New Look

Posted on | oktober 18, 2016 | No Comments


At the moment, is refurbished. A new design will appear shortly. The absence of posts and visible updates is due to this process.

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Multistable Fields

Posted on | september 10, 2015 | No Comments

Flyer_willim_utskick_eng_low[2]September 19th I will have an exhibition / installation in the atrium of the main building at Lund university. Here’s a pdf with info (English, Swedish), or if you have click fatigue, here’s the synopsis:

The main building of Lund University was inaugurated in 1882. In the building conceived by architect Helgo Zettervall the rational quest for knowledge of Academia is enmeshed with a world of mythical symbols. Sphinxes and griffins meet deans and professors. Suggestive symbolism and ornamentation inspired by the worlds of classical antiquity meet contemporary rituals and processes.


The exhibition Multistable Fields by Robert Willim has been specially made for the atrium of the building. It is based on two works (In Praise of Other Places and Chambers) that emphasise tensions in the meetings between academic knowledge and the unknown. In these meetings some dimension merge and generates new knowledge and values, while other dimensions remain estranged. Like in the interpretation of multistable images and fields constant shifts of perspective are required to create meaning and understanding. The work with the exhibition has been guided by thoughts on ethnographic surrealism.


In Praise of Other Places is a series of prints based on altered images extracted from the timeline of the audiovisual performance Possible Worlds. The performance was a commissioned work for the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm in 2014, which has since then led to a number of iterations. The aim was to let the artist examine the ways museums and ethnography take part in the rendition of worlds and how imagination and mediation is in constant interplay. How can dreamlike fragments of other places be evoked through altered layered compositions? The images in the series consist of interweaved layers that have been transmuted using digital and analog techniques. Everything from light reflections to the limitations of various file formats have left media-specific traces and influenced the transmutation process, hereby making the interplay between enhancement and distortion intrinsic to the work. One of the images, in which a symmetrical object appears, differs from the others. The object recurs in a number of Willim’s works.


The sound installation Chambers is based on site-specific sounds, composed to reshape the aural space and to generate a dreamlike ambience. The sound used has been recorded in the atrium as well as in the anechoic chamber, which is part of Humlab at the university. The sounds recorded in the anechoic chamber stem from the object that appears in one of the images of the exhibition. The sounds have been convolved with reverberation from the King’s chamber in the great pyramid at Giza.

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Projects on Transmutation and Convolution

Posted on | april 18, 2015 | No Comments

From a recording session in  the Anechoic Chamber at Lund UniversityDuring the coming months I will be working with several interlinked projects exploring spatiality, atmosphere and the relationship between mediation and imagination. I will anchor some of the exploration in the theoretical concepts Transmutation and Convolution.

I started to work with notions of transmutation in the text Transmutations of Noise. Or actually I already started to deal with this together with Orvar Löfgren in our book Magic, Culture and The New Economy (2005). Recently I I touched on both transmutation and convolution in a conference presentation (Visual Culture: Environment and Nature conference, Lund March 25-6 2015.). At the conference it was great to meet Joanna Zylinska and to learn about her intriguing work.

During the coming time I will present at some conferences and symposia, as well as contribute to some publications. I will also make some art works as part of the projects, in which I have started to use the anechoic chamber at The Humanities Lab at Lund university. I will partly develop some of the concept and ideas from the previous work Possible Worlds. More on this will follow…

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Colormap Destinations

Posted on | december 29, 2014 | No Comments

Here’s the first track of Colormap Destinations:

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Possible Worlds in Melbourne

Posted on | december 12, 2014 | No Comments

The Possible Worlds setup.

10 December I performed Possible Worlds at The Design Hub, at RMIT University, Melbourne. The performance took place in the evocatively designed Multipurpose Room. Thanks all for the heartwarming feedback, proposals and comments. It was a suggestive context to do the performance, a context which has already been inspiration for coming iterations of the work.

On the plane over to Melbourne I stumbled over the movie Predestination, which to my great surprise was partly shot at The Design Hub. The footage gave an extra dimension to the visit and the performance.

The Design Hub building is a 10-storey building by Sean Godsell and Peddle Thorp, Architects.

The exterior.

The Multi Purpose Room at RMIT. Photo by Tom O’Dell.


Knobbing and sliding in Melbourne. Photo by Tom O’Dell.


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Tacit or Loud at The Inter Arts Center

Posted on | december 4, 2014 | No Comments

tacit or loudYesterday I took part in Tacit or Loud: Where is The Knowledge in Art, a symposium and festival for artistic research held at The Inter Arts Center in Malmö. I performed Possible Worlds and discussed it from an artistic research perspective. It was great to get good feedback, inspiration and constructive critique  from participants with great knowledge in musical composition, visual arts, research and theory. Thanks to Sally-Jane Norman, Henrik Frisk, Stefan Östersjö, Anders Elberling, Karin Göransson and all you others for good input. These kind of occasions are good inspiration to continue the development of my work.

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Design+Ethnography+Futures in Melbourne

Posted on | november 24, 2014 | No Comments

DEFThe second week of December I will be in Melbourne participating in a symposium on ”uncertainties” as part of the Design+ Ethnography+ Futures initiative. This is how D+E+F is described on its website:

”Design + Ethnography + Futures proposes a new meeting of design and ethnography through a focus on futures. It is characterized by four concepts of knowing, sharing, making and moving. We explore how the future orientation of combining design + ethnography approach invites new forms of change­making, where uncertainty and the ‘not-­yet-­made’ is at the centre of inquiry. It brings the improvisory, playful, imaginative, sensorial and somewhat contested edges of both fields to create an opening to experiment with what might emerge out of an assembly of ideas, people, feelings, things and processes. In doing so, Design + Ethnography + Futures deliberately steps out of established disciplinary methodologies and moves into the future with people and challenges what we habitually do and think about. It questions the taken-­for-­granted, triggers genuine surprise, plays with the edges of boundaries and reconfigures ways knowledge is produced.”

Possible Worlds poster RMITAs part of the event I also will perform Possible Worlds. It will take place in the Design Hub of RMIT University, 10th December. More info here.

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Possible Worlds – Evoking Ethnographic Surrealism

Posted on | oktober 2, 2014 | No Comments

Possible Worlds StillPossible Worlds StillNovember 5th I will perform Possible Worlds, a new audiovisual work, at The Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. This will be the premiere of the work, which stems from a collaboration with the museum. Sound and images have been collected on trips to different parts of the world. These are combined with material from the archives and collections at The Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. Possible Worlds Still 3Recordings from early ethnographic expeditions are enmeshed with contemporary material from entirely different contexts. The material is then mixed with computer generated electronic soundscapes, erasing the border between technologically generated expressions and material captured at concrete locations. Mundane everyday things collide with devotional objects, with undefined landscapes and actions as well as the non-place sounds from processors and tone generators. The material is mixed and performed during a 30 minute live-set based on surreal juxtapositions and layering of sound and images.

Possible Worlds Still 2Possible Worlds is an attempt to explore notions of ethnographic surrealism and the interplay between evocation of unknown worlds and situated performance. I use the notion of surrealism in an expanded sense, and draw on James Clifford’s (1981) statement about ethnographic surrealism as a utopian construct. According to Clifford:

”The boundaries of art and science (especially the human sciences) are ideological and shifting, and intellectual history is itself enmeshed in these shifts-its genres do not remain firmly anchored. Changing definitions of art or science must provoke new retrospective unities, new ideal types for historical description. In this sense, ‘ethnographic surrealism’ is a utopian construct, a statement at once about past and future possibilities for cultural analysis.”(Clifford, 1981:540).

Clifford used ethnographic surrealism in order to discuss what took place in Paris in the early 20th Century. I have been inspired by his  text in my attempts to evoke notions of possible worlds, be they future, past, fictional or parallel. The question is: what could ethnographic surrealism be today?

Here’s a short trailer:



Clifford, James. (1981). On Ethnographic Surrealism. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 23(4), 539-564.

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VIII Ethnology Days

Posted on | mars 15, 2014 | No Comments

yöYesterday I came home from some intense conference days at the VIII Ethnology Days 2014 in Helsinki. The theme of the conference was the elusive thing we call analysis and how it is coupled to processes of interpretation. How is analysis really conducted in the practices of ethnology?

This is how the theme was described on the conference website:

The theme of the VIII Ethnology Days is interpretation and analysis. We invite researchers and museum experts to reflect on the way they go about analyzing and interpreting their data. What kinds of concepts do ethnologists use in their analysis? How do we incorporate our informants into the process of interpretation? How to do interpretations that are in line with research ethics? And what kinds of interpretations do museums offer to the wider public? The question of analysis and interpretation concerns both academic research and cultural institutions as well their interactions with their audiences.

Interpretation and analysis is at the heart of ethnological practice. But it is not often discussed as explicitly as issues of data collection and how to  write up results. We have to communicate more about the methods and irregularities of analysis and interpretation and how it is enmeshed in ethnological processes as a whole.

balloonsSince ethnology is done in several different contexts, through various collaborations and with different stakeholders involved,  ways of working (with analysis) also differ. Some commentators have called ethnology a centrifugal discipline, meaning that we can find practices of ethnology spinning away in different directions. Depending on where it is heading the requirements, challenges and opportunities also differ. A conference like this gives a good chance to examine the trajectories and velocities of ethnological practice moving towards often very shifting goals.

The conference took off with a keynote by Anu Koivunen, who spoke intriguingly about her analysis of the film Auf Wiedersehen Finnland. Here we could see how a close examination of moving images, sound and narrative can give us insight into issues of national identity, gender and the politics of memory. The day continued with Jörg Niewöhner‘s talk on co-laboration and the challenges and potentials of ethnographic practice. Jörg stressed how co-laboration (a kind of laboring together) open up possibilities to analyze with different stakeholders, instead of just seeing analysis as a one-way endeavor.

During the afternoon it was time for a number of parallel sessions. Me and Tom O’Dell were chairs for Rendering Culture – New Openings in the Micro-Practices of Ethnography. Here’s the abstract for the session:

The past 15 years has seen an unprecedented expansion of the accessibility of new digital technologies to people in their daily lives. The possibilities created by this digital expansion have even direct consequences for the manner in which cultural researchers think about, collect and process empirical materials, as well for how research is assembled and communicated. Unfortunately, the consequences and potentialities these developments have for the methodological micro-practices through which cultural processes can be studied as well as represented and rendered has not been systematically studied to a sufficient degree.

This session welcomes papers that critically discuss the latest advances that are occurring in the collection, processing and presentation of ethnographic materials. New digital technologies have paved the way for new and intensified micro-practices for gathering and composing ethnographic materials, however, we see these advances as intimately linked to the developing field of sensory ethnography. Digital technology is not simply an artifact of some disembodied “cyberspace”, but is very much grounded in corporeal activities that activate and draw upon the senses.

Here we encourage contributors to re-think the manner in which digital and sensory methods can be understood as being implicated in new modes of “Rendering Culture”. By using the concept “Rendering Culture” we mean to indicate an approach to ethnographic practices that is both an analytical and creative endeavor capable of touching and moving those exposed to it on both a cognitive as well as a corporeal/emotional plane. As part of the session we welcome contributions which are experimental in nature and which push our way of thinking about ethnography and ethnographic practices in a direction which moves us further away from discussions about writing culture and challenges us to test the boundaries of what it can mean to render culture.

During the sessions we could see different takes on potential ways of working with ethnography and of rendering culture. The conference was rounded off with the keynote by Tom O’Dell, based on our research on composing ethnography, rendering culture and multi-targeted ethnography, followed by a panel on ethnology and its uses of new technology. All in all it was a wonderful time in Helsinki, with great discussions, upcoming collaborations and great hospitality. Thanks to everyone organizing and making this possible.

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Borrowed features and attractant noise

Posted on | januari 5, 2014 | 6 Comments

One of the sculptures in the work Linnunlaulu (Bird song) by Finnish artist Jussi Valtakari.

One of the sculptures in the work Linnunlaulu (Bird song) by Finnish artist Jussi Valtakari.

Within circles of bird watchers there has been debates on field uses of smartphones and similar devices to create attractant noise. With eg. an iPhone you can easily playback the sounds of different bird species in order to lure birds out of their hiding places. Several bird watchers do not appreciate this use. Yesterday Sarah Portlock wrote in Wall Street Journal about recent debates.

As Christopher Vogel approached a hot spot for Louisiana waterthrushes in a New Jersey state forest one spring day, the professional ornithologist could hear the bird’s complex crescendo of ”CHEE-CHEE-CHEE-titi-WEE.”

But something didn’t seem quite right.

Then he spotted the trouble. The warble wasn’t coming from a bird. Rather, he said, a large man in full birding regalia—khaki field vest, floppy sun hat and expensive binoculars—was standing there on a bridge, his iPhone chirping away. It was loudly playing the bird’s song, seemingly on a loop, in an effort to lure the bird into view.

”He thought he was alone. He was being on the sly,” recalled Mr. Vogel, 41 years old. ”And then somebody caught him.”

”I told him, ‘You know that’s exactly what you’re not supposed to be doing.’ ” Mr. Vogel then snapped a photo of the man and threatened to post it online for public shaming. The birder blanched, said nothing, went back to his car and left.

In his book Sound and Sentiment sound anthropologist Steven Feld wrote in a ground breaking way about the ways the Kaluli people in Papua New Guinea were using sounds like bird song to create a cultural system.

In his book Sound and Sentiment sound anthropologist Steven Feld wrote in a ground breaking way about the ways the Kaluli people in Papua New Guinea were using sounds like bird song to create a cultural system.

I’m not a bird watcher, and don’t have any specific idea on where to draw the line between appropriate and non-appropriate technology use in this context. But I feel tempted to relate the debates and controversies about smartphones and bird watching to a concept I introduced in the text “Enhancement or Distortion? From The Claude Glass to Instagram” last year. In the text I discussed how recent debates on Instagram aesthetics could be related to earlier controversies around imaging technologies like the Claude Glass. The concept I used to try to understand the debates and often strong feelings around technology use was “borrowed features”. The concept has to do with normative aesthetics and the negotiations on uses of new technologies.

Here’s a part from the text, in which I described how disdain and strong feelings around technology use could be interpreted as…

…a historically recurring theme of what could be called normative aesthetics. It is part of a defense of craftsmanship and ideas about professionalism. It is part and parcel of the social dynamics that occur when new technologies are introduced in various practices. When electric, then electronic and digital music instruments were introduced there were reactions against the loss of musical craftsmanship. Some writers still prefer mechanical typewriters, arguing that computer-based writing is numbing and dumbing. The same goes for imaging technologies. (…) But there is more to the story.

New tools encourage and strengthen some practices. New technologies are to some extent often prosthetic (McLuhan 1995). They offer new possibilities, they might enhance the abilities of the user, while they are also numbing or blocking some capacities. (…) This shift of knowledge (and skill) can be challenging.

There is a moral undercurrent that seems to run along much of the critique against uses of various technologies. The undercurrent is best illustrated by the fable about ”the bird in borrowed feathers”, in which a bird (sometimes a crow or a jay) borrows finery from another species in order to impress. The beautiful bird is however revealed to be ”fake” and the borrowed (and sometimes its own) feathers are torn off. This moral stance seems to spur critics when they disdain uses of new technologies as ”cheap gains” or as reliance on tools without having any real skill. I feel tempted to slightly tweak the fable to being about borrowed features.

It feels appropriate to use the notion of borrowed features/feathers when it comes to electronic imitation of bird song.  And when Jeffrey Gordon (president of the American Birding Association)  speak about thoughtless playback of sound out in the field , borrowed features/feathers comes to mind .

”I find it so boorish when people are just out here, indiscriminately blasting stuff,” said Mr. Gordon, who uses an app, but says he does so judiciously. ”When we’re getting out, we’re trying to become more attentive to what’s around us, and playback—or any kind of overreliance on gadgetry—can quickly start to erode the experience.”

Technology use in settings associated with wildlife and nature is a truly thought provoking topic.  


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