JAN IJÄSHow Great
Before, photos were stored in cardboard folders, correspondence and communications were kept, and movies and music were stored on bookshelves. Now that information is saved on phones and computer hard drives or the electronic cloud.
Jan Ijäs’s How Great, with its ironically Trumpian title, forms part of the ever-expanding Waste series that charts the waste produced by human beings around the world. Shot in Finland, South Korea, Ghana and Turkey, these works focus on the interplay between the internet on the one hand and addiction, censorship, ecology and survival on the other.
In a remote facility somewhere in South Korea, smartphone addicted youngsters are being treated with electroconvulsive therapy. In Turkey, the state practices censorship by banning people from accessing Wikipedia. With digital content constantly at their fingertips, people are no longer building their own private libraries at home, but if their access to electronic information is suddenly curtailed, people may begin to rediscover the traditional act of reading again. In Çankaya, Ankara, refuse collectors have succeeded in creating a public library complete with 25,000 volumes, just by collecting the books people throw away.
In addition to censorship, the stability and permanence of our electronic information resources are threatened by cyber attacks, conflict, natural disasters and, most concerningly, radical changes in the earth’s magnetic field. A World War II bomb shelter beneath Helsinki’s Uspenski Cathedral now houses a data centre. Its inauguration was attended by a Russian Orthodox priest so every attempt has been made to obtain divine protection for this facility at least. The highly secure and sustainably designed data centre stands in stark contrast to the living hell found in Ghana, a dumping ground for our electronic waste and home to the thousands of lives poisoned by our discarded goods. This noxious gadget graveyard is also a human wasteland even though all metal brought here is ultimately recovered and recycled.
Ijäs has shot his videos using analogue technology. This creates a sense that the present moment has already been archived and viewers may well begin to see themselves as representatives of a lost civilisation. As Ijäs’s narrator points out, we think we have already faced up to and put past us the threats we associate with the technological advances happening around us. His works are an invitation for us to view our own era from some distant vantage point in the future and they bring us to marvel at the sheer extent to which we find ourselves dependent on data centres and cloud servers.
Media artist and film director Jan Ijäs (b. 1975) studied documentary film making at the Department of Film, Television and Scenography at the Aalto University in Helsinki. He works with documentary, fictive and experimental film. His production borders avantgarde film, experimental media art, contemporary art and documentary film. His films have been screened at more than 200 Finnish and international film festivals and as installations in museums and art galleries. He is the winner of numerous industry awards, including the Finnish Risto Jarva Prize in 2011 for SWEET MOV(I)E.