Among the interesting figures of the artistic panorama, Herman Kolgen lives in Montreal (Quebec, Canada). Audiokinetic sculptor, he works starting from the relationship between sound and image creating, from their divergence, works presented as installations, performances, sound sculptures, videos and cinematographic works – for example Silent Room (2005), film, installation and live performance created with the collaboration of the video artist and photographer Dominique [t] Skoltz with whom he founded in 1996 the multi-discipline cell Skoltz_Kolgen (followed by DigiMag several times in the past).
Since 2008 Herman Kolgen has inaugurated an individual path of radical interrogations about audiovisual systems. His versatile work is characterized by an approach that we could define “radiographic” towards audio and visual material, in which the dimensions of the invisible and inaudible take its’ form by manifesting itself to the spectators sight. Attracted by the organic dimension, Herman Kolgen is inspired by the internal tension that lives the matter (tras)formation; this process brings him to create works where at the center the notion of time is placed.
Combined and associated with the digital, through an extremely sensitive job, the organic dimension is converged towards the presence of hybrid forms. His interventions integrate, also, radical work of audio spatialization, in which the physical space of the room, its’ volume, becomes pulsation geometry. His creations, in particular the project Inject (2009-2010), the recent one Dust (2010) and the installations called Stochastic Process (2010) and Water Musik (2010), are presented in various galleries and in the main electronic art festivals in Europe, America and Asia.
Enrico Pitozzi: Your work is an interesting example of integration between the image and sound. Could you explain more closely the method of integration used, by referring to your work as a whole, between these two dimensions?
Herman Kolgen: I have been preoccupied with this integration for a long time. As a young 12 year old, I used to play the drums whilst also displaying my first visual works in the town where I grew up. It was only later, around 18 years of age, that I started asking myself which direction I should go in, developing one art to its fullest. However I could never, for a long time, decide which course to take, or devote myself entirely to one art rather than another.
I always felt that perhaps the two dimensions could develop together, finding a common trajectory which could invent a particular language because of intersections, links, overlaps and operative influences. This aspect has also supported a technical development that, over time, has allowed the computer to have a more powerful role, as it offers the possibility to work simultaneously on two languages …
Enrico Pitozzi: … it is as if the need for compositional order working simultaneously with video and sound is a technological answer to offer tools that go in the direction you want to track. This is work based on materials and their impact on quality perception. Could you outline some characteristics of your audio-visual language?
Herman Kolgen: I conceive sound and sight in the same way: to obtain a single homogeneous material which can be absorbed by the audience on an emotional level, thus bringing the technology used in the background. Sound and image, in this sense, are my dynamic material, palpable, which have a density, porosity, elasticity of time. Their common feature, in this sense, is that they are two materials that are developed and modified in the same space-time.
This is essential to develop an audiovisual language that is not simply the sum of sound and image, but that is the result of a series of assemblages and internal resonances materials. This temporal trajectory ties them intimately, so to be assigned a force impact on the viewer so powerful that it penetrates his perceptual system. Despite inhabiting the body via different channels – traditionally through sight and hearing – it is in the display of the senses and emotions of the audience that the sound and image merge and fall apart, like a prism, to touch their perception.
Enrico Pitozzi: On the contemporary electronic scene it is possible to outline two trends. Firstly the one that defines an organic line in which the articulation of sound and visual material tends towards a form of narrative. Secondly, an organic line in which external material tends toward abstraction. The two perspectives drawn do not necessarily conflict with each other but, rather, tend to link together. Could you look back on your work and explain this tension that binds abstraction and narrative in the treatment of materials?
Herman Kolgen: In my work compositional abstraction and narrative coexist without friction, they are developed from common elements and then take different paths or directions according to the trajectories which they impart to each function.
In Stochastic Process presented recently in Geneva, I worked in the direction of pure abstraction, both the processing of visual and audio materials. Enclosed in a black space, a sound source holds in suspension light projected dust. The dynamic tension that produces the sound has a direct effect on the gravity of microscopic dust. The geography of these particles is therefore influenced by the variations that produce random breaks, sudden flow or, conversely, promote the formation of the highly organized, which is called, precisely, the Stochastic Process.
We are faced with an abstract landscape. However, if we focus on supporting the installation, there is a deep narrative trajectory that, as watermark, goes through materials by establishing a voltage level with the spectator senses. In this case, the narrative itself is abstract in that it does not have an identifiable form, but this does not stop it manifesting itself in other ways, so they can be absorbed unconsciously by the public.
Enrico Pitozzi: It is, therefore, a process that develops in a subliminal way, which passes through the transformation of matter …
Herman Kolgen: The narrative trajectory is more or less determined by those who made up the performance, in this sense it may indeed be regarded as a subliminal dimension: at the level of composition, its degree of impact with the viewer may be designed. The materials are thus used in a way which enables the development of this intrinsic potential.
That being said,most of my work is one part abstraction and one part storytelling. Their relationship corresponds to some extent to the functioning of our structured thinking that is constantly pushed and supported by irrational thoughts – or even abstract impulses – which call the mind. All this cohabitates symbiotically without creating imbalances, creating a particular ecosystem in balance.
Though something, at first glance, may seem abstract – like a pulse that you can not decipher immediately – this does not mean that there is, inside a hidden meaning, a narrative path that they may develop, or bring out, conversely, decide to leave hidden. The composition is as if something passed through me, then it finds a sense of autonomy beyond the directions that can give my speech at work.
It is, in other words, it is a space preserved for something that may come unexpectedly. The unexpected is something that may not have an immediate sense, but this tension has an indescribable inner pulse that vibrates; it is possible to recognize – at the bottom of this pulsation – a particular energy that must be developed and that, whatever may take a shape or sound or even develop a new way so finding points of convergence between the two dimensions, where a sound pulse passes in the treatment and control of the image or vice versa.
I am interested in shaping unreal worlds, organizing them into a credible proposition. It is here, at this point that the relationship between the visual and sound elements becomes palpable tension, sulphuric pressure .
Enrico Pitozzi: In line with this principle of action on the matter, Inject allows the viewer to perceive a number of neurosensory changes and transformations to body of the performer – the fibers of the skin to the nervous system – in response to the tank of water which it is contained. Could you describe, in short, the process of composing this work?
Herman Kolgen: A human body is immersed in a tank. In the course of 45 minutes, the liquid pressure exerted on it increases the neurosensory changes. From its fibre in the epidermal nervous system, the body reacts to changes in viscosity of the liquid chamber. Its cortex gradually loses all knowledge of realitybecause of a lack of oxygen. The body of Yso, the performer,becomes a guinea-pig: a material body whose states are the subject of psychophysical kinetic paintings.
The visual material for this work was composed in a single recording session lasting about six days. During this period the body of Yso is embedded in a tank full of water for more than 8 hours per day, ranging from the absence of gravity and lack of oxygen. With the help of various techniques of digital video recording systems and different cameras, I assembled several sequences in as many captured moments in time, resulting in a series of images that I then met a body of flexible and modular.
Enrico Pitozzi: I would like to refer back here to a point that was previously mentioned in our conversation: your work revolves around the notion of organic materials. Inject, which you just described, goes in this direction, but I also think the recent Dust and Water Musik do too. Could you clarify this important principle?
Herman Kolgen: I am interested in working with living matter. By this I do not only refer to living things in the proper sense, but what is changing, changing, in an evolutionary sense.
Water musik – which will be presented in Korea – is a sound installation – what might be inscribed in the framework of bio art – consists of six different interactive audio devices that work in a generic sense. The installation consists of a number of snails immersed in a pool of water. They are equipped with a GPS sensor that tracks their movement in order to capture and analyze their behavior in the colony. The results of these behaviors are then transmitted to a system of musical composition that manages the data processing in real time.
The water in which they are immersed is thus tangible, allowing movement which creates the interactions between the different elements of the work. The shift in the space of living elements – such as snails or algae, for example, will affect the water movement. From this process you can then develop a form of sound interpretation of these shifts, giving rise to a material that can be captured, processed and retransmitted.
This device is part of a series of eight different installations, all designed in relation to living organisms. In every work I strive to have the raw material with which I am confronted with as autonomous, self-sufficient. It is therefore a matter that has its own intrinsic impulsiveness with which I find common ground: I may use thisenergetic identity to lean towards creative impulses which can be contradictory or similar to its original quality. This attraction to the organic is not premeditated; it comes, instead, in a natural way, the sensitivity with which I perceive life. What interests me – at the heart of this belief – is the size evolution of things, their ability to maintain tension and constantly change.
One aspect particularly appeals to me: working with a form of magnification of things which allows me to understand what are the steps, from a number of factors, well organized and structured, which lead to the design of systems that are far more detailed and unique.
In Dust, for example, I try to give shape to this process. I worked so closely with the matter that a pile of dust became for me a very complex system, capable of detecting other areas of dust as articulated universes. With this process there developed a particular notion of time, especially with this work. The matter becomes very similar to an ‘organic’ elastic band that stretches and contracts. Tension reveals details that at first sight seemed non–existent.
At the moment, to provide an example, I am working with wind. For me, wind is a material, even thought very dynamic and volatile, which exceeds my understanding and my expectations, because if you just add an obstacle to the device – a cylinder, a perforated wall – and all the internal turbulence is affected. Thus I am trying to exploit this wind power as artistic material.
Enrico Pitozzi: This passage has opened up another central aspect of your work: the change of state of matter, where the relationship between the elements become magnetic, they have tension. This process involves the possibility of a visible and audible intensity that are not directly perceptible to the senses. Could you develop this argument through your audio-visual composition?
Herman Kolgen: I’m interested in making perceptible elements that somehow escape our attention. It fascinates me to give a form to what the eye cannot capture. I often think of things: if an object is a solid volume, it is because of all the tension which maintains a state of apparent repose. If you alter this balance, these bonds break up and the object simply becomes matter with volatile energy.
A friend who melts glass at high temperatures, is in daily contact with this change of state of matter caused by the molecules of glass subjected to heat. So, intervening with an external element on an object, we can drastically change its physical structure. This brings me, inevitably, to reflect on emotions and human perceptions: simply insert a disturbing element in someone’s life and all its equilibrium can be threatened. Inject is the extreme case of this step.
In the absence of oxygen – an element which is always taken for granted – the mental and physical balance of the performer immersed in water is drastically disrupted, though, little by little, his emotional system and its physical structure finds a new balance from the conditions which the body is exposed to. He is immersed in water and slowly this element becomes the new condition by which to renew the balance and this has a direct impact on its physical and emotional state. It is about a new affiliation. Curiously, during the shooting,this is what occurred: after 24 hours, YSO did not want to get out of the tank in which it was immersed.
His whole body, including its metabolism, had re-established a new general equilibrium, including a new rhythm of the movement which was more difficult, slower, but perhaps more conscious; the same thing for his breathing. Regarding its isolation from hearing – the immersion required him to feel a whole within the body, focusing only on its functions – is also a solution in a new order. I think such an experience, at first sight traumatic, had become for him, little by little, meditative and beneficial
Enrico Pitozzi: The transformation of matter – the threshold between the visible and invisible, audible and inaudible – is also dedicated to your latest project, Dust. Could you resume, in brief, some features?
Herman Kolgen: Inspired by the photo of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray – Elevage de poussière (1920) – Dust proposed the exploration inside a particular matter: dust. From the threshold of imperceptibility, some pigments are suspended around a magnetic field. They are organized in random fibrous networks and have become one of the compositions of hypnotic complexity: real webs, diagrams of powder. The particles of sound, associated with the bright images, are treated here on a scale which will clears all references and any system of recognition is sidelined. We are inside the matter, in an unequivocal manner.
Dust is a link between the invisible and visible, where the dust becomes a vertigo and produces, on the surface of the video, an accumulation visible as X-ray: crossed the threshold of visibility, you plunge into the dust, in its fibers in its deep structure.
Enrico Pitozzi: So we are faced with an x-ray of the material as the key principle of your work. Dust, in this sense, seems to me a representation of the structure that makes up the real, a link manifested in the form of light and sound pulses. This brings into play a work the size of the infinitely large as well as the infinitely small, which is very present in your compositions. Could you expand on this subject?
Herman Kolgen: Thanks to new digital tools we can enter into the material. It is clear that previously I could, to a certain limit, change the time scale – for example a picture – slowing down or accelerating through the manipulation of video, but this was limited to simple multiplication of frames: no additional information was truly revealed. Now the margin of action available is totally different and it also develops at different levels. We have access, for example, to high-speed video cameras that have the ability to capture images of information-impossible to perceive with the naked eye.
These super high-speed cameras were originally designed to solve problems related to industrial production, and are now widely accessible to all, their use can then be developed in an artistic sense. The high power of receiving information – up to 2000 fts – allows us to catch up to fifty times more than what we normally perceive with our eyes. All of this information shows how visual character, beyond our perception, reveal qualities of matter to which we have no access.
Enrico Pitozzi: This brings into play, as mentioned above, the notion of time. This formula can be considered a summary of your audiovisual work. Could you summarise, finally, this idea?
Herman Kolgen: The concept of time – which is commonly known as the fourth dimension – has become, in so far as to what was previously noted, a malleable material like sound or image. All this has to do with access to a different time scale, here we are very close to Einstein’s theory of relativity of time.
When we enter the space-time inside the invisible matter, our whole perception changes,we look for a new position. This means that we can work – with the support of technology – on an infinitely small time scale, almost to the point where time seems to stop (freeze system). When everything seems still and we approach the smallest particle of matter, we realize that this too, despite everything, is constantly moving and looking for a dynamic relationship with the environment.
From here, we can therefore design autonomous virtual systems which are in perpetual motion, according to precise rules or random dynamics. For example, in addition to these inherent rules, the action taken by decreasing the behavioral factor up to grade 0, the system will stop to interact. It will be like in levitation, but the virtual camera – our eyes – can still navigate the system freezes, the suspension of time.
Alongside this, the notion of coexistence between two different space-time dimensions is a very interesting idea full of creative consequences. It is here, through these dimensions, that time becomes palpable matter, a malleable and organic quality.
I remember – at the beginning of my first digital audio work in the late eighties – I explored the extension of a sound expansion in order to produce a series of sounds which reflected a complex rough surface, thus producing a quality of sound that was completely different, it no longer had any relation to any reference. However, this particular quality was, after all, already contained in the matrix, but at an inaudible level.
I applied the same notion of temporal flexibility to my visual work with a lot more accuracy and precision, a dozen or so years later, when the technology permitted me to.
So what I’m interested in this aspect, is to intervene in order to create an organic relationship between sound and visual material, although this in itself is not the purpose of my work … well, it is only as it responds to my main concern: to investigate the quality of sensory perception.
Therefore there are three levels in my view composition which are inseparable: the magnification of optics, micro-sound and the time in a microscopic scale. I wish that these three elements have a constant dynamic relationship between them, as if I were a slider in the positioning of the optical, auditory and temporal, which are in motion but always dynamically interrelated.