Welcome to rural Sweden, sometime in the late ’80s. Citizens go about their mundane lives and children explore the countryside. But something isn’t quite right. Robots and hovercrafts are commonplace, and decaying science facilities sprout from the harsh Scandinavian landscape. There’s even a rumor circulating that dinosaurs have returned from the dead after some failed experiment.
This is the world that exists in artist Simon Stålenhag’s mind, and it’s only accessible through his paintings. The alternate universe he’s created is inspired by the sci-fi movies he watched as a kid growing up in the rural areas around Stockholm. As he explains to The Verge, “The only difference in the world of my art and our world is that … ever since the early 20th century, attitudes and budgets were much more in favor of science and technology.” So boxy Volvos, Volkswagens, and Mercedes share the landscape with robots. But science has lost some of its luster. In Sweden, a massive government science facility (equipped with an underground particle collider, of course) is long past its glory days in the field of “experimental physics.” Despite developments in robotics and “anti-grav” technology, the difficulties of the modern human experience haven’t changed.
The artwork is impactful as a result of this juxtaposition between the harsh realities of life and the sci-fi technologies of our dreams. It’s reminiscent of worlds like the one so effectively portrayed in games like Half-Life 2, and like such great video games, the universe created by the artist seems to continue beyond the edge of the canvas.
Simon Stålenhag used a Wacom tablet and pen to digitally paint the works below. More of his work, including prints and shots of some of the paintings below in detail, are at his website. All images used with permission, and copyright Simon Stålenhag.
Left: Flying, 1980. Right: Dancing to TV, 1982. Mike Mandel
Photographer Mike Mandel creates playful, trippy images that combine everyday activities with bursts of color and light that track his subjects’ motions. For his project and subsequent book, Making Good Time, which took the better part of the 1980s to complete, Mandel plays off of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s efficiency motion studies from the early 1900s. The Gilbreths’ purpose for creating the images was to analyze and refine workers’ movements to streamline productivity. They captured these motions in a still image they called the chronocyclegraph by attaching pulsing lights to the workers’ hands and making 3-D, time-lapse images. The Gilbreths’ intent was to improve the lives of workers by reducing waste and fatigue on the job. In fact, their findings were also used by the military and in hospitals to maximize worker potential.
Mandel’s project tracks movement in a similar way but is far more lighthearted. As Mandel says in the introduction to his book, he wants to “ … completely reevaluate day-to-day life, distorting the Gilbreth imperative to suit my needs: More waste=more fun.” Via email, Mandel wrote about his intention: “I am not at all interested in efficiency or ‘making good time.’ I am interested in having a good time … I think the essence of this work was to make fun of this obsession with efficiency is an effort to re-humanize our experiences of everyday life.
Mandel tracked a variety of daily household movements: unloading a refrigerator, watching TV, making piles of sandwiches. He also tracked a few less-common movements like break dancing. In his version of the Gilbreths’ chronocyclegraph, Mandel used bicycle lamps that a computer-engineer friend made blink 20 times per second. He painted the lights with translucent hobby paints in order to differentiate movements created with the right and left hands. He also visited several robotics research facilities, where he recorded robots performing random actions, such as lighting Hanukkah candles.
Wrapping Sandwiches, 1986 Mike Mandel
Kids Clean Desks, 1986. Mike Mandel
Changing Diapers, 1985. Mike Mandel
Break Dancing, 1985. Mike Mandel
Via phone, Mandel spoke of his desire, with this and other projects, to return to a lack of control over time: “In this project I have accessed the [Gilbreth] archive … to identify images they made that have an aesthetic quality that I believe undermines their project of efficiency. Much of my work is based on … recontextualizing images so their meaning is changed.“
Mandel is currently at work on a project with Chantal Zakari relating to the Watertown, Mass., manhunt of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Emptying the Fridge, 1985. Mike Mandel
Robot, 1984. Mike Mandel
Robot Lights Chanukah Candles, 1985. Mike Mandel
Watching TV, 1987. Mike Mandel
From the Guardian UK:
As we reach the 40th anniversary of the first public mobile phone call, we look back at four decades of innovation, from the “brick” handsets of the 1970s and 1980s to today’s smartphones. Expert Mike Short says: “Since its first use 40 years ago, the mobile phone has completely changed our lives. The first decade was a research or a ‘demonstrator’ phase, rapidly followed by analogue networks deployed over 10 years from the early 1980s largely based on carphones and used in business in the developed world. This soon led to the digital decade mainly between 1993 and 2003 when consumerisation and globalisation of mobile really took off. This led to a further data adoption phase with the arrival of 3G and during 2003 to 2013 access to the internet and the wider use of smartphones became a reality.”