The artist Jeroen van Loon creates work that questions our current and future digital culture. For his work Cellout.me (2015 – 2016) Van Loon offered his DNA-data for sale, exploring issues around the value of property and privacy. Other recent works by Van Loon include Fake News (2018) and An Internet (2017). This year he is coming to SPRING Performing Arts Festival with his work Ephemeral Data.
Can you tell us why you started working in performing art?
I graduated from the Digital Media programme at HKU where I was taught to tell stories using digital media. From there I moved on to creating installations, trying to find the best form to fit the story for each project. Sometimes it was a screenprint, sometimes a video-installation. In this case I intended to create a piece of art that would be temporary and ephemeral, so I ended up choosing a longer-running performance. Digital art and culture are increasingly taking on elements from the performing arts, which I find interesting. If you are present, you can see it, and if not, you miss out. Those are qualities I was looking for in the piece Ephemeral Data.
What drives your creativity?
It’s not immediately clear. Often I’ll be inspired by literature or by being attentive to what’s going on around me. But sometimes a piece will have been on my mind for a long time. For my next project I had wanted for some time to participate in a computer club for seniors. There was no real reason for it, but after I had done it I came back so inspired and full of new ideas. In my earlier work my main interest was contemporary technology and culture, but in my later works (An Internet and Cellout.me) I started thinking more about the future of digital culture. I also became a dad during this period. I have a child now, and this child will be here when the future arrives, so it’s quite logical that I’m no longer solely occupied by the present.
What makes you so interested in mixing art and digital culture?
My main occupation is the Second-Order Effect of technology. One example is the invention of the car. The first effect of that was that people could move faster from A to B. The second effect was that people no longer needed to live in the city where they worked, which gave rise to the suburbs. Those things are interesting tome in terms of technology as well. Information is available all the time and everything is stored, so there’s no need to miss out on anything. The second effect of this may be that we lose sight of things that can only be experienced briefly. It’s interesting to me to see what technology is doing on a larger scale. Does it set big changes in motion?
What is the reason that Ephemeral Data is an analogue piece of art?
I often question the digital by means of an analogue art form. For this project the inspiration came from sand mandalas made by Buddhist monks, huge pieces of art made from sand. So the digital wasn’t the starting point for this project.
How did this process go?
For a long time I tried to find a way to create a temporary digital experience. In fact, I intended to set up a hosting company that could host some websites that were temporary and local. For instance, a website that can only be visited in the centre of Amsterdam and only at 5AM on Fridays. I do think the internet will become increasingly fragmented, which means there will be an internet specifically targeted at the Netherlands. I just couldn’t figure out what type of art work I wanted to make. Until I came across the temporary, ephemeral nature of these sand mandalas and was able to link those to the fact that the internet is also a very ephemeral thing. Like telegram cables, our internet cables may become obtuse in 100 years. You must be present to see the work of art and if you’re not there, it will disappear. It was a mix of this temporariness and the ephemeral that came from these earlier ideas.
What made you decide to work with live performers for this piece?
That’s because of the shape and scale of the piece. Initially I was going to do it myself, but when I came into contact with SPRING Performing Arts Festival it grew bigger. It’s impossible to make this piece, which measures 12 by 11 metres, on my own.
Why is the piece erased on the final day of the performance?
The internet has ruined the moment. Now you can be online all day, every day and there’s no need to attend anything, because you can stream everything. It means there’s no longer such a thing as the moment and I want to bring it back with a piece that is very unique, temporary and local. On the final day the work is erased, and we’re documenting next to nothing, which means you have to be there if you want to see it. We’ll be asking the audience to cover the lens of their cameras, so they won’t post anything on social media or watch it again afterwards. I want people to really be present, in the moment, to see and experience what happens. And there is only a single moment to see the completed work before it is erased.
What are your artistic plans for the near future?
I’m currently researching computer clubs for seniors, because as an artist, I haven’t heard much about those. We are very much pre-occupied by the changes new technology brings, but I see big numbers of people who cannot even join in the very basic computer activities, like sending an e-mail. It’s interesting to see how people deal with that. For a long time I thought: when I am older, everyone will know how computers work. But I’m changing my mind about that now. In the future, I will also be attending a course to catch up on developments like a virtual reality network. There will always be outsiders. On the other hand, I’m growing kind of tired of technology. I’m currently collecting concept vision documents published by businesses like BMW or NS to see where we are going and what we will find less important in the future. An interest that was sparked by my reading a book by Rudolph and Robert Das, “De wereld 80 jaar verder” (The world 80 years from now).
And finally, I think that temporariness and the ephemeral are hugely important in a performance. That and the fact that when there’s no audience, there’s no work of art. I think there’s a great need for the qualities the performing arts have to offer. They have a great deal to offer.
Ephemeral Data can be visited on Neude square in Utrecht from Thursday 16 – Saturday 25 May, from 2:00 – 10:00 PM. On 25 May at 3.00 PM the work will be erased.