Interview for the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Other Shadows Embrace Mountains’ in the Wasserspeicher Prenzlauer Berg October 2013
On first impression your works are strongly visual, but with sound elements. Do you see yourself as a sound artist?
That’s right and I think that’s related to my background of visual art and architecture. For me, the visual was always something completely silent, almost dead, be it an installation or a painting, which the visitor then fills with life. So, at first I regarded sound as a troublemaker – and inevitably you have to get to know your enemies if you want to avoid them.
So you start with a visual frame first and then look for the fitting sound?
No, it seldom works like that. When I started working with sound it was more of a forced union, the visual and the audible part had to be one and the same.
A turning point for me was, for sure, ‘The Chapel’, my first architectural space-specific Sound installation in which the visual and sonic parts are strictly separated, yet won’t function without one another. When I started working in the space I got taken with the idea that the visitors first hear the works of the other artists, so I installed microphones which led the sounds/talks of the visitors of the gallery directly to the wall of speakers. Of course, this also has to do with honesty and secrets and the confrontation of the artist/visitor with the work. I felt like I needed a space that pushed the visitor into the position of a sneaky eavesdropper, a feeling of being in a chapel or confession room. So this was the first time I created a space for a sound and vice versa a soundscape for a space.
It’s also the first work where the viewer actively participates?
In general I think that viewers can always choose to be an active part of an artwork. But I guess it’s a different approach if you almost force somebody to take a certain position.
You started working with people a year before this work here in the Wasserspeicher- is this connected to active participation?
No, I think this has to do with my approach to sound. I work with sound because for me it’s not tangible, not distinctly memorable and still incredibly intimate. It is inevitable because you cannot not listen.
Before I started to grapple with sound, I was very afraid of my works being too intrusive and pushy. I think that the most familiar part of the audible world is voice because you are also a producer of it yourself.
For me, using sound is a possibility to tie intimacy to my inaccessible visual works and the conceptual process.
When I was in rural Portugal last year for a residency I started off with the idea of building a structure for listening to the surrounding sounds, an ‘Aural lookout’. But after a short while I got to know the demographics and when I got in contact with the remaining elderly villagers I noticed that their remoteness was mirroring the bleakness and vastness of the landscape. The elderly spoke of the great old times with parties and singing but nowadays they barely saw each other because of their immobility. I recorded them separately singing old folk songs for me and they did so very shyly because they had already forgotten some of the lyrics. Because they were so isolated in their empty villages I had the idea to reunite them sonically with that local folk song in the aural lookout. I installed the aural lookout on a small water reservoir house that had a view of all the villages in the valley and placed speakers inside the reservoir. Because of the water inside the building, the sound had great reverberation and the visitors heard the song (which was now complete, since all the different singers knew different passages) through headphones in the upper installed lookout.
In the Wasserspeicher it’s the first time that you use live performance in your work?
Yes. Recently, for a film production I worked with an opera singer and had this amazing feeling when somebody sings just for you in a small space. The Wasserspeicher immediately animated me to work with singers again because of the acoustics and the architecture. I have worked with the abstraction of voice for a while now and in this voice-period I rediscovered the old myth of Echo and Narcissus. For the eight opera singers in the Wasserspeicher I composed ‘Echo Echo’, which is a musical piece in three parts that is roughly leaning on Echo’s three components of the story: her gossiping times, her inability to freely speak and finally her wrongly perceived love repetitions. The iron plates, which lead to the abstraction of the voices, are the remains of the effort and only start making sound independently once the performance is over. It’s been incredible to work with these eight performers, I’m very thankful to them as they created the awkward intimacy with their sincerity and engagement that I had hoped for.
This site specific way of working features often in your projects.
I’m influenced and inspired by a space, but I engage with an idea long before knowing about a space. I work for a long time on a project only to distill the essence and create a seemingly new project explicitly for one space. It was similar with my last two projects. Several months before the exhibition in Steglitz I was working on objects that slowly change their form. But after I spent some time in the exhibition space the work ‘Shadow Rorschach’ suddenly summed up everything that I had for so long heavy-handedly dealt with.