SISSV (Proposal)

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Project description for Jorn Instituttet at the Museum Jorn (collaboration with The Gutenberg Galaxy at Blaker)

Books printed in offset are not an entirely new phenomenon, but up until now they have been made to imitate Gutenbergian books. The new freedom offered by this technology will bring us closer in a certain way to medieval manuscripts as well as to the cartoons of Walt Disney, with one essential difference, which I implore you to observe, that this publication is neither for minors nor for priests.
— Letter from Asger Jorn to printers of Mémoires, addressing offset as the end of the Gutenberg era
After we, a couple of days ago, launched our Scandinavian Institute of Contemporary Comparative Vandalism, a lot of people have wondered why we invented this peculiar name, not knowing whether they should take it seriously or not. In the following we shall try to describe the background for our actions as well the appeal of this name in the context of recent cultural, political and technological developments around the world.
— Asger Jorn in 1967, translated and detourned for the purposes of SISSV

In 1965 Asger Jorn closed down the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism (SISV), announcing in the annual report of the institute that the shut-down was temporary and that SISV would reopen in three years’ time. He locked the door of institute, barring Gérard Franceschi from access to the 26.000 photographs he and other photographer’s had been commissioned to take for SISV (the dispute over the legal rights to the images would only be solved decades later). Half a century later we propose a contemporary and temporary re-materialization of SISV, re-opening the gates to the archive and trying to activate its holdings. A decade ago Troels Andersen’s effort to fulfill Jorn’s SISV project resulted in six book volumes, presenting those of Jorn’s image series it was possible to reconstruct (in addition, the pilot volume on the stone sculptures of Scania produced by Jorn in 1965 was re-issued) . Our approach takes great interest in, but will differ from, that “partial completion” of the project. The idea is not to complete an unrealized project, but to explore SISV from a standpoint emphatically rooted in the present (in like manner, Jorn’s interest in the past “10.000 years of Nordic Folk Art” was always motivated by contemporary artistic and political concerns). The Scandinavian Institute of Contemporary Comparative Vandalism (SISSV) regards SISV as a threefold point of departure, namely i) a folded book project, ii) an extensive photographic archive and library of books, iii) a modus operandi for research combining academic approaches with artistic procedures.

Jorn’s own work with the photo archive took place on paper (making photographic prints, ordering them in boxes, collating prints in albums, writing lists and indexes of images and motives, using printed contact sheets as tables upon which he selected and planned the cropping of images, making book dummies etc.), with analogue photography being the enabling technology that allowed him to work towards the construction of a total image of 10.000 years of Nordic Folk Art. Today, digital technologies allow for new ways of handling the material. A prospective digitization of the SISV image archive would transform the archive at every level (inscription, storage, access, indexing, metadata, etc.). Working with the archive before full scale digitization begins, will allow SISSV to consider this work and its implications as well as familiarize itself with other tools and methods than the ones usually on offer. In line with this, our emphasis will be on the experimental and processual, rather than on end results. This emphasis will be evident both in our exploration of the original SISV - focusing, for instance, on Asger Jorn's contact sheets rather than his published books - and in the development of new ideas such as that of a digital contact sheet.

The ideal scenario for the project would include two week long stays at the museum:

  • one week in April to get a clear understanding of the archive's holdings, work on approaches to the archive and do interviews and reserach for bulletin
  • one week during the summer to continue working with the archive and host an open workshop

The output of the project would include an online web log documenting our work and encounter with the archive, an open workshop for the public as well as museum staff, and a bulletin presented either as a "årsberetning" or "meddelelse" from the SISSV (cf. the public relations strategy of the original SISV).

We have a keen interest in the complex history of SISV and how this material has been handled over the years as well the possibilities for its future use. While the precise direction of the project would take form in our actual encounter with the archive, we have sketched some topics and approaches we would be interested in pursuing to give you an idea of the kind of work we have in mind.

The project we propose will:

  • create a series of encounters between the public and the SISV archive, both online and on site
  • create a reflective practice and discourse around the SISV archive today, in a way that should be of crucial interest for the Museum Jorn when thinking about how to handle the archive in the future (for instance related to the question of digitization)

Workshop program

  • Introductory presentation of SISV and SISSV, by Ellef Prestsæter
  • Interactive workshop led by Michael Murtaugh and Nicolas Malevé, with set up of a "digital darkroom"
  • Closing discussion, with Matthew Fuller (leading scholar of digital culture, with great interest for Asger Jorn)

PDF Bulletin - Annual report of the SISSV 2014

A bulletin conceived on the model of SISV's "årsberetninger" and "meddelelser". The PDF will be distributed online and may be translated into Danish and/or printed should the Museum Jorn wish to do so.

  • Interview Troels Andersen about the history of SISV and his own realization of seven volumes of the SISV book project (10.000 years of Nordic folk art) after Jorn's death
  • Essay on contemporary comparative vandalism by Matthew Fuller
  • Introductory essay by Ellef Prestsæter
  • Essay on SISV by Niels Henriksen (who is currently writing a dissertation on SISV at Princeton University)?
  • Documentation of SISSV project

Welcome to the Digital Darkroom

When beginning to work on a digital photographic archive, the temptation is great to replicate already known models. A database with standard field descriptors and an interface for public consultation mimicking the photo album. But the digitization of an image is not only a practical conversion from one format to another, the digitization changes the ontology of the archive itself. A digital archive of photographs is made of objects with very different properties. The DNA of a digital image is a matrix of pixels that can be manipulated mathematically and allows for a very different set of operations than the photographic.

What does it mean to consider a timespan of 10,000 years in the context of computational media where built-in software assumptions may require a year to be represented as a positive number starting from a historically determined point just 2014 years ago?[1] In a time when digital media are being redefined by centralized platforms and ecosystems that first strip away and complicate basic operations such as copying, then sell back designed apps offering "virtual cameras" with built-in filters that apply "vintage" aesthetics to the image, we take a resistive approach that attempts to break open the black boxes of software and return to a situation of working "hands on". Rather than mimic the aesthetics of analog media, how can we re-engage historic material (including its own particularities) actively with contemporary computational media?

In order to sense the possibilities of the digital objects, we propose to engage practically in the main activities related to an image collection: scanning, working with contact sheets, browsing the material, etc. These exercises will take place in the specific environment of a digital darkroom set up for the occasion.

The photographic darkroom comprises the enlarger whose optical lens reverses the photographic exposure, and baths of interacting chemicals to develop and fix the resulting cast images. Throughout, the photographic process remains open to the intervention the photographer / print maker, by varying the timing of exposure, dodging and burning by means of physically blocking the projected light, or by varying the timing or composition of the chemical baths. In this workshop, we aim to construct a digital equivalent of the photographic darkroom, a loop from scanner to digital projector, with algorithmic lenses in place of the optical, and computational processes replacing the chemical. In doing this, the goal is to touch and "smell" the digital, to de-naturalise familiar tools and break open the "black boxes" of software to expose their inner particularities, historicity, and inherent limitations and blind spots, in search of an experience of working "hands on".

Toward a digital contact sheet

Contact sheet

In this project both physical photographic contact sheets and their (digitized) equivalent will be considered. Beyond the scanned digital replica of the photographic contact sheets, what new contact sheets can be created given the possibilities of image manipulation, analysis, indexing and retrieval?

The photographic contact sheet is produced by laying the developed photographic negative (cut in strips) against a sheet of photographic paper, exposing it briefly with light and then developing and fixing the paper. The process reverses the negative image making it's "positive" readable (once fixed) in daylight. Framing the images, the silouette of the negative, with sprocket holes, and textual information such as the frame number or the make of the film is also printed. In addition, the contact sheet provides a literal means of "getting a grip" on a collection of photographic images; the paper becomes a new surface for further annotation with a grease pencil and images can be placed in juxtaposition to others simply with the aid of a pair of scissors. The contact sheet acts therefore not only as a means to preview the images but also as a rudimentary editing tool.

Every act of copying a digital file is a kind of contact print, as the stream of "ones and zeroes" of one storage medium is electronically pressed into the ever-porous binary surface of another. As in the photographic example, metadata accompanies the visual pixels. In contrast to the photographic, primarily algorithmic rather than chemical processes shape the meaning of the recorded bits, and must be continuously applied to "negate" the image and make it once again readable. What, then, is the equivalent of the digital contact sheet — one that provides an overview and gives the viewer a handle to the various potentials of the images? What are the digital equivalents to the scissors and grease pencil to allow the newly projected surfaces to be rewritten and edited?

To scan and skim

The majority of the documents of the SISV collection have not yet been digitized. This gives us the opportunity to watch closely the process of transformation of the images on paper into digital files. The process of digitization of images implies the use of a device commonly called the scanner. The scanner has a role that goes far beyond the transparent copy of an image into a sort of digital equivalent. The scanner defines a workflow and acts as a choreographer. The bodies of the people working in the digitization process are conducted by the scanner. Its technical characteristics imply a certain rhythm: how the photograph can be inserted, the device's speed of acquisition, its light that the eyes must avoid, all of this organize a ballet in slow motion around the device. Most of the scanning programs dramatize the conversion of the analog into digital, the moment of acquisition: the image appears gradually on the computer screen row by row accompanied by a humming sound.

Considering its rhythmic dimension, scanning means more than digital conversion. Scanning seems to have everything to do with slowness and speed, waiting and moving. The meaning of the word itself is paradoxical in this regard: to scan means to examine minutely and also means to look over quickly. Scanning is a redistribution of attention.

What then if we look at the scanner not only as a practical digital photocopier but as a tool that can be extended to look at the entire archive, something that can (make us) scan and skim, minutely observe and look over rapidly. A scanner gone back to its etymological root from the Late Latin scandere "to scan verse". A device trying to mark off verses in digital images, fueling its algorithms with matrices of pixels rather than the metric feet. As we know from poetry, verses are structures aimed at creating an aesthetic effect, but also to create a mnemonic one. How, then, scan the archive to mark off the poetic structures that reveal the mnemonic dimensions of 10.000 years of Nordic folk art?


Honoraria, travel costs, accommodation for core participants: 180,000 DKR

  • Michael Murtaugh = 60,000 DKR
  • Nicolas Malevé = 60,000 DKR
  • Ellef Prestsæter = 60,000 DKR

Other honoraria: 24,000 DKR

  • Matthew Fuller, travel costs,accommodation and honorarium for workshop participation and bulletin essay: 14,000 DKR
  • Honorarium for Bulletin essay (e.g. Niels Henriksen): 4,000 DKR
  • Honorarium designer, bulletin: 6,000 DKR

Equipment and research material, in all: 14,500 DKR

  • 3 scanners à 1500 DKR = 4,500 DKR
  • 2 projectors à 3000 DKR = 6,000 DKR
  • Printed matter / research material: 4,000 DKR

Total: 218,500

About Active Archives

Constant, an association for art and media based in Brussels, started their Active Archives project in 2006. The first principle of the project is to understand the web not simply as a means of distribution, but a space for (collaborative) writing, prototyping, and developing ideas, and from there to investigate how archives can take part in this net-nature. How can archives be active beyond preservation and access? What is necessary not only to give material away but to receive it back transformed? How are files enriched by different connections, contexts and contradictions?

A few projects from the Active Archives history:

- Video wiki: The Active Archives Video Wiki inverts the paradigm of uploading resources into a centralized server and instead allows resources to remain "active", in-place and online. Caching and proxy functionality allow (light-weight) copies of resources to be manipulated and preserved even as the original sources change or become (temporarily) unavailable. Strategically, the project aims to clarify some of the "cloudy" aspects of Web 2.0 regarding issues of licensing, sharing, ownership, access, and longevity of online material. Designed to break open the "black box" of online video, users are encouraged to write with video, creating new compositions made from collages of disparate (online) elements.

- Oral site: Developed together with SARMA and designers Alexandre Leray and Stéphanie Vilayphiou, Oralsite expands the video wiki paradigm into a sophisticated timebased publication platform for a rich variety of material related to choreography and performance.

- Erkki Kurenniemi: In 2048 Commissioned by KURATOR (Joasia Krysa) and dOCUMENTA (13), a series of experiments in connection with the archive of Erkki Kurenniemi, the Finnish artist and technology pioneer of the 1960s. Over the duration of dOCUMENTA (13), Constant explored Kurenniemi's work as a database-body in progress – as a living archive. The experiments include an exploration of computer vision techniques to navigate the photographic archive and a data radio conceived as an algorithmic jukebox for the audio recordings of Kurenniemi.

- Guttorm Guttormsgaard: One of the first steps one makes to understand a series of documents is to order them. Beyond the sense of control it gives, each ordering tells a different story of the archive. Different orderings reveal that we have no direct access to the archive and its documents. We only access it through a dialog with interlocutors. Different orderings make the interlocutors speak to us. The interlocutor doesn't have the truth about the archive, but in conversation with it we may have a chance to discover unexpected connections.

About The Gutenberg Galaxy at Blaker

The Gutenberg Galaxy at Blaker (2013-2014) is an ongoing exhibition project which tries to reimagine book culture – its pasts and possible futures. The point of departure is the so-called archive of the Norwegian artist Guttorm Guttormsgaard, a collection of some 25 000 objects (including a remarkable collection of books and printed matter) he has collected throughout his life and "archived" in his home and studio in Blaker, a small village 30 miles north of Oslo. The participants of the project include Guttorm Guttormsgaard, Constant, the writer Jørn H. Sværen, the artist collective Institutt for degenerert kunst, as well as the following researchers: Wendy Chun (Brown University), Wolfgang Ernst (University of Humboldt, Berlin), Johanna Drucker (UCLA), Matthew Fuller (Goldsmiths College), Ina Blom University of Oslo), and Adrian Johns (University of Chicago). The final show in the series will focus on Asger Jorn’s extensive and innovative production of books, Jorn as an inhabitant of the Gutenberg galaxy. The project is directed and curated by Ellef Prestsæter.


  1. This limitation exists in, for instance the standard Python datetime module where the minimum year is defined to be 1, and the maximum 9999, ironically just short of Jorn's 10,000 year span. Note that the representation favors the future rather than the past.
    Most of these functions and classes rely on the datetime module which uses an idealized calendar, the current Gregorian calendar extended in both directions. This matches the definition of the “proleptic Gregorian” calendar in Dershowitz and Reingold’s book “Calendrical Calculations”, where it’s the base calendar for all computations.

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