Erkki Kurenniemi: In 2048 (Logbook Prologue)

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This text appeared originally here:
NB: Figures are missing from this version, see the above link for the complete essay.


Sniff and sneak through my archives

‘(6/24/1996 9:44pm, Personal)” Will she (either of them) share the love of pornography? Or at least, art? I shall present myself to both of them as a geniality self-flagellat%n machine. Just one bottle tonight, ok? I shall invite them on to my journey of change, showing the way ahead. Immortality. I will let them to sniff and sneak through my archives.

KURATOR working with dOCUMENTA (13) commissioned Constant to develop a prototype online archive project in collaboration with the Central Art Archive of the Finnish National Gallery. The project relates to the work of Erkki Kurenniemi, pioneering electro acoustic musician and inventor of early synthesizers, who has obsessively documented his life.

Erkki Kurenniemi has documented his life but not archived it in any traditional sense, and didn’t develop a systematic model for what he calls a template for all human life (reference needed). In his profound techno-enthusiasm, he relies on future quantum computers to make sense of it all. By 2048, Erkki states that the technology will be ready for the advent of this new artificial form of intelligence. The quantum computer will sort by itself the documents he has been recording, capturing, filming, photographing, drawing, and talking about.[1]

We have no quantum computers to make sense of it all today yet a series of circumstances have given the project of archiving Kurenniemi’s work some urgency. On the one hand, different important institutions of the art world have recently shown a growing interest in his career (Documenta, Kunsthal Aarhus, Kiasma, etc). On the other, the health condition of Erkki who suffered from a stroke a few years ago and that severely affected his ability to speak is a concern. According to his own wishes, the entire collection of documents he was keeping in his apartment has been transferred to the Central Art Archive of the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki.

An archive is about to begin.

Usually when invited to work on an archive, the material has been already processed, ordered, and a classification scheme is more or less decided. Our role as “active archivists” is often to negotiate between the classifying scheme already in place and the resistance of the data to comply with it. In this case, however, it is left to us to investigate the material and try to understand its specific character and qualities.

Therefore this text will not describe an archive but a speculation on the nature of the material that constitute it, as well as a series of reflections and experiments on how to approach it.

Different orders coexist

The first object we encountered was a hard drive edged in elastic orange plastic, advertised to be able to survive drops of two meters, a claim we did not test. It had been prepared for us by prepared by Perttu Rastas of the Finnish National Gallery. While still in Helsinki, we begin our work by unpacking it.

Kurenniemi's files (in progress) on a 1TB drive

While its contents are particular to Kurenniemi, the physical form and organization mirror a problem increasingly familiar to any personal digital archive; with snapshots of one device poured onto the next device with more storage space, the process repeated over time to form a tangle of nested digital histories, including duplications, empty folders, and a mix of unique self-made documents and backups of software programs and downloads. The disk contains a huge amount of photographs made during the whole of Erkki’s life with a variety of cameras and with a surprising intensity which inspired us to run our first experiment on the photographic material.

In addition to the digital files, the disk’s content includes digitized materials from various analog media (C-60 cassette tapes, Hi8 and DV tapes). Copying the files proved to be non trivial as differences in hard drive formats caused some strange behaviors when copying.

While there is no clear organization in the different elements rescued from backup drives and workstations of Erkki, it doesn’t mean no ordering was present. On the contrary, many orders coexist. The hierarchical folder organization of the file system, the documents in hypertext, groups of photographs selected to make a photo-CD, folders containing downloaded documents thematically arranged (‘Net Art’ contains reproductions of paintings downloaded from websites, ‘Old Porn’ contains reproductions of early 20th century erotic photographs, etc), photographs grouped by people, by travel destinations, collections of auto-portraits, etc. What those attempts at grouping, organizing have in common is that they are all abandoned for the next one and Erkki doesn’t look back. The material is therefore ordered in an ad hoc fashion; when a specific task requires it, but never in its globality. Erkki doesn’t believe in organizing schemes, taxonomies in the long run, or perhaps simply didn’t care.

The drive doesn’t contain only the collections made by Kurenniemi but also a series of collections that helped prepare the exhibitions of Kurenniemi’s work. The curated selections carefully isolate his experimental filmic production from the rest. And finally, we can find a series of files related to The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, a documentary made by Mika Taanila, as a portrait of Erkki.

Between the eclectic, incomplete and contradictory classifications of Erkki himself, the curatorial approach of the film critic or the biographical one of the documentary maker, we felt uncomfortable. We needed a more basic starting point but to be able to describe it we need now to make a detour.

Data laundry

When one prepares clothes for the washing machine, one applies an order prescribed by technology. One needs to classify the clothes: by color, resistance to temperature, quality (fragile or not), etc. One needs to sort out very differently the same clothes whether they are going into the washing machine or when they are on their way to the wardrobe or chest of drawers. The way of sorting imposed by the machine contrasts with the organization one finds in the closet or the wardrobe where it matters if you hang or fold them. In wardrobes and cupboards multiple partial orders coexist. We separate according to seasons, by types of clothing (usually trousers and shirts are hanging while socks and underwear are folded in the drawers), by size and owners (the members of a couple or a family have a proper space for their clothes even when they share the same storage space). All these conditions are abolished when it comes to the laundry: we mix adult and children clothes, everyone’s socks are put together. Chromatic compatibilities become more important than gender divisions, dresses and trousers, bras and boxer shorts go together if they fit the “program” and withstand being washed at the same temperature.

The controls of the machine describe a clothing taxonomy that differs from the one of the wardrobe. And once the clothes are hanging for drying, we see a sample of the clothes collection that differs from the impression we have when opening the wardrobe. These are cross-sections: all the white delicate garments aligned, all the colors at 30 degrees, etc. Every time one hangs the laundry, it is a partial image of the recent past that is brought back to the memory. The laundry like the other tasks of housekeeping takes place in the wider economy. It is integrated in the rhythm of daily life. We do the laundry xx times a week and the machine should be filled to avoid wasting money and doing harm to the environment. The double constraint of the program (a given selection of clothes must support the same temperature and speed) and the time necessary to “fill” a machine (to have enough of compatible clothes) produces temporal and visual cross sections that makes us look at our clothes collection in new ways.

Therefore if we pay attention more radically to the materiality of the clothing rather than to its aesthetics or comfort we can rediscover it. Now that we are at the edge of the archive (like at the edge of a dense forest), we are intensely interested in the most prosaic qualities of the material given to us. With the same attention we consider the clothes before putting them in the machine, we try to learn to look at the images not according to their external description, their stories, but according to their internal composition (are they delicate? Are they chromatically compatible?) and we try to learn how to discover similarities between new sets treated by the same “program”.

An image in conversation

In our first exploration of the material, we therefore don’t rely on an external set of metadata coming from a reliable source of reference. This doesn’t mean we lack information about the data, the images, the sounds or the texts. We may lack contextual information, social historical information, but the files themselves contain their own metadata, their own composition, their own structure, etc. We cannot directly access these structures just by looking with our eyes, we need intermediaries. These intermediaries, our extra senses to “read” the images will be algorithms. What we will try to do is to show, invite others into the dialogue between these intermediaries and ourselves.

Doing so means to challenge dominant modes of representation of the data, namely ‘direct’ representation (Image display) or literary descriptions of the data (Grouping & Retrieval via metadata/tags). More often than not, image databases reach their climax when they display the image in high resolution: here comes the Image. With the appropriate description that underlines what one needs to ‘read’ in the image, and the invitation to access similar images based on their place in a taxonomy, image databases are caught in a recursive conceptual loop: an image is an image is an image. In the iterations of this loop, the data is reduced to its classification. We have not made an interface to the files as “originals”, rather we have approached the materials through the use of tools as interlocutors.

But the fate of an image is not necessarily the traditional illusionist representation. It can be a lot of things: an interpreted composition of pixels, a collection of statistics, lines of contours or directions, a music score, a legal reference, or all of this together. Furthermore the possibilities of connection between images are far richer than the mere parallel story told by a taxonomy (or folksonomy).

An image is not a black hole whose meaninglessness has to be redeemed by a story. Given the right intermediaries, what if we could turn pixels into interlocutors? What if various agents, computer programs, specialized in counting, layering, detecting faces, skin and colors, could look at a photograph and report back to us? What if our intermediaries could narrate their story of the picture?

Imagine a picture

Imagine a picture. An horizontal picture of 2592 pixels wide and of 1944 pixels height. Its print size is 36×27 inches.

The picture was taken on the 06th of November 2004 at 21h56:37. The document set contains 45732 pictures by Erkki Kurenniemi for the year 2004. Erkki took 223 pictures in 2004 between the hours of 9 and 10pm. Of the 45732 pictures present in the dataset, Erkki took 33712 at night.

In the folder where this file is located, there are 28 other pictures. They have been taken between 21h56:32 and the next day at 19h21:18. The folder Harrin bileet can be seen as a sequence of 21 hours 24 minutes 46 seconds of the life of a man of 63 years and 4 months at the date the picture was taken. It took 10 of a 400th second for the camera to take the picture. The blink of an eye.

This picture has been taken with a SONY camera. We have no details about the orientation of the camera.

The camera stores the pictures on an internal memory card. It names them following the pattern DSCN four digits and the extension.JPG where the four digits represent the number of the file. The file we are concerned with is named DSC02048.JPG. A search for the same filename in our local computer gives 5 results. The search took 0m 23.009s. In the 5 results, one image is the exact copy of the picture. It belongs to a folder that contains 29 images, the exact same amount of pictures as in the picture folder.

The format of the picture is a JPG standing for Joint Photographic Experts Group. When compressing the jpeg format, the resolution of the color data is reduced, usually by a factor of 2. The Joint Photographic Experts Group thinks that the eye is less sensitive to fine color details than to fine brightness details.

The colorspace of the picture is RGB. It contains 3 components Red, Green and Blue. The components are evenly distributed. The standards deviations are close to the means. The kurtosis and the skeweness of the components indicate an even distribution of the left tail and the right tail of the values. Therefore the image doesn’t show big contrasts and is dark. It is probably taken in an interior or in the shadow. Most of the images of the folder follow the same pattern.

The level of skin colors is low, there is probably no nudity in the image. Or at least, nudity is not the main subject of the picture. In opposition to 63 percent of the pictures that contain a significant amount of skin colors. Two photographs in the same folder contain a large percentage of skin colors in their center. They are taken at 23h41 and 23h42, one hour and 45 minutes after the picture.

There are 172 corners present. This level indicates that the picture may have been taken in a built environment. There are 3 faces positioned at (xx,xx), (xx,xx) and (xx,xx). They occupy a portion of xx% of the image. One at the lower left corner and two in the upper half of the image. The distance between the tree rectangles is in average xxx. The people are close without touching each other. The proximity of the photographer and the position of the face in other pictures prove that the photographer moves easily among the circle of people photographed.

It is dark now. It is the end of an evening of November 2004. And the face in the center of the image receives more light than the one next to it at the right side. Two hands are close to the second face poorly lit. An image begins to form in the back of your mind, and we have only started counting.

Viewed through the lens of an algorithm

To consider an algorithm as an interlocutor implies an intense negotiation. Indeed for a computer program, a text, an image, a blank screen are all represented at the lowest level as zeros and ones. By using file formats, we give the programs a taxonomy of objects with which it can interact. A text format will allow the processing of lines, verbs and expressions, while an image format allows the processing of colors, contours, shapes. On Erkki’s hard drive, we found many files saved in “historical” formats and regularly transformed and exported. Through the various transformations, the taxonomy of the file changes. A text can behave as an image or an image can masquerade as a text.

The file format is not an arbitrary organization of data coming from a purely speculative view of the world. A file format is usually created and used because it is adapted to certain devices and to certain usage. When we delegate our vision to a series of algorithms and programs, we begin to realize the complexity of the connections that bind the format together, the device and the use.

In 1993, Apple released the Newton MessagePad, the first so-called “Personal Digital Assistant”. A kind of forerunner to today’s smart/i phones, the device worked as a kind of virtual notepad, allowing free-form entry of both texts and drawings mixed together on the same virtual page. The user wrote with a plastic pen-like stylus, the movements digitized and converted into “electronic ink” and each note stamped with a date and time. The devices handwriting recognition software converted the user’s writing into text on-the-fly, a famously buggy process that became (to Apple’s chagrin) synonymous with the product. However, with some practice and patience, the device was said to “learn” from its user, and (more effectively) a compliant user could adapt his or her own writing to the device. Erkki was perfect for this kind of digital symbiosis and gave himself over fully to the machine.

2/24/94 11:45 pm Home again. One glass and one attempt to install Newton software on Mac. Tammikuu 1994 Oh shit, the software is on high density floppies. Which means I shall instead take Newton to bed with me to see if it fulfils the basic need, why I bought it in the first place..” 5/9/94 8:26 pm Good that I masturbated already. I must take the particle sheets and consider each case separately again. Have thought about calling the cannabis supply. A fax went, I hope, to Mr Fantini. The beard is somewhat unpleasant. She closed the far side kitchen door. Newton seems to replace smoking. I can imagine a backlit colour Newton. Maybe a short walk after they leave. Both have pissed now. The blonde … Today I intend to buy a bottle of wine. Very slowly I am beginning to understand the page layout logic of Newton.

Between 1994 and 1996 Kurenniemi wrote copious notes on the Newton. Between business meetings, on trains, in bed at night, Kurenniemi pushed the portability of the device to the edge, despite its somewhat ungainly size and lack of backlighting (he talks of needing a new bedside lamp to help him to note at night). Clearly the device excited Kurenniemi and his use is at least in part driven by this excitement. The messages are short, typically written in between his other activities in the day and often used to comment upon them.

Kurenniemi’s Newton notes reminds the reader of Kurenniemi’s prescience. Not just regarding surface details (like his anticipation of a backlit color screen which or course maps neatly to todays “retinal” smartphone displays), but also in terms of his use of the device, literally taking it to bed with him, and its ritual use, like cigarettes, to compulsively document things with short notes that mix personal and public spheres. The texts have a clear relation with today’s “tweets” or micro-blogging practices.

It’s also striking how the Newton feeds Kurenniemi’s compulsions; the use of the Newton is itself a kind of “new drug” (replacement to smoking) in addition to a tool to procure more substances (he’s using the Newton’s capacity for sending fax documents to arrange some cannabis delivery). At times, the line between substance and software, device and user blurs: “Newton had recognition problems, hangover I must have changed settings last night. Now a few more pages.”

Today the Newton device is part of computer history. If we want to access the data, read the text, contemplate the images we can’t work directly with the format it was originally saved into. We need to work on files transferred into more contemporary formats. The exports that are on the hard drive are formatted as pdf. One of the particularities of the pdf format is that it can hold together texts and bitmap images well as vector graphics. To give the same experience to a human reader as one could have had from reading from the device, the pdf format is the format of choice. Perhaps Erkki was drawn to it as it used the same gestures as to draw/sketch and write. The device had to guess from his handwriting what glyph he was drawing on the screen. For him drawing or writing was all about tracing. The pdf preserves this continuity between the different forms of inputs. (The device would not force the user to type on keys for writing and switch to the stylus for the graphics.)

To access these elements with a computer algorithm we need to access all this information. An obvious starting point would be to try to query the textual entries of the logbook. For this we need to perform a series of operations that turn the content of the pdf into an object that a program can interpret as text and therefore query. The Linux system offers a series of utilities that once chained together allow to perform the necessary operations for the textification of the Newton’s output.

Grep is one of the basic “command-line” tools provided in GNU/Linux; one “pipes” a file into it with some textual pattern to search for something and the program outputs only those lines containing the text to the screen, highlighting in color the matches. The following figure shows how we use the tool on a text dump (itself obtained by another utility that extracts just the text content from the pdf), and search for the term “Newton”:

When we want to access the sketches embedded in the same files, we face a harder problem. Indeed for our computer vision algorithms to analyze/read an image, these must be exported in a format that it can understand as an image. But, if there are libraries that dump the text out of a pdf, we couldn’t find any that would reliably extract the vectors to transform them in a bitmap format suited for our computer vision tasks. We had to follow another approach. As it was impossible to isolate the vectors alone, we decided to export the whole pdf as an image. The question was now how to isolate the regions in these images where the vector drawings were located from the parts where the text was reproduced.

We begun to watch the files we produced in the company of Opencv. Opencv doesn’t properly read text, but scans/computes bitmap images. We needed to come up with a working definition in visual terms of what constiutes a vector image in the context of our document set. The test we wanted to submit the images to was the following: if there is a certain amount of horizontal lines in the image, therefore the zones where they are concentrated contain text, and when there is a significant amount of non-horizontal lines, there is a strong chance that we have located a the representation of a sketch. Through the intermediary of the Opencv library we could borrow the concept of a line as defined by Paul Hough. We used a function, cvHoughLines2, that allows to track optimally the different lines present in an image. This function is named after a patent introduced in 1962 by Paul Hough, and later refined, improved and transformed several times before having the form we know today in computer vision.

In automated analysis of digital images, a subproblem often arises of detecting simple shapes, such as straight lines, circles or ellipses. In many cases an edge detector can be used as a pre-processing stage to obtain image points or image pixels that are on the desired curve in the image space. Due to imperfections in either the image data or the edge detector, however, there may be missing points or pixels on the desired curves as well as spatial deviations between the ideal line/circle/ellipse and the noisy edge points as they are obtained from the edge detector. For these reasons, it is often non-trivial to group the extracted edge features to an appropriate set of lines, circles or ellipses. The purpose of the Hough transform is to address this problem by making it possible to perform groupings of edge points into object candidates by performing an explicit voting procedure over a set of parameterized image objects (Shapiro and Stockman, 304).[2]

The presence of non-horizontal lines give us a hint to select the pages with images.

Opencv traces the lines detected over the image. Non horizontal lines are detected when there is a drawing.

In the last figure, the pages that only contain horizontal lines are discarded.

The algorithm makes a selection of the pages of interest (most likely to contain drawings).

This long example of our itinerary through the Newton logbook gives an idea of the long dialogue that happens between different instances and algorithms when we want to delegate our vision to a computer program. Along the way, what is considered an image or a text is recoded and redefined many times. Depending on the question we want to ask, a text can be a series of glyphs detected from handwriting, a character stream that can be parsed for the presence of a word or a horizontal line. An image can be a series of vectors captured from the movement of the stylus, an information hard to access embedded deep down in the pdf format or a region of a bitmap that contains a significant amount of non-horizontal lines.

We realize how the definition of an image is becoming very dependent on the definition of data, format, on the configuration of the file at the bit level. The questions we ask about the images are framed and influenced by these possible definitions. But what we are learning here would be too limited if we couldn’t connect it to other dimensions. The focus in detail on the pixel organization, the embedded metadata, the internal redefinition of the image taxonomy are only of interest of they are connected back to the practices, social interactions and utopias in which these images are integrated.

The divisible present

The overwhelming number of photographs produced by Erkki give the impression that the world is constituted by an infinite series of images that surround him, and that he simply isolates, then frames. Immersed in a visual stream, his camera naturally continues (‘prolonge’) his eyes and periodically records it. As his eye blinks the camera’s shutter opens and closes. The camera becomes an extension of his retina. It also becomes a pressure meter that records the pulse of his ‘imaging’ activity. When he buys a VHS camera, the sensation is even stronger. No editing, long shots, camera in hand following his eye. He doesn’t look to film, his look films.

Erkki is not a reporter of his life. A reporter is an external agent that ‘covers’ an event. Erkki doesn’t cover his life, he is enveloped in it, and this envelope is an image stream.

Looking at the myriads of photographs, hours of unedited films one irresistibly feels the utopia of a divisible present, a present that can be archived while living it, the possibility of an archive in the present tense.

Therefore, even when their sexual charge is strong, the visual recordings are not so much about vision as they are about time. Looking for ‘good’ photographs, one would be disappointed. Most of them are mundane, they belong to established genres without challenging them: family scenes, erotic games, travel, etc. Although a digital pioneer, Erkki doesn’t seem interested in testing the possibilities of what a digital image could mean. He uses cameras as a ‘power user’, taking advantage of the built-in features, but rarely questions the way the digital visual workshop (camera, editing suite, bitmap editors) mimics the analog tradition of working with photography. Looking at it, the interest lies elsewhere. The camera acts as a clock [1]. But a clock that measures a particular time, the time of a divided present [2], a present which is simultaneously lived and deferred.

But the idea of a divisible present is a utopia, a fantasy. The nature of what we live changes when we record it. There is no seamless archiving. One never looks enough at the photographer’s body. We do not walk the same way when we take pictures every two minutes, we never drive a car the same way when we film and sexual arousal is heavily conditioned by the presence of the camera. The photographer’s body is always dancing, always adjusting to a frame, it also acquires a form of transparency, a diminished presence. It is there but to a lesser degree.

Where are you, Erkki? – In the picture.

This is why the camera is such an important device. It conditions the mode of presence of the photographer and his ‘subjects’. A device that allows us to take lots of pictures very fast implies a different mode of presence, of distance, more than a camera that allows only for a few shots and forces long pauses. To see the photograph we have just taken through the camera’s built-in viewer shows the event as already past while we are still living it.

When one takes pictures occasionally, this feels like a minor constraint, quickly brushed away from consciousness. But for Erkki who obsessively pictured his life, what looked to be a constraint may have become a key element, a deep motivation behind this large enterprise. Instead of being there two times, once in the present and once in the future, Erkki’s motivation could have been to disappear from both? Living one’s private life under the eye and through the filter of the camera implies to take a distance from it, to carve oneself out of it, at least partially. The experience of a recorded present is never accomplished until the recording is being watched. But when it is being watched, the present is already past.

Erkki filmed a series of erotic games with his different partners. Most of them contain the same ingredients that further complicate his relationship to time. The film begins with a discussion between him and his partner. It is a moment of anticipation and negotiation. Then the erotic scene begins. During the discussion the bodies are relaxed and behave freely, when the sex scene begins the movements become mechanical. The attention of Erkki goes to the framing. In the middle of the act, he changes the angle of the camera, and corrects the position of his partner’s body. The arousal seems absent in the scene. It is there latently during the preliminary discussion and probably later in watching the film. But did he really watch it?

We would make a mistake if we think that, in contrast to Erkki’s attitude towards presence, we could refer to a ‘normal’ sense of presence in the present: to an unmediated, integral presence. Nothing as such exists either. We are always anticipating and deferring, missing the presence. But if we all ‘live with it’, Erkki has articulated his life around it and explored the full consequences of the utopia of a divisible present in both existential and technological terms.

Films, images and videos, here, are time capsules. But not of any time, but the time of a deferred, diminished presence. To begin an archive based on documents of such a nature means first to negotiate a debt. An archive would need to give back the presence that Erkki took away from his life moment by moment. Archives are always summoned to give back time. But what if they are asked to give back presence?

Shared objects

When starting an archive project, one reveals the sociality inherent in the documents. All items in an archive are shared objects. They are produced in a transaction, through collaboration with instruments (pen, paper, camera, recorder, etc), software agents (programs, algorithms) and people. Every object embeds a web of relationships, and these relationships are framed by the law.

By making an integral documentation of his life through different media, Erkki generated an impressive amount of shared objects. The different people, and instruments will have their say in how the images, sound files may be communicated. At this early stage, the identification of these relationships has hardly begun. The law therefore acts as a filter through the intermediary of the lawyer and policies of the Finnish Archive. A shared object cannot be published until its different co-owners are identified and have reached an agreement. A dialogue in which the lawyers will connect each item to different articles of the Finnish Law (and probably international law) regarding privacy, copyright, etc.

The gray literature of database culture deserves our attention as much as the prosaic aspect of bit-level organization. The legal documents, the agreements between the different stakeholders are not mere obstacles to overcome as quickly as possible to obtain the most complete visibility of the documents gathered and produced by Kurenniemi. The strength of the legal approach is that it forces us to consider the images as sites of attachment for various people. Therefore when legal protocols forbid the publication of the images until the people who are pictured have been contacted, the effect is not only hiding, it is also showing. It forces us to reconsider the image not as a given object that has been captured and framed, but as a connector, a shared object where the author does not possess all the rights.

Through the legal imperative of contacting the involved parties in the image, the deferred presence comes back with a vengeance. The (mostly) women who implicitly agreed to be filmed in the context of a shared event may well refuse to allow these images to be shown publicly. If Erkki’s presence was deferred, their refusal may as well be. They may have accepted what the photograph was doing in the present, but refuse once the photograph becomes an image, to be held prisoner by the reference.

Therefore the problem with privacy law is not that it re-opens the negotiation over the image, that it re-attaches the images to more people than their owner or producer. The problem comes with how it is responded to. If the response to the legal imperative is to divide the set of documents between the “safe” documents and the “problematic” ones, to publish the first and hide the last, then a demarcation line is produced. This line follows the division between what is private and what is public. The exact division that Erkki has questioned all his life is recorded on the same tape, in the same movement his sexual life, his meetings at work, his family meetings, his travels, his talks and his logbook. Another response would be algorithmic and often suggested by lawyers: to blur the parts of the images where somebody can be identified. But what can lead to identification? How far do the traces of the reference in the picture extend? And when blurring, what else do we show other than the sad spectacle of censorship?

Looking at the high definition version of a photograph is only one way to form an image in the back of our mind. If the condition for having a “retinal” access to the documents is to articulate the archive around the private and the public realm, to re-affirm this demarcation line, then we need urgently to follow other lines of operation.

If the images cannot be ‘shown’, – and perhaps this is a blessing rather than a tragedy – what can be shown are the relationships between them, as they can be narrated to us by agents to which we lend our reconfigured eyes. They can be sensed like a pulse, experienced as time capsules. Leaving aside the “retinal” approach to the image, we are learning from probes and experiments how the computerized visual traces of Erkki’s life let us feel temporal intensities, carnal distances and proximities. An image is an image is an image. But an image is also many stories told to us by voluble algorithms and their nonhuman points of view.

Given a folder of the Kurenniemi’s archive, all its images would be aggregated into one.

Color dominance. When one color component is 30 higher than the other two components, it is printed.

Contours detected by the Hough Transform.


  1. It is hard to tell if it is a genuine belief or a ruse to avoid the issue of the treatment of the accumulated material. This is maybe a sign that his interest was genuine in making an archive, but more in the way of life a self-archival project would allow him to adopt.
  2. See Wikipedia,

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