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sound appropriates space

chris reid: johannes sistermanns


Johannes Sistermanns, SoundPlastic Johannes Sistermanns, SoundPlastic
photo courtesy of artist
THE GUTTED QUEEN’S THEATRE IN ADELAIDE, A HERITAGE-LISTED GALVANISED IRON AND BRICK CAVERN WITH AN ASPHALT FLOOR, IS THE SITE FOR THE AUSTRALIAN EXPERIMENTAL ART FOUNDATION (AEAF) EXHIBITION (TO) GIVE TIME TO TIME, A GROUP SHOW SURVEYING EPHEMERAL AND TIME-BASED ART PRACTICES THAT HAVE EMERGED SINCE THE 1970S. COLOGNE-BASED ARTIST JOHANNES SISTERMANNS’ PERFORMANCE, IN TIME IS TRANSITION, TAKES PLACE AMONGST THE OTHER WORKS IN THE SHOW, INCLUDING HIS OWN INSTALLATION, INTUITION ROOM.

In the back corner of the theatre, lengths of kitchen clingwrap are tautly stretched between two pillars and the wall to demarcate a small space—the Intuition Room. Two piezo transducers attached to the wrap transmit a high-pitched but barely audible sound recording that lightly vibrates the stretched surface. The wrap reflects ambient light from other exhibits, overhead windows and the distant doorway. This fragile, whispering, Art Povera enclosure contrasts with the barren grandeur of the empty theatre, eliciting a sense of the uncanny.

Sistermanns enters from the far doorway pulling a thick roll of cling wrap, the end of which is attached near the entrance. He walks slowly, stretching the wrap to breaking point behind him, and more sound emanates from tiny loudspeakers in his pockets. He winds the plastic around another pillar and continues his walk, stopping occasionally, sometimes pushing his face into the wrap and singing a wordless falsetto through it that becomes a growl, vibrating it like a piezo and finding the theatre’s sonic resonance. He mimes eating the material before finally reaching the Intuition Room and so connecting the building’s entrance to this temporary space. The boundaries between performance and installation and between installation and site seem deliberately vague, as if they are a continuum. The slowness and abstraction of Sistermanns’ movement suggest powerful emotions on the verge of expression but ultimately withheld, inviting the audience to join in this pre-conscious and even cathartic moment.

Sistermanns later revealed that the sound is a mix of birdsong and ambient noise recorded at Oratunga in the Flinders Ranges, blended with ‘room tones,’ the standing waves created when sound is used to map a room’s sonic character. He has conducted performances at Oratunga in collaboration with architect and academic Gini Lee. This performance is an extension of that project, bringing to the city the sounds of the distant Flinders Ranges, a site that is significant for its Indigenous heritage and for being the location of some of the world’s oldest fossils. Time there is measured in eras.

Sistermanns’ 30-minute performance speaks of wrapping, not in the literal Christo & Jeanne-Claude manner, but symbolically, with the creation of a new space and the transient projection of sound into it to shift its form and character. Transparent plastic wrap can be made visible in the right light and, when transmitting sound, the insubstantial material acts as a carrier of information. Sistermanns has installed such work in a variety of locations and even in a garden to show how sound and space function in relation to each other. The location itself is appropriated as a novel element of the work and renews the audience’s perception of that space. The addition of the performance makes the awareness of sound in space still more acute, even poignant.


Australian Experimental Art Foundation, (To) Give Time to Time: Johannes Sistermanns, Intuition Room and In Time is Transition, Queen’s Theatre, Adelaide, Sept 11

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 40

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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