Unseen energies manifest as art

Stephen Jones: Energies, Haines & Hinterding

Geology, installation view, detail, 2015

Geology, installation view, detail, 2015

Geology, installation view, detail, 2015

In a long overdue acknowledgement of the work of Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, the MCA has exhibited a significant retrospective of their work. Keith Gallasch recorded my observations (and a few of his own comments) about the meanings of the works and how they function as we walked through the gallery.


The first I saw of Joyce Hinterding’s work was a series of things she built—or ‘drew’ is more correct—called The Oscillators (Sound in Space, MCA, 1995). These were circuit diagrams rendered in carbon. They oscillate because they are electrically conductive, like carbon in a battery. They aren’t ‘scavengers’, which we’ll get to later. The Oscillators aren’t part of this exhibition, which is a pity. But there is a similar series of carbon drawings, which are either square spirals (Large Ulam VLF Loop [or Large Square Logarithmic VLF Loop], 2011) or dragon curves (Aura Curves or the Wunderlich Curves). In the latter the curve turns through multiple right angles and does a looping thing, big loops of different shapes, and because they’re electrically conductive and in these spiral forms, they actually ‘scavenge’ the power out of the air from all the electro-magnetic signals that are beaming through the place. Essentially they are antennae that do much the same as a TV antenna but without the filtering needed to receive a particular station.

If you touch one of the spirals, while wearing the headphones, a tone comes and goes. It won’t really change frequency because that’s to do with the actual length of the spiral. The Large Square Logarithmic VLF Loop is drawn on the wall with liquid carbon that, given the sharpness of the edge, might have been screen-printed onto it. These are the scavengers—there’s actually no power going to them. The device at the end of the wire attached to the centre of the drawing with its shield attached to the outer end of the spiral simply amplifies the sound enough for you to be able to hear it.

These two pictures are Diffusion Reactors (2013). I think what’s happening here is that the gold spiral—gold leaf printed onto the paper, the rest of the image being carbon—has been wet and ink placed on it so a current comes from it, drawn from the world and distributed. The name partly relates to Alan Turing’s work on reaction diffusion. After WWII when Turing had finished building his Bombe, his original machine for deciphering the code used by the Enigma, he moved into morphogenesis and how biological forms function. He developed the maths to build a reaction diffusion circuit. I assume Hinterding knows about this. These pictures are of that nature but they’re much more random. Reaction diffusion spreads out and each particle affects the next particle and that affects the next particle and you get this kind of slow growth out. And if it’s wet, that means the current carries across the paper.

One of these beautiful images looks like a Hokusai wave painting.

In a sense, it is the logarithmic spiral that Hokusai drew into his wave.

We also have two tables, on which are again, energy scavengers (Induction Drawings 1 and 2, 2012). Each is a very long antenna drawn in carbon, which is a conductor of electrons. The drawn lines loop back and forth. You can touch them and hear changes in the sound. They are what Hinterding calls “energy scavengers.” There’s power going to the mixer but there’s none coming up from the AC power. It’s just the audio signal coming back down and being amplified for the headphones.

In the middle of the main room, a big spiral antenna (Aeriology, 1995/2015) is a very, very long piece of insulated copper wire woven around two columns. It uses the same kind of material that insulates the copper wire in a standard transformer for use in motors and in electronics. So this is an antenna and again, the length of it determines the frequency response or the wavelength. It’s over three metres long, so with the large number of windings it has a very low frequency response. The signal is also shown on an oscilloscope. You don’t want to touch the wire because, depending on how much charge is built up, it might discharge into you.

Again, a quite beautiful work with its red aura as the light shines on the copper.

It’s really lovely, aesthetically let alone technically.

Video energies

Here are two of David Haines’ early video works. Together they are called The Seventeenth Century (2002). In one he’s taken a video image of a Sydney coastal suburban landscape and lit buildings separately by compositing white light onto them. There are actual lights but they’re the steady ones—and the aeroplane, of course, which is kind of nice to see. Everything will suddenly light up, like this whole block of flats and then suddenly close down again.

It looks very real.

That’s what Haines was trying to play with.

The image on the right hand monitor looks like a very deep ocean-bed sulphur source, although it’s actually digitally rendered smoke in water. The deep ocean smokers which they remind me of release extraordinary amounts of gold and other heavy metals. You can clearly see the considerable energy because it’s generating light.

High tension

Over here on this screen (Encounter with the Halo Field, 2009/2015) is a video of four fluorescent tubes held by two people, one in each hand, standing beneath a high-tension cable running across the Blue Mountains. If you hold a fluorescent tube near one of these things it will light up, drawing the electrons that power it from the ambient electron-laden atmosphere (the electro-magnetic field) produced by the wires, which carry something more than 120,000 volts. The title refers to the ‘halo’ around the electrical lines.

The image is very dark. Sometimes you’re seeing someone’s hand in close-up, silhouetted, but then the fluoro lights up with the twilight sky behind. It’s beautiful, but also like a take on the Star Wars lightsaber.

Earth Star, 2008

Earth Star, 2008

Earth Star, 2008

Orgone energy

In front of us now is an “orgone cannon,” (The Black Ray, Cloud Buster Number Three: Orgone Energy Cloud Engineering Device, 2011-12), which is a complete departure from the scavenging works. But it’s not, when I think about it. The energy scavenger is standard—I mean there’s good science going on there, but this is Reichian. Wilhem Reich was the radical German Freudian psychologist who was jailed in America for being far too out there. He claimed that there is orgone energy in the natural world, a kind of magnetic energy only not magnetic, but more psychic.

The Orgone Box could allegedly collect sexual energy.

Probably orgone and orgasm have a very close relationship; it’s where the ‘orgone’ comes from.

This work here is a “Cloud Buster” which creates orgone energy—by some mechanism inside it—and then blasts it out through those long tubes into the atmosphere and is said to be able to remove or move clouds and thunderstorms. That’s one of the reasons that Reich was jailed by the FDA because he wouldn’t stop making claims for devices that they considered to be completely spurious. These artists have actually operated their Cloud Busters; how effective they were I don’t know.

This wall-mounted “photograph,” Triboluminescent Godhead 1 (2010), basically looks like a thunderhead cloud, I think, but is again computer-generated. It is similar to the smoker in The Seventeenth Century and has beautiful 3D depth and colouring.

And the Cloud Buster is pointed at it across the room.

Hidden forces unleashed

In this video, House II, The Great Artesian Basin, Pennsylvania USA, 2003, you see an American house, of the kind in the wealthy eastern US. Bursting out of the doorways and the windows is a flood of water of the most extraordinary proportions, as if, says Haines, the Great Artesian Basin had erupted out of one house. It reminds me very much of the work of Bill Viola who is so interested in water and fire and energies. This is quite an extraordinary digitally constructed work. Haines is such a good computer graphics maker as in the Levitation Grounds, 2000, which we can’t see now because it’s only available on certain days, and The Blinds and the Shutters, 2001, both of which which were shown in the Anne Landa Award exhibition, 2000-2001. In the Levitation Grounds a severed tree limb floats in space in a country landscape. Then in the Blinds and the Shutters, a house has exploded, not in the sense that a building is shattered and thrown about, but in the sense that some kind of massive internal pressure build-up has picked up all the furniture and thrown it out of the building where it floats gently across the space between the house and the ‘camera.’

Electrifying nature

This batch of pictures here (The Wollemi Kirlians, 2014) are Kirlian photographs of natural objects—leaves and flowers and small pieces of detritus from the Wollemi forest which have been placed on colour photo paper and highly electrically charged. The artists have put a very high voltage, very low current electrical signal into the objects, making them glow through corona discharge. You can see the power leaking.

Solar energy

If you look at the sun directly, you really can’t see anything other than extremely bright light. In these large ‘hydrogen alpha pictures’ (Earth Star, 2008) Haines has masked the body of the sun with the lens of a hydrogen alpha telescope, taking out all the light except its circumference where you can see the solar activity or corona: the “hydrogen alpha frequency” including solar flares that knock out the GPS every now and then and damage television signals. They’re lovely images. Very nice pieces of solar portraiture, you might say.

In a side chamber, there is another Earth Star (2008-10), here a large-screen video projection of the sun presented as installation. The video is a similar hydrogen alpha portrait of the sun but as a time-lapse recording with yellow and white flares coming and going. In front of the screen are two VLF antennas on long tables. It’s the same idea as the work wound between the two columns, Aeriology.

A very long piece of insulated transformer wire is wrapped very tightly around a 15cm tube, forming an induction loop which is also self-powering. In a standard AC power transformer there are two coils, one around the other, but they don’t touch so that the 240 volts that’s coming in is inducted out of the transformer at a much lower voltage—12 volts for example—so that we can use it sensibly rather than getting killed by it if we touch it. Here there’s no connection between the two coils but there’s a field around them. Inside a transformer that field is tightly constrained. Usually a metal box is fitted around it so that it doesn’t bleed all over the room and make noise, but these coils are essentially intended to be open to whatever electromagnetic stuff is going on in the space. That hiss that you can hear is actually the output from the induction loops and the particular frequency, of course, is dependent on the length of the wire. The lower sound is probably coming into the room from other sources.

It’s amazing. The sun here looks like a big orange turning very slowly.

It’s been shot over a long period and sped up. You can see that wonderful flare at the bottom and a curved one as well—hydrogen alpha lines.

Large Ulam VLF Loop (graphite)

Large Ulam VLF Loop (graphite)

Large Ulam VLF Loop (graphite)

Aroma power

On a bench to the left side of this space are two refrigerators, which contain components of perfumes, Ozone I: Ionisation and Ozone II: Terrestrial. These are not finished perfumes but the actual component aromas from pine needles to strawberries. You can’t sample them, but every morning the staff here dip strips into one of the bottles and place them in beakers for you to smell.

If Hinterding is interested in what’s in the air in terms of electrical energy, Haines is taken with what’s in the air in terms of aroma.

That’s right. In terms of smells and molecules.

At another level, they’re also electrically charged.

Just to add to the complexity.

Interference and avalanche

In another adjoining room is Purple Rain (2004) which is making a loud, low frequency hum. Above are four UHF TV antennae in the ceiling receiving random TV signals—or they may even be tuned signals because there’s a bunch of TV monitors, screens to the wall—television has been banished! But in front of us on a large screen is a mountain range and on each of four peaks a snowcap. We’re seeing a massive computer-generated avalanche coming down from the central snowcap. It’s like House 2 except with snow and it’s interrupted randomly by whatever else is coming in from the television sets, which is just downright noise. A band of purple noise is the purple rain of the work’s title. The sound is just the 50 Hz hum coming in. That’s the main content of electro-magnetic spectrum in any built up environment: 50Hz hum from the power lines. The aerials are picking up the power lines.

Archived energies

Back in the main gallery is a kind of research cabinet with everything an enthusiastic teenage scientist would love to have—certainly this one would’ve. It’s got the Reich book, books on UFOs, lots of stuff on Tesla, cathode ray tubes, integrated circuits, mineral crystals and electrical things that Hinterding would have built early on. It suggests the research background that informs her work.

In a second cabinet, among various items relating to Haines’ work with aromas, are beer glasses painted inside with a carbon-based conductive substance called aquadag, used inside cathode ray tubes. The neck of the CRT—that thin bit that sticks out the back—has a set of pins and a cathode or electron generator in it that generates a stream of electrons. The aquadag is set to the positive side so that the beam of electrons heads straight out into the middle of the screen and then is conducted back through the aquadag. Each glass has been pierced with an electrode, the nipple that you can see, and wires would have run from one glass to the next to the next. There was a very large number of these in the 1991 Perspecta in the Bond Store in Walsh Bay. They are an old type of battery (Leyden Jars), storing current and using that to drive an oscillator of sorts. This was when Hinterding’s work first became evident.

Imagined world, player energy

Moving to this large cinema/gallery space, you can see on a 3D (photo)graphic of a simulated mountain range (The Noumenon Ranges, 2013), its features variously designated as Spinoza’s Abyss, The Barren Grounds, Aristotle’s Basin, The Schrodinger Field and The Walls of Indeterminism.

To the front of the space is a huge screen showing a sulphurated mountainous landscape (Geology, 2015). Our point of view of it shifts dramatically as one of the visitors plays with it by standing on one spot and moving their body. Haines has re-programed a video game engine and used something like a radar projector to sense movement so we can see the landscape aerially or on the flat. This simulated landscape is a 3D graphic projected in high definition onto the gallery wall. We feel almost in the landscape, exploring it while it shifts and whirls according the player’s movements.

The significance of Haines and Hinterding

The curation of this exhibition by Anna Davis with Kelly McDonald has been thorough and dug almost to the roots of the work. It does an excellent job of covering the range of ideas Haines and Hinterding have canvassed and the period over which they have worked. The catalogue provides an excellent photographic coverage of the works in the exhibition with important contributions by Davis and Douglas Kahn to the discussion around the ideas the artists work with.

The primary importance of Haines and Hinterding is that they’re the only people in Australia—they’re not unique to the world but they’re certainly pretty unique to Australia—who are playing with these kinds of ideas and making something aesthetic from them. They do a lot of work to confirm that their ideas are functional, so in that sense they’re experimentalists; but they’re not just experimentalists. They’ve produced an extraordinary set of objects and they play with an extraordinarily diverse set of ideas, but they do the history work. Tesla was an experimentalist and he produced astonishing and frighteningly dangerous things but he also came up with AC power.

I think what Haines and Hinterding have done is to focus our attention on things which are not immaterial but are hidden forces that we don’t normally think about. We happily use a TV antenna but most of us don’t know anything about why, what it is or how it works. They’ve drawn on all this stuff in ways that produce quite extraordinary results. They’re educating us about something but it’s not didactic.

It’s dialectical.

It’s very dialectical, let alone dielectrical!

Energies: Haines & Hinterding, curator Anna Davis; MCA, Sydney, 25 June-6 Sept

RealTime issue #129 Oct-Nov 2015 pg. 43-45

9 October 2015