The intimacy of strangers


I just finished my new film of microscope lichen landscapes, found on a rock in a fence at Trondenes in Harstad, Norway. The film was commissioned by The Arctic Moving Image & Film Festival with premiere october 13th, 2022.
The film was created using a custom made computer-controlled mechanical stage and a digital microscope. Almost 50000 microscope images were stacked and stitched together into miniature lichen landscapes, with a virtual camera flying over these landscapes.
For the soundtrack I used free-impro drumming (performed by Justin Bennett), inspired by the free-impro symbiosis of the lichen, that transforms into a sonic landscape of sci-fi space exploration and encounters with mysterious creatures.

My hope when making this film was to create a bit of awareness about what lichens are.
Apart from the extreme variations in appearance, textures and color, lichens have become the poster organisms for a new biology which challenges the idea of the individual and supplements the theory of evolution.
The title The intimacy of strangers is taken from a chapter about lichen in the excellent book on fungi by Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled life from 2020. It refers to the fact that lichen is not one organism, but a symbiosis of several organisms, and these organisms are not related at all, they are from different kingdoms. Mainly a fungi that partners up with a photosynthesising organism (either algae or bacteria). So instead of acquiring traits over long stretches of time through evolution (so called vertical gene transfer), the lichen combines traits from fungi and algae/bacteria through horisontal gene transfer: Once they have partnered up they have acquired these new traits, no need to wait millions of years.
This partnership also means it doesn´t make sense to talk about an individual, but rather an ecosystem of players with different roles.

Me and microscopes


Digital microscopes have been a part of my practice since 2007 when my live collaboration mikro with Justin Bennett was first performed at Paradiso in Amsterdam.
Like telescopes, microscopes extend our perceptive range, letting us see details of objects and organisms which because of scale remains hidden to us in everyday life. For me it is always a joy to explore the microscopic universes of textures, materiality and colors.

In 2016 I was commissioned to make a film for Vertical Cinema, a project initiated by Sonic Acts where cinemascope 35 mm film is shown in a vertical format. I decided to make a microscope film based on plastic wrappings from consumables.
I wanted to work with vertical motion for the vertical screen so I made a computer-controllable mechanical stage for the microscope to be able to create animation along one axis: For every image captured, the stage would move by a very small increment making it possible to then create an animation from the still images. This resulted in rift which premiered at the Sonic Acts festival in 2017, with soundtrack by Bennett.


While working on this project I imagined creating a mechanical stage that could move in both x (sideways),y (back and forwards) and z (up and down) directions, and also rotate around the axis of the microscope to be able to create curves that followed the terrain of the microscopic landscape.

In the late summer of 2020 I spent a lot of time alone working underground in a former water reservoir to make the two large scale installations Shadowgrounds for Factory Light Festival. One of my studio neighbours suggested that I should read Underland by Robert McFarlane. Which I did, or rather listened to while driving to or working in the water reservoir. One of the chapters in that book is about Merlin Sheldrake, which made me listen to his book as well about the mind-blowing world of the fungi.
I don´t quite remember how I in the same setting ended up listening to a book by Jon Larsen, of Hot Club de Norvège fame, about his obsessive search for micro meteorites. To document the micro meteorites that he eventually found many of, he collaborated with Jon Kihle who had a powerful microscope camera. This is when I first heard about the concept of focus stacking:
Microscopes have a very shallow depth of field, which means if looking at something which isn´t flat most of what you are looking at is out of focus. Focus stacking works around this by combining images taken with different focus distances, thus bringing out the three-dimensionality of whatever is under the microscope.

After having visited Harstad for location scouting this spring I decided that this was an opportunity to realise my next microscope project.
I had found the perfect location around Trondenes Kirke in Harstad, a beautiful area with a lot of history, both from the viking times and more recently the second world war (with Soviet labour camp and later a camp for the people of Northern Norway who were forced to leave their homes at the end of the war).
There are rock fences built around the church and the graveyard, covered with a carpet of lichen, the orange colours being the most noticeable. I thought it could be interesting to do a very site specific project, to just focus on life on this one rock in the fence (as a parallell to life on the bigger rock Earth).


I have always been interested in how things and organisms have completely different time cycles / durations, and seeing the lichen growing on the rocks on the fences around the church it made me think of everything that has passed by them during their existence (the oldest lichen that has been dated is 9000 years old and lives in Sweden). Although lichen and humans inhabit the same planet we live in parallell worlds with different time cycles.
Sometimes these worlds interact with each other: Lichen mine minerals from the rocks, thus releasing minerals trapped in the rocks to the greater eco system (that might end up in your body at some point). Lichens are often the first settlers on new territory: They make the first soil on new rock formations (islands, lava, mountains) which becomes a starting point for other life. Lichen notice the presence of the human world mainly through pollution which has caused several species to go extinct.

Many of my projects starts with first developing hardware and software that I then use to make a piece. This involves a lot of research and getting into things I know little about.
I often quote Ursula K Le Guin: “I don’t know how to build and power a refrigerator, or program a computer, but I don’t know how to make a fishhook or a pair of shoes, either. I could learn. We all can learn. That’s the neat thing about technologies. They’re what we can learn to do. ”


Making, learning and sharing tools is an important part of my practice, so the next section is an attempt at sharing some of the process (nerd alert) in making this film.
The challenge for the hardware side of this project was to be able to create a moving platform that was able to repeat the same motion over and over again with very small steps.
I am not so experienced with mechanical motion, so there was lot of trial and error before I was able to get the motion of the mechanical stage stable enough. I am lucky to have access to both the maker spaces bitraf and Fellesverkstedet in Oslo where I can make prototypes and finished work with laser cutters and cnc routers. In fact the mechanics and motion control of laser cutters and cnc machines are very similar to what my needs were for the microscope stage: Horizontal motion (x and y) and Vertical motion (to move the microscope closer or further away from the sample). On top of that I wanted to add mechanical rotation to this, thus having 4 axis of motion.


Luckily in the midst of my mechanical struggles I discovered the technique of stitching individual microscope images together to get a bigger mosaic image, something often used in medical and biological microscopy. This is to compensate for another inherent issue with microscope photography: The larger the magnification, the less you see of the sample (small field of view).
This changed my working process dramatically, as I instead of making individual paths for the mechanical stage to follow, I could do an automated grid scanning of a sample, and then make as many paths I would like in software later, making the whole process much more flexible.
So for each position in the grid there would be x number of images taken at different focus depths. As an example a grid of 5×5 would cover an area of about 8x8mm, and with maybe 50 images per tile this becomes 1250 images for one sample of lichen.


So how did this setup work?
The microscope camera is connected to a computer running a microscope imaging software (toupview in my case).
The mechanical stage consists of 3 motors being controlled via a standard arduino-based cnc 3 axis controller used in DIY 3D printers and CNC machines. The software to control this was Universal Gcode Sender, which basically sends information to the controller about the position for the XYZ axis among other things.
So for each XY position in a predefined grid (positions calculated in rhino/grasshopper but that´s another story) the Z axis will move closer or further away from the lichen sample to get different focus for the microscope. The actual low and high points is different for each sample so I do a manual check to get an idea of what works best for that particular lichen formation. For each Z position a trigger is sent from the controller via another microcontroller to trigger image capture on a computer. This is then repeated for every XY position in the grid setup.

After the individual images of each tile have been captured the process of stacking and stitching starts.
There are several options for focus stacking software. The two most popular ones are ZereneStacker and Heliconfocus.
For stitching there are some free alternatives like ImageJ/Fiji, with various plugins but I ended up using a commercial application, PTgui which is very intuitive to use and with great results.
After all the images have been stacked together, and when each tile has been stitched together with the other tiles I have a lichen landscape I can explore.
For this I create camera paths in free 3D software Blender from which I make animated sequences of the camera moving across the landscape. I started getting into Blender and camera paths when working with 3D scans in the performance Nye Krigere, and later in the series of point cloud works Vardø Kystopprøret, so I could use that experience to create camera (and light) paths to get interesting camera movements.

Finally for the soundtrack, I ended up using Reaper, which is a very reasonably priced DAW (digital audio workstation), and like Blender there is a big community of enthusiastic users sharing knowledge, making it easy to find what you look for.

The stars of the film
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waiting for the summer: newsletter may 2015

While we are waiting for summer to arrive here in Norway I thought it was time with a little update from me. A few big projects have occupied me the last months, and now I am busy preparing the coming half year.

my second solo show at Wood Street Galleries with the installations flimmer, revolver and spin

Wood Street Galleries consists of two floors of about 175 m2 (1800 square ft) each.

On one floor I created a new installation, flimmer: light and wind passes through a volume of black strips suspended from the ceiling in the white gallery room.
flimmer

video documentation of flimmer:

On the other floor the walls where painted black, and I created two rooms with half-transparent walls to contain the installations revolver and spin.
revolver-woodstreet-newsletter

spin-newsletter

Video documentation of revolver and spin at Wood Street Galleries:

The exhibition opened on April 24th and closes on June 21st.
http://woodstreetgalleries.org/

junction: light-motion installation under King Williams Bridge, Adelaide

junction

I was invited to be part of the Blinc program of Adelaide Festival of the Arts which opened end of february. I selected my location because of the beautiful arches of the underpass of the bridge and used that as the departure point for this site-specific installation. You can read more about the project in the link below, which also contains a video documentation and some more images.

https://hcgilje.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/junction-light-motion-installation-under-king-william-bridge-for-the-adelaide-festival-of-the-arts/

 

video of the installation kile(wedge) presented at Solund Light Art Festival in november 2014

the video wasn´t ready for the previous newsletter, so here it is:

(I am planning to show something at this year´s festival as well!)

 

upcoming this summer: Maja Ratkje + HC Gilje at Kongsberg Jazzfestival, July 3rd

It´s been a while since our last performance together, and this one is a bit special to me as it is the first time I show work in my city of birth, Kongsberg.
http://kongsbergjazz.no/

video excerpt from our performance at the Sonica festival in Glascow 2013:

 

upcoming this summer: light-motion installation at SALT, Sandhornøy, opening August 21st

SALT-newsletter

This is something I am quite excited about: I am making a light-motion installation for a 140m (450 ft) long fish rack designed by Finnish architect Sami Rintala placed on a white sand beach on the beautiful island of Sandhornøy in the north of Norway.

http://www.salted.no/

 

The fall

confirmed activities for the fall includes participation at the Norwegian Sculpture Biennale, two solo shows in Norway, as well as a project for Dark Ecology.

PS
I mentioned a book release in the last newsletter, this is put on hold for a while. If anybody knows about an interesting art book publisher please let me know.

 

junction: light motion installation under King William Bridge for the Adelaide Festival of the Arts

junction

photos by Paul Armour. For larger versions (and a few more images) go to the junction album on flickr.

I was commissioned to make a new installation as part of the blinc program for the Adelaide Festival of the Arts which took place end of february / beginning of march 2015. Blinc, curated by Craig Morrison and Joel Cockrill, was a series of outdoor projection and light-based art works, including works by Squidsoup and Bordos Artworks among others.

I chose my location based on some images Joel sent me, and I immediately got drawn to the beautiful arches of the pedestrian walkway / bike path underneath the King William Bridge, situated in Elders Park in the center of Adelaide.

elderpark-adelaide

The underpass is about 40 m (130 ft) long and 9 m (30 ft) wide with 9 arches. I wanted to work with the space in a similar way to what I did with trace at LIAF and Todays Art, constructing a grid of LED lines that animates and activates the structures of the space, in this case mainly the arches.

The unusual thing about this project for me was that it was a site-specific project where I didn´t have the possibillity to go there myself. I selected the location based on photos and created the setup based on drawings and an idea of how I wanted it to look. I prepared a detailed manual for the construction of the installation and the festival crew did a good job with the remote install.

This was obviously not an ideal situation, as for this type of work I am really interested in a more direct dialogue with the space, leaving room for improvisation and adjustements, and I quite enjoy the manual labour involved in building up installations. Also, not having been there myself makes the project less real somehow, especially since I like to emphasize the physical experience of my installations. That being said I was extremely lucky to get in touch with Paul Armour based in Adelaide who did a great job documenting the installation under difficult conditions. It gave me a chance to experience my own work the way most people do, through images and video published online.

One thing I discovered watching the video documentation was the fantastic soundtrack created by the cars passing over the bridge which I think worked really well with the motion of the light pulses.

multimorf 3: a composition for trombone and waterfall

I just finished a new collaboration with composer Knut Vaage, Multimorf 3, a composition for waterfall and trombone.

The image above is a snapshot from each of the nine sections of the piece.

The trombone plays together with recordings of waterfall and layered trombone overtones (also combined with live processing of the trombone).
The composition has an open form:
Vaage has together with sound designer Thorolf Thuestad created nine morphed backgrounds of waterfall recordings and trombone overtones. The trombone player, John Arild Suther, chooses how long each morph section should be played and in which order they should be played, as well as which sections of the composed score he wants to play within each section. This opens for very different performances based on the same material.

The video is conceived in a similar way to the morph backgrounds. The material is based on waterfall recordings and generated material, and each of the nine sections can be viewed as individial motion paintings. My intention was not to create something that followed the music directly, but to create a visual component that responded to the energy contained in a waterfall and to reflect the individual qualities of the nine sections. Since the length and order of each section can vary for each performance, I wanted each section to focus on layers instead of creating linear trajectories: If you see thirty seconds or four minutes of a section you will get more or less the same visual content, it is the combination and length of the different sections that create the linear dynamic of the piece.

The trombone player controls both the playback of video and sound backgrounds, using midi foot pedals, making it relatively easy to tour with the piece without involving too many people.

Multimorf 3 premiered on August 12th at Baroniet in Rosendal (probably one of the most beautiful places in Norway). We played outside in the courtyard of the Manor from 1665 to an enthusiastic audience.

It will also be performed at Bergen Architechture School on September 1st (together with multimorf 2), and at Integra in Copenhagen October 1st.

Light on White at Oslo Lux

Last week the symposium Oslo Lux took place at the School of Architecture and Design in Oslo, organized by Anthony Rowe and Ståle Stenslie.

It was a one day event with speakers from art, architecture and design discussing uses of light in different projects. I spoke at the seminar, created a snow projection and gave a 2 days VPT workshop so it was a very intense but interesting week.

The keynote speakers were AntiVJ and UVA. The list of speakers  also included Timo Arnall who had a very interesting talk on light painting, presenting work of people which I felt I should have know about already (Gjon Mili, Michael Weseley, Eric Staller). His second topic about visualizing the RFID and wifi networks range was also interesting. In fact the mix of speakers and topics made the day go by really fast!

I went to a separate event at Atelier Nord earlier in the week where Joanie and Simon from AntiVJ gave a 2 hour enthusiastic talk about their work. They were very excited about real-time software, and it reminded me a bit of the same energy which I experienced ten years ago with realtime video software like Imagine, nato and jitter.

White on Light video:

I was part of the exhibition and decided to do an outdoor snow projection. Unlike my previous attempts on working with snow I decided to not try to build anything with the snow, but instead cut out a piece of snow and work with the top curvy surfaces and the edges. It seems I am unable to make anything but slow meditative pieces nowadays, but the result wasn´t that bad, really.

More images from the projection at flickr.

The two day VPT workshop at Atelier Nord was fun, a very focused and eager-to-learn group, and several of the participants have already started doing their own projects with the software, which is exciting.

puls

light installation in the Fantoft-Paradis tunnel in Bergen, commissioned for the new metroline Bybanen which opened in end of june 2010.

The installation consists of two long wave patterns of light, one side red-white, the other blue-white. The total length is about 400m. The two wave patterns overlap, so for about 100 m you will see both the red and blue pulse. The material used is neon rope light.

Together with Marius Watz I was invited to make either a light or video work for one of the tunnels for the new Bybanen metroline in Bergen. You can see some images from Marius´ installation here.

I wanted to work with the fact that the train is moving at about 70km/h (about 20m/s) through the tunnel, using the movement of the train as a way of animating the two wave patterns mounted on the tunnel walls.

There were some interesting challenges to this project, as the installation was supposed to be ready for the opening of Bybanen in end of june. This meant I had to send in the proposal for the installation before the trains started to run. I ended up making an animation of some simple waveforms in Processing, which gave a pretty good impression of how this would be experienced when sitting in the train.

There are a lot of factors influencing how the work is experienced.  If you sit by the window closest to the tunnel wall the wave breaks up into rapidly changing curves and lines. If you sit closer to the middle of the tunnel you will see longer stretches of the wave. You will also see reflections of the waves in the windows of the train.

One thing I don´t have control over is the light inside the train, which is really bright. This dimishes the effect of the neon rope light washing the tunnel in different blends of blue, red and white (and potentially casting coloured shadows of the passengers onto the tunnel wall). Thus the installation exists in two different modes: The tunnel as a light modulator which can only be experienced when being inside the tunnel without any trains, or as animated wave pulses when riding the train through the tunnel.

Wind-up birds sound recordings

As mentioned in a previous post, Wind-up Birds made an appearance in the foresty hillside of Fløien. Fløiensvingene (The Fløien turns) is a curly path up the steep hill (as steep as 25 degrees), starting at about 180 m above sea level, and ending at about 300m.
It is a city forest, blending the sounds of the city with sounds of nature, as well as the sound of all the people using it.
I quickly edited together a few sound recordings from various points along the path to give you an impression of how the wind-up birds blended into their environment.

They´re back

For the occasion of Festpillene i Bergen 2010, a flock of Wind-up Birds has taken over the mountain side of the Fløien mountain. More specifically along the windy, steep path through the spring-green forest called Fløiensvingene. They will probably stay a few weeks. This has created a lot of buzz among the people using the path, so I will try to spend as much time as possible there to listen to audience reactions.

They might sound similar to previous generations, but there has been a few changes under the hood: The wood blocks have this time been milled instead of glued, making them more robust. Thanks to Ivar Bergseth and his CNC mill!

I use a new set of xbee modules, the xbee 2.4 pro digimesh modules. This gives a more stable network and is much easier to work with than the previous firmware.

I made new more practical circuitboards, which I got manufactured at BatchPCB, making the job of assembling the woody boards much easier. This was my first attempt at working with Eagle PCB circuit design software, but I leaned heavily on Roar Sletteland´s previous PCB layout for the first generation.

on top of the opera

An outdoor event on the roof of the opera house in Oslo, with two short concerts using video projection.
This was a projected iniated by electric violinist Victoria Johnson, which is currently a research fellow at the National State Academy of Music in Oslo.

The white marble opera house designed by Snøhetta has become one of the main tourist attractions in Oslo, with a nice view over the harbour and the city. It is almost like a iceberg that you can climb onto.

Standing on the roof, listening to the sounds of sirens and seeing something which could almost be a skyline (actually 90% of the tall buildings in Oslo are just behind the opera house), you could get the impression that Oslo is actually a big city!

opera_snohetta

In short, a quite spectacular setting.
The concert consisted of two compositions by Knut Vaage, Electra and multimorf, performed by Johnson and Thorolf Thuestad. Ellen Røed has made a beautiful volcano timelapse video for Electra, and I did a live impro video for multimorf.


We decided to do the concert in front of one of the walls of the stage tower, which is about 30x15m. We managed to cover one half of the wall, using a 15000 ansilumen projector.

We have performed multimorf twice before, in very different contexts: First with a big brassband at a concert venue in Bergen, then a stripped down version for electric violin,electronics and live video at the Concert Hall in Oslo. My video has changed from venue to venue, trying to adopt to the setting. The only connection between the three performances is a series of microscope images from brass instruments, which I made for the original version.
For the outdoor concert on the opera roof I wanted to have a more direct relation to the surface we projected onto, a beautiful aluminum wall with a relief pattern made by the artists Løvaas & Wagle.
The 30x15m wall consists of panels of the relief patterns and I decided to use my videoprojection tools software to mask rows and columns of these panels.

Working outside with a short timeframe means a lot of practical issues needs to be solved, and this left very little time for my slightly ambitious masking project.
It gets dark quite late in Norway in the spring, so the concert was to start at ten in the evening. Only at around nine was I able to see enough of the projection to actually start masking the image, so everything needed to be done in less than an hour. On top of this it was freezing, so I was literally shaking while I was trying to do very precise masking.

In the end, it turned out quite nice, and triggered some ideas for a project I am planning to do next year.

All photos from multimorf and of me is taken by Ellen Røed, thanks!

more images from the event.

snow lab

snow lab, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

It is not so often that there is snow in Bergen, it usually rain by the time it hits the ground. But last week has been an exception, which finally gave me the opportunity to testing out my videoprojection tool on forms made in the snow. It was a pretty nice location, on the roof terrace of BEK overlooking the harbour of Bergen.
I hope to develop this snow projection project further as it is quite fascinating to explore black and white contrasts. I am especially happy with projecting black with a white background, check it out in the video below.
There are more images to see.