The Artist that invented Computer Animation
Aapo Saask on the artist Ture Sjolander
On an island aptly named Magnetic Island off the coast of Australia, a Swedish artist lives in exile. Just like so many others in today's media-landscape, he was first praised and then brought to dust. However, he has left a lasting imprint on the world. As early as the 1960's, he made the first electronic animation. Had he been an inventor, he would have been celebrated as a genius today, but because he is a predecessor in the world of art, things are different. In that world, the great ones often have to die before they are recognized.
We all know how Disney's famous cartoons were made: thousands of drawings, filmed in sequence. Even today some films are made this way. However, electronic animation has opened up a new world within the film industry and it has also made computer games and countless graphic solutions possible in business and science.
Pixar, which used to be part of Lucasfilm and then sold to Steve Jobs in the lat 1980's, made the first completely computer animated film called "Andre and Wally B" in 1983. The first feature length fully animated movie was Toy Story from 1995. It was made by Pixar and distributed by Disney. Disney had already started to use computer animation in Little Mermaid from 1989, and then on through Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, etc In those fantastic movies the pictures were however first drawn on paper and then scanned into computers for painting and cleanup and superimposition over painted backgrounds.
Decades earlier, in 1965, Ture Sjolander's electronically manipulated images were broadcasted by the Swedish Television (SVT). Among other things, Ture Sjolander was experimenting with the question of how much the portrait of a person could be changed before it was unrecognizable, something which has pioneered the amazing morph-technique that is used today.
Gene Youngblood, who, alongside with Marshall McLuchan, is the most celebrated media-philosopher of today, devoted a whole chapter in his book Expanded Cinema, 1970, (Pre face by Buckminster-Fuller) to the experiments of the SVT. Expanded cinema means transgression of conventions as well as mind-expanding transgressions and new definitions. Sjolander’s broadcasts were not technically sophisticated, but they were ground-breaking.
The film mentioned by Youngblood is "Monument" (1968) by Ture Sjolander and Lars Weck. The other earlier televised pioneering animation were "TIME" (1965/66) by Ture Sjolander and Bror Wikstrom, and later "Space in the Brain" (1969) by Ture Sjolander, Bror Wikstrom, Sven Hoglund and Lasse Svanberg. Whereas most of the modern-day artists fade into oblivion, Ture Sjolander has found his place in the art history by the making of those films.
Ture, a lad from the northern city of Sundsvall, had instant success with his opening exhibition at the Sundsvalls Museum 1961. He moved to Stockholm in the beginning of the 1960's. At an exhibition in 1964 at Karlsson Gallery his imagery upset the public so much that the gallery immediately became the trendiest place for young artists in Stockholm.
In 1968, he created another scandal, when the film "Monument" was televised in most European countries. For a couple of years, Ture Sjolander was celebrated in France, Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain and the USA. In Sweden there was a lot of jealousy. The Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Sweden, to name a few, bought his works, but the techniques he worked with were expensive and after a few years, he found himself without resources. Instead he started to work with celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. They taught him that exile – mental and physical - is the only way to escape destruction for a creative genius. He moved to Australia.
Ture Sjolander's works include photos, films, books, articles, textiles, tv-programs, video-installations, happenings, sculptures and paintings – all scattered around the Globe. Tracing will be a challenging and exciting task for a future detective/biographer and web-archaeologist's.
But mostly, his work consists of a life of questioning and creation. This is what sets him aside as one of the great artists of the 20th century.
Another forerunner in the art world, the internationally celebrated Swedish composer Ralph Lundsten, says in an interview in the magazine SEX, 5, 2004: "In those days (the 19th century), a painting could create a revolution. Today people look idly at all the thousands of exhibitions that there are.’ Hmm. Oh, really. How clever he is’, and they yawn… If I were a visual artist, and if my ambition was to create something new, I would devote myself to the possibilities of the computer."
In 1974, Sherman Price of Rutt Electrophysics, wrote to the Swedish Television Company (SVT): "Video Synthesis is becoming a prominent technique in TV production here in the United States, and I think it will be interesting to give credit to your broadcasting system and personnel for achieving this historic invention."
He was referring to Ture Sjolander's revolutionary work in the 1960's. No one at the SVT could at that time imagine the importance that this innovation would have for television, and hereby lost a lead position in the computer-development business.
Amongst the younger generation of computer animators, few know that they have a Swedish predecessor. Many engineers were probably working away in their cellars in those days, trying to do the same thing, but Sjolander was the first person to show his results on the air. If any of you would like to have a look at the Godfather of animation, you can find a glimpse of him by googling.
He did not seek to patent his inventions and he has made no money from it. However, he has made it to the history books as one of the great precursors of art - and perhaps also of technology - of the 20th century.
After a couple of decades of silence, Sjolander's groundbreaking work was shown at Fylkingen, the avant guard media and music hide out in Stockholm in the spring of 2004.
In the autumn of 2004, some of his recent acrylic paintings on canvas were exhibited at the Gallery Svenshog outside of Lund, Sweden. This was to commemorate the forty years that have gone by since his last (scandalous) exhibition at Lunds Konsthall. Many artists take a pleasure in provoking the established art world. Ture Sjolander also provokes the rest of the world.
Publisher Studio Vista, Ltd.
Introduction by R. Buckminster Fuller(extracts from page 331 of 331-334)
" In the production of " MONUMENT " , the frequency and amplitude of the flying-
Gene Youngblood. 1969
From: email@example.comSent: Monday, April 29, 2002 2:46 AMSubject: CDTure,
I looked at your CD last week with Woody and Steina.We were all much impressed.Your early work was artistically beautiful and technically very interesting.Thanks very much for sending it./gene
" ARTIST VIDEO "
Video Exhibition Advisors:
Brian Hoey and Wendy Brown.
Biddick Farm Art Centre
Washington/Newcastle-England - October - November 1979.
extracts from exhibition catalogue;
" In the mid 1960's Nam June Paik bought the first portable video kit available in New York and recorded his taxi ride to an Art Gallery where the tape was replayed.
This is often claimed to be the first video art tape.
Was it ?
The event is significant as an early demonstration of the
equipment's capabilities but is the tape itself anything other
than the documentation of a taxi ride?
Certainly one of the earliest examples of a video tape in whish the creators have consciously manipulated the electronic signals that form the picture is "TIME " by Ture Sjolander and Bror Wikstrom.
This was produced in 1965-66 and was followed in 1967 byMONUMENT , on which Sjolander collaborated with Lars Weck.
Rather than the artist 're-presenting' images, these works show a decisive stage in the video artist's ability to manipulate his medium in a manner akin to other, more traditional, art forms.
" Time " and " Monument " were broadcast on Swedish television and it is ironic that these pioneers works had, for technical reasons, to be transferred to film to facilitate their eventual broadcast."
Brian Hoey & Wendy Brown
September 1979 - London
"the origins of video art" pages: 116, 117, 118 and 181, 182 and 183.
by Chris Meigh-Andrews
During the period between 1965 and 1975, which could be considered as the defining period of video art, there was significant research activity amongst artists working with video to develop, modify or invent video imaging instruments or synthesizers.
The first generation of video artist/engineers include Ture Sjolander, Bror Wikstrom, Lars Weck, Eric Seigel, Stephen Beck, Dan Sandin, Steve Rutt, and Bill and Louise Etra, in addition to the well-documented collaborative work of Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe.
The work of these pioneers is important because, in addition to exploring the potential of video as a means of creative expression, they developed a range of relatively accessible and inexpensive image manipulation devices specifically for 'alternative' video practice.
TURE SJOLANDER AND MONUMENT
In September 1966 Swedish artists Ture Sjolander ( 1937-, Sweden) and Bror Wikstrom broadcast Time, a 30-minute transmission of electronically manipulated paintings on National Swedish Television. Sjolander and Wikstrom had worked with TV broadcast engineer Bengt Modin to construct a temporary video image synthesizer which was used to distort and transform video line-scan rasters by applying tones from waveform generators. The basic process involved applying electronic distortions during the process of transfer of photographic transparencies and film clips. According to Modin they introduced the electronic transformations using two approaches. The geometric distortion of the scanning raster of the video signal by feeding various waveforms to the scanning coil, and video distortion by the application of various electronic filters to the luminance signal.
Sjolander had begun working with broadcast television with the production of his first multimedia experiment The Role of Photography, commissioned by the National Swedish Television in 1964, which was broadcast the following year. With the broadcasting of Time, his second project for Swedish television, Sjolander was well aware of the significance of his work and importance of the artistic statement he was making:
Time is the very first video art work televised at that point in time for the reason to produce an historical record as well as an evidence of original visual free art, made with the electronic medium - manipulation of the electronic signal - and exhibited/installed through the television, televised.
In 1967, Sjolander teamed up with Lars Weck and, using a similar technological process, produced Monument, a programme of electronically manipulated monochrome images of famous people and cultural icons including the Mona Lisa, Charlie Chaplin, the Beatles, Adolf Hitler and Pablo Picasso. (Separate text of this work as below)
This programme was broadcast to a potential audience of over 150 million people in France, Italy Sweden, Germany and Switzerland in 1968, as well later in the USA. Subsequently, Sjolander produced a Space in the Brain (1969) based on images provided by NASA, extending his pioneering electronic imaging television work to include the manipulation and distortion of colour video imagery. A Space in the Brain was an attempt to deal with notions of space, both the inner worldof the brain and the new televisual space created by electronic imaging.
Sjolander, originally a painter and photographer, had become increasingly dissatisfied with conventional representation as a language of communication and began experimenting with the manipulation of photographic images using graphic and chemical means. For Sjolander, broadcast television represented truly contemporary communication medium that should be adopted as soon as possible by artists - a fluid transformation and constant stream of ideas within the reach of millions.
The televised electronic images Sjolander and his collaborators produced with Time, Monument and Space in the Brain were further extended via other means. The television system was exploited as a generator of imagery for further distribution processes including silkscreen printing, posters, record covers, books and paintings that were widely distributed and reproduced, although ironically signed and numbered as if in limited editions.
It seems likely that these pioneering broadcast experiments were influential on the subsequent work of Nam June Paik and others. According to Ture Sjolander, Paik visited Stockholm in the summer of 1966 and was shown still images from Time while on a visit to the Elektron Musik Studion (EMS). Additionally, Sjolander is in possession of a copy of a letter dated 12 March 1974 from Sherman Price of Rutt Electrophysics in New York, acknowledging the significance of Monument to the history of 'video animation', and requesting detailed information about the circuitry employed to obtain the manipulated imagery. In reply, Bengt Modin, the engineer who had worked with Sjolander, provided Price with a circuit diagram and an explanation of their technical approach to the project, claiming he 'no longer knew the whereabouts of the artists involved'.
THE PAIK-ABE SYNTHESIZER
The Paik-Abe Synthesizer, built in 1969 is one of the earliest examples of a self-contained video image-processing device. As we have seen, Ture Sjolander and his collaborators had brought together video processing technology in temporary configuration to produce their early broadcast experiments, Paik's synthesizer was a self-contained unit built expressly and exclusively for the purpose. The instrument, or video synthesizer, as it came to be known, enabled the artist to add colour to a monochrome video image, and to distort the conventional TV camera image. -.......
Extending a dialogue that they had begun in Tokyo in 1964, electronic engineer Shuya Abe and Nam June Paik began building a video synthesizer in 1969 at WGBH-TV in Boston, possibly spurred on by the work of Sjolander in Sweden.
from Chris Meigh-Andrews book,
A HISTORY OF VIDEO ART, Publisher BERG, Oxford-New York. First Edition October 2006
representative video art works
pages 181, 182 and 183
MONUMENT, TURE SJOLANDER AND LARS WECK (WITH BENGT MODIN), 1967
( BLACK AND WHITE, SOUND, 10 MINUTES. COMMISSIONED AND BROADCAST BY NATIONAL SWEDISH TV, 1968)
Monument, characterized by Ture Sjolander as a series of 'electronic paintings' is a free flowing colage of electronically distorted and transformed icoic media images. Set to a similarly improvised jazz and sound effects track, images of pop stars, political and historical celebrities and media personalities, culled from archive film footage and photographic stills have been electronically manipulated - stretched, skewed, exploded, rippled and rotated. The relentless flow of semi-abstracted monochromatic faces and associated sounds seems to both celebrate and satirize the contemporary visual culture of the time. In its fluid mix of visual information it generalizes the television medium, draining it of its specific content and momentary significance. It creates a kind of 'monument' to the ephemeral - all this will pass, as it is passing before you now.
Archive film footage and photographic stills of familiar faces and people, such as Lennon and McCartney, Chaplin, Hitler, the Mona Lisa - the 'monument' of the world culture - flicker and flash, stretch and ooze across the television screen. In some moments the television medium is itself directly referenced, the familiar screen shape presented and rescanned, images of video feedback and, at one point, its vertical roll out of adjustment, anticipate Joan Jonas's seminal tape, although for very different purposes. The work anticipated a number of later videotapes, particularly the distorted iconic images of Nam June Paik.
Gene Youngblood described the psychological power and effect of these transformations i his influential and visionary book Expanded Cinema (Youngblood 1970):
Images undergo transformations at first subtle, like respiration, then increasingly violent until little remains of the original icon. In this process, the images pass through thousands of stages of semi-cohesion, making the viewer constantly aware of his orientation to the picture. The transformations accur slowly and with great speed, erasing perspectives, crossing psycological barriers. A figure might stretch like a silly putty or become rippled in liquid universe. Harsh basrelief effects accentuate physical dimensions with great subtlety, so that one eye or ear might appear slightly unnatural. And finally the image disintegrates into a constellation of shimmering video phosphores.
Sjolander and his collaborators at Sveriges Radio (the Swedish Broadcasting Company) in Stockholm had worked together on a number of related projects since the mid-1960s, beginning with The Role of Photography, Sjolander's first experiment with electronic manipulations of the broadcast image in 1965. This project was followed with the broadcast of Time (1966), a thirty-minute transmission of 'electronic paintings' produced using the same temporarily configured video image synthesizer that was later used to create Monument.
The system that Sjolander and his colleagues used involved the transfer of photographic images (film footage and transparencies) to videotape using a 'flying-spot' telecine machine. This process produced electronic images which they transformed and manipulated by applying square and sine signals with a waveform generator during the transfer stage, often using this process repeatedly to apply greater levels of transformation.
For Sjolander and his collaborator Lars Weck, the broadcasting of Monument was the epicentre of an extended communication experiment in electronic image-making reaching out to an audience of millions.
Kristian Romare, writing in a book published as part of an extended series of artworks which included publishing, posters, record covers and paintings after the broadcasting of Monument, describes the scope of Sjolander and Weck,s vision and aspirations for the new image-generating technique they had pioneered:
see separate article Sjolander,s CV on the Internet. www.monumentintime.homestead.com/
In this process images are produced using a television camera rescanning an oscilloscope or CRT screen. The display images are manipulated (squeezed, stretched, rotated, etc.) using magnetic or electronic modulation. The manipulated images, rescanned by a second camera are then fed through an image processor. This type of instrument was also used without an input camera feed, the resultant images produced by manipulation of the raster. Examples of this type of instrument include Ture Sjolander,s ' Temporary " Video Synthesizer (1966-69), the Paik/Abe Synthesizer, and the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor (1973).
----Original Message Follows----
From: Christopher Meigh Andrews <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: turesjolander <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Monument
Date: Wed, 01 Jun 2005 12:14:19 +0100
As you rightly say, there is a sense in which the American artists have
written everybody else out of the history of video art. I would like to
put some people (such as yourself) back in! I would like to use an image
or two from the stills of Monument that I have found on the web, but
they are very low resolution. Would you be willing to e-mail an image of
greater resolution? (300dpi would be best- jpeg or tiff, if possible)
also, i attach a little form so that you grant me the rights to
reproduce the image in the book. Is this OK? if so, please fill it in
and send it back to me.
I would like to do more than simply paraphrase what Gene (Youngblood)
has written in Expanded Cinema, which as you say is what M. Rush has
done. Any chance that you can tell me a little bit more about your ideas
with Monument and how it began? I will of course piece togther what I
can from the web site, and from what Aapo Saask has written. I also will
talk to Brian Hoey and Peter Donebauer. i also have the Biddick Farm
catalogue from the exhibtion at Tyne & Wear, which has a little info.
All best wishes to you- and i will certainly send your regards to Brian
You are art!
by Aapo Saask
"Art is in the soul of the beholder." That is the expression that I associate the most with Ture Sjolander. By reaching into the soul of the individual person, the artist contributes to the building of the collective consciousness - the spirit of our society, our cultural inheritance, our collective subconscious.
In the beginning, art was communication, magic and adornment - all at once. A couple of hundred years ago, the notion of "art" came to be used more and more as a synonym for ornamentation in rich people's homes.
Ever since, there has been a struggle between art as expression and art as decoration (and private property, and later on, even tax shelter). Since most artists want to make a living out of their work, it is easy for the money side to win. This has not been the case for Ture Sjolander. He doesn't say: "Look at my work and buy it!" He says: "I am your mirror."
In order to find the roots of art, he travelled to what is today considered primitive societies in Papua New Guinea. He found body painting and learnt about the original meaning of art - communication, magic and adornment. Many artists have been inspired by body painting and developed it into various expressionistic experiments with erotic undertones, but Sjolander left it as he found it. It is of an ephemeral nature. It cannot be sold at Sotheby’s and it cannot be exhibited at the Tate (at least not without losing its soul). Perhaps it can be nailed to a cross? Yes, only he who sacrifices himself for his fellow men, is an artist. But sacrifice does not mean that the artist must be good - or God.
After studying the culture of the Aborigines in Australia, Ture Sjolander did not come out with quaint proposals on how to promote Aboriginal Art as others have done. He saw a bigger picture and wrote: "The Aboriginals still have what we lost: cultural dignity. Undoubtedly the Aboriginal is Australia’s richest heritage… The British/Australians have historically proved that they are unable to deal with the problem. These bullies … have always been the problem for the Aborigines and still are, as well as they are the problem for today’s immigrants."
Sjolander’s study was commissioned by the Queensland Government. But when it was completed it was not published. The newspapers would not publish the summary. No newspaper would even accept the summary as an ad. Finally, it was broadcasted on a local TV-show. And the Aborigines still live their lives on reservations under very primitive conditions. Although most of Australians are of non-English speaking background (the term used is NESB), the queens dutiful convicts still hold a firm grip of the island/continent.
Going from the most ancient to the most modern, Ture Sjolander has been called to Godfather of computer game-players, because he was the first person in the world who created a film with electronically animated images for TV. From Sjolander's point of view, this was not an individual achievement, he was simply part of a collective process of the development of mankind. I claim he had antennae. "Not at all," he says, "just a curious mind."
In 1997, when Ture Sjolander was invited to work in China, the closed fist was still a very strong symbol in this country. Sjolander displayed two gigantic closed penises (marble knots). Everybody, except customs, understood the symbolism. The statues still remain in Changchun as a reminder that there are many kinds of freedom to be won, in addition to the obvious first one, the freedom from poverty.
Was this a political manifestation? Yes and no and certainly not party politics. Real politics is that which makes society progress, all else is a charade. This is what Sjolander showed the Australian public when he caused a government crisis by prompting the Prime Minister to sign a five-dollar bill. As in many other countries, to scribble on a bill is an illegal act in Australia, and the opposition called for the government to resign.
"Aren't there more important things to argue about?" many Australians asked themselves when the debate was at its worst. Many people realized that their cherished democracy was nothing but a game of chess for the power hungry wannabe aristocracies, and that they themselves were nothing more than pawns.
Another "installation", set in Sweden, made it to the front pages of the nations' two dominating evening papers: "Famous Swedish artist threatens to kill Prime Minister."
The back-ground was that American private eyes had been hired by the Swedish Law Enforcement Authorities to act in the Philippines on behalf of Swedish and American courts in a custody case about Sjolander's son Matu. Sjolander wanted to call attention to the fact that private investigators were cheating the Swedish Government for millions of dollars. He travelled to Sweden. Being a famous artist, he got an appointment with the PM, at that time Ingvar Carlsson, but at the last moment Carlsson had to cancel the meeting to go to a state-funeral in Israel.
Sjolander, who was used to censorship and cancelled exhibitions, laconically told the secretary that the PM would soon have to go to another funeral - meaning his, i.e. Ture's, own, as it was well known that his life was threatened by three contract killers from the Philippines!
The secretary misinterpreted it for a threat against the PM. For this Ture Sjolander's spent two months in police custody. When the private eyes found out about this, they thought of a way to hide their million-dollar-scam, and filed additional complaints against Sjolander. He was supposed to have threatened one of them. In court, the only threat turned out to be to squeal to the PM, unless the privates returned the money to the Swedish Government.
The trial was more interesting to me than any of the more spectacular happenings in the 60’es. The dark lounge suit guys had their pants down during the entire trial (half monty) and yet had the nerve to lie throughout all of it - a rock steady picture added by Sjolander to our common understanding of the world. I wish someone would paint it – remember pants down.
Of course, Ture Sjolander was completely acquitted and was awarded a compensation for the months spent unjustly in police custody. The private eyes were neatly fired and Sjolander was not assassinated. However, cognoscenti and literati in Sweden would say "no smoke without a fire" and a leper was once again (voluntarily) exiled. But, you know, if you have not spent a month or two in jail, you’re not a real artist.
Had he lived in the 18th century, Ture Sjolander would have died in front of a firing squad already as a young man. Had he lived in the 19th century, he would have slowly wasted away in a dungeon. But since we are talking about the 20th century, he was only crucified a couple of times - and has resurrected himself by recreating himself. In spite of all this, Sjolander says: "I am not art. You are! I am just your tool – mirror."
Aapo Saask 2004-09-13