Text: Olaf Pyras
Translation: Keith David Harris
The large exhibition room of the Marburg Kunstverein, enclosed on three sides, is the present home of the title piece, Breathing Space, 2015: 5,400 dome loudspeakers, 8 channel audio, cables.
If one enters the room during one of the silent breaks, one is faced with two frames of reference: from the neighbour-ing rooms, in the distance, come the sounds of the other, chronologically synchronized, works of Clara Oppel. Here though, in the main area, the first thing one notices is one’s own footsteps echoing in the resonant space. A gently curved object rises somewhat from the black stone floor. The mirror shine of 5,400 loudspeaker domes glimmers and thereby defines a peaceful and structured but nonetheless enigmatic course – like a numerical sign in the room.
If one follows the clear outlines with one’s eyes, one is reminded of a pathway, a riverbank with lights. Following the way even further inwards, one’s vision begins to oscillate, looking around, again noticing a new junction, searching for orientation, wanting to glide back to the contoured shore. Although the floor-piece Breathing Space begins and ends as if carved, there seems to be neither beginning nor ending anywhere. Your gaze can start anywhere and find its own way. At the same time, the enclosed space forms into organic proportions, into gentle surfaces – sometimes narrow, sometimes broad The sculptural demand is: I want to be walked around! The spaces and surfaces just ask to be explored, demand that one change one’s perspective and simply linger. Before they realise it, visitors have reached the first breathing and rest pause – one of many bridges to interpretation in Breathing Space.
Closer examination of the silver loudspeaker domes reveals a feedback situation – the viewer just can’t escape the mirror effect. One’s own reflection (and that of the surrounding people) appears in every single dome, with fish-eye distortion. One is reminded of an early video work by Bill Viola, He weeps for you. A waterdrop, reflecting the surroundings, is filmed and projected in real time. What Bill Viola examined in his work is repeated here ingeniously and thousandfold on the loudspeaker level: an object, whose original purpose was to emit sound, reflects the waves of the visual frequency range of light, and surrounds one with the inescapable certainty of being part of the installation oneself. Within and without. One side enters into communication with the other. The ‘work and the viewer‘ combine to become the ‘viewer inside the work‘. Here the underlying mood of Clara Oppel’s oeuvre becomes evident. It creates the power necessary to sensitize, to attune, to bring into resonance and then to activate. It manages to open the path of multi-sensory ambivalence and then to set out on this path. Every interpretive observation opens up others, and so demonstrates the internal coherence of ambiguity:
Work + Space
–––––––––––––––– = Ambiguity
Visual + Auditory
To say it again: simply by walking through Breathing Space, at every point, you yourself are part of the acoustic spatial environment, and as you get closer to a work, the visual aspect is added.
Let’s try an experiment:
Whereabouts is an – almost – neutral spot to perceive things?
Experiment 1: Put yourself in the position of the loudspeakers, and lie down on your back on one of the places near the loudspeaker landscape.
Both the place and the position are perfect for relaxed listening. What sounds are inherent in the surroundings and are now released?
Using atomised, noise-coloured impulses, Breathing Space begins to extract an informal shape out of the silence in the space. Using the multiple channel system, a creative sculptural process takes place within the surrounding space, a figural spatial stocktaking, with a slight shift measuring the space and at the same time giving it a new musical and dynamic calibration. The coordinates are things like: far and near, soft and loud, right-left, fast-slow, below and above and rotating.
The sound waves leave the serial uniformity of the loudspeakers. Concretely orienting oneself, at least initially, in the space is made possible by the growing sound mass. Human sounds resembling breathing, which shift and die away as they travel through the resonant space. At first repeated regularly, then modulating in colour, at the same time becoming increasingly selective and changing into percussive sounds. The sounds gradually seem to underscore the contours of meaning of the sculpture. Disjointed fragments of conversa-tion escape from the acoustic path and converge.
The acoustic raw materials that Clara Oppel uses are based on sounds from nature and things we encounter every day: voiced breathing sounds, the fluttering of a butterfly against a window pane, the call of migrating birds, snapping fingers, creaking doors, rustling leaves, a quivering metal spring. In answer to questions about the technological processes she uses, Clara Oppel tells of her sound experiments with cuts and time processes. She dismantles her material and reas-sembles it to the point where abstraction begins to become concrete, where inchoate noise begins to become sound.
The interplay of these layers of sound triggers ever-new chains of association in the listener.
But what about one’s own listening position? How would the sound mass seem somewhere else in the space? One really needs a second experiment: how does it sound from an altitude of three metres?
Modulated sound loops emerge from the installation, banners of sound pass by until finally everything consolidates. Sound and space and the big sign on the floor. Like a key for the end of this world and for further thought, Clara Oppel proffers a grand semantic conclusion: ‘The person is the dream of a shadow‘ of the pre-Christian poet Pindar. This breathtaking sentence leaves the visitor dealing with sound dying out in space. Quietness, exhalation – one has been given a task. Anybody who has followed this sculptural sound-art this far can take away a little of the shadow.