This evening we are not just entering a room in the Lettrétage on the Mehringdamm. Instead, we are travelling in just a few minutes a distance of over 1,300 kilometres, from Berlin to Kiev. Poet Charlotte Warsen accompanies us via headset on this mental journey. Her voice picks us up and lets us know that we are travelling. “If you were not here right now, would something more exciting be happening to you somewhere else?” The voice knows that we would rather be out on the street in the evening air and that, considering the chairs piled up in the room, fear having to stand up for the entire evening. The invitation said “8-11pm” and it is only know that I understand that it is not really the duration of the event, but rather a period of time during which we can stay as long as we can manage.
I follow the voice’s instructions. She leads me into the back room and into the park in Kiev, where Ukranian-German artist Yevgenia Belorusets took photographs. The recording from the headset lasts 13:25 minutes. It was up to me how long I lingered in the back room. The photographs hang on two walls opposite each other, on the front wall in between them is a poem, with lines distributed in groups on white paper.
Any one of the masses of visitors packed into the documenta showrooms in Kassel could hardly fail to notice the striking disparity between the kind of reception warranted by the numerous works of art that are kept there and what is actually appreciated. Or rather, they would find themselves in the position, simply for reasons of time, to not be able to do justice to many of the works. Some of the films projected on screens and monitors are hours long. Other artists present visitors with entire archives and extensive documentations, which would require a considerable amount of time to read or even just somewhat adequately take in. Visitors usually burst into the film screening and leave again a few minutes later. The artists and curators either do not seem to mind this kind of reception or else they imagine an ideal recipient, who comes to Kassel with all the time in the world. When contemporary art meets spatial art, frictions often emerge, but sometimes chances for a changed perception also arise. To a certain extent, you could experience the reverse situation to the contemporary art presented in the exhibition rooms recently in the Lettrétage, an easily produced vocal acoustic space. The collaboration of author Rike Scheffler and choreographer Jochen Roller resulted in a new kind of performance. The two were invited to create an installation and completely transformed the Lettrétage, where contemporary art of literature is usually the focus, into an artistic space. The public they encountered there had to adjust at first to the unfamiliar situation of being involved with a multidimensional event, when they were invited in at 8pm.
At first, you might think that it was all about rubbish, like the preceding CON_TEXT event by Cristian Forte und Harald Muenz, the window next to the entrance was taped up with strips of shredded paper after all. Inside, under the window was a crate, also overflowing with strips of paper – not just any old bits of paper but ones clearly printed with text. A picture that might be interpreted as an expression of a rigid reduction and selection process, which may have preceded this installation. Similarly to Forte and Muenz, Roller and Scheffler work with greatly reduced linguistic material. Alongside other small interventions in the room, which are yet to be discussed, a rectangular section, cordoned off by gauze curtains, diagonally opposite the bar was actually the centre of the action. When the public entered the Lettrétage, the first thing they heard was a subtle soundscape of birdcalls. At some point human voices appeared to come from the area behind the curtains. That was the signal for the visitors to enter the sound installation behind the curtain and venture a glimpse into the area covered with foam and with six loud speakers hanging from the ceiling at different heights. On the soft floor, lined with foam, which also invited the visitors to sit or lie down, were sensors in various places marked with a clear invitation to ‘touch me’ It did not take the public long to experiment for themselves or to find out through cautious observation that touching these sensors played sound files. A female and a male voice recited fragments of poetry such as ‘A hungry moon’, ‘Something warm left lying around’, ‘Baden singsong’, ‘Tentatively opening pelvis’, ‘We remember it well’ or ‘How does the sound hit your skin?’
People’s instinct to play was soon awakened and a mesh of many overlapping voices could be heard – a relatively simple experimental setup which lead to complex and surprising situations. When you pressed the buttons several times, you could cut off the voices or interrupt them yourself. After perhaps half an hour, the sound of overlapping text fragments audibly started to dwindle and gaps and pauses emerged. The crowd moved to the bar or out to the yard, but returned perhaps once or twice to continue playing less proactively with the installation in a more intimate setting. Meanwhile, the artists were there in the background, mingling with the public and not revealing themselves. Roller and Scheffer added another layer to their interactive sound installation by placing placards on the floor next to the sensors, which read ’Suillus placidus (edible, very rare)‘, ’Lactarius torminosus (hot, edible after particular preparation) ‘, or ’Tricholoma focale (value unknown)‘. Mushrooms with these names really exist and together with the birdcalls in the background, you could really get the impression of being in the forest searching for the sound of voices. In a small cool box outside the actual sound installation were not only ice cubes but also notes with words like ‘BACK’, ‘MOON’, ‘SCENT’, or ‘SINGSONG’. A curtain also divided the front room from the corridor leading to the back room with toilet doors, with little boards fixed on them. ‘Pendulum suspension’, ‘hang up a nesting box’ alongside illustrations. The second back room was separated off with opaque material and was not used.
Termini technici, as the foundations, were the structural element that connected the installation with these other interventions. The title Rike Scheffler and Jochen Roller chose for their contribution was another such term, ‘memory foam’ is the name of plastics that have a so-called form-memory effect and can ‘recall’ past states after transforming. Had this work been displayed in the context of some art exhibition, the public would surely have got bored with it much quicker, they would not have experimented for so long with sounds and overlays and they would have had a much more limited experience with the sound installation. The clash of time and space art as part of the CON_TEXT series proved to give the audience an opportunity to pay more attention to a spatial installation than would have been possible in a different context.
Ever since the ingenious story of the cleaning lady there has been a growing awareness of the fine line between trash and art. “Is this art or can I throw it away?” could serve as the guiding principle for the trash-performance by the Argentinian poet Cristian Forte and the German composer Harald Muenz. The production is subtitled “An asemic procedure”. The word “asemic” means the inability to communicate with the help of symbols. So we are warned: We won’t get very far if we try to understand.
What we experience during the next hour goes beyond the language: To ask the symbols for the meaning would be contrary to the intention of the artist. In fact, words are of inferior significance here. What is important can be seen and, more importantly, heard. The words here generally play a supporting role. The high points are to be seen and, more importantly, to be heard. Harald Muenz, sitting mainly at his mixing desk and working fully focussed on his control levers, explores the space between sound and noise. Only gradually do you realise how far he goes with this. The audience is invited to move around the room, whereby initially we stand in the front part – until suddenly something rumbles at the rear. One thinks that there is the action, but when we all rush back not to miss anything, nobody is there, just a canopy with a plastic sheet. Sounds without visual sources are somewhat uncanny and one suddenly becomes aware that the separation of sounds from their source is a fundamental interference with the nature of things. Not only has man subjugated the earth but also its sounds and in passing is this evening a manifestation of that dominion.
How can a text become three-dimensional? By transforming letters into objects. The 3-D-printer makes it possible. It is the clandestine main character of the evening. With its artefact, the letter X, he is the soloist, after all the while it has pottered away busily in the background, as the performance is timed in a way so that it ends synchronously with the printing process: a small lamp shines a light on the 3-D printer after the task is accomplished, like a spotlight.
It is the idea behind the event series Con_Text to transfer speech into a different dimension, to show texts in different contexts. The poet Daniel Malpica, originally coming from Mexico but living in Finland, and the Japanese sound-poet Tomomi Adachi succeeded on that evening to expand the field in unexpected ways. It is rare that one lives through a performance, during which things happen, which one has never heard or seen – including the irritation, which goes with the new. For, naturally, there is no model for the new and with that no benchmark, against which one can measure it. One remains thrown back to one’s own experience, an unsettling state – and a liberation.
Devised by the writer Maria A Ioannou and the dancer and choreographer Momo Sanno, the fourth CON TEXT event took place on 12th May. Sieglinde Geisel was there to report. Translated from German by Thomas Nießer.
The tale by Maria A Ioannou deals with a human, who would rather be a item, an object. When he is born he does not seem to breath, and as an adult he turns more and more into an object, in the end he can move his head only. A challenge for a dancer: how do you dance someone, who does not want to dance any more?
The discrepancy between consolidation and movement is a guiding theme of this encounter of two art forms. It is a give and take between language and dance. When words move, movements become frozen, when the writer falls silent, the dancer comes to life.
Momo Sanno lies on the floor, or to be more precise: he sits on a sideways toppled chair, as if he had become one with the piece of furniture.
“We have created a doll, a doll, a doll”, reads the author. The flow of words starts swinging, frees itself from the fixed text on the paper. Maria A Ioannou gives in to the rhythm, which is innate in her sentences, and she releases the words from their fixtures, so that they start dancing.
It is a Tuesday evening, just before 8pm. I am walking along the Mehringdamm. On my way to the Lettrétage. Author Kinga Tóth and illustrator Doro Billard are going to present the results of their collaboration. They had a week to get to grips with each other’s different forms of expression, or simply put to find a way to come together. This event, where literature encounters other art forms, is part of a series called CON_TEXT. Authors meet artists from a variety of fields and have to create something together. This evening the third outcome of such a ’collision’ will be presented to the public. I turn into the backyard. A few people are standing in front of the entrance, smoking.
I pull open the door, walk through the small lobby and notice that something is missing. Chairs. ”What? Am a supposed to stand for the entire evening? There has always been seating here. Every time I wanted to listen to an author, I have been able to sit down. And today I am not allowed to sit here passively and let voices wash over me?“ I am annoyed, and would like to complain. But to whom am I supposed I say, “Do you know that being able to sit is really relaxing and not being able to sit is really exhausting.” I look around for someone whom I could tell. I am especially on the lookout for someone who looks as though they would know where the chairs are hidden away. I am getting warm. I pull down the zip of my winter coat. I want to feel more air and less material around my body. My open coat cools me down a little, but it is not enough. I slip off the coat completely and put it down on top of a piano. There are no chair backs after all. My moaning seems unfair even to me.
As I know for sure that in the past, I have also wished for such a reading to go a little differently, differently to what we know and have so often experienced. So I calm down, reconcile myself to the lack of chairs and consider giving this unusual presentation a chance. The first thing that strikes me are the sentences stuck to the walls in big black letters. I read one of them. It says, ‘Not everybody returns to the body‘. In the middle of the room is a bathtub. There is some water in it. Next to the bathtub is a pile of crumpled-up paper. Behind the bathtub there is another sentence on the wall. ’Just as you speak into the water in the tub, when your mouth is blocked, so they speak to me. I am on the floor of the tub and they want to reach me from above.‘ There are illustrations hanging on some of the walls. One shows objects from children’s playgrounds. Swings. Slides. In another illustration, I can make out surfaces of water. In a sketchbook lying on a table, there are more illustrations of water surfaces.
Kinga Tóth’s texts and Doro Billard’s illustrations enrich each other and can be read and understood as a whole. I try and read into the work what I can. A two-toned line extends through the whole room at approximately hip height. I allow myself to make associations. The term water level comes to mind. The state of a water level. At what height does it become dangerous? What happens when it rises too high? What gets flooded? A village? A children’s playground? A sentence comes to mind, which describes this critical condition. The water is up to here. A limit is marked. This limit can be seen everywhere here. The stripes are coloured. The upper stripe is blue, and the one immediately below it red. The blue one reminds me of the water cycle, and the red one the bloodstream. These cycles are necessary for something to function properly. Life. I read the sentence behind the bath again ’Just as you speak into the water in the tub, when your mouth is blocked, so they speak to me. I am on the floor of the tub and they want to reach me from above.‘ I read it differently now, in connection with the water level marking. Now I understand that the limit has already been exceeded. A submergence has already taken place and the emergence is not yet clear, has not yet been decided.
The illustrations of the water surface also reveal something else about the subject. The surface, just like the stripes, makes a limit visible. The surface of the water as the supporting, the moving, the movable. Then there are also possibilities. Active possibilities – of immersion, of submersion. And of perishing. In the drawings, the depth of the water can also been seen on the surface. My gaze returns to the middle of the room. To the coat hangers hanging from the ceiling. Dresses and trousers made from paper are hanging from them. There are basins underneath the items of clothing. Some of them are filled with water. Clear water. Red water. Blue water. Some are empty. A women’s dress has already absorbed some of the colour from underneath. Some children’s trousers as well. New thoughts are pushed into my head. They hit each other like billiard balls, and roll on. Some fall into a hole. Others remain in play. The blank paper dresses and trousers seem like substitutions. I read them as models, and it is left open as to what they stand for. Yet, they definitely point to what we dress ourselves in and take off. How we colour ourselves in a way. A playing field. What can be put on in life and what cannot be? And which of those things can be removed and what can we not take off. To which cycles must we surrender? Is motherhood such a cycle? And can the colour be removed from such a cycle? Can the colouring be washed away? I am reminded of a quote by Judith Bulters, “The exclamation of a midwife, ‘a girl!’ is not only a constative assertion, but also a direct command, ‘be a girl!’”
The room falls quiet. The performance begins. The audience watch as Kinga Tóth and Doro Billard make noises with the water, with the paper. The paper clothes are sprinkled with water, submerged in the dye. Someone is taking pictures with a professional camera. I am in the way. I move slightly to the side, sit down on the floor and watch the two women. Not a word is spoken. The performance comes to an end. Chairs are brought in. There is now an opportunity to talk to the author and the artist about their collaborative work. People ask questions. Answers are given. I find out from Doro Billard that a dry cleaner is known as a teinturerie in French. If you were to translate it literally, it would be a dyeing factory. Interesting, I think. So when we want our washing to be cleaned, we bring it to a dyeing factory. Doro Billard explains that, as a child, she had always wondered why her father’s shirts came back white from a dyeing factory. The conversation is over. There is applause for the two women and I join in heartily. The work has really spoken to me, although not a word was uttered.
Translated from German by Hester Underhill
7 days, 2 artists, 1 location – Two new artists are coming together every week to create a new event at Lettrétage as part of the CON_TEXT project.
Daniela Seel: Let’s start at the beginning – what made you decide to work together? Why were you interested by each other?
Cia Rinne: I think I was very irrational. I liked Gernot a lot from the off and could imagine myself working well with him. The only thing was that, unlike with the other possible partners I could have had, I did not have a clear idea what the two of us could do together. That sort of open-endedness poses a kind of challenge that I really like. The way we work is rather different to how I am used to working – I’m really glad that we met. Selecting our partners was a mixed experience. Meeting the other artists was great but it was also tainted by the fact that we would imminently have to pick out partners to work with, which is always an awkward thing to have to do.
Gernot Wieland: I also think that the conditions set out for us were peculiar. What would have happened if all ten of the artists wanted to work with Cia and no one wanted to work with another author? The chemistry was right between us, that’s all. But I equally don’t know how else you could organise it.
DS: The teams were finalised by the end of 2016; you had to be ready to present by late January. You must have had to move insanely fast?
GW: In the world of fine arts, there are different types of people. You’ve got certain people who like to go to their workshops, throw on their overalls and get cracking that way. I’m more of a “deadline artist” – I get invited to do a project that has a theme and a deadline and I create a piece of work for it. That’s what helps me.
by Érica Zíngano
Érica: While I was trying to write down some questions to ask you both for this interview, imagining what kind of questions should I ask, I was thinking specifically about you Maria, because you don’t live here in Berlin, so, for you, to be here this week, it’s a completely new experience, it’s a kind of displacement, isn’t it? But for you, Momo, I guess you are more used to life in Berlin, you’ve lived here for a while now, but you also live in Romania…
Momo: I live all over the world! Actually, I don’t really have a place where I live… But yes, I pay my taxes in Berlin and in Bucharest too, but I’m pretty much moving around! So, I’m permanently commuting between Berlin and Bucharest, because I moved back to Bucharest two, three years ago, and I’m making my base there also, but Berlin conquered me a long time ago…
Érica: And you Maria, are you enjoying this week in Berlin? How is it going for you, developing this new work here?
Norbert Lange writing to Mathias Traxler about ‚Haut-Parleurs‘, a literary event which was conceived and presented by both Harald Muenz and Mathias Traxler in the Lettrétage on the 23th February 2017 as part of the ‚CONT_TEXT‘ project. (For further information about the event and its preparation, see here: video, photos, artists‘ discussions during preparation. Original text by Norbert Lange in German.)
Translation: Alice Bibbings
That was a great reunion! And also a lovely opportunity to refresh the themes that we often come back to in our conversations together. The right word to describe the Robin Blaser’s way with words occurred to me afterwards on the way home. It wasn’t ‚elegance‘ that I was thinking of and that I first tried to explain to you, even though that is most certainly a characteristic of Blaser’s poetry; rather, the word I was looking for was ‚attentiveness‘. I like to think that you can hear just how much or how little room poets give words in their poetry. When I listen to Blaser (and I had the same impression when listening to Harald Muenz and yourself) I can sense that a certain attention has been paid to the words that allows them to really express themselves. It shows that the words have be treated with real care, as you become aware of just how sensitive they are and equally of the wrath that they can unleash if they are not handled properly. Sensitivity and fragility are not synonymous, after all.