FEATURED ARTIST

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PIA VAN GELDER

Born in Australia 1982

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One of the ghosts to whom the future most belongs


Pia van Gelder & Nick Keys

Pia van Gelder, You or Me, 2011. Video performance documentation.

A lady once asked me whether I believed in ghosts and apparitions. I answered with truth and simplicity: No madam! I have seen far too many myself.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend (1809)

As an anticipator she opens a space to it and lets non-human life live. As an operator she gives it face  and eyes but splits the optical input. She turns one eye outward beyond the window and the other eye she faces in on itself.

It's life, then, is permeability. Am I you or me? we imagine it asking, probably thinking – as we often do – that being split causes confusion. But why should identity be of any interest to a creature who's living emphasis is conjunctive?

I rename it: youORme.


This doing of strange things with electric light comes from the night of a past we didn't live. This light no longer comes entirely out of the day, it comes from Hades, from the realm of the dead, from underground: it is an electric light, set free by materials from deep within the belly of the earth.

A decomposed light, that is to say, fossil ghostification. Digitally, it makes the phantoms and phantasms indistinct.

Providing real-time communication with disembodied agencies she allowed spirits of the dead to come to life, crystallizing in a population of ghosts who communicate by taps through the medium. Electrical and animal magnetism have never been more intimately connected and mysteriously interchangeable.

She adds its own spectral effects, the layers of uncanny channelings and associated ghostly activities. This is why I say that she is one of the ghosts to whom the future most belongs.

This glass is a support. It's not made to preserve memories, it's made to drink water. And you have not had a drink. But this glass will permit understanding of how people lived.

In essence: tekhne is memory-support. And this means technics is the constitution of the relation to the past.
 

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Text by Nick Keys, artist and writer

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SUPERKALEIDOSCOPE PRESENT EMERGING Australian ARTIST PIA VAN GELDER

Pia van Gelder currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

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Kim Fasher talks to Pia Van Gelder, artist, musician, machine maker and Overlord of Dorkbot Sydney: a regular meeting for 'people doing strange things with electricity'.

KF: How did you and Nick Keys start your conversation about machines and haunted media?

PVG: We started somewhere along the line talking about ghosts and technology. We actually started our friendship on gmail-chat, g-chat. A couple of weeks before Nick went away, we met in the park across the road to keep talking about ghosts and technology. He had gone through all of our g-chat conversations and put it into a word document which amounted to thirty thousand words!

KF: Wow, a little dissertation....

PVG: It's insane, it doesn't even feel like we've spent that much time talking about it,  its just been happening naturally. We both have different opinions about it. He comes at it from a different perspective, but we're both very interested in where the two theories meet and we appreciate where the other one's coming from...it's nice to know someone's that close to where you're thinking.

KF: So what's your theory?

PVG: I can be a sceptic at times, but my fathers side of the family are all mystics, they're all theosophists. They're really into learning about different religions and philosophies, “in the pursuit of divine knowledge”. They, since my great grandfather, have sat around in circles in Holland, in Indonesia, in India, in Australia, and England, and America and Canada (they moved around a lot), talking about different philosophies and incorporating ideas of healing and eastern philosophy into the west. My grandfather was originally trained as an electrical engineer.

KF: Is this where all the tinkering comes from? Were you, as a child, surrounded by people who were playing with machines?

PVG: No, not at all, although my mother is an artist so she was always encouraging me, and she was also really interested in objects, not in her own practice, but just as a....she has an obsession, she's a hoarder. She has an obsession with strange objects and their lives.

KF: That they have a life of their own. You mean like the anthropomorphising of objects?

PVG: Yes .... this natural animism....so there's that, and then my grandfather: he didn't invent but he extended and worked on machines that already existed, that were meant for healing with electricity. So those two together I think is where my influences stem from: objects and machines are alive, and they have the power to connect with humans, we can have relationships with them. That's sort of my theory.

KF: So you feel that they are more alive whereas Nick's saying there's some kind of ghost in the machine?

PVG: (Nick is saying) they maybe retain fragments of humanity, they maybe hold that energy. Whereas, I think it's actually their energy, and I try and release that energy.

KF: You're like the medium or the channeller?

PVG: (Laughs) it's also really zany and I have to take a step back every now and then and go oh my god, if I don't watch out, I'll be sixty years old and wearing a big tie die moo moo and talking in tongues.

KF: One of the other things I wanted to talk about was your work in SuperKaleidoscope's last show Spectacle/Obstacle, exploring synaesthesia and the psychological relationship between colour and sound. Would you like to talk about Video Bell - Rimington Scales and what informed it?

PVG: When I went about putting it together it happened in stages: There's the instrument, or the machine, or the system, that's been built to play with, and then there's the composition, and the composition is really minimal. It's like a whole bunch of things which I've been making at the moment which are really minimal. They do hinge on the relationship between colour and sound, but also the reason that they are so stripped back, is so that the system, the machine that is performing or that you're collaborating with, can also reveal its own language on top of it. So you have that interference and strange lines, that you create when you move the bells around, that language is the machine's language. And then there's the composition which goes underneath. I feel like they are sort of removed. They do relate to each other on an immediate level but they're sort of separate things. I don't know if people notice that.

KF: Where do you find your old objects, because all of your machines are made from old objects aren't they?

PVG: Yeah mostly well some of them are made from cheap electronics. A lot of the earlier stuff I made was about really cheap electronics and opening them up and making them really weak and vulnerable. That's similar to the Rimington Scales work. The internal structure is like an open circuit, or 6 open circuits. It's like you open up a part of a human or a robot, (say across one panel of the arm) and leave it open, but it's still all functioning and working (and you can see this). It's less obvious in Rimington Scales and the Bell Series but with the AV harp it's really obvious that's what's going on. I think that's what I like about it; that by stripping them back and opening them up to the environment, and to humans, you're putting them on the line.

KF: I'm picturing your machines in a whole different way now, like a body on the operating table that's anesthetised but still conscious.

PVG: That makes me feel like a serial killer or something

KF: I was thinking more like a mad scientist, Frankenstein style.

PVG: But I think I keep trying to find a way, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to successfully do this, I'm trying to do this in my thesis: it's less about exposing in a negative way and more about liberating.

KF: Liberating the machines.

PVG: Somehow opening them up to reveal their true nature, their internal nature, and not the nature they are engineered for. Maybe the engineers are the serial killers or more like the slave drivers. They are creating these slaves. Like the tv, when it tries to express things it’s not engineered to express you get the “blue screen of death”.

KF: Blue screen of death?

PVG: Yeah, you can't get static any more; bad reception. As television design has updated, and the same thing with radios. There is this thing called a “bad signal” and it's actually censored. The engineer is censoring the machine. In radio there's a huge history about how those “bad signals” relate to ghosts; of how all of those strange signals in between where the channels lie, possibly have some meaning that we don't know about; that they are the way we access the ether or chaos. So if the TV and the radio now block this out, then we no longer have any access to it and neither does the machine or this medium.

KF: People in general are just becoming more and more removed from their machines. Everybody used to understand the workings of machines and be able to fix them and now nobody cares and their personalities are hidden.

PVG: Yeah or we just don't communicate with them.

KF: I've found a new love of machines.

PVG: Yes, you've got to get into them.
 

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SuperKaleidoscope kindly thank Pia van Gelder & Nick Keys for their contributions.

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© All Images are courtesy of the artist.

 


This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

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Each month SuperKaleidoscope will feature an emerging artist selected by the directors and committee.

If you would like to make a submission please contact the SK Directors.
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