Working In-Situ

Being able to work on an installation for a long period of time is always a privilege. In this case I was able to go into the space more than a month in advance of the exhibition. What happens is that establish a very special relationship to that space which is not possible in a shorter period such as a week. I could observe this with two other works,  "Vice Versa" (2007) and "Amplifikation" (2009), as well. This effect is amplified by going into very particular spaces (the former water reservoir in Berlin, the former tram depot in Weimar, the Betanovuss ship in Riga), as they are very rich in terms of the existing materials and atmospheres that become integral parts of the work. The gap between seeing these spaces on photos and actually experiencing them is infinite, thus in the early planning stage you cannot pose but transitory hypotheses about what you are going to do.

The basement of Betanovuss had been left with the bull's eyes pasted up to make "black boxes" for video projections. The first step was to let the daylight back in, and especially the first room became almost an autonomously working situation without further intervention, given the three bull's eyes facing the water side and pointing westward with the sunlight coming all day and producing moving light spots on the floor and oscillations on the ceiling (from the reflections on the water surface). The walls have rich textures and floor and ceiling are characterised by thresholds evenly spaced every 120 cm. Details are abundant. Irregularities on the floor, a number of holes in the thresholds, grouted concrete in some places.

Brownish tones prevail. Having worked before with different kind of daylight filters (pink in "Amplifikation", yellow in "Dissemination", blue in "Sliding"), I wanted to introduce such a space conditioning element again, but more subtle as the original atmosphere was already so interesting. I used a faint salmon-to-yellowish filter which gives to room a homogenising touch of "concentration". It is contrasted with the cold white of the video image in the last room. Something wonderful happened. The space is accessed by descending from a metal staircase in room 1, so unfiltered daylight enters from this spot. The result is the introduction of a blueish strip of light in one floor compartment, as well as a diagonal strip on the wall in room 2, extended by a square in room 2. This somehow "neutral" and "calm" compartment gives the impression of stray light not unlike a phenomenon one can experience in a forest. The last room, which is basically dark except for the illumination by the video screens, is also touched by a diagonal strip coming in from a bull's eye of the preceding room. All these factors contribute to an incredibly rich change of light situation across the day, and depending on the weather.

From the beginning, I was hoping to be able to work with transducers instead of speakers. Having seen the thresholds on the floor, I was thinking that I should fine glass plates to be placed across them. Glass however is quite a foreign element in the existing situation, both visually and sonically, and it could also be tricky with the rather dim light in the third and fourth room, as people might not be able to notice the plates and break them easily. What I noticed immediately were three beautiful metal doors, two rectangular, corroded, thin and reverberant, the other being rounded, thick and damping. I also found a smaller and mid size corroded metal plate in the depot of the ship, and together with the metal stairs it became apparent that these existing elements would be the sounding objects of choice. One wall in room 1 had a breach into the neighbouring (storage) room which would also be covered by a plate. Three additional large metal plates were acquired from a nearby scrapyard, giving rise to the nine channels of sound projection: Four channels in the first room (stairs, door, breach and one plate on the floor), one channel in the second room (door), two channels in the third room (two floor plates), and two channels in the video room (stairs and one plate).

Acoustically the parcellation means that you can hear remote sounds from each other room, more dim and reverberated, and the close sounds from the room you are standing in. Due to the layout and character of the metal objects, each room preconfigures the spatiality of the sound in a different way. The first room with four channels has a "stretched" image. The second room with the sound coming from the locked side door is somewhat transitory but also more intimate. The third room with two large floor plates is the most calm and meditative space, much more smooth than the first room. The last room is discrete with the attentiveness of the video, and a very distinct colour of the stairs. Somehow the staircase here is much more coloured and harmonic, a very idiomatic tone, compared to the more broadband sound of the staircase in the first room.

One day I noticed some strange shells on the floor near the exiting staircase. They emanate an amazing smell. The origin were a number of sacks on the ground floor that had been destroyed by mice so that their contents leaked. They contained shells from cocoa from Ghana that were used by the Riga chocolate factory Laima and given away as waste material. The sacks had been used as sitting facilities, but the smell of the leaked cocoa was so interesting that I decided to pour the contents in the compartments left to the wooden walking path in each room. The smell amalgamates with the tinted light, the temperature and humidity to produce an overall atmosphere of the space.