ceci n’est pas une boulangerie is a 5 channel sound installation created for the site, in Eppan, of an old bakery, now closed and all traces of it erased. The title references the famous Rene Magritte painting of a pipe, entitled “ceci n’est pas une pipe”. In this case there is no longer a bakery, and I have created a sound-painting of images that accumulate around bread — cutting the loaf, the crumbs on the plate, the fire in the oven, the butter, the wine, all the dreams that revolve around our custom with bakeries. These are presented in a form of sonic surrealism, where the recordings of these simple familiar sounds are examined in an architectural microscope, putting the listener inside them, so they are experienced with a reorganized scale and hybridity: a falling breadcrumb is heard in gigantic detail, a knife blade melts into the steam of the coffee-maker, the wine bottle morphs into a torn crust. I propose the extended hallucination of this absent locus, as it posthumously echoes into our dreams of sustenance and satisfaction. These are the clouds of memory that billow from this architecture, the dreams and ghosts that circulate in this passageway after so many people have left the shop with their loaves under their arms.
You had a purely music focused education, having studied composition and theory at Princeton University, so what led you to combine your sound research with visual art, resulting in a conjugation between sound art and installation? What kind of relation is established between the sound and 3D medium?
My educational credentials are slightly misleading, because I have always participated in visual arts — I started university as a pre-medical student with a secondary concentration in painting and design. Thereafter I was involved in performance art (with a lot of of props) and spent some years working in a small metal fabrication firm building sculptures for other artists in New York City, like Donald Judd, Alice Aycock, etc. So my outlook was always rather broad. The turning point came after I left graduate school, when I was increasingly frustrated with the limitations of the concert medium, and I started looking for other ways to present electro-acoustic works. This led very naturally to installation, partly as a change in the social context, and then eventually to sculpture. Sound itself has always been visually potent for me, to the point where I conceived a number of pieces purely focused on making sound visible; using multichannel arrays and various psychological, or perhaps phenomenological tricks and references to produce dimensional, palpable objects made entirely of sonic energy. Eventually some of these things became solid objects. Sound is space — we understand space through sound, as the blind are thoroughly aware. Space then consists of many dimensions, including phenomenological ones, most of which are accessible, or suggestible, through sonic manipulation; so I feel that I have followed a natural progression.
In some of your works (f.e. untitled 2006; Dukatenscheisser) a link with the alchemical processes of transformation gets evident: the will to challenge matter, bringing into question the physical laws (…therefor I am) to achieve the impossible. Could you explain which peculiar characteristics the sound medium posses to trigger this process?
Sound is the one sense we cannot turn off. We have no “ear-lids”, we hear even when we are asleep, so sound is psychologically potent. It is inextricably linked to the most ancient parts of the brain; it is has always been the first defense for the human organism, to avoid predators, to become aware of danger, and therefore it is a sense that carries, on an evolutionary scale, a kind of species-memory. It is this sort of poetics that fascinates me. We are very sensitive to suggestions released by sounds, and in combining many sorts of suggestions I have an incredibly rich palate to work with, which can transmute into dreams, and accumulate dreams, regardless of language or culture. At the same time these are much more literal, much more figurative images than music can ever provoke; so I find it possible to be quite specific in what I express.
In your audio recordings you work mainly with sounds derived from elements of our everyday routine. Seems like a mechanism of making the ordinary extraordinary. In which way do you think does it affect the audience ?
I prefer to work with material that is emotionally and psychically close, because I believe these are sounds which are most central to our experience of life, which are most universal. If I wish to express with real power, I need to reach into consciousness with the tools that are ubiquitous. And so I am drawn to sounds which every person knows, and which have certain implications in life, which are reinforced subconsciously and daily from birth until death. These are only the building blocks of course. Simply to “recontextualize” some situation is not satisfying to me. I wish to paint with these suggestions, with these emotions, and so the images must be transformed, but not beyond recognition. It is a balancing act. I seek to make pieces that open the imagination. As Bachelard said in The Poetics of Space, “Images that are too clear [...] become generalities, and for that reason block the imagination.” So I think you are right so say that I try to make the ordinary extraordinary, and this in the interest of returning a complex accumulation of dreams.
INTERVIEW WITH DOUGLAS HENDERSON BY MARCO GEHLHAR