Five days into the HKW’s Anthropocene Curriculum: The Technosphere Issue, I had a chance to meet with Samuel Hertz, a Berlin-based composer interested in the idea of sonic ecology, and how one might build an interactive sound installation using electronic instruments. In the following conversation Hertz and I explore questions of knowledge production, optimistic technologies, and the fullness of space, particularly in relation to Tomás Saraceno and an affiliated seminar led by his studio assistants, Knowing in the Anthropocene. You can listen to some of Hertz’s recent work here.
Samuel Hertz: I think you’re totally right to point out knowledge production as a focal point of this curriculum. But alongside the discussion of knowledge production is also a discussion of what constitutes knowledge and what it means to know in the first place.
CP: That blows everything open. Like basically how do we know what we know? For instance, someone in my seminar asked “How do you know the snow is white?” You say the snow is white because you know the snow is white. That’s the beginning premise from which we then go on to determine what is not white. The example illustrates a logical bias.
SH: In my first seminar, Axiomatic Earth, there was a similar discussion in terms of the scope. It came into conversation about the relationship between hard science and data versus the knowledge produced by shamanism. The discussion went in two directions. One was the implicit assumption of shamanism as a belief system as opposed to a form of knowledge. Those two options aren’t necessarily the same thing, but to some people, they are. Embedded in that distinction is an implicit position on what knowledge is, and whether or not knowledge is belief. As the conversation continued, it shifted over into thinking about whether shamanism is a type of science or … how to pose the question so that the answer doesn’t also assume a dominant narrative about what knowledge is. Like, if we’re trying to fit the circle of shamanism into the squares to put it crudely but couldn’t it be that science is a form of shamanism or why even bother trying to put the two of them in the same basket?
CP: Like they might have commensurable integrities, somehow, even if they are different.
SH: Yeah, exactly.
CP: As someone was brought up within a scientific narrative, I think it’s difficult to seriously imagine alternatives…
SH: Yeah. I mean, it’s been interesting to struggle through that. I’ve always been excited to question the way that scientific narratives sit within my own mind—how I make work, for instance, or even how I understand the external world. The interesting part that keeps coming up here at the HKW is when scientists present data in the context of catastrophic elements that are part of the Anthropocene, like global warming for example. There are figures and facts but the way we parse those figures to make an argument remains complicated.
CP: I wonder if we could equate knowledge production to a factory situation. Where something concrete is being made in a systemic way, and the results—the objects of thought—can be disseminated in the world and manipulated thereafter. With her emphasis on intra-action, Karen Barad points out how the frame that you used to circumnavigate or isolate or filter experience is something that’s going to affect the outcome.
SH: The scope of a tool really frames the data it collects. Today Andrew Yang used the phrase, “The ambiguity of the device,” which I particularly liked—especially because I tend to work in mediums mediated by certain technologies with their own specific histories. Where you there this morning? One of the presenters described how her group tracked the metadata for citations that included the phrase “Technosphere” as it had been reported from Peter Haff’s paper. That’s a very concrete way of knowing how a specific type of knowledge is produced.
CP: The map that popped up tracked a high amount of “Technosphere” activity around North America and Europe.
SH: There was one citation in Eastern India and one citation in what I thought was Tanzania. Immediately I thought, “Right, of course.” I mean, this whole conference, is predicated on an idea that comes from a very specific place, with a whole trajectory. It’s not so surprising that it came from an American male.
CP: That map seemed like an interesting way of highlighting the politics embedded in a word.
SH: Which is that’s helpful too I think the idea of the Technosphere is both critiqued and for what it represents and whether people think it is actually applicable. For me, I want to focus on whether the term is helpful or not.
CP: In other words, if we are all plugged into this massive data field that we’re participating in and subject to, what might the word “Technosphere” reveal?
SH: So far, the debate tends to be around whether or not people feel this is a helpful way of articulating our role in these algorithmic networks. It gets complicated. Even the term Anthropocene is still contested.
CP: I shift between feeling hysterically unable to extricate myself from the Technosphere on the one hand, and then on the other feeling like I’m being dramatic. I go back and forth. Is the world really ending? It doesn’t seem like it. And then someone points out that the world has already ended for tons of species and habitats, including humans…
SH: I experience that same impending doom mindset, but it’s been tempered by a seminar I was in called Knowing in the Anthropocene which focused largely on the work of Tomás Saraceno. They’re working with the concept of the Aerocene which isn’t precisely related to the Anthropocene. Saraceno’s studio is more interested in conceptualizing air or aerospace as a tactic for humanity’s next step. Over the past few days, I have literally been in the clouds with those folks.
CP: How do you feel like their Aerocene vision manifests?
SH: I can only appreciate it from a perspective of how I make work but I think we tend to conceptualize air or everyday space—I mean the physical space that’s between you and I right now—as being empty. The concepts the Aerocene and I share in common is that we prefer to think of space as being quite full. Saraceno is very much about using the air as a medium, it’s almost liberatory.
CP: He encloses air in bags, is that right?
SH: Yeah. The basic structure of Tomás’ sculptures are air enclosed in giant plastic bags—they use plastic shopping bags to make huge envelopes. Once the air is trapped inside, the sculptures are left out in the sun and the temperature differential between the outside atmosphere and inside warmth causes the sculpture to float. It’s like a hot air balloon except there isn’t any gas or fuel.
CP: I saw a picture this morning, for instance, where a person was floating in the air, attached to one of the balloon structures.
SH: It’s a little hard to get the sense of what the trajectory of the Aerocene projects because at least mathematically speaking, Tomás’ studio has done calculations to show the amount of weight these aerosolar sculptures can carry is quite large. Additionally, we don’t have to restrict our thinking and assume that things must be light in order to fly because clouds are actually extremely heavy. I think cumulus can be up to 40 tons in weight. That’s incredibly heavy! Tomás and his team have done a lot of calculations to prove that this theoretically is possible and that they have had the longest … I’m trying to think about how to phrase it… The longest continuous non-fuel powered human flight, I think. Three hours in the desert of one person being carried by one of the aerosolar sculptures, powered solely by the sun.
CP: That’s awesome.
SH: Tomás and his team members like Sasha Engelmann, for example, are sparking interesting conversations about what it might mean to use aerosolar sculptures not only as human carrier devices. Tomás is thinking about the potential to build cloud cities with the Aerocene, or how these aerosolar sculptures can encourage extra human modes of sense perception, helping us understand the way that wind and air operates on a level that’s different from what the type of information we get from satellite imaging, for instance. They’re working on new ways of working with that but the parts that interest me are his strategies to form a new modes of knowledge about the world around you. That can include animal knowledge as they think about it in terms of possibly sensing magnetic data like birds do implicitly and things of that nature, for example.
CP: I’m interested on how that approach has influenced your own work as well. You do sound and performance?
SH: Yeah…In a lot of my work I would say that perception is one of the generating principles and I approach that in a variety of ways but a lot of it is to do originally with a composer by the name of Maryanne Amacher. She produced amazing work after research at MIT on something called otoacoustic emissions which, basically, are when your ears take in sound, they actually produce sound as well.
Just to explain a bit about these pieces—the way they work is that there are different tones produced by the sound elements in the piece and when listened to at the correct volume which is loud—I don’t find it so loud but I think some people might find it a bit abrasive—external melodies and patterns in the sound create different melodies and patterns in the inside of your ear that would not be audible if you were listening to the piece at a lower volume; and if you’re listening to the piece on headphones, I don’t think it works. Really, it is an acoustic effect that is produced and heard by your ears simultaneously.
CP: The only time that I’ve ever experienced something like that, Peter Brötzmann was playing at Corbett vs. Dempsey and some of the sounds he produced made my inner ear go crazy. I had an amazing moment when I suddenly realized that that was the point. My inner ear vibrations were part of his composition.
SH: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. It pretty much turns your ear into a transducer. Amacher’s studies were my jumping off point to ask how the body extends itself into space in other ways? I did more and more research, always coming back to the idea that perception allows you to enter into a space while also allowing a space to enter you. I started to think more about the body as being porous, and thinking about space as a full medium through which things—things like energetics and signals and impulses and reverberations—are passed and constantly passing through. When you think about that in combination with everything else that’s going on, you would consider space to be quite full. That’s my background and how I’m thinking about a how we exist within a space and how at the same time, we make it as we hear it. This idea of world making through perception I think is really important to me.
CP: When you compose, do you compose primarily using electronic musical equipment?
SH: Recently I’ve been making work for multichannel installations. I approach them from a couple different ways but the most obvious is that each one is immersive. In that sense, a viewer already has an embodied sense of space but what I’m really interested in is how sound starts to move around you when you’re in that environment. Do you consider yourself to be a part of an ecology or an environment when that’s happening? Or are you simply inside of a sound installation? I’m also interested in a type of ecology or logic that runs by itself. It’s an environment that will never do the same thing, while also remaining in the same sound world unless something very drastic has changed in its input.
CP: Is that because the aural sounds are generated in response to their environment?
SH: Yeah. They tend to be a series of feedback loops. I’m using that term here not in the sense of sound feedback, but “feedback” in terms of logic systems. So there are aspects of the system that trigger other things to happen. The overall effect becomes quite circular. Aesthetic decisions made by myself or sometimes the computer are also influence the composition as well. I’m trying to probe the limits of what a given system can do…For instance, what changes can I make to the system that will allow it to act spontaneously but also return to the circular logic systems that I’ve built into it? What are changes that are so great as to change the system entirely? I feel like the aesthetics match the immersive environment where I’m imagining that the body is lending itself to fuse sounds together into some coherent, explorable whole.
This interview was conducted on behalf of Bad at Sports and the HKW.
July 22, 2016, 6-8PM
Work by: Carol Jackson
Corbett vs. Dempsey: 1120 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
July 24, 2016, 3-5PM
Work by: Jenny Kendler and Brian Kirkbride (Curated by Lou Mallozzi)
The Fern Room at the Lincoln Park Conservatory: 2391 N Stockton Dr, Chicago, IL 60614
July 23, 2016, 6-10PM
Work by: Carris Adams, Anaïs Daly, Katherine Harvath, Nathlie Provosty, Zilia Sánchez, Jessica Stockholder, Sarah Sze, Sam Vernon, and Christine Wang
Produce Model Gallery: 1007 W 19th St, Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60608
July 23, 2016, 4-7PM
Work by: Cody Hudson
Andrew Rafacz Gallery: 835 W Washington Blvd, 2nd Fl, Chicago, IL 60607
July 21, 2016, 6-7PM
Chicago Cultural Center: 78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
Hey Chicago, submit your events to the Visualist here: http://www.thevisualist.org
December 21, 2015 · Print This Article
By Kevin Blake
The front tire wobbles as the weight of the planking jerks the fork of the bicycle from side to side. It will take rhythm to get anywhere. It will require a centering–a perfect distribution of the unbalanced load. The salvaged wood scrap stretches across the handlebars, bending under its own heft as it distances from the bicycle on both ends. There are bricks in the back basket–a milk crate strapped with rope to the frame. It rubs the back tire like an out-of-place brake pad…the every-other-rotation kind of rub. The tires have the pancaked look of low air where the rubber meets the road. Conditions are ripe for an array of potentials.
This is a moment in a story. It is not necessarily the beginning, the climax, or the end. It is a picture of a picture–the recollection of an unclear memory, that morphs into clairvoyance only as it is repeated and deployed situationally. It is the word made flesh, and the flesh made word. It is the construction of one’s identity from available material–material that is both tangible and ethereal.
As I walked through Kati Heck’s inaugural exhibition, “Ins Büro!” at Corbett vs Dempsey, I found myself thinking about my own life as a scavenger–hoarding all the potential I could carry. I was seeing similar moments described in Heck’s images–potentials picked out of the mundane, or the recently discarded, and harvested to distribute into complex riddles with seemingly endless possibility. On the canvases, I could see the dialogue between the painter and the thinker. Between the subject and the object. Between the story and the fragmented reality in which it exists.
These concurrent and perpetual dialogues in Heck’s work are best understood through their relationships with the paint itself. For example, in the faces of central figures, there appears to be a deeply personal connection–not just to the sitter–but also to the technical precision by which she chooses to treat the face. Where there are sections of amplified care–smaller brushwork, attention to detail, and range in palette–there also seems to be amplified metaphor, or keys to following the artist’s inner dialogue.
“Alles-Mehr,” which google translated for me as “everything-more,” exemplifies this notion. In “Alles-Mehr,” one can follow the hierarchy of paint distribution–from the face, down to the jar of pickles, to the fabric, to the wood of the chair, to the skin, and to the wall. To me, the smaller marks represent larger roles in the image’s story. The larger marks are painting maneuvers. Small is big. Big is small. All are equally important to its existence as a painting–or as an aesthetically considered object of contemplation.
Here, a man appears to be in a pickle–as they say–four fingers deep. This idiom becomes the bedrock of the painting and it places the character in an air of mischief with an assuming look of low-cunning. The disappearing arm holds the glowing decoy–the legerdemain of the common wizard. Admittedly, this is merely one possible thread in a heap of narrative grist, but my guess is as good as the next viewer, and it doesn’t matter much if anyone gets it “right.”
In the painting, “Der süssliche Erinnerungsmehrwert,” Heck introduces a sculptural element to the painting by sewing canvas to the bottom of the frame where it becomes an extension of the painted fabric–it literally flows off of the rectangle and spills onto the floor. This move is indicative of Heck’s unflinching intuition–uninterrupted by any hesitation from exterior pressures. She doesn’t make decisions based on how it will be received, (see the velvet frame around the bad girl, “Petit Pity,” in the corner of the show)she responds directly to the impulse. Directly to the vision. Anything that is susceptible to transformation, is transformed. There is no shelter for this nomad–and although her work pulsates with influences from the establishment, she cannot be pinned down. She emerges with a triumph, or at least the execution and invention of something that could not be made by anyone else.
In an interview for the exhibition catalog, Heck tells gallerists John Corbett and Jim Dempsey, that the title of the show, “Ins Büro,” means “go to the office” and for her, the office is the bed she keeps in her studio. It is a factory of dreams from which she extracts and deploys content, stamping them with her industrious logo before they leave the warehouse. In a fractal universe fragmented further by processes of the human mind, it is no wonder that Heck turns to her dreams as a means of deciphering any truth from the ether. The result may be a world without language. A visual world. A world seen and understood simultaneously.
The compulsion to realize this utopia is undeniable. It wants to be seen. It wants to be described. It is on the tip of your tongue too–the cusp of your visual field as you lay in the darkness and attempt to solve the world’s puzzles in the most quiet of spaces–the safest of landscapes–your dreams. However, it never quite satisfies. It never quite gives you the tools to see that place and how it works. It appears partial. As disconnected. As unimportant. It appears as meaningless potential–a moment frozen until it is thawed and put to work. Kati Heck in her Antwerp studio, attempts to bring that flight of fancy out of the castle in the sky and into her own reality. Whatever is constructed there–out of whatever material is available to revolutionize–may not be true, but for the maker, it is true enough.
If I were you, I’d go have a peak at her temporary office.
Corbett vs. Dempsey
1120 N. Ashland Avenue 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60622
December 11-January 26, 2016
and by appointment
Curated by Liz Nielsen and Carolina Wheat, with work by Aaron Johnson, Alyse Ronayne, Angelina Gualdoni, Annie Ewaskio, April Childers, Brian Andrew Whiteley, Christian Sampson, Clive Murphy, Jeremy Couillard, Justin Davis Anderson, Livia Corona Benjamin, Liz Nielsen, Mike Schreiber, Monica Lorraine Bernal, Stacie Johnson and Yevgenia S. Bara.
Zolla/Lieberman Gallery is located at 325 W. Huron St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Curated by Sandy Guttman and Jeroen Nelemans, with work by Einat Amir, Guy Ben-Ner, Rashayla Marie Brown, Glen Fogel and Desirée Holman.
Aspect/Ratio is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Work by Cauleen Smith.
Corbett vs. Dempsey is located at 1120 N. Ashland Ave. Reception Saturday, 6-8pm.
Work by Sofia Moreno.
The Learning Machine is located at 3145 S. Morgan St. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Work by Gregory Bae.
The Chicago Urban Art Society is located at 3636 S. Iron St. Reception is Friday, 6:30-9pm.
Curated by John Marks and David Petersen, with work by Luke Aleckson, Allen Brewer, Casey Deming, Kristina Estell, Katelyn Farstad, Isa Gagarin, Peter Happel Christian, Jess Hirsch, Jonathan Kaiser, Tynan Kerr, Andie Mazorol, Ben Moren, Michael Mott, Stefanie Motta, Scott Nedrelow, Natasha Pestich, Andy Sturdevant, and Pamela Valfer.
Chicago Artists Coalition is located at 217 N Carpenter St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Richard Artschwager, Sarah Canright, and Arturo Herrera.
Corbett vs. Dempsey is located at 1120 N. Ashland Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Saturday, 3-6pm.
Work by Sam Hoolihan and John Marks.
Roman Susan is located at 1224 W. Loyola Ave. Screening Saturday, 10pm-12am.
Performance by Jessica Blinkhorn and Joseph Ravens.
DfbrL8r is located at 1136 N. Milwaukee Ave. Performance Friday, 8-10pm.
Curated by MK Meador, with work by Stacia Yeapanis and Jason Uriah White.
Design Cloud is locate at 118 N Peoria, Suite #2N. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.