WORK 01 / THE SELF / ACTIONS

ACTIONS 01/12 After years spent prototyping wearable devices, as a first step to create a system to document both my conscious and my subconscious, on the 24th of September 2003 I began using my left hand to photograph every object my right hand uses. The main idea was that rather than having to spend half of my time editing the video-recording of a reality I had recorded in the other half, I could simply bookmark all the activities occurring throughout a day, making the photos of my right hand using an object the bookmarks of my life and the alphabet with which human life at large could be decoded. With an out of production gadget camera, every day I take on average 76 pictures. At the end of the project in 2040 I will be 60 and the pictures will amount to one million. Every month I create a 90 by 30 centimeters photographic panel with different lines representing different days of the month. By positioning the 12 months of a year in a row, by the end of the project I will have achieved a perfect square of 10.8 by 10.8 meters, 36 by 36 feet (Fig. Image of one month of photos of the right hand. Each line corresponds to a day of photographs and the length corresponds to the amount of objects used. The colours emerging from the patterns are also an indication to the amount of light I am exposed to with bright colours in the summer months and gloomy colours in the winter months).

ACTIONS 02/12 Since the beginning of this work I followed 3 rules to help me identify when it am time to photograph: “1. During a life-event every object the dominant-hand uses is photographed once and while used; 2. If an object of the same type is the following item to be used, this object is not photographed unless the life-event changes; 3. A life-event changes as soon as the dominant-hand uses a different object in a different space”. Following the above rules I don't have to think when or when it is not time to photograph. Also it has been helpful to identify objects as any artifact that is graspable, independent and consistent, focusing on tools that not only are more representative of my activities but are visually more symbolic. Every morning when I batch resize and if necessary rotates the photos of the previous day, I make sure that there are no repetitions. While rotating the images of objects I take inward, meaning towards my face or my body, I then delete images of the same object photographed consecutively. These repetitions occurs if I am tired or an activity lasts for a long time. Also when photographing I try to prevent the shadow of my left hand to appear in the photograph of my right hand. In this case I rotate my body to the light. (Fig. Picture of the camera model I use to track my activities. Even though it is not incorporated, the camera has become an extension o my body).

ACTIONS 03/12 My photographing an object just prior using it, is like one of the many procedures contemporary humans ought to undertake in order to accomplish an action like for example disabling an alarm and using the key and then the handle to open a door. While most of these procedures are meant for the sake of social surveillance, my photographing is meant to unfold the evolution of a human being taking care of his nature and his family. The result is a repertoire of images which requires the viewers' imagination to interpret. Moreover such a documentation is rather non-obtrusive, employing the left hand which is anyway unused. It does not hinder the course of life but rather has stimulated me to discover more of the manual processes kept hidden by modern life. Only in few occasions I might slow down my life or that of others while for example photographing the key to enter my house. In rare circumstances also I might have my left hand occupied carrying something like my small kids or a grocery bag and I might have to get disengaged to, for example, use my right hand to open a door with a key and photograph it with my left hand (Fig. Screenshot showing me photographing the right hand while feeding one of my Dutch nephews. Many of these photographing shows the evolution of the objects one uses to also take care of others as well as the environment).

ACTIONS 04/12 Conceptually I started carrying out this work as a way to generate a DNA code of the activities of a human being over a lifetime. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp, I developed this work thinking of objects as the ready-made bookmarks marking the events of an individual's life. Rather than recording life 24/7 with all the privacy implications related to it, the photographic record of my right hand only provides the hints of a life which viewers of the photographs will have to actively interpret, as in the work of photographer Sophie Calle but also as proposed by ancient combinatoric and mnemonic techniques. Importantly also the choice of photographing the hand is an attempt to highlight a uniquely human feature put to danger by a more increasingly automated environments. While a humanity lacking manuality will grow depress, it will loose what Immanuel Kant defined as its second brain, the hand. Noticeably also the hand is the very first trace left by humans as to be found in the many outlines of hands in cave paintings (Fig. Pictures of the various wearable devices I built prior 2003 in order to attempt to both capture and categorize my life 24/7. Such devices were in the end used for performance purposes loosing the initial intention of the project, later recovered by using simple off the shelf devices. The use of my hand became from the start a dominant feature of these prototypes).

ACTIONS 05/12 In Jonathan Swift's book “Gulliver's Travels” one of the characters suggests that objects should be carried about and used as a form of human communication and as a way to avoid miscommunication. While acknowledging the effort behind this object-based communication, I am inspired by how universal it could be, potentially talking to humans across time and space. Similarly I have been inspired by the works of Paris-based experimental writers O.U.L.I.P.O. and particularly by George Perec's use of objects to generate the novel “Life a User's Manual”. In the case of my photographic work, not only the actual objects represented but also the actual sequences in which these objects are located and the frequency with which they repeat themselves are the keys to decode it. While machines could help highlighting certain frequencies, it would be up to a human reader to playfully try to interpret what is behind them also in relation to my the other works (Fig. Picture of a detail of a month panel. It is here interesting to notice how slowly smartphones, which became popular three years after the commencement of the project, became increasingly dominant, turning obsolete many of the devices I used to carry to produce my project. This is the case of my dictaphone and video-camera but not of my left hand camera which is handier and faster to use than a smartphone).

ACTIONS 06/12 Contrary to popular belief, my photographing comes quite natural and people around me get quickly used to my behavior. My left hand photographing the right hand using an object acts on its own accord. Also I started this work years before smartphones and social media became popular and only initially people found my photographing quite unusual. Given that my camera is an old pencam without a screen, upon seen it in operation most people think I use it for health related issues. Rather than compulsive however, my photography is a quest of physical and psychological endurance, such as in Tehching Hsieh one-year-long photographing of every hour on the hour. I then do not wish to contribute to any form of data capitalism but rather my wish is to show a certain self-sufficiency, a certain economy and frugality also in dealing with digital technology. Particularly I attempt to maintain a discipline, a self-conceived syntax that shapes my life rather than loosing myself in the marketing oriented and politically polarizing algorithms affecting social media users (Fig. Detail of poster showing all the toothbrushes used by the right hand in a year. Example such as this one shows how my work potentially extends that of pop artists like Andy Warhol and of conceptual photographers like Hilla and Bernd Becher).

ACTIONS 07/12 While I am quite precise and always photograph when it is time to photograph, at the beginning of the project I lost some data mostly due to a feature in my camera that formats the solid state memory card within it. Thus not paying too much attention when photographing, I had in two occasions deleted the data I collected throughout a day. This occurred once in February 2004 while in a changing room in Sweden and later visiting a park in Shanghai in the fall of 2009. In both occasions I used a data recovery software to retrieve most of the pictures and I was able to reconstruct the day. In some occasions the camera batteries which I recharge every other night, might run out of power. If for whatever reason I don't happen to have any replacement batteries, I make it to a shop to buy some prior using any objects (Fig. Photograph of my right hand writing with a crayon on the bathroom mirror. While the backgrounds of the photos are rather narrow it is possible to detect some features which might enable the viewer to further interpret the single images or recognize a change of the setting in which they were taken. In this respect I have to be careful not to accidentally photograph people behind me like in the bathroom example my girlfriend standing naked on her way to shower. Some of the photos inevitably shows some nudity but they are mostly discreet and mostly of myself).

ACTIONS 08/12 Throughout the course of this work I lost my camera twice. Once in the fall of 2007 walking with my oldest son in a forest near my parents-in-law Swedish farm. As he fell asleep, I had to carry him in my arms across a plantation of small pine trees which eventually made my camera fall down. The camera was found a year later by a mushroom picker who read my email written on it and contacted him. Despite having the camera spent a whole year in the forest, the memory card inside it still functioned and I was able to rescue the lost data. In the summer of 2018 while working with my oldest son and my closest friend at my alpine museum, a storm approached and running to repair myself I lost my camera in the high grass and could only find it hours later cutting it thoroughly. While the camera still functioned the lens got all moistened from within and I used a replacement camera waiting for it to dry up (Fig. Illustration of the digits I used at the beginning of the project to also label each image according to the kind of object it represented. As an example, an image of my right hand using a toothbrush would be labeled 01100000 with the brush and the water icon. The left and right buttons of a pocket PC were used to quickly input the 0 and the 1 respectively. The categorization per type of object was later dismissed to adhere to a chronological presentation of every month).

ACTIONS 09/12 The most critical times of my photographing were during the first period of my project when I regularly trained in a swimming pool. Then I had to be careful photographing objects such as my lock and my shampoo while in the changing room with naked people walking around me. While I always wear my camera in an old pouch placed on the left side of my belt, the one exception that I remove it from the belt is prior swimming. In 2019, while looking after my daughter on a beach in Sardinia I entered the water with the belt. Instantly the salt in the water compromised the electronics of the camera but not the memory card inside it. On average I use my camera for two years meaning that I am able to take about 56.000 shots with it after which the button I use to activate the camera breaks. The camera is activated while still in the belt pouch by keeping such a button pressed. It could be easily repaired but I opted to use one of the many refurbished cameras of the same kind I bought in stock right before they went out of production. It was 2011 then and I was living in the United States (Fig. Photos of my right hand showing examples of my interaction with others, in this case my oldest son, through the years. All of my three kids have always seen me photographing my right hand and always regarded this behaviour as normal, never questioning it unlike the other kids always curious about it).

ACTIONS 10/12 I have exhibited this work several times in rather important museums such as the O.K. Centrum in Linz where the work got an Ars Electronica honorary mention, in the Uppsala Art Museum, at the Hasselblad Foundation and the Aarhus art museum but also in San Francisco and Bengalore from where it toured Southern India. After showing a small part of the work at Trinity College in Dublin, in 2015 the work got a few months of popularity getting reviewed by many journalists around the world. Some of these journalists distorted the conceptual idea behind it trying only to depict me as a weird man photographing not the object I use but everything I touch, with all the sexual connotations linked to it. Only a few times journalists got more serious in seeking the meaning of the work. This happened mostly in South Africa where it was discussed in major newspapers and on the national radio (Fig. Picture of my exhibition at Hasselblad. Here I exhibited 12 years of all the objects used with each row of panels presenting a year from January to December. While this work has been requested by museums around the world, their limited ceiling height had made it impossible to show more then a third of it. If presented with other works such as my monthly accounts and my journal, this work would enable a deeper immersion with the mere text looking patterns).

ACTIONS 11/12 Since the beginning of this work I have attempted to share my photographic record with the scientific community. Articles were at first well received but the event of social media and the privacy implications that they arouse turned the scientific community generally quite against my work. At last I decided to only communicate my findings through my project considering the format of scientific papers and at large the contemporary scientific methods too limited to provide an in depth understanding of the work. Interestingly also while the scientific community and the scientists working for big corporations such as DARPA, Microsoft and Google have never being able to pursue any major life-logging project, I was able to do so extensively. My success perhaps lay in not wanting to impose the way I log my life to others and in keeping a low-profile and in using low-tech devices (Fig. Picture of a 2005 performance. While living in a van with my pregnant wife during a cold Scandinavian winter, I spent a whole month laying out a year worth of pictures on a library floor. In a Buddhist fashion I later vacuum cleaned all the photos. After a whole year in a copper graphic workshop trying to make my photos archival, I opted to only keep them digital. Lastly I developed my own system to deposit this and all my other works back to nature using mosaic patterns).

ACTIONS 12/12 In an ideal exhibition, all the 432 photographic panels should be presented in a large self-standing 10.8 by 10.8 meters wall at the end of a cathedral-like aisle. While the wall would not be illuminated by direct sun light so as to guarantee the longevity of the photo panels printed with pigments on archival paper, the edges of the wall would receive the light of the back window which would strongly increase at sunset especially in the summer solstice when the setting sun would directly be in line with the aisle. In such a setting only the bottom images can be observed while the rest of the panels ought to be only imagined or could eventually be observed with a telescope locate in one of the corridors on top of the entrance to the space. In this respect the panels acts as a calendar I was able to fill in as the work of a conceptual artist like On Kawara's date paintings, marking the passage of time, yet even more minutely and more in accordance with life rather than the mechanical clock (Fig. Rendering on how all the resulting 432 month panels should be placed in an ideal exhibition set-up. It is a giant calender abstracting the life of an individual as images high up cannot be consulted but only patterns like written text are visible. A perfect location to show the resulting 36 by 36 feet work would be the inner wall of Tate Modern in London or one of the many abandoned churches around the world).