Frequenzen [HZ]

Many have observed a change in the Schirn Kunsthalle's image since Max Hollein was named director: Out with the window onto the past, in with the preoccupations of the moment. But that new image isn't quite accurate; connections between past and present remain a central concern. Running parallel to “Frequenzen [Hz]” (Frequencies), an exhibition on the relation of sound, space, and architecture curated by Jesper N. Jorgensen, there was a retrospective of the paintings of composer Arnold Schönberg. It is not only with Schönberg that sound and vision belong together. Here, even the entry area was made into a compact sound chamber. The installation sinus.licht (sinus.light), 2002, by Berlin-based artist Carsten Nicolai, measured the round beaux-arts atrium with bursts of sound that, as in a bell, emanated concentrically. Additionally, every few seconds a bright light flashed from the ceiling, spreading throughout the building for a split second. Within the shortest perceivable time span, the play between the acoustic and visual signals defined the site in such a way that the observer could hardly distinguish dissimilar events: Was that low-frequency hum part of the lighting mechanism—or the light's translation into sound? At any rate, the alternating pulses of light and sound sharpened into a synesthetic perception of the architectural situation, an experience that was continued in the upper reaches of the cupola, in Rotunde, 2002, a work by Austrian artist Franz Pomassl. Pomassl completely darkened the space and replaced visual orientation with a system of loudspeakers that, emitting low-frequency sounds, offered guidance from one speaker to the next. Ryoji Ikeda, of Japan, went a step farther with Spectra II, 2002, a claustrophobia-inducing thirty-meter-long corridor reminiscent of the experimental architectures of Dan Graham or Bruce Nauman. With Ikeda, the narrow passageway was lit up by a strobe light only every few seconds, while at the same time one heard the incredibly high-pitched repeated whine of a sine tone. Without the addition of laser cabinets, the viewers would have been entirely lost in this installation—which is precisely the idea behind Ikeda's constructions: “There seems to be no angle, no marking point, only a neutral setting that might lead one in a direction,” according to commentary in the accompanying catalogue.

In contrast to the works by Nicolai, Pomassl, and Ikeda, which brought out the live character of the setting and its interaction with the public, a significant portion of “Frequencies [Hz]” seemed of more scientific than artistic interest. Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen of Finland produced a mise-en-scène of mathematical-physical laws in their collaborative piece Ultrasonic, 1996. Two parabolic mirrors, facing each other, reflected a specific frequency that, as a feedback loop bounced endlessly to and fro, was bundled into a violently chirping stream of sound. The Swedish artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff applied his sound experiments as a kind of acoustic security camera: He added sound recorders to the building's electrical grid, transforming the electrical current into noises whose frequencies appear on an oscillograph as a greenish force field. Now whenever a light is turned on, something changes in the overall picture of the Parasitic Electronic Seance, 1997–2002, as von Hausswolff calls his praxis, which according to the catalogue is about making visible “unknown forms of life interfering and intruding in the system.”

Without this explanation, one would have stood cluelessly in front of von Hausswolff s flickering video, unable to draw any conclusion about its subtle enmeshing of artwork and architectural surroundings. Herein lies the problem with the exhibition: Those with little knowledge of electronic and acoustic matters were most likely reduced to staring slack-jawed at the specimens of “Frequencies [Hz]” as if at the mysterious instruments in a physics laboratory. Often the complexity of the artistic applications was not equaled by that of their visual interpretation. Farmersmanuel, an artist from Vienna, exhibited Graceful Degradation, 2001–2002, a video projection of a digital code that was supposed to represent the frequency of Internet hits. But nothing further could be gleaned as to what kind of information might be hidden behind this abstract surface. By contrast, the light boxes of Angela Bulloch's rather sensuous minimal sculpture, Geometric Audio Merge, 2002, seemed like mere club decorations. On the other hand, with Bulloch's piece, you could at least dance to the music.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger