Last week I made a trip to Denmark in order to make connections, see different art archives and attend a conference on curating sound art-archives.
On my first day I met with the wonderful artist and writer Ida Marie Hede Bertelsen in a bar in Copenhagen.
We talked about our current projects and some book-works she is involved in and her forthcoming publication. She is going to hopefully send some work to the archive.
The next morning I got up very early and took a plane to Aarhus. When I arrived I went straight to the Kunsthal – an art gallery and key international project space directed by Joasia Krysa.
The seminar was on curating sound art archives and was part of a three-stage seminar series on curating sound art. The seminars are organized by LEA and the LARM infrastructure Project (www.larmarchive.org). In close Collaboration with Kunsthal Aarhus, ZKM – Zentrum für Kunst und Medietechnologie, Goldsmiths, the Courtauld Institute, The University of Westminster and OCR (Operational and Curatorial Research). The event in Aarhus was introduced and hosted by Morten Søndergaard who opened up the ideas around interactive sound archive designing and how this specifically relates to the archive of the Finnish artist Erkki Kurenniemi.
The first presentation was by the artist group, Constant, who at Documenta 13 in Kassel had that curated a project that experimented in interactive installations of Kurenniemi’s vast and discursive cassette archive of ‘sound diaries’. Constant described that their challenge with this material ranged from the sheer vastness of the archive, to the ambiguous material of Kurenniemi’s sound documenting (sometimes interviews, sometimes humming and talking to himself in the car, sometimes intelligible nonsense, sometimes clear theorisations on art and science, sometimes reading out passing cars’ license plates), as well as the ethics of essentially making public the private records of people implicated by the audio – some cassettes even contain audio of Kurenniemi having sex . Therefore the processes through which the sound data had to be made accessible had to cushion and protect the individual characters in the diaries, filter and frame the large amount of material, as well as best representing the spirit of the archive. The key philosophy Constant appropriated in their approach was one of ‘random access’.
A question on the contingency of media histories and the interlocuction of the tape machine led to a wonderful comment from a member of Constant saying that in the tapes of Erkki in his car speaking/whistling/humming to himself, it’s clear that the combination of the car and the tape machine are the instrument.
‘Random access’ was the answer to the question: what you do with a mass of unformed, unorganised material, how do you build an interface that maintains the integrity of the archive. For Constant this involved placing a series of algorithms onto the raw, digitised sound data. One such algorithm was called ‘Gradual Average’ which overlaid the sound information, each tape at a time, gradually and then gradually unlaid them, providing a spectrum of sound information. Within this spectrum what became clear – which hadn’t been apparent in the arduous process of listening to the tapes individually – was that Erkki’s voice (whether talking, humming, nonsensing) was the predominant sound in this archive.
Constant’s use of these devised software mechanisms for framing the archive also raised the question of what their role is in making the archive accessible: where they simply composing a new sound piece from the data? Were they behaving as artists, curators or archivists? For them the question was easily dismissed, what was important was the valued access to the archive.
This was a question that came up through the day – was the creative designing of interactive archives being an artist? Or another role? For me the question was to be turned on its head. What do the innovative interactive interfaces do to the role of the visitor-researcher and how does it frame their encounter? What do these instances of ‘archive roulette’ do to the archival knowledge? Or, what kind of archival knowledge is gained from these encounters? This is a question I put to Morgens Jacobsen who curated an intriguing sounding ‘audiobar’ with sound files coded into different coloured bottles that could be played at a specially designed bar. This took random access and interactivity to a new level that even more so raised the question archive knowledge. Jacobsen right emphasised the value of the kind of ‘stumble-upon content’ and the kind of knowledge-experience this allows.
The exhibition on at he Kunsthal was called CERTAIN PECULIAR THINGS AND IDEAS, OFTEN FAILED (OR, ON HUMANS, MACHINES AND RUNNING ALGORITHMS) and was part of the same season of programming by SYSTEMICS #1 and was, in itself answering some of the questions being untangled in the conversation.
That night I was introduced to the another major art location in Aarhus, the incredible Godsbanen. An enormous arts complex in an old railway station. Located at the Godsbanen at the Aarhus Literature centre who are currently working on a new Art Writing programme and masterclass. At the Godsbanen, introduced to me by Anne Steen Himmelstrup, they even have small apartments – where the train drivers used to sleep – for residencies and overseas guests. Like me…
The next day saw the beginning of a series of talks hosted by the literature centre as a launch to their art writing project – also held at the Kunsthal. I was lucky to catch the first talk by Caroline Bergvall who has been a major informer to their project.
Caroline’s talk was typically invigorating to my thinking about writing practices and: writing as articulation’; approaching material ‘illogically’; testing the smallest point of language materials; ‘body-led speech’; how to learn from and converse directly with other artists through their archive.
The art writing programme is certainly one to watch and I’m excited to see it develop.
I had to rush from there to the airport and fly back to Copenhagen.