SIX-LINE STAFF. AUDIO-VISUAL INTERVENTIONS IN THE CHOPIN MUSEUM, SEPTEMBER 2012-FEBRUARY 2013
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Piotr Łakomy, Quiet Storm, 2013, audio - visual intervention, level +2

Quiet Storm – a satellite dish and the liquid collected inside it. This object plays with the emitter/receiver function. We are dealing with an audio object that emits sound at a frequency imperceptible to the human ear but that manifests itself in motion – through the vibration of the surface of the liquid.

Metaphorically speaking, the liquid is a filter of experiences. Similarly, when dealing with something out of the ordinary, a person can only draw on what he or she has previously experienced, and so personal sensibilities, memory and knowledge.

Paradoxically, therefore, Quiet Storm poses the question as to how sound/music works. Relegating that fundamental, essential element to the background, the sound ‘propels’ the object’s action, but only its effects are real/noticeable. The main idea of this installation is the translation of sound into motion. This formal problem may be interpreted very broadly, for instance via the question as to whether music is capable of provoking a receiver into action.

Piotr Łakomy

 

Piotr Łakomy (1983) is a graduate of the Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Zielona Góra, with a diploma from the workshop of Professor Leszek Knaflewski. His preferred media are painting and installation, and he is interested in formally reduced objects in the context of their destruction and also the tensions they create in space and in relation to other objects. He is the author of the projects and publications T-HOOD (Temporary Hood) (2011), DUST SHOW (public space activities), Copenhagen, Denmark (September-October 2010) and DUST SNOW (winter sculpture park), Poznań, Poland (January 2010). A grant-holder of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (2011) and the Danish International Visiting Artists Programme (2010), he has taken part in group and individual exhibitions in Poland and abroad. He currently lives and works in Poznań.

 

Sound that is visible, but inaudible. ‘Showing’ the bounds of perception. Bringing us back to the order and the essence of our senses. To yielding to our senses. To the anxiety of our senses.

A minimal object, reduced – its shape, texture, colour. A visually unobtrusive installation – invoking the minimalists’ reflections on the limits and essence of sculpture. A stark, technologically unsophisticated object in a room embellished with stucco and gilt-framed palatial mirrors. A room that is an interval between. A stark object confronted with the microcosms of Chopin’s preludes in a room called Personality.

A foreign body, reminiscent of the black prism from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. An incommodious object.

In the modern world’s streams of sounds and shapes, our eyes linger on an intriguing unknown, like a strange thing stumbled upon in the dark of night. A thing from the surrealists’ oneiric wanderings.

The acoustic silence of this thing is a question. A question that resonates more profoundly if we look upon this object as a skull filled with water, and not a device focussing millions of images and sounds from around the world. An object used improperly. Or used with the subtlety of a poet relating the most fundamental truths of reality. A question posed at the end of the cycle Six-Line Stave. Yet the answer is not silence, but a return, after purification, to the pulsating sounds of the world.

Maciej Janicki

 

If we were to cut off an ear (like van Gogh, but with a little bit of skull) and look at the severed part, we would see Łakomy’s work. Van Gogh cut off his left ear, but in our case it might just as well be the right as the left, since we have Łakomy’s work on both sides. Metaphorically speaking, this work is a place where our brain sees our ear – it is a real place in which we begin to hear sound. (Thus we have a cross-section of the ear in an artistic form.) Ab ovo, it looks like this:

The auricles catch sound waves. The sound waves travel along the auditory canal to the eardrum. The eardrum turns the sound waves into mechanical vibrations by means of the (industrially named) hammer mechanism, which strikes an anvil, which strikes a stirrup. (So the snail-like cochlea to which it is linked, through an oval window, is essentially a saddled snail.) The cochlea is a place where (as with Łakomy) a liquid lies; here, the mechanical vibrations turn into nerve impulses.

In our brain, a quiet storm rages non-stop.

Agata Mierzejewska

***

Łukasz Jastrubczak, TELEPATH, 2012–13, audio - visual intervention, Level 1 (elevator hall)

 

The installation Telepath is interactive. In reaching for the headphones that hang from the ceiling, the viewer/listener activates a system that releases the hammers of a piano, which strike the note C. The sound of the note can be heard through the headphones, thanks to a microphone hidden in the piano.

The note sounds in two separate realities: the ‘real’ (the piano string sounds in the room and listeners use their natural hearing apparatus to register the sound) and the ‘virtual’ (the sound as digitally encoded by a recorder can be heard on the headphones).

Thanks to the installation’s mechanism, the viewers/listeners produce the note C remotely and unwittingly. Let us assume that the viewers/listeners believe there is no mechanism between themselves and the piano a few metres away. They become accidental magicians. Seeing before themselves a system of strings and wheels, they become illusionists. 

Romantic motives, traditional tales, fables and nineteenth-century fantasy possess a fictive status based on a reality that is transformed, imagined, represented through some medium (text, composition, painting, etc.). A performed work of music possesses a mixed status: on one hand, it consists of sounds produced by an instrument (a hammer strikes a string of a particular thickness); on the other, it is the musician (the interpreter of the musical text) who transports the musical work into an imagined world through musical means (dynamics, colouring, etc.). Thus a single note C, produced by accident, unwittingly possesses a real status. It is solely and exclusively the note C, produced by the striking of a hammer on a string.

Łukasz Jastrubczak

 

Łukasz Jastrubczak (1984) - The visual artist Łukasz Jastrubczak was a student of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław, but gained his diploma (with distinction) from the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice (2009). In his works, he employs mainly photography, video, sound and installation. He is interested in various aspects of film, including fiction that functions on different planes and its relationship with reality. He also engages in dialogue with the avant-garde tradition, particularly conceptual art. The rupture or incompatibility between fictive and non-fictive narration intrigues the artist in his installations in public spaces (often in the form of ephemeral objects). He plays synthesiser with the group Boring Drug. Since 2012, he has coordinated the work of the Times New Arial Museum. He has also co-written the book Miraż [Mirage] with Sebastian Cichocki. He has had individual exhibitions at Art in General in New York,  Bunkier Sztuki in Cracow, CSW Kronika in Bytom, BWA in Zielona Góra and Galeria Sabot in Cluj-Napoca. He has also taken part in the project Tarnów. 1000 Years of Modernity. He lives in Cracow.

 

Our perception of personal devices playing back music as just another plane of the soundscape to fall in our ears has become so widespread that we often fail to notice their ostinato-like presence. They obscure the reality of everyday sounds, directing meaning elsewhere. They enter into an accidental dialogue with the external reality. They filter the visible, with the effect that our everyday reality may become somewhat ‘filmic’. They create a fiction through which we can more colourfully play out the scenario that some call ‘life’.

In urging us to take the headphones, Łukasz Jastrubczak is promising to transport us into an imaginary realm, to trigger a meandering stream of associations. Yet he is showing us a tautology. Like Joseph Kossuth, who juxtaposed an actual chair, a picture of a chair and a printed definition of the word ‘chair’, Jastrubczak shows us an actual instrument, from which a sound is produced, and headphones that are presumably intended for listening to a sound that is not present in a given acoustic reality. In the headphones, however, we hear an afterimage of the sound we heard a moment before in reality.

Is Jastrubczak’s work an invitation to listen intently to the essence of the sound and to reflect on the distance that separates us from its real dimension as mediated by the device? Does the sound appear more tangible when mediated, more spatially grounded (in the spatial fiction of the headphones)? Do the headphones that form a cage for the sound not overly facilitate our pursuit of that sound, our intense listening as we wander around the irregularities of the architecture?

Maciej Janicki

 

Aspect 1. According to research carried out by CBOS, as many as 39% of Poles believe in telepathy. Although Jastrubczak’s work is called Telepath, it is based on traditional principles of dynamics (action – reaction); the sound appears because we pull the strings. Perhaps our subconscious acts in the same way (we want it – so it happens). Jastrubczak’s work shows us in a musical way the effects of our actions – we are the instigators of the sound.

Aspect 2. During their course in the history of philosophy or aesthetics, students of musicology undergo more than one intellectual baptism casting doubt on apparently self-evident truths relating to music. One of them comes when they read the texts of Roman Ingarden, in which the philosopher poses the notorious question: Where exactly is the work of music? What is it? The concept in the composer’s head? The performance? The score? All of that at once? In his famous essay The Work of Music and the Problem of its Identity, he calls music an ‘intentional object’; that is, an entity suspended somewhere between the composer’s idea, the performance and the score.  One of the examples illustrating the philosopher’s discourse is the listener who during a concert has a headphone [sic] in which he hears a live transmission of the same concert but from the other end of the hall. According to Ingarden, the concert heard at one end of the hall is a different concert to that heard at the other end of the hall. Jastrubczak’s work allows us to experience Ingarden’s words (we hear the same sound from two different places) and inclines us to reflect on whether he was right.

Agata Mierzejewska

 ***

Wojciech Bąkowski, LOOKING AT A PICTURE WITH THE AID OF SOUND, 2012–13, audio - visual intervention, Level -1

 

The work Looking at a Picture with the Aid of Sound is a kinetic object. It consists of a framed roll of paper, a contact microphone, a loudspeaker and an electric motor. A broad paper panorama, forming a sort of conveyor belt, moves slowly along on a horizontal plane, and the miniature microphone affixed to the framework remains in contact with the paper and amplifies the delicate sound of its rubbing.

The object is a model of a sensory situation. The movement of the paper expresses the action of sweeping a space with one’s gaze. The sound from the speaker helps to fill the void, the sense of which is heightened by the lack of any content on the moving paper.

In the metaphorical sense, my work refers to the question of influencing the reception of events by means of music. This concerns al. music that is able to attach itself, in our associations, to some image, event or inner experience. In Polish awareness, a special place in this respect is occupied by the works of Fryderyk Chopin. Those works, often performed and played back in public, fill the space within which we sense solemn, sad or dull moments. They can be heard on state occasions, at funerals and on answerphones. The last example best corresponds to the thrust of my work. Filling those places of the soul which, left vacant, might carry a person in the wrong direction is one of the tasks of an artwork. Music often shows us how we are supposed to feel. In my object, the unadorned sound reinforces the grey homogeneity and monotony of the landscape.

Wojciech Bąkowski

 

Wojciech Bąkowski (1979) -  A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, with a diploma from the Audiosphere Studio of Professor Leszek Knaflewski, Wojciech Bąkowski has produced poetry, animated films, videos, music and audio objects. Particularly fascinated with the spoken word, he often quotes phrases he has heard, from which he creates poetical narratives. A member of the Penerstwo group, leader of the KOT and Niwea ensembles, Bąkowski has been a prize-winner of the Deutsche Bank Foundation’s competition ‘Spojrzenia’ [Views] (2009) and been awarded a Paszport [Passport] prize by the weekly Polityka (2010). In 2009–11, he produced a cycle of drawings for the daily Gazeta Wyborcza: ‘Tu mam taką rubrykę na rysunki’ [I’ve got a rubric here for drawings]. He has taken part in a number of exhibitions in Poland and abroad, including in Zielona Góra, Sopot, Warsaw, Poznań, London, Rome, Berlin and New York. He collaborates with the Stereo Gallery in Poznań.

 

In the work presented at the Chopin Museum, the author of Spoken Films utters not a word. In this artist’s output, the word is usually cast forth spasmodically from the depths of a faulty (sub)consciousness. A word uncouth and veracious. Not deformed by convention.

In Looking at a Picture with the Aid of Sound, he has proposed a radical reduction. His work suggests a picture on a wall. A white framed picture depicting nothing but itself and referring to nothing other than itself, evoking the modernists’ considerations of the limitations and specificities of depiction – of ascetic abstraction, which declares that it is nothing besides the materiality of canvas and paint. The speaker attached to the frame is a delicately ironic reminder of the topos of painting, which lacks just a voice to be the ideal imitation of nature.

Bąkowski’s intervention suggests a kinetic object-image. In op art, however, artists have turned to visual appeal, treating sound as a side-effect and focussing on the distinctness of geometrical forms and on optical illusions obtained through their movement. Bąkowski’s work is dominated by uniform movement, but it does not trigger an optical illusion, bidding us look at the margins or at what is not there. And having us listen to the marginal.

The sound in Looking at a Picture is, like the rolled white sheet of paper, radically reduced. It would be difficult to find a more primitive sound than rubbing. The rubbing of the microphone on the moving, visually ‘zeroed’ paper resembles the sound carried by a record-player needle before or after the music. Perhaps it is a seismograph or a drawing machine, in the spirit of zen? Or perhaps a gramophone for listening to the texture of paper? No line appears, though the sound of abrasion is present – an instantly vanishing acoustic trace against the intentionally recorded – though in this case absent – visual trace.

In Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961), Robert Morris placed a speaker inside a minimalistic cube-shaped object, playing back the sounds that were produced as the box was being made. Bąkowski’s work speaks in sound of its continuous becoming in the eyes/ears of the viewer/listener. It becomes a catharsis of the eyes and the ears.

Maciej Janicki

 

Using sound to help us look at a picture is nothing new. We always draw on other arts to help us understand a particular work. We also use science to help us understand art – and vice versa. In the preface to his book The Lightness of Being, the title of which was inspired by Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the world-famous physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek writes: ‘Of course Kundera’s approach to […] problems, through story and art, looks very different from the one I’ve taken in this book, through science and (light) philosophy. For me at least, coming to understand the deep structure of reality has helped to make Being seem not merely bearable, but enchanted – and enchanting.’ By drawing on other fields of knowledge, we understand better – more fully.

Syncretism has been present in art forever. Music in ballet helps us understand the dance; music in opera helps us understand the text and the emotions it contains. Film music helps us immerse ourselves in the action, and was particularly crucial to viewing silent films. Similarly, words can help us listen to music. For centuries, Western European music valued works with a text more highly than purely instrumental music. There was a time when music wanted to be as vivid as a picture, hence the ‘tonal painting’ that imitated reality, the musical battle scenes, the storms in sound, the theory of rhetorical figures, and the theory of the affects, employing a catalogue of emotional states which music was supposed to arouse almost scientifically… and the nineteenth century produced hundreds of pages of literary programmes appended to works – al. just to help us to ‘see’.

But with Bąkowski, there is no picture. Just white.

Agata Mierzejewska

***

Daniel Koniusz, WORKS, 2012, audio - visual interventin, Visitors' Book, level -1, objects, steel and vinyl.

 

Works, a series of objects created for the Fryderyk Chopin Institute as part of the cycle Six-Line Stave, refers to the technical and metaphorical ‘problem’ of the transcoding, translating, reading and recording (on hard media, in our memories) of the physical nature of a sound, work, opus or composition. The new quality that results from conversion from one state (e.g. a score) into another (a performance on an instrument), as a consequence of the creative process, is one of the more important (processual) elements of my intervention.

The vinyl disc, as the medium that physically holds the sounds, the final value (sum) in the process from the idea in the composer’s head to the concert recording or studio recording, undergoes another translation – in this case a physical conversion, determined by an abstract algorithm consisting of such values and their substitutes as the following:

  • the number of works on the medium → the multiplier,
  • the duration of a single work, the duration of the whole → the duration of the transcoding,
  • the score of the composition → the number of cycles in the process,
  • the work’s expression – the graphic analysis of the wave spectrum →  the temperature,
  • the work’s dynamics →  the distance.

The process of algorithmic conversion creates a new situation, a new visual form, resulting from an autonomous logic, not compatible with any mathematical or physical order. Consequently, the alogical forms its own logic – an axiom, a visual artefact.

Daniel Koniusz

 

Daniel Koniusz (1985) - Audio-visual artist. From 2005 to 2010, he studied at the University of Arts in Poznań (then the Fine Arts Academy), on the Department of Photography of the Faculty of Multimedia Communication. Since 2009, he has worked as an assistant in the Audiosphere Studio run by Professor Leszek Knaflewski. In 2012, he began his interdisciplinary doctoral studies on the UAP’s Faculty of Multimedia Communication. His work has been presented in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad, including in Cairo, Urumqi (China), Poznań, Łódź, Toruń, Gdańsk, Szczecin, Gorzów Wielkopolski and Wrocław.

 

The vinyl discs deformed into sculptures, affixed upon tripods on which we might find a cymbal or a microphone, can be interpreted as surreal objects (or rebuses) – objects that juxtapose two unattuned registers (not just in the musical sense) within a single subject. Yet there is no sound (though we know it is recorded), since the device by means of which we retranspose the trace of the sound into vibrations is absent. The creation of a sculpted form has made it impossible to ever play the recording back, but it also allows us to transform the audio into the visual. The trace of the sound remains mute, but the two artists’ gestures come together.

Daniel Koniusz undertakes a dialogue with the notion of the ‘transcoding’ of aesthetic values (the idea of the musical work in the composer’s mind, the materiality of the medium onto which that work is recorded and the expression of the work’s sculptor-listener) and ponders the physicality of the sound as recorded onto the vinyl disc compared with the material dimension of the medium itself. The plasticity of the analog pressing of sound as opposed to the ‘perfect’ digital row of 0-1 data reminds us of the oppositions between which the contemporary listener moves. The departure from sterile digital standards and the turn towards the winding stream of analog sound recording encounters the need for sensuality… the need for an organic trace (impression, touch). It encounters an acceptance of the fault or error… of sculptural chance. Is Chopin closer to ‘perfect’ digital sound or to the black disc? Do we prefer Chopin played on imperfect instruments from the past or on increasingly perfected contemporary concert pianos?

Maciej Janicki

 

A brief history of the transmission of ideas.

An idea exists – culture is its medium. In Chopin’s mind, an idea appears – Chopin’s mind is its medium. The work is written down – the paper is its medium. The work is performed – the musicians that play it are its medium. The work is recorded – the disc is its medium. The work is played back – the listener is its medium. Koniusz thermally transforms the disc according to an algorithm he has created – we behold a familiar idea in the form of an unfamiliar medium.

And so?

We stand before an ambiguous artefact, an object of altered significance and altered function. No record-player can play a disc transformed by thermal processing – we need another ‘device’. Yet the thermal processing itself – the key to the work – is eternal and fascinating. Fire, heat, deformation, altered density, burning, heating – elements of alchemy and laboratory experimentation with the use of an original ‘recipe’ – in this case an algorithm based on the parameters of Chopin’s works – these are deliberate actions aimed at transforming, transgressing, like the search for the philosopher’s stone, n’est-ce pas?

And then there is the biological aspect. Do we ourselves, when creating, not burn ourselves or transform ourselves?

Agata Mierzejewska

***

Leszek Knaflewski, Sit down and fight, 2012, Audio-visual intervention,  Listening room, level -2

 

The installation Sit down and fight, prepared specially for the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, offers an intimate reflection on the sensing of sounds with our bodies and all our senses. The performer’s image and his relationship with the instrument and with the listener recording the performance form the starting point for a number of references to the reception of musical images in connection with the technological development of devices for recording, carrying and playing back sounds. Methods of digitalising analog signals, as well as other file formats and standards in which information that is imperceptible or insignificant in terms of audio perception is removed, alter our approach to recordings. Paradoxically, this way of recording sounds has at once both contributed to the development of music and also falsified the natural act of the creation of music in direct contact with listeners. Breaking with this type of experience leads to the erosion of man’s haptic connection with music. As time passes, the forms and shapes of instruments become modified, thereby illustrating the epoch in which they were created. Synthetic sounds imitate natural sounds, blurring the bounds of memory. In the case of sound recording devices, technological progress has a decisive influence on the design and dimensions of the object. As the venue for my installation, I chose a small room that is officially called the ‘Listening Room’, but is familiarly known as the ‘sauna’, on account of the wood panelling on the walls and the floor. From my point of view, it is more of a listening room for a solitary audiophile, who sits in the sound box of a large musical instrument.

Leszek Knaflewski

 

Leszek Knaflewski (1960): Visual artist. Co-founder of the Koło Klipsa art group (1983–1990), Knaflewski has also played in a number of music bands, such as Rasa, Sten, Socrealizm, Art Sound Project, Drum Machina and Kot. A professor of the University of Arts in Poznań, he is the founder and head of the Audiosphere Studio on the Intermedia Department of the Faculty of Multimedia Communication. In 1999, Professor Leszek Knaflewski set up the Audiosphere Studio on the Intermedia Department of the Faculty of Multimedia Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, since renamed the University of Arts. This remains the leading university studio of its kind in Poland. During their lessons, the prospective artists familiarise themselves with the current known as ‘audio art’, attending listenings, film shows, concerts and jam sessions. They learn how to use sound equipment, to record and prepare sounds, and to employ audio editing programs. They learn what the audiosphere means in our lives and how that knowledge can be used to forge artistic strategies in the world of contemporary art.

 

 

From descriptions of Chopin’s improvisations, we know that he played (often in darkness) heterogenic ‘montages’ dominated by organically spliced fragments of his own works, sometimes combined with onomatopoeic fragments. His improvisations ranged from the sublime to the grotesque. They triggered listeners’ imaginations, facilitating transcendence and a departure from earthly existence. In their imaginations, listeners ‘added’ narratives/tales based on literary topoi. It was rarer that they were able to listen abstractly. They needed action or symbols in music, as in the academic art, representing events from national history or mythological scenes, which was fashionable at that time.

Sit down and fight is not just a work about the impotence of the modern-day TV-viewer who comes home tired from work and submerges himself in the automatic gazing into (at) the TV set as a way of fleeing reality, or less often overwork. It addresses the issue of the audio stereotypes (over)used in films and their consequences in the disciplining/exercising of our imagination’s associations and reactions/habits. In the audio layer, the artist employs film soundtracks, editing them in a way that makes it impossible to understand the words (of the actors or voice-over reader) but allows the ear to ‘latch onto’ characteristic soundtrack ‘intonations’ (voices, sound effects, music). The lack of an image activates our imagination. It prevents us from ‘propping our eye’ on an image and shifts the emphasis towards listening, which nevertheless, in this instance, provides much less cognitive assurance than visual stimuli. The absence of the clear sense of words directs our hearing towards the margins and the ‘intuitive’ decoding of meanings.

Chopin had an unusually sensual approach to sound. He preferred small, isolated spaces. We know that he composed at the piano, or with the piano, as we might say. And while he improvised, the listeners gathered around the piano sensed his music with their whole bodies. Cut off from the outside world, the salon became a sound box.

The cable-woven chair on which we are sitting is an electrical sound carrier, but it also acts through an electromagnetic field and relates to the issue of physical contact with sound, of its palpable nature. Can passive listening to a recording have the dimension of corporeal contact with sound that is experienced by a musician in a unique interpretation? Knaflewski’s work also speaks of our expectations of the highest sound quality of audiophile hi-fi systems and so-called home cinema. Our expectations of sterile spaces, acoustically isolated from the chaos of the modern world, in which we perceive sound to be ‘life-like’, fully ‘immerse’ ourselves in it and ‘experience’ it to the full (museums are also machines for emotional management). In this case, just the image is missing. But there is also no sense of coherence, and the surrealistic rupturing of the narrative tends to disturb, rather than assure, our imagination.

Maciej Janicki

 

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem: ‘The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing’. So what does Knaflewski have in mind when he says sit down and fight? And above all… fight for what? As Smoleński recently reminded us, ‘Everything is meaningless’, and our basic reality is hideous and uncomfortable. Well, Knaflewski by no means sees it as hideous, and he seems to be repeating, after the Teacher, that ‘it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot’. For us, corporeality is a condition of our real existence in the world, and our sensory cognition, however embarrassing and imperfect it may be, enables us to love, be born, die, live, see and hear. So perhaps Knaflewski is telling us to fight for reality. Don’t click ‘I like’, don’t be afraid to live, talk, don’t use Skype, go to a concert, because Chopin sounds different in reality than on an mp3 file. Sit down and fight for your rights. (Of course, ‘appetite, which but today by feeding is allayed, tomorrow sharpened in his former might’, Shakespeare, Sonnet 56). The installation’s title refers to Bob Marley’s hit Get up, stand up. So this time we are dealing with a markedly affirmative and combative stance, which – contrasted with Smoleński’s Mold, which was strongly marked by death – allows us to concentrate without fear on the real here and now. 

‘Most people think, Great God will come from the skies, Take away everything, And make everybody feel high. But if you know what life is worth, You will look for yours on earth: And now you see the light, You stand up for your rights.’ (Bob Marley)

Agata Mierzejewska

***

Konrad Smoleński, Pleśń / Mould, 2012, audio installation / intervention (in the Personality room, the interior and fringes of the Death room, the main staircase from levels +1 to +2, and the Women, Mikołaj Chopin Salon and Pianist rooms)

I was invited to take part in a project based on the idea of adding an additional layer to the structure of the museum dedicated to one of the greatest of composers.  The way I use sound and music is worlds apart from the romantic heights of composing or the craft of mastering an instrument.  My artistic practice draws on punk, dirt, destruction and imperfection.

The sound intervention I proposed is based on several observations.  First, the situation in which so-called fine art finds itself today.  When Apollo played, everyone fell into silence and listened.  All conflicts were suspended, and even Aries, god of war, let off from spilling blood.  The music of Apollo lifts the human spirit and brings peace to the soul.  But what about the body?  The devotional nature of concerts at the philharmonic is always seasoned with the physiology of the audience, and the heavenly transport is brought straight back down to the human dimension.  All that grunting and coughing remind us that it’s not the music of the spheres, but the rushing of blood in our veins, that is the sound closest to us.

The second observation which accompanied me in this project is how a sound signal is recorded.  Once I was given a microphone which had been used for school assemblies and discotheques for a number of years.  When I brought it close to my mouth, I could feel in my nostrils the condensed smell of cigarettes, the school gym, a colour organ, Altus speakers, the school anthem and banners.  This is not the first time I’ve reversed the direction of the audio signal, using the microphone to spit out al. that saliva from its interior.  Used as a speaker, a  microphone becomes an expiration, in this case emitting the hidden manifestations of our carnality.  The sounds which just barely impinge through the microphones on the museum space mostly derive from recordings of pathological changes in the respiratory system.

Konrad Smoleński

 

Konrad Smoleński (1977) – installation and video artist, performer, musician.  A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, and later assistant there, he currently lives and works in Warsaw.  A member of the Poznan group Penerstwo.  He deals with such subjects as barely hidden, repressed and open fatality, fear, degradation and brutality, (self)-destruction, interference from a position of safety, and manipulation.  In 2011, Smoleński won the 5th edition of “Spojrzenia” (“Glances”) and received the Deutsche Bank Foundation Prize.  As Wojciech Bąkowski (an artist whose intervention will be presented in the Chopin Museum in February 2013) stated during the awards ceremony, “Konrad Smoleński’s work resonates with the unspeakable anxiety of our times”.

We imagine Chopin to be softly-spoken, elegant and refined. He is impeccably dressed and groomed, seated at the piano in a drawing-room upholstered in soft fabrics, aware of his genius, creative and young. His illness is widely perceived to have been merely the cause of his death. To our minds, Chopin is a man who is exceptionally fulfilled, and so we marginalise the troublesome question of physiology, repeatedly awkward for us as well. Yet each of us suffers, and it is enough to recall even a brief but debilitating illness to realise what it prevented us from doing, what it cost us or what it interrupted. Chopin’s body was just as sensitive as ours, but it had been ailing from a very early age – weary, dewed with sweat, uncomfortable, breathless. On Majorca, due to his illness, Chopin was a pariah; his coughing was a sound that paralysed those around him, arousing justifiable alarm, repugnance and fear. In the mid nineteenth century, it was al. too easy to invite death thoughtlessly into one’s home; it was much closer. Today, thanks to medical progress, we have al. but assimilated death, as if growing unaccustomed to it. If we picture Chopin coughing, he generally does so discreetly. Yet he choked many a time, and he died at the age of thirty-nine – illness curtailed his life by a few dozen opuses and a few dozen years. Why listen to Chopin coughing? Why listen to a disgusting sound? Smoleński’s bold installation tells us about what we want to forget, about what we don’t want to remember. And yet perhaps a healthy Chopin would not have created anything.

Agata Mierzejewska

 

The audio layer of the intervention Pleśń consists of human pre- or post-verbal sounds.  Marginal sounds, often repressed but stubbornly persistent, inevitable, impossible to discipline.   Introducing these features into the fabric of the museum as a kind of virus, the narration is disrupted by this discreet anomaly.  We can test how this kind of sound ‘waste’ changes the main meanings and the ‘texture’ of the exhibition.

In Chopin’s letters from Mallorca, the subject of coughing often comes up in connection with his deteriorating health and the unstable functioning of his organism (from problems with breathing and speaking to sudden emotional upheavals).  The body makes itself known through sounds, and sounds remind us that the body is being used up, is decomposing.  These are a disruption.  In 1839, in his review of op. 33, 34 and 28, Schumann wrote that Chopin “can be recognized by his breathless pauses”.

The 19th century produced a model of listening to music that was silent, disembodied, and propagated that kind of polished behaviour among ever wider social circles.  The contemplative approach to what we call fine art, providing access to the absolute or to an immediate transmission of feeling, became a model which is still in force today.  We restrain our bodies so as not to disturb the quiet of the concert hall.  Many studio recordings and audiophile equipment result in artists/recordings without a trace of physicality.  In museums, often treated like temples, we suppress the physical sphere.  On the other hand, many ‘amusement park museums’ not only don’t dampen physicality, but excite it, though the taboos on sound remain in place.

Public spaces impose audio discipline on us – and we require it from each other, especially with regard to the body.  The sterility of such places rules illness out.  In the 19th century, the community sound sphere was ‘cleansed’ – what was unwanted or uncomfortable was pushed to the fringes, out of sight.

Listening to the audio waste in the fringes alters sensitivity and perspective.  Not only aesthetically, but ethically.

Maciej Janicki