March 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
From March 14th until April 12th, RESONANCE partner Le Bon Accueil in Rennes, France, hosts the second installment of Stefan Roigk’s installation Bursting Confidence, a work that premiered last summer in Kunsthaus Meinblau in Berlin, Germany.
It was only at the end of the summer that I got the chance to talk to Stefan about his – and more specifically this – work, when we met early one rainy grey afternoon in his small studio in a nice old big school building in Prenzlauer Berg, a locality in Berlin that nowadays is the southern part of the borough of Pankow.
Then and there, all of Stefan’s Bursting Confidence was inside a pile of cardboard banana boxes…
He opened them up…
“I use papier-mâché for this piece,” Stefan explained. “That is great material and very easy to work with. And the other thing is: it is not heavy at all. All together these boxes weigh, maybe, 50 kilos… That’s really light. Fortunately. Because of course I wanted to hang them and that would have been pretty difficult had all of the objects been kind of heavy…”
Is it the first time that you work with papier-mâché? Did you have other material in mind before?
“Yes, it is the first time. Before I was thinking of silicon. But that is too heavy. It would have been really heavy to have these parts in silicon. As you can see, the thing that I did is… I used packing materials… plastic packings, wrappings, plates, cups … all sorts of packing material and stuff that I found. Actually, I have been collecting all of my trash. For two years, I kept my trash…”
You collected all of your trash for two years…!? But that’s fantastic…!
“Yes, yes, yes! But only the plastics. All the plastic forms.”
Two years of plastic trash…!? That must have been a LOT!
“Oh yes, it was a lot. All these menu boxes, chocolate things, cups for drinking, plastic plates… But it was great to have a lot of different forms. Because what interested me was the ways in which I could combine them. I combined a lot… plastic cups, and things like that… I combined all of that trash into forms. It was like firing up Pro Tools and then cutting and combining sounds.”
How did you make the papier-mâché prints?
“Let met try to explain… Take a plastic plate, the sort of thing that you get to eat from at parties, or when you’re having a pick-nick. I would take it, press it, tear it, deform it… and then put it in the papier-mâché… I used buckets filled with the papier-mâché. I would push in the forms of my trash, by hand. And then mold it. I had the whole studio full with forms and material! Originally I also wanted to make the papier-mâché myself. But, you know, that is a lot of work! If you want to make papier-mâché yourself, you first have to cut the paper. Then you need to put the slices of paper into water. Then you have to add glue. And then, after that, you have to take it, and use a lot of pressure to transform it into plates. Then it has to dry again. And then you have to shred it. It is a good work to do, but it is a bit too much. So I just went to the store, and bought the papier-mâché that they sell in boxes.”
A sort of ready-made papier-mâché?
“Yes! It is ready made. You only need to add water. And it’s really, really nice! A bit like plaster. You can get very thin forms. They remind me… of distortions. It is a lot like distortion on audio material! And though it looks like plaster: it doesn’t break like plaster. When you throw it to the ground, it doesn’t break. So I could hang it just with little holes in it. We drilled holes in the papier-mâché prints, and they didn’t break…”
“Combining the forms was a lot like doing music. I first wanted a lot of forms. Like when you do music, you want a lot of sounds. The real structure of the piece then emerged when I hung it in the room. So I prepared sets of smaller structures in the papier-mâché. We combined these, in the end, in the gallery space. We used nylon strings to hang the forms. You know, the nylon strings that one uses for catching fish. In the fishing shop they also showed us how to make the special knots that we needed, because we had to get all the knots in one single piece of string, in order to be able to do it while the string was already hanging. That was not easy. But in the shop they learned us a knot that made that possible. So we first did a lot of knots,” Stefan laughed… “And then we hung the forms.”
“My first idea for the piece was to create a structure like a storm. Something that is coming from the ground, and then flies up to the top. But what I really wanted was to built something like a musical structure. And that does not fit with a structure that originates at the ground, and then goes up. Because that would be something that you could only walk around. And not a structure in which you can follow the lines. You would mainly see the ground part, and the rest would be far away.”
So you wanted a temporality? A timeline?
“Yes. The strings had to be fixed from one wall to the other. So the idea is that you can follow such a string. Which is like a timeline. Time starts in one point, and while you walk through the room, you will see how the pieces change. How the relations between the forms change all the time. There are many different points of view. The strings change, The direction changes. Sometimes the forms together will add up to a sub-structure. And sometimes they will seem separated, just because you take another point of view. That again reminded me a lot of music. It is like walking inside a musical piece when it is presented in a sound editor: you can separate the tracks or choose to see them mixed together.”
Then the sculpture is like a 3-dimensional musical score.
“Yes. The molds combine into small structures. Like musical themes. And there are repetitions. Like with these plastic things that they use to put your salad in at the kiosk. It becomes like a rhythm. And it changes… first there’s 2 parts, then there are 3, again 3 parts, 4 parts, … 3 … and then 1, and it hits the wall… It is actually easier to discern these kind of rhythms when you look down at the installation, from above. And of course the idea was also that the lines are somehow like the lines on note paper.”
“Two trash things I used very often, because I really like them: these plastic plates and the cups. First of all, because they were easy to recombine when I did the moldings. They were really nice to cut and then to make something out of it. For the idea was: first I have these structures, and then I put some of them together. It is like when you record single sounds and then, afterwards, in your sound processing software you combine the sounds. And then it becomes one.”
They are also very recognizable, as forms.
“Yeah. Funny thing: many people asked me whether my idea was to make a work about trash… Well, maybe it was. But it was mainly forced, because I actually very often use these kind of sounds. And this time I wanted to have them also as sculptures…”
“There are 8 little loud speakers that play back 4 different stereo tracks in between the papier-mâché forms. The speakers hang inside of the structure. They are part of it. Just like the speaker cables. Often I use a sort of electricity cable as speaker cables, but this time I used normal speaker cables. Because they look more like the nylon strings. And I let them just follow the lines. They built lines, comparable to the lines that the nylon strings build. The loudspeaker itself is grey. When you stand inside the installation you can of course see that it is a loudspeaker. But because of its color it becomes part of the structure.”
“The sound itself is really concrete. They all come from microphone recordings, of paper and of all of these plastic things that I molded; the plastic cups, the plates and other stuff like that. Afterwards I selected parts, and did some digital treatment, for example by shifting the pitch. But not very much. I didn’t change the sounds very much.”
So a lot of the sound originates in the same plastic objects, the same trash that you used to make the papier-mâché forms. And the paper? Different kinds of paper may make very different kinds of sound.
“That of course is true. But I actually used mainly cardboard; and cardboard objects, like cups. And then indeed the plastic things. I played all of them with me hands, and recorded a whole night long. The material that I recorded lasted, maybe, I think, 10 hours.”
“The actual sound of the installation comes from an 8 track loop, made out of 4 stereo tracks. After one hour the sound piece repeats. One of the stereo tracks indeed lasts one hour, but it is pitched; originally it maybe was ten minutes. The other three stereo tracks last 20 minutes, so for the one hour loop these are already tripled. They are loops inside the loop.”
“In my previous works, the sculptures often had a somewhat artificial look, I think. They were like minimal art or something. But the sounds were concrete sounds, like in this work; it was concrete sound material. So the combination of a sound with the objects was more conceptual. There remained some sort of a gap between the sculptures and the sound. This time my idea was to bring the sounds and the sculpture really together, by letting them come from the same source. It actually was a big step for me.”
But the link between the sounds and the sculpture – the idea of a ‘music’ and a ‘score’ – remains abstract. That is a concept. That is not concrete …
“It is not a real score, no. But the idea of 3 dimensional and graphical scores is central in my work. For this I was, I think, inspired by artists like Jackson Pollock. When I saw Jackson Pollock, for me that was like a graphical score. A score which you can think of as having an endless time. It transcends the borders of the frame. It is really like a sound installation! And I wanted to put these kind of structures and forms in the room, in a space.”
Did you ever consider asking musicians to interpret your works? And then look at the sculpture as graphical scores, and play them?
“Oh yes, of course I did. And it is kind of nice. But, for myself, I have no real interest in producing music out of it. It is rather the idea of a score that interests me. On the one hand I like to produce graphics, on the other hand I produce sounds. And sometimes I like to combine them. Then it is an installation. And when you visit an installation and focus on one point, that is the now. The spot where you focus is now. And then, when you move, as a viewer, you are making a timeline for the piece. Because of your moving and the your shifting focus.”
So each viewer is putting her own time into the piece?
“Yeah, sure. Of course. I like to say: the viewer becomes a mixing board for the piece. Because the piece is continuously changing while the viewer is walking inside.”
But will not also the soundtrack suggest certain movements to the viewer? People tend to react to sounds. They might be tempted to walk from little speaker to little speaker, in order to ‘close listen’ to each of the channels, one after the other.
“That may be true. But the sound actually is changing very slowly. You can have the experience a little bit slower as well. You do not have to hurry to get to the sounds!”
“It is a main theme, I think, of sound art, that you fill the room with one structure. Which is not repeated all the time, but still, in a way, the dynamics and the proportions of the sound will be mostly the same all the time. When you go to a Rolf Julius piece, it is certainly not the same all the time. But after a minute, you will know what it sounds like… So the idea for my sculptures is, in a way, related to that of drawing: how do you fill the paper?”
“All the sonic material for this piece has more or less the same frequency shape. There is not too much droning stuff. And there are not many high frequencies. I use these sounds because I think that their materiality fits the papier-mâché. With its white, or light grey, color. For me sounds have a kind of color, and a structure and a form. Like sculptures. So all the sounds that I use here are quite light; but not too much. They are all grey. Light grey. And not too dramatical. The sounds are not very haunting, or stuff. And I did not use real voices.”
“The night that I recorded the sounds, I played them with some sort of a dramaturgy. Like this sound of a plastic bag, I wanted to have it playing very slowly in the beginning, with a very low volume; and then getting louder. So I recorded these types of dramaturgical sequences. And afterwards I did not cut in the dramaturgy. What also was important for me, was that a certain sound would only be represented in one place. (Or in two places, because everything is in stereo.) I did not want sounds to change places; the sounds are just in one spot.”
“Originally I wanted to make a very dynamical and cut up piece, with a lot of changes. I was considering something really haunting; psychedelic sounds, really heavy, like the soundtrack of a horror movie. And I thought of using a lot of singing as well, a bit like Nurse with Wound, or stuff like that. But when I saw the light grey material hanging, I knew that this was wrong. This wouldn’t fit. It would have been too… yes, let’s say: too much! Because the sculpture is not so different in all of its pieces. And it is a very light thing. Hanging, even…”
“So that is why I called the work Bursting Confidence: at first I was thinking of this really mind-changing, maybe even frightening, psychic installation. Of something exploding; and it should be an exploding mind!”
The piece still gives you the impression of an explosion. Frozen at some point in time. Like a still from a movie.
“Yes, but as I started working more on the piece and on the idea, it got softer and softer… It still is an explosion, but it is not so dangerous anymore. It became more like a molecule, where you zoom into with a microscope, and then encounter all of these smaller structures, of atoms, stuff and things…
It still is an explosion.
But it is soft.
It is more soft…”