When the Sun Goes Down
By Sara Rossling
A recurring choreography caused by the rotating Earth creates the illusion of a sunset, to which humans feel a peculiar pull. Shortly after the event appears a spatiotemporal moment when the sunlight is about to disappear and be replaced by our concerns about its absence.
Planetary movement makes darkness, light, and shadows inseparable from perception of our surroundings and part of many philosophical and cultural traditions touching on themes of life, energy, and transformation, and as symbols and metaphors of human existence and its doubts.
The circadian rhythm affects almost all organisms and controls our sleep-wake cycles through bright and dark periods, an inbuilt system for survival. As daylight shifts, the biological clock changes, as do our sensations of the world. Sunlight hitting the eyes signals to alter the body's levels of melatonin and cortisol and provides us with vitamins. At twilight, the light recedes, and our bodies slowly become less active, but the sun never sets online.
24/7 late capitalism and life with light-emitting displays offer another logic than the cycles of Earth. Long-term disturbance of our diurnal rhythm has consequences on health, such as increasing sleep problems and insulin sensitivity, impaired immune function, and depression. In this 24-hour connected society, do we need to assert our right to sleep and retreat into the shadows?
All scenes in Lisa Tan’s Sunsets (2012) were filmed in Sweden at either three o’clock in the morning during the summer solstice or three o’clock in the afternoon during the winter solstice. The shifting light from the setting sun creates an overlaying rhythm that becomes a co-narrator of the video documenting the artist’s research of a 1977 interview with the writer Clarice Lispector. A chain-smoking Lispector, at times, seemingly drifting away from the present in her thoughts and mood, is asked about her working method, political change, and death’s role in her creative process. “If you couldn’t write anymore, would you die?”—asks the interviewer. The author’s response: “I think that when I write I am dead.”1 The interviewer also brings up an article the author wrote in the 1960s on murderous police brutality in Brazil. Lispector's text on the reckless shooting of a criminal — shot thirteen times, although the first bullet killed him, is powerful. She describes the sequence of events, bullet by bullet, drawing an existential and repulsive picture of what it is like to be a human.
Excerpts from the recording, the sound from hands typing keypads, and a scratchy internet call between the artist and a friend who has agreed to translate the interview shape the narrating soundtrack of the work. Throughout the translation, a process of halting, reflecting, and rewinding, the limitations of language are put to the test.
If images in media of grand sunsets on the scale pink-orange-red speak of romance or vacations, the flickering subtle black and white sunsets in Tan's video are rather a poetic expression of diurnal mood variation, simultaneously a demonstration of a duration. In Lisa Tan's essay “Document of its Own Method” in Sunsets, Notes from Underground, Waves (2015), the artist writes: “Sunset is a time that elicits a more unstable experience of the world. At the threshold of light and its absence, feelings of displacement, loneliness, fatigue, and anxiety can seep in, as the end of the day ushers in the unknown of night. Will we wake to see another day?”2 As a new resident in Sweden at the time being, the artist experienced the extreme contrasts of the seasons — bright summer nights and dimly lit winter days.
The illusion of sunsets is enchanting, also a testimony of time passing, which eventually, as in the case of Lispector, the same year as the interview, leads us all to death.
On a finding-myself-journey in the US in the winter of 2013, I rented a car and drove along the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego and back to Los Angeles again. Without a detailed plan, I found a rhythm along the journey guided by the sun setting around 5 pm. At 5:40 pm, there was no daylight and poor streetlights. At first, the intention was to reach every new town and room where I was spending the night before it got dark and uncanny, being alone and lost Swede. But after a while, my driving force of the journey was to arrive in time to find the local beach and take in the West Coast sunset each evening. It was so comforting. And I wasn’t the only one on the beach in this moment of transition.
In Joline Uvman’s new work Quant Stones (2023), two black and white photographs with the same motif, seen from two angles, are placed beside each other with a slight difference in distance. One photo is shot horizontally, and the other one is shot vertically. Mounted side by side, they create the illusion of a single image — depicting stones scattered across a rural field in the area where the artist grew up.
Uvman explains: “The effect [of the montage] is a field that appears to be multiplied rather than stretched or widened. The change of angle and distance is the variable that makes this picture play on ideas of quantum physics, where the stones, or even the landscape, not least the sun, seem to exist in two states simultaneously, channeled by the camera as the exponent.”3 A playful gesture linking quantum physics’ enigmatic questions about the origin of life itself, parallel universes, and the place where the artist was born as a meditation on lineage.
Reproductions of the montage have been mounted at a distance on five tightly hung aluminum boards, creating a serial appearance reminiscent of a film strip. When the eye follows the images in a row, there is a feel of animation. Is this an attempt to make the film process reversed and bring a memory back to life? Film as a medium captures events over time where each second of the film, a lived moment, comprises a sequence of 24 distinct still images — to be played over again. In Quant Stones, all pictures on the strip are the same, and the distinction occurs through the variation in placement. Some images overlap the edges of the aluminum boards, consequently cutting them. Such a treatment of the pictures emphasizes a flow rather than a representation of a single image.
Between the stationary and movement, the artist explores the boundaries of the photographic medium. By installing the work aligned with the 45-degree angle of one of the corners in the gallery, it oscillates between photography, film, and sculpture.
Light is a symbol often illustrating the way forward. Like moths to the flame, humans flock to the bright, tending to forget the vital role of darkness. Darkness adjusts our levels of hormones protecting our bodies and acts as the rocking threshold of the night that leads us to sleep. The dimly lit evenings and nights are also a time for reflection, handicrafts, gathering families, or off-work, a time for a political awakening.
To anthropologist Michael Taussig, other worlds are possible when the sun goes down and light transforms itself and the basis of the image. With a point of departure in the dialectical image created by day and evening and the change of mood that follows, he sees a potential in the temporal space between the twilight hour and when we wake up, something else, more than only worshiping the sun. 4
On humans and darkness, Poul Duedahl, lecturer in History, notes that darkness is a natural phenomenon we managed to gain control over. During the Enlightenment, we fought the darkness as it was troublesome and put limits on productivity.5 Today, we don't perceive the night as a natural phenomenon nor handle darkness very well.
Nephology - A Chorus of Clouds (2023) by Oona Libens comprises a new time-based installation, performance, and two light and shadow play objects. ‘Nephology’ stems from the Greek word ‘nephos’ and is the study of clouds and cloud formation. The installation shows a typology of clouds and weather-related phenomena through projection, movement, and sound in a spatial atmosphere that alternately casts shadows and plays with light.
One at the time, an episcope projects images on the wall from a scheme of meteorological processes, in watercolor. Accompanying the projection is a soundtrack of rain, thunder and the artist’s voice, weaving myths, facts, and stories about clouds.
When presented as a performance, Libens’ moves the projector between the various weather conditions that bring to mind the human drive to study and control nature. One such is weather modification programs that have been around for a while, changing the expression of the landscape. Controversial cloud seeding and rainfalls are the most common forms to improve agriculture, prevent droughts, and manipulate clear skies for political events.
With inspiration from educational documentaries and shadow theater as a starting point, the artist plays with and exposes the underlying mechanisms of old and new project techniques and the mediating role of knowledge. Since the development of the magic lantern, the earliest form of projector, shadows are evidence of the mediating role of knowledge, which also shows the temporality of truth.
When oil lamps became common in factories in the 1800s, we were less bound to follow the rhythm between daylight and its absence. Artificial light has transformed our social construction of time and brought a rationalized relation between time and work, distanced from the cyclical temporalities.
Following the logic of acceleration, we live in a society with 24/7 markets and global infrastructure for continuous work and consumption without pause or limits. To art critic and author Jonathan Crary, "24/7 is a time of indifference, against which the fragility of human life is increasingly inadequate and within which sleep has no necessity or inevitability.”6 While attending the constantly illuminated and connected world, exhausted, we consent to feed the entangled capital. The only way of resisting this, as Crary sees it, is sleeping, as nothing of value can be extracted from it. 7
Simia: Stratagem for Undestining (2022) was created in conversation with the fictitious artificial intelligence program Project Simiyaa, which aims to create a planned economy and manage infrastructural commons across Africa and the Middle East. Assem Hendawi’s encompassing project Simia revolves around speculation as a method for worldmaking and looks into how mythology is used to sustain certain infrastructures. In Arabic, Sīmiyā refers to ‘spirituality’ and ‘the epistemology of wisdom’ and is a principle within Sufi-occult traditions, a magical notion of linking superior natures with the inferior, known in the Arab world since the Middle Ages. In his work, Hendawi illuminates how both ancient occult traditions and the development and functioning of new technologies rely on mathematical concepts to reach the divine and gain power. He also reveals a trend amongst global techno-political companies deriving concepts from occult traditions, where mathematics is used as a means and a form of abstraction against their users.
Palantir, a leading software company within the AI and surveillance business, is one of those appropriating mysticism and magic. Their name comes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, where the magical palantíri were 'seeing-stones'. In the novel, these stones are described as indestructible balls of crystal used for communication and to see events in other parts of the world.
Hovering and glowing, Simia is visualized as an AI in a fully automated society without daylight, where humans are nomads and create no value. With a panoptical view grappling with the entanglement of key global historical events since the 2008 financial crisis, the video scrutinizes hidden structures and contradictions of strategies within technopolitics and points to its non-destinations.
The video begins with an AI robot telling a joke about writing its autobiography, amusingly mirroring our concerns about seeing AI as subjects like humans, thus our confusion around our existence and worries about being replaceable.
On the meeting between those who are born, and those who are created. Those who will die, and those who will not. To me, poet and novelist Olga Ravn’s Sci-fi novel The Employees: A workplace novel of the 22nd century captures that complexity. The novel takes the format of a series of statements by a mixed group of employees who are crew members on a ship far away from Earth. Written as a mix of poetry, satire, and corporate language, some of them with missing information — the statements describe how the workers relate to various objects and their rooms.
The investigation is conducted by the committee, aiming to improve performance and the crew members's "task-related understanding”.8 To the reader, it is obscure which statements have been formulated by whom. One of the employees states that for years, they have tried to analyze and find the reason and come to the solution that human-made objects and structures, for some reason, are not a problem. But repetitive, organic structures are unbearable because these cannot be destroyed and will continue to re-emerge.9
The question of 'What is human?' is elusive throughout the novel. Regardless of the answer, our inseparability from Earth's repetitive bright and dark cycles seem to be an uncompromising part of our ecology and destination.
Thanks to Galleri CC, the participating artists whose work and research have led me to this exhibition, and artist Helena Fernández-Cavada for a fruitful conversation during the research process.
When the Sun Goes Down is a prelude to a forthcoming artistic and curatorial research project on the circadian rhythm and cycles of the Earth developed with Christopher Sand-Iversen and Rebekka Elisabeth Anker-Møller, director and curator, respectively, at SixtyEight Art Institute in Copenhagen. Funded by Nordic Culture Fund and Nordic Culture Point.
1: See Lisa Tan, Sunsets, 2012, 00:21:00. And Clarice Lispector interviewed by Júlio Lerner, 1977, originally televised for the Brazilian program Panorama, available in five parts on YouTube.
2: Lisa Tan, Sunsets, Notes from Underground, Waves, Archive Books, Berlin, 2015, p. 33.
3: Email conversation with Joline Uvman December 14, 2023.
4: See Michael Taussig, “When the Sun Goes Down”, video lecture at European Graduate School, 2010 accessed on YouTube.
5: See Poul Duedahl, "Det er mørket, der tænder stjernerne”, Anne Anthon Andersen, Simon Skipper og Camilla Hylleberg, Natur & Miljø no. 4, 2020, pp. 9-11.
6: Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Verso books, 2014, p. 9.
7: Crary, p.11.
8: Olga Ravn, The Employees: A workplace novel of the 22nd century, New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2020, p 9.
9: Ravn, (the writer's translation from Swedish to English), p 45.