ZEIGEN - An Audio Tour through Copenhagen, by Karin Sander
Anne Neimann Clement 28/11/2013
ZEIGEN - An Audio Tour through Copenhagen, by Karin Sander Nikolaj Kunsthal - Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre November 16, 2013 - January 26, 2014
The exhibition space is empty. The walls are blank and the exhibition space appears naked. At second glance, you notice the sign asking you to pick up an mp3-player, choose a title, and listen to a sound piece. ZEIGEN consists of 153 sound works that, in total, constitutes more than 5 hours of sound; the exhibition was initiated by the internationally renowned German artist Karin Sander (b. 1957).
ZEIGEN has previously been realized in Vienna, Madrid, Reykjavik, and Berlin. In Berlin, Michael Thouber – head of the TV channel DR2 of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, found it so fascinating that he wanted to bring the concept into a Danish context. Thouber contacted the curators of Nikolaj Kunsthal, and they welcomed the idea.
Nikolaj Kunsthal is always open to new experiments. They want to show contemporary art in its widest sense, challenge the role of the institution, and keep surprising the visitor with unexpected exhibitions. Paintings are not displayed very often at Nikolaj Kunsthal, and yet, this is the first time they have presented an exhibition exclusively dedicated to sound art.
In collaboration with the staff of Nikolaj Kunsthal, Sander has invited more than 150 local artists to produce a short sound piece that translates their work or working process into sound and makes it “visible”.
Among the participating artists, some are already established, while others are just up-and-coming. Some artists are used to working in sound, but most of them are, primarily, visually or spatially oriented. A few artists talk about their work, while others record while they work; others sing, read aloud, or play music. Some pieces are simple and minimalistic, while others are complex and multilayered. Some sound pieces work as documentation, or as an inside "view" into the artistic process, but most of the sound pieces function as pure art works.
The quality of the sound works varies a lot. For some artists, the assignment has been highly challenging – especially for those who are not used to working with sound and digital media. Creating an interesting sound piece is just as challenging as creating an interesting painting or sculpture, and not all artists have managed to take advantage of what sound can do.
The sound pieces that work the best are the ones that create a story or narrative. The Berlin-based sound artist group Vinyl-Terror & Horror has created a great piece that plays with our subconsciousness. With the sounds of water dripping into buckets, creaking doors and broken glass, in combination with ballroom music from an old turntable and gloomy sounds from a kind of horror movie, Vinyl- Terror & Horror has created a David Lynch-like scene that immediately activates our imagination and desire for stories.
The artist group YNKB has also contributed with a delicate sound piece. Their work,"Autumn in three layers", combines recordings of traffic noises with a tune from the French socialistic hymn "Internationale", along with the artist group singing the Danish harvest psalm "Nu falmer skoven", while accompanied by an accordion. These three layers reflect the artistic practice of this artist group that deals with urbanization, sustainability, capitalism, the social context of art and culture, and globalization in a local context.
Eric Andersen and Jeannette Ehlers have both based their sound pieces on small performances in the exhibition space. Anderson – with recordings of the old clock of Nikolaj Kunsthal, and Ehlers – with recordings of the cracking of a whip in the gallery. These pieces play with space and time by marking the differences between the time of the recording-situation and that of the listening-situation.
ZEIGEN is site-specific, conceptual, and highly interactive. The degree of interactivity
is what makes the exhibition work. Not only is it up to you which sound piece to listen to, it's also your choice where to place yourself in the exhibition space. The 153 sound pieces are listed alphabetically by artist, and many visitors follow the reading direction – from left to right. But after a while, they start moving around, investigating the architecture of the Upper Gallery of Nikolaj Kunsthal, or looking out of the windows that overlook the Inner City of Copenhagen.
What is most important is that the exhibition stimulates imagination. The entire art space becomes a kind of projection screen on which the listener can project his or her inner images that have been generated by the sound pieces. The sound pieces are abstract artworks, and the bare walls become canvases that one can fill out with images of memory, association and experience.
The simple setup is surprisingly effective. By subtracting all visual impressions, Karin Sander has made the acoustic and spatial dimensions of the room stand out, and the old saying, “Less is more”, proves itself once again.
Nikolaj Kunsthal is not, however, a white cube. Nikolaj Kunsthal is located in an old church in the old city centre of Copenhagen. The fact that the exhibition space is loaded with history and strong references adds another layer of complexity to the exhibition. As I walked around in the Upper Gallery, my ears covered with headphones, I started noticing the roof tops, the streets and the people of Copenhagen differently. With the sound pieces of the exhibition working as a soundtrack, the images of the city stand out very clearly.