The essay was initially published in the exhibition catalogue of Jure Kastelic‘s exhibition, entitled Pretty Loops, at Photon – Center for Contemporary Photography, Ljubljana and Lamut’s Art Salon, Kostanjevica na Krki (16 March – 16 April 2016). Translation by Sunčan Stone.
With the appearance of digital technologies, their speedy development and almost total domination over everyday life during the second decade of the 21st century, the creation of images has changed, especially in photography which is the most commonly used medium. The transition into the digital sphere not only made things easier for the users, as it optimised, shortened and drastically reduced the costs of the process, but also opened new possibilities for its distribution, which became fast, instantaneous and on a mass scale, as the World Wide Web became an immeasurable storage of images and contents. This new world imminently led to changes in social, economic and cultural paradigms, which are probably most daringly reflected in art. “In the history of human culture there is no example of a conscious adjustment of the various factors of personal and social life to new extensions except the puny and peripheral efforts of artists,” wrote Marshall McLuhan in his important work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published in 1964. While the majority of the population gets used to new acquisitions gradually, artists can use them and try them out in unconventional ways, even if merely on a fictitious level. The artist often stares into the future through the present. Thus numerous creative individuals, such as writers, artists, musicians or scientists, consider the actual changes that the new technologies bring into human lives and bodies without any reservations and consequences. “Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extension of man—the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and nerves by the various media,” ascertained McLuhan, as he incorporated numerous types of communication media into this category, which has been developing through the centuries and gradually changed society: printing, telegraph, radio and television. Of course, the World Wide Web needs to be added to this list for it currently represents the ultimate medium in the contemporary world.
The internet phenomenon is linked to numerous contemporary aids for everyday use, without which it is practically impossible to imagine life even though they have been in use for a mere decade. The emergence of smart devices has not merely changed the habits of the users, but has also greatly influenced the basic operation of the media itself. A photograph produced by an average smart phone is no longer a classical optical transformation of reality, but is, to a great extent, comprised of artificially generated pixels. The device simply scans the images stored on the user’s device and social networks. The image is partially constructed on the basis of the existing memory of the device, which foresees what the user wishes to see with certain reliability.1 Due to the endless possibilities it enables, digital technology has become truly ambivalent, for it enables new possibilities of image creation or manipulation. However, most users keep using conventional photography methods for representing reality and marking everyday life, while only rare users test the boundaries of the technology’s capabilities and appearance forms.
Jure Kastelic has dedicated his creativity to the numerous possibilities and dilemmas of digital media, photographs as well as other visual means of expression. His images are not representations of reality, but an analysis of the state of mind. He addresses the world surrounding him, i.e. the global village connected with endless cables and signals that create the virtual space beyond the physical one, without excessive emotional and ideological assumptions. The artist creates the contents of his work almost exclusively from found images. At the beginning of his creative path he might have ironically considered mass communication media, which enabled new possibilities for mankind, but this was soon followed by a phase in which he focused on a more in-depth research of its structure and meaning. Currently he is dedicated to the idea of interaction between various users and the phenomenon of looping and exponential layering of contents.
Tracker (2014-2016), a part of a multilayered and long-lasting activity developed in constant interaction with engaged users, represents the central piece of the exhibition. The work emerged when Kastelic offered seven photographs from his intimate album to the internet community and allowed it to intervene with digital drawings. The images of a girl in and next to an idyllic pool have become a platform for anonymous interventions, most of which are on the level of the most primary non-character form of expression. He saved the drawings, selected and published them and thus started a new cycle of interventions. He entered the obtained image into an internet search engine, which first found the key words and then the corresponding image. This process can potentially go on forever, however the artist stopped it by fixing it onto a physical form. With this he created a system in which every action starts a new one and thus creates an endless loop, which is stopped only when the drawings are physical framed into an object. From the virtual back to the physical.
The project Himalayans (2015) also focuses on the internet phenomenon. This project includes the best and most detailed publically accessible photographs of the Himalayas and searches for different forms and figures through a series of quick associations. It seeks for human faces amongst the faceless masses of unspoilt nature. His new work Video Lullaby (2016) was created especially for this exhibition. The work toys with the influence visual media has on the mood of an individual. The artist offered a recording of waves that keep monotonously hitting against the sea coast, to a selected public, which recorded their reactions while watching it (after he had performed this himself). Using tools such as looping, layering and accelerating he attempted to encourage boredom and consequentially stimulate continuous yawning caused by the monotonous image.
Following the characteristics of new technologies Kastelic’s work Stones (2016) addresses the creation of objects in a continuous process of distorting images on a smart device’s screen. The process starts with an empty screen, a generic background of the device, practically with nothing, however this changes through constant photography and scanning. One error is applied on top of another. With this process Kastelic creates completely new textures and constructions, that he then prints, cuts and in the end shapes into objects. The entire process takes place rather arbitrarily, without a previous plan or final goal, in a way letting technology take over, which makes the classic (narrative) content disappear completely and inevitably become connected to its form. The medium turns into a message.
In this process the artist subconsciously followed McLuhan’s theory, which states that the medium is pure information without a message: “…This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is content of the telegraph. /…/ This fact merely underlines the point that “the medium” is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human associations and actions.” Regardless of its contents the media thus marks and forms an individual.
Today it is expected that numerous artists will critically address the overabundance of communication media in the public sphere. However, Kastelic does not blindly follow this pattern. At first sight it appears that he is primarily fascinated by the possibilities of their use and reach. However, he detects a certain amount of scepticism and healthy distance in the constantly evolving technologies and he always addresses this through humour and irony. Pretty Loops are thus not always necessarily pretty by today’s standards, however they are predominantly an unadorned reflection of the reality as it is here and now. The exhibition is a result of the subjective analysis of contemporary visual and communication means that the artist has performed with a continuous public action through which he observed and mediated the virtual (but ever so real) interactions with other users or the device itself.