Category Archives: Performance

A bit of matter and a little bit more

Same location than the previous Monodramas, but different setting.

Two or three floors up in the ‘House of the Children’, that has been refurbished and standardised into European luxury standards, is the private collection of Axel Haubrok to be visited, again only on Saturday. The hallway, the elevator that offered a quick look into some marble nouveaux-riches interiors, the instant lightning system, the digital buttons on circular shape, everything was set up to wonder and somehow confuse between the facade of these Stalinist relics and the new interiors.

Haubrokshows less, as the actual show is called, is until this Saturday, the best installed exhibition space to be seen in all Berlin. Under a survey exhibition on less material/more concept, less shapes/more white, I situated myself two floors above Bureau Müller, again in a white and empty space, here slightly bigger and without a real window opening. Almost a perfect white cube.

It took me a while to actually recognize the work, and for once since months I wondered myself being interested in the information sheet the visitor can find, after listening to a singer, performing Tino Seghal’s This is propaganda, 2002. An acoustic moment that gave me a reference point within the exhibition space’s geography.

A series of slides, white chocolate on canvas, photographs, brass plates, a sheet of paper crumbled into the wall, a postcard, some clocks, a circle on the floor, a woman singing and some buttermilk. Nothing particular, nothing spectacular, but I enjoy the professionality of this ultra-contemporary art collection, without having to go to some other art metropoles, and without expecting too much from a financial shark such as Axel Haubrok.

Let just hope that this area won’t be called the new Mitte on the capital’s weekly magazine…

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The Sound of Others

I went to see Music From the Ether last week, in the Roter Salon in the Volksbühne building. It was supposed to be a musical performance based around the theremin, the performer being Dorit Chrysler, who the promotional texts described as “one of only a few performers in the world to have mastered” it as an instrument. I was pretty disappointed then to sit through a performance largely based around pre-produced soundtracks playing from a laptop at high volume, and accompanied by her own vocalisations, with the live-theremin layered thinly over the top as texture. The presence of the theremin felt almost as an after thought. This was not totally the case, and there were one or two pieces where the theremin stood alone, or was accompanied by a more discreet backing track; but in general what we were treated to was, I felt, a performer utilising the theremin as a simpllified aesthetic layer to add interest to otherwise competent, but banal music. Dorit Chrysler perhaps less mastered the theremin as an instrument, but rather as an alibi.

Recently I was in Ireland, and visited Project in Dublin, where Irish artist Jesse Jones was showing a newly commissioned three-part film, audio, and light installation piece entitled The Spectre and the Sphere, which centralised the theremin as one of the motifs. In the first part of the piece, Jones films theremin-performer Lydia Kavina playing a refrain from the socialist anthem, The International. The accompanying text draws attention to both Vladimir Lenin’s enthusiasm for the (at-the-time) newly invented instrument, declaring it “the sound and structure of the coming generations”; and to the presence of the theremin in American 1950’s science-fiction movies to indicate the presence of a malevolent ‘outsider’ figure. Jones here was hoping to trace both the shift in attitudes to communism spatially and temporally, but also the inherent otherness associated with the movement (and all its associations) in western culture in the 20th century; and perhaps globally now. The theremin acts as an agent of this analysis in the artwork, not purely because of its specific ties to early communism, but more generally because of the inherent ‘otherness’ we as the audience attach to it.

To return to Berlin, I wonder about the motives of the audience in the Roter Salon (including myself). Had we gone to see a music performance of Dorit Chrysler, or the performance of the theremin as a device, a strange and otherworldly object? The theremin is resistant to is use as a common instrument by the highly degree of fetishisation attached to it. It cannot be simply utilised to create an artwork, a musical piece, or a performance, whose identity has a degree of autonomy from the object that created it. All instruments and media of course make their mark felt on the product of their work. All works exist as the expression of the media and methods that produced them. But whereas most work maintains conceptual and formal elements autonomous of the means of production or expression, the theremin dominates too much in its fetishisation and otherness to allow this. Thinking back, I cannot ever remember a performer really playing music with the device, I’ve only ever seen people play the theremin.

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