TEXT ME Young Curators 2022

Do you feel synchronized?

MATERIALIZING TIME AND TIME BASED STORIES

ON DREAMS, TIMES AND ASSOCIATIVE EXCURSIONS CIRCLING AROUND THE INSTALLATION OLE LUKØJE BY IDA LEIJTING

 
By Celica Fitz

RESYNCHRONIZATION: SUNDAY

On Sunday, March 27th, to prelude the last week of the YOUNG MASTERS exhibition at the Media Art Friesland Festival 2022, time in the Netherlands — and in almost half of the world — is set forward to summer time. One hour vanishes from the night. If this resynchronization to the respective time zone is forgotten, trains are missed, meetings are canceled, and people oversleep. But if the resynchronization with the time zone is made, fatigue occurs due to the lost sleep. Adaption of the biorhythm to the new social time is needed: social jet lag – as bodily experience of desynchronization – can occur.

INSTRUMENTS AND MATERIALS OF ARTISTIC TIME MEASUREMENT IN THE WORK OF IDA LEIJTING

In a darkened room in the YOUNG MASTERS exhibition, sand rushes through ten glass vessels. A machine coordinates an air flow swirling the sand in the circularly hung containers. Noises of blowing and swishing fill the room. A rhythm emerges. I don’t feel synchronized with the rhythm implemented by the guidance of several lights, turning around searching for the sources of sound. Spots highlight and connect certain texts and containers, creating a rhythm, circling clockwise through the exhibition space.

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Graduation Show Arnhem, 2021, Materials: Glass, Wood, Synthetic Quartz Sand, Air Divider, Cables, Air Compressors, Video: Edie Terpstra, Min 01:15. © Ida Leijting, Photo: Bas Czerwinski, 2021

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Graduation Show Arnhem, 2021, Materials: Glass, Wood, Synthetic Quartz Sand, Air Divider, Cables, Air Compressors, Video: Edie Terpstra, Min 01:15. © Ida Leijting, Photo: Bas Czerwinski, 2021

During the LUNA Festival I circulate around this artistic timepiece: reading the highlighted texts and its attributed frequency (MHz/Megahertz). Then turning around again, I hear the sand trickle in the containers; moving from text to objects, materiality to implications, light to sound, story to science, second to movement. This Rhythm of light and sound is centrally controlled and synchronized by the pulse of a machine that runs according to a scheduled sequence of two apps on a hidden smartphone. This Rhythm is named by the artist, Ida Leijting, as an artificial heartbeat. [1] Is time measured in this installation or is it artistically creating it with the implemented rhythm? Reading the ten texts on the wall, I get informed about physical properties and technical applications of the artist’s preferred materials: small particles, crystals, dust, sand.

AMBIGUITIES OF TIME AND DREAMS, CRYSTALS AND SAND

In our conversations, Ida Leijting explains her artistic interest in those particles as tied back to her biography: “It is not specific sand that is a subject of my work, it is more dust in general. My mom is a cleaning lady as a lot of women in my family are. I am fascinated by the relationship many are having with dust and dusting things off. I like this idea of perceiving the world as dust and dirt, related to one another. Dirt and dust is liminal and ungraspable, you want to get rid of it but it is always there.” This ambiguity of dust and sand, clean and dirty and the in-between, the artist is also researching in the use of sand between abstract ideas of time and practices of physical time measurement concerning accuracy and divergence.

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Glass, Wood, Synthetic Quartz Sand, Photo: © Ida Leijting, Photo: Bas Czerwinski, 2021

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on Silica Particles, Photo: © Ida Leijting, Photo: Edie Terpstra, 2021

MATERIALS OF TIME

“The work is basically about crystals. A lot of devices we use to relate to time are based on synthetic crystals. They are used to synchronize devices, like quartz watches”, the artist proceeds. In different natural and synthetic forms, crystals are used for construction as well as in technical apparatuses. Quartz crystals are used in clocks and other time measurement, hardware and some communication technologies, from the watch or smartphone that wakes you in the morning to the satellite, synchronizing it in orbit.

The artist researched the physical properties of quartz and chronometry for her installation. Building on her studies at ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem she is combining art and science in experiment based art and artistic research. “Crystals are cooked in big ovens under high pressure”, she refers to her investigations. The construction of the installation itself simultaneously resembles structures of mechanically grown crystals and hints both to a clock and a pressure cooker: “The practical shape of the work is structured by the way crystals grow. The shape of the synthetic crystals used in quartz watches are often round – basically flat circles, not spheres. But the natural shape and molecular structure of quartz has little roundness to it. Circles are structuring a lot of materials of time, and also my installation.”

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on Crystalline Structures, Photo: © Ida Leijting, Photo: Bas Czerwinski, 2021

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on Growing Crystals in a Pressure Cooker, Photo: © Ida Leijting, Photo: Edie Terpstra, 2021

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on Autoclave, Photo: © Ida Leijting, Photo: Edie Terpstra, 2021

The artist discovered in her research that, with the quartz watch using synthetic quartz, timekeeping became more accurate since the 20th century: “They are growing them synthetically to eliminate inconsistencies and impurities of natural crystals, to make them more precise. For different functions, there are different cuts of synthetic crystals. With their shape and form their frequency changes.” In a clock, the synthetic quartz starts to oscillate when it is energized by electrical voltage.[2] Time measurement is thereby not oriented to the rotation of the earth, day and night, but to a second that is mechanically generated by crystals vibrating and resonating in a specific frequency. A Movement in a specific time is resembled by Leijting’s texts combining each glass vessel to a specific frequency of Megahertz: movements per second.

These particles of Silicium Dioxide are swirled over and over again, colliding and shattering until sand becomes dust. Time is sensed. It smells like dust and sounds compressed in Ida Leijting’s installation. As the artist is interested in the liminal, she focuses on the undefinable and ambiguous space in-between. In the different uses and the cultural history of associations to sand – to which the installation refers to – sand is ambivalent as dreams. Her artistic concept is related to the liminal as research on threshold states. Between historically formed dichotomies of clean and dirty, good and bad, tales and physics, sand and dust, materiality and concepts, this installation is titled: Ole Lukøje.

FALLING ASLEEP WITH SAND IN YOUR EYES

“For me the story of Ole Lukøje is the essence, where everything comes together. I used to watch German television when I was young, living next to the border. So I remember hearing the song of the sandman before going to bed: Unser Sandmännchen. I was fascinated by the concept of being forced to sleep at night and having nice dreams. When I look at the stories surrounding it now, I realize that it was a figure that was present in a lot of cultures in different forms, but always coming back to this concept of time.“ (Ida Leijting)

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text by Hans Christian Andersen, Photo: © Ida Leijting, Photo: Edie Terpstra, 2021

The name Ole Lukøje – in its most famous version – originates in a children’s tale from 1841 by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875): Ole Lukøje brings bedtime stories and dreams every night of the week, taking a boy called Hjalmar on excursions to other countries or imaginations.[3] The stories are structured by the days, starting from Monday and ending with the climax on Sunday.

The figure Ole Lukøje is also known as Klaas Vaak in the Netherlands, the Sandman, or refers to Morpheus in Greek Mythology. The story allegorizes the ambivalence of sand, dream and time in the two brothers by the same name: In one role, Ole Lukøje brings dreams to sleeping children by throwing a little amount of sand in their eyes. In addition, Ole opens a colorful umbrella over their heads to bring them beautiful dreams, which Andersen calls pictures and stories. But his brother, also named “Shut-Eye” or “Ole-close-your-eyes” – as Ole Lukøje might be translated – meets the person only once. “His Brother is the impersonation of death. When he throws sand in the eyes, he doesn’t allow the eyes to open again. I like this analogy of sand and dictating life and death”, Ida Leijting expounds.

She also reflects this in her prior works, such as the video The Sleep in Your Eyes (2021), where a pair of eyes full of sand try unsuccessfully to open. The artist considers this video as an “experiment on the way towards the installation Ole Lukøje. Reflecting on the connection of the measurement of time, its materials and perception she says: “When dust settles down, it creates a very physical experience of time; you have to close your eyes and can’t open them again. It involves regulating when you are asleep and when you are awake, when dust settles down and when it blows up again. When you experience time consciously and when you don’t.“ By watching the video, I can almost feel the physical discomfort of dry eyes. But also one can connect to the well-known stories, thinking about which pair of eyes may belong to good or bad dreams, friendly or nightmarish sandman.

DREAMED EXCURSION, NIGHT 1:

MIXING TIMES AND STORIES OF FICTIVE PASTS AND IMAGINED FUTURES

“These figures of different stories of the Sandman are related to the structures we impose on ourselves on life, death and time. Which we are sometimes also made afraid of. In some versions, the Sandman tears off the eyes of children. These bedtime stories are meant to scare children and make them also afraid of time. This is a specific way of relating to it. And time scares me as well”, Ida Leijting elaborates, thereby evoking the idea of an associative excursion circling around her installation pointing to bad dreams and desynchronization.

Not to be able to wake up from a dream – to be disconnected to reality – are topics of the Figure of Sandman by German author E.T.A. Hoffman (1776-1822) and stories of dreams, visual perception and imagination. The Romantic author draws a terrifying picture of the Sandman in 1817, bringing not picturesque dreams to children but hallucinations and paranoia to grownups. [4]

Hoffman’s Sandman is introduced during a night of chemistry or alchemy. Two men are using forbidden experiments to create something – be it glass or the philosopher’s stone – the childish eyes of the unwilling witness Nathanael were not allowed to see. When the voyeur is detected, the cruel man threatens to tear out his eyes.[5] This vision haunts the young protagonist, originating from the moralizing bedtime story of his nurse. What the trader of weather glasses tried to produce that night as the boy watched him, desynchronized Nathanael from his perception and raised fear of glasses and telescopes. By the thought of metaphorically losing his eyes and sensorium to see, his perception of the world got lost. Unable to wake up from his paranoia and illusion, he sees the sandman everywhere.

The fatal life course of Nathaniel and the fear of the bringer of sand and dreams finds its opposite in 20th century, when in the movie Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999), Morpheus asks Neo to question his seen reality: “The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” (Morpheus).[6] Neo, guided by the Figure called after the God of Sleep, manages to wake up from a simulation and face the machine-dominated reality. Waking up or dreaming have become motifs not only of fiction but also of social debates. Though, it is not possible to distinguish between reality and perception as clearly as in the fictional story of Matrix. We always perceive our surroundings based on experiences, through our own glasses.

The artist’s research on the cultural roles of dust in science and fiction points to different aspects of time based stories. Those also reveal the Sandman’s shady sides leading beyond Andersen’s stories into other utopias and dystopias, as well as time-based stories around remembered pasts and imagined futures: be it the imagination of Sandman of Romantic author E.T.A. Hoffmann from the 19th Century, Morpheus from Matrix or Neil Gailmans Sandman in the late 20th Century.

DREAMED EXCURSION, NIGHT 2: OLE LUKØJE — THE MACHINE OF DREAMS?

Two centuries after Andersen and Hoffmann – inside and outside of fictional stories – machines seem to set the pace. Whereas during the industrialization in the 19th century, electric light changed the biorhythm of workers so that they could work independently of daylight – in the 21st century, smart watches track sleep phases and register restless dreams through movement under the blanket.

What would it look like if Ole Lukøje were a machine today? Repetitively recurring every evening, he would scatter sand and regulate sleep as a clock. Bringing dreams to the respective time zones. Deciding whether the sleeping adults and children experience dreams with journeys to distant lands or nightmares with eyes full of sand trying to escape by waking up.

Night after night, young Hjalmar’s dreams change a bit. On Sunday night – at the end of an imagination-rich week with the stories of Ole and now close to adulthood – the boy is supposed to have learned the lessons of the moralizing stories. Or he shall meet the brother of sleep. Dreams are the processing of daily experiences. Within the dualistic role of Ole Lukøje, they are also normative measures of conformist or divergent behavior and daily rhythms. Those stories try to capture the liminal phase of sleep, structuring it, and affecting dreams. What happens if such synchronizations fail is one of the research topics of Ida Leijting’s installation.

DESYNCHRONIZATION AND THE FRAGILITY OF TIME: SUNDAY

On Sunday, 3rd of April, at the end of the YOUNG MASTERS exhibition, due to a malfunction in the IT system all trains in the Netherlands got canceled around noon. Train service was stopped, thousands of travelers stranded in different regions of the Netherlands. Waiting in the non-place of the station, a lot of time passed. Timetables and devices were disconnected.

For Ida Leijting such inaccuracies are part of her research of the liminal aspect of unpredictability: “The installation is about the fragility of time”, she says. “When quartz crystals are naturally grown it takes millions and millions of years. But in these pressure cookers it is done in a few months. Time is compressed just as much as the crystals are. We think we can conquer time and form it in a way we want. The way synthetic crystals are grown is almost completely under control. They create the illusion that they are precise and perfect, but it is only 99.9999999%.” Seconds in quartz watches and synchronizations with digital timers vary to a very miniscule degree to atomic clocks and the Coordinated Universal Time. Since they are not tacked completely accurately, there are inaccuracies and slight deviations.

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on a train crash in1972, Photo: © Ida Leijting, 2022, Photo: Edie Terpstra, 2021

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on Leonard Cutler, Photo: © Ida Leijting, 2022, Photo: Edie Terpstra, 2021

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on Silicosis, Photo: © Ida Leijting, 2022, Photo: Edie Terpstra, 2021

Ida Leijting, Ole Lukøje, Installation view, Text on Accidents, Photo: Edie Terpstra, © Ida Leijting, 2022

When there is an uncontrolled element, a deviation, the system we rely on creates issues: delays, train cancellations and accidents when the circuit fails, explains the artist. With stories of desynchronization the artist shows examples of cases and victims of inaccuracy. Those stories are documented in the texts around the installation: “One story is about a train going off the tracks because its crystal was damaged and inaccurate. The crystals are very robust, but when there is a scratch on them, their frequency changes. This train got out of the tracks and people got hurt because of such an unexpected inaccuracy.” Another text highlights the production of quartz sand: “One of the pressure vessels exploded or in another case people, farming the minerals, are often doing so in terrible conditions. They are suffering from Silicosis caused by the inhaled dust. These are physical responses to this idea of time. We have abstracted it into numbers. It feels like it doesn’t have any physical consequences – but it has! ”

Ida Leiijting aims to materialize abstract ideas with her installations, deconstructing disembodied concepts, transforming them, and thereby revealing the underlying physical experiences of those constructs. “I wanted to create a feeling for the natural processes behind the measurement of time”, the artist says. Time becomes perceivable: be it in the sound of swirling sand, the smell of dust in the exhibition space or the rhythm of light and darkness resembling bedtime stories of Ole Lukøje. In earlier works she also reflected concepts of melancholia, death and entropy by materializing her research on those phenomena in installations combining scientific research with figures of stories and movies. In the works of Ida Leijting, crystals of sand are the materialization of ambivalences she calls the liminal: An exceptional state of not yet and not any longer, but yet to be structured and captured by stories and conducts – of time, sleep and death – as well as of materiality and recent technology. The installation combines mixed metaphors, technique, memories and dreams.

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My gratitude to the artist Ida Leijting for the delightful conversations and insights into her work and research and for providing photos and videos. Thanks to Marinus Groen for our interview on the technical aspects. Thank you Irene Urrutia, Andrea Moeller, Anne van Lierop and the LUNA Team for organizing the curatorial residency and the TEXT ME curators as well as Bettina Pelz, Elisabetta Cuccaro and Emily Sarsam for discussion and inspiration.

[1] Compare: Website, LUNA Festival (Accessed: 30.03.2022).

[2] To the piezoelectric quality of a quartz crystals and on experiments with crystals on timekeeping and the development of the quartz watch compare: Dennis D. McCarthy, P. Kenneth Seidelmann: Time From Earth Rotation to Atomic Physics, WileyVCH. Hoboken, New Jersey 2009. p. 139-141.

[3] Ole Lukøje (1841), Gutenberg Project: Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Accessed: 05.04.2022).

[4] Compare: E.T.A. Hoffman: Der Sandmann: ein Nachtstück. Reclam: Leipzig 1870.

[5] Compare: E.T.A. Hoffman: Der Sandmann: ein Nachtstück. Reclam: Leipzig 1870. p. 5, 10.

[6] The Matrix, The Wachowskis (1999), Shooting Script.