on classic tube monitors. His work builds on the specificity of video, but isn’t exclusively nostalgic for media of the past. As such, van Eijk’s work is first and foremost an exercise in making use of a limited set of techniques.
If you spend enough time with “Infinite Monologue” the feedback can be experienced as a meditative reset where perception is gradually dislodged from the every day. The video artists of the 1960s and 70s saw the opportunity to generate aesthetic experiences in context with forms of inner vision, closely related to psychedelia. Today, the value of this “inner perception” or formalism lies in the ability to slow down; to escape the many technological distractions that constantly surround us.
The video triptych “Infinite Monologue” in RGB changes from red to green, green to blue and blue to red. Although restless, these works are reminiscent of monochrome paintings. Like the zips in Barnett Newman’s paintings the flowing scanline in van Eijk’s composition are neither figure nor ground. This ambiguous status is connected to the idea of the video signal as an inner monologue – a space rather that surface.
The sound – a constant, relentless buzz – originates from the image. In video sound and image are both waves and are thereby interchangeable. By placing a contact microphone on the monitor glass during recording sessions van Eijk has allowed the video signal to modulate the sound. Sound follows image – these are works that primarily speak to themselves.
— “Infinite Monologue” was created at Signal Culture in Owego, New York.
Tranquil in RGB
Video / 17:42 min / 2012-14
Video is the medium that perhaps comes closest to embody a kind of subject-metaphor. With its capacity for registering and storing environmental information in seamless sequences as well as playing it back on command, it loosely mimics our own relation between perception and memory (we too experience the world as a continuous sensory feed). To document something with video then, means to exteriorize it, to trust it to a second memory. Van Eijk’s old Digital-S camera and the particular demands and cumbersome process that working with this outmoded and unwieldy equipment involve, assert the medium of video as something distinct from the now integrated (and integrating) whole of digital media. Unlike the uninterrupted, flowlike transitions of information that circulate within the more sophisticated networks of up-to-date equipment, van Eijk’s process takes a significant amount of time.
Appropriately, given the time-consuming nature of his process, van Eijk's “Tranquil in RGB” consists of a notable 36 versions of the same video edit with only the colors changed, each version 17 minutes and 42 seconds long, amounting to a total of around 527 minutes. Since these 36 videos are organized in 12 triptychs (i.e. shown in batches of three on screens mounted in close enough proximity for them to be perceived simultaneously) these 527 minutes, in terms of how much time it would take you to watch through the work in its entirety, can be divided by the same number, three, making the complete duration a modest 176 minutes, about three hours, which is not much longer than your average epic. Duration is of course also where the similarities with epic cinema ends. Most notable on first encounter is the spatial presentation in the form of installations of wall-mounted screens in the gallery rather than your typical film-theater. There is also the potential curatorial decision to only exhibit a limited number of these triptychs, rendering the work in its totality something only hinted at and not a narrative whole. This list of reasons for why Tranquil is not an epic film, despite the corresponding duration, could go on forever, and it might seem pointless to stress this dissimilarity since it’s so clear to begin with that we're dealing with an entirely different kind of aesthetic object in the case of van Eijk's work. Still, pointing out these disparities segways to what is perhaps the central critical achievement in this work – its striking unwatchability, or, more precisely, the way that it seems oblivious of whether it will ever be watched by anyone.
It isn't “unwatchable” only because of the creative keying that van Eijk uses. There are also the repetitions, stark contrasts in color, static mise-en-scène and dreary layering effects. The psychological needs of the viewer, her desire to be immersed and intrigued (by narrative) is not catered to. Instead the color-changes that the video undergoes across its 36 incarnations – the dominant operation in the suite of creative alterations that van Eijk has subjected his images of fisherman, tourist and sunset to – speaks to a mechanical, internal-directed compositional procedure, tentatively aiming at using up all possible combinations, with apparently no affect in mind, except maybe that of depletion. What does this disparaging of the viewer really achieve? If the distinct bulk and compatibility-issues of the equipment that van Eijk uses suggest a recording body separated from the integrated field of current image-technologies – could the images, with their eerie otherness, likewise be explained as the contents of a cognition apart, an inhuman seeing?
— Stian Gabrielsen for No Place. January, 2014.