The Digitized Artworks of Simon Stålenhag
Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Tales from the Loop, - Amazon Prime Video/ Amazon Original
Tales from the loop (2020) is an intriguing new drama series from digital streaming producers Amazon Prime Video/ Amazon Original, based on the Art book from Swedish artist-author Simon Stålenhag, of the same title from 2015. The digital paintings of the book introduce a unique special effect as they are animated into the series in a television first - digital painting to series conversion. This allows for the foundation of a binding and sublime mise-en-scène throughout the otherwise individual short story makeup of the series, as each singular episode answers to its own distinct narrative event and independent director. This gives notable weight to the importance of set design and mise-en-scène at large as well as its singular screen writer for the series’ preserved continuity.
As stated, each episode focuses on a different story based on an event in the lives of individual characters, but they are interrelated and connected through the stories overarching premise. Thus, the series revolves around the mysterious sci-fi events that transpire in a fictional Mercer - Ohio, after the discovery of “The Eclipse” and its containment underground at the “Mercer Centre for Experimental Physics” or “The Loop”, that has been set up to uncover and explore the unknown mysteries of science and the universe. The people that remain or have relocated to Mercer, are all in some way involved either directly in their work there within the centre of the county's infrastructure, or they encounter remnants of its experiments, since scattered throughout the town and its surrounds. The Loop’s experiments and its scattered affiliate objects possess unusual powers over time, space, perception, emotion, and memory and are the general cause of a plethora of ruptures and reversals or disruptions of the fundamental reality of the world within its environs.
Alongside this world incongruous to the laws of physics, are a population of robots also brought to life from Stålenhag’s digitally created oil paintings. Stålenhag’s appointed technique involved creating the artworks based on photographs taken himself and focuses on the preserving of a handmade and natural quality within their digital illustration whilst using a Wacom tablet and computer. The robots within the series exhibit a presence of sad grandeur, they are emotional beings and affected by the actions of others, they display pathos and exist as sentient beings in ways analogous to humans, they possess what Heidegger distinguished as the humane defining ‘being toward death’ experience of existence in relation to an understanding of the finite aspect of life.
The art works of Stålenhag are befitting to the art movement of ‘retrofuturism’, they reflect upon a previously anticipated future in placing these futuristic predictions within a past setting, i.e. speechless yet emotional sentient Robots within rural 1980s Sweden. Their presence is thus dramatized into the narrative structures of Tales from the Loop. Among the disrupted laws of physics within the world of Tales from the Loop, the most prevalent remains the theme of the disruption of our perception of the linearity of time, to that of its repetitious or circular existence. This alternative temporality echoes the retrofuturistic element with its coexistence of sentient robots and vintage aesthetic set design. If Freud discovered the unconscious to be atemporal and without entailing a sense of time, i.e fantasy and removed from our reality of time, then the loop could be considered the unconscious within Stålenhag’s world.
The beauty of Tales from the Loop is in its derived sci-fi uniqueness from that of the artwork collection of its digital painter. The template of these works of Stålenhag’s and their freedom from a sternly narrativized explanation allows for the unreal experiences faced by the characters within the series to be each refreshingly new and relatable to us when viewing them. Unlike classical sci-fi in which an array of fantasised experiences are faced along the journey of a set of characters and protagonists, Tales from the Loop is able to make each experience retain a more human relatableness in exploring its various novel and theoretical human experiences. Interestingly the loop remains a specified though undepicted entity within the collection of Stålenhag, allowing the experience of his artwork the goal of implying what it itself might be. And as it is often in art, the unexplained mystery, also never specifically dealt with in the series narrative, allows much more room for the perimeters of narrative, the characters, and our own projection into the story.