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11  |   P H A S E N
Visual/acoustic composition with Eberhard Blum, flute and live electronics, 1983/84
Thirteen panels
Collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood
Each 162 x 162 cm
Sammlung der Berlinischen Galerie, Landesmuseum für Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur, Berlin [Collection of the Berlinische Galerie, State Museum for Modern Art, Photography and Architecture, Berlin].

 


PHASEN, a visual–acoustic composition that Eberhard Blum and I developed, employs both audible and visible sequences and surface structures. It deals with nothing less than sound, space, time, and the archetypal cycles of circle and octave.


The working score of PHASEN, 1983.

In the score, the notes of a chromatic scale are assigned to thirteen 30-degree rotations of a circle. The phases of this revolution are represented on thirteen “black” collage panels, each measuring 162 x 162 centimeters . I chose these dimensions after determining that, on the one hand, squares of 150 x 150 centimeters simply didn’t seem large enough, yet, on the other, I had to be pragmatic about the amount of space and labor involved in working with, storing, and above all collaging thirteen such surfaces, that is, not make the panels any larger than absolutely necessary to seem “big.”


PHASEN, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1984.

I also needed to find a measurement of which 4.5 centimeters—the width of a single “stripe,” or “row,” of the surface pattern—was the multiplicand. It soon became clear that 162 centimeters—or 36 times 4.5—for a side was the point at which I began to feel a square was no longer medium-sized, but big. At the same time, with outstretched arms (I have good long ones), I could still manage to lift, move, and otherwise handle a blockboard panel of this size without assistance.


To cover the thirteen panels’ more 34 square meters of combined surface area, I used close to one hundred thousand small rectangles of printed paper. Having gauged the total amount I would need by weight, namely, 70 grams per square meter, I cut out and prepared all of the snippets ahead of time, commingling all two and a half kilograms of them in one large container before I set about executing the final selection, fitting, trimming, and pasting processes—much as one mixes cans of paint from different lots before beginning to paint a wall or any other large surface—in order to ensure as much homogeneity as possible from one panel to the next. The enormous number of these small, dark snippets of paper made clear to me as never before the similarities of my working methods with those of the writer, who—letter for letter and word for word—employs the given vocabulary of his language, or those of the typesetter, who uses the lead type from his type-case, each composing his text, one line after the other. I affixed my “black,” printed rectangles, one after the other, row for row, within the geometry of circle and square to articulate the panels’ surfaces, thus, in the progress from panel to panel, describing the process of revolution. In both English and German, “the black art,” die Schwarze Kunst, is that of printing. (Photo © 1983 Klaus T. Moser)


Installation plan for PHASEN in the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1984.

In a performance of PHASEN, Blum played each of thirteen notes, in sequence, for five minutes apiece, alternating at will between the alto and bass flutes. Using a mechanical tape delay—consisting of two Revox tape machines placed a good distance apart from one another, this being in a time before our electronic age—he repeatedly overdubbed each pitch with itself and, by means of a stereo loudspeaker-system, positioned it in space, according to its assignment to one of the panels. Thus, the viewer’s ears were encouraged to guide his eyes, and the listener made use of the visual to orient himself. The first performances of PHASEN took place at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in February 1984, as part of the interdisciplinary series “Sprachen der Künste” (“Languages of the arts”).


Eberhard Blum performs PHASEN, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1984. Photo © 1984 Ann Noël.

The installation plan for the Akademie was based on the geometry of the circle as applied to the architecture of the exhibition-cum-performance space. Together, the thirteen Phasen described the thirty-degree arc of a circle whose radius measured approximately 40 meters—a circle whose ideated center was located somewhere in the Tiergarten, the sprawling municipal park that surrounds the Akademie. The sound moved along the gradual curve of the panels, away from the audience, so that, in the end, it seemed to disappear into the perspective of the performance/exhibition space.


PHASEN installed at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 1987. Photo © 1987 Michael Dannenmann.

The next presentations of PHASEN took place at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in January 1987. There, the installation had to be completely different, in order to do justice to both Raum and Werk. The exhibition hall of the Kunstsammlung measures 12 x 50 meters, with a ceiling height of another twelve meters, and the panels were hung as a continuous straight band parallel to the audience. The sound moved from left to right ; Blum sat before the audience on a small raised platform, facing the row of panels ; and, as in the Berlin performances, both he and the panels were illuminated in the otherwise darkened hall.

 

*


Those “black” circles on the panels of PHASEN had grown out of SCHRITTE ( “Steps” or “Stages” ), the earlier concept, described above, which had originally involved designs for thirteen tall, upright, rectangular “white” panels—panels subsequently re-planned as large squares. On these squares, a vertical line—initially forming the first panel’s left-hand edge with its base-point in the lower left-hand corner—was to seem to fall to the right in stages, with its base-point in the lower right-hand corner and then rise again, its base-point now in the lower right-hand corner, until it formed the right-hand edge of the last panel.


The titles SCHRITTE and PHASEN (“Phases,” but also “[film] cels or frames,” in German) both make no secret of the fact that my study and employment of motion broken down into individual stages had to be seen against a cinematic background. Indeed, to support myself and quite literally buy time to work on drawings, panels, and Raumwerke free from the constraints of having to produce saleable goods—read : wanting to know exactly when I was working for love, and when for money—I illustrated and animated educational films for over fifteen years, celebrating my emancipation from such free-lance commissions by making a first short filmwork of my own, called AEAEA—all of which nicely coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989.


Aerial photograph of the Rundling  village Schreyahn. Photo © wendland-net.de

A good two and a half years before that millennial event—the fall of the Wall, that is, not my freedom from draughting jobs—at the time of the PHASEN performances in Düsseldorf, Blum and I spent a good part of the stunningly cold, snow-laden winter (which was to last—the cold part, at least—well into May), if not in the middle of nowhere, then very close to it, to wit in what was at the time the remotest corner of Lower Saxony : Lüchow-Dannenberg. Blum had been awarded a grant that included a three-month “retreat” (tantamount, in that age, to banishment) at the very quiet artists’ center in one of the region’s characteristic Runddörfer : a rural hamlet of a dozen or so half-timbered buildings, positioned in the Hanoverian Wendland’s archaic circular layout, like the spokes of a wheel, around a central Dorfplatz. In this Rundling, the two of us shared a two-story apartment, which had been built into a substantial, if haplessly converted, mid-nineteenth-century barn-cum-living-and-working-quarters, typical of the area.


The isolation was indeed severe, inasmuch as the region formed a pocket (almost an enclave) in the intra-German border, to be reached from Berlin only by taking the middle of the three transit routes through East Germany, and then wending one’s way north along the border. This we often seemed to accomplish without having seen a living soul or—due to icy back roads and Autobahn—without getting out of second gear for the duration of the two-hundred-kilometer journey.


To be able to accept the grant, we’d been forced to buy a car, in order to be able to travel to and fro as often as necessary or desirable, as well as to be in a position to do anything at all when we were there, besides take a blustery, bone-chilling walk through the winter-dead countryside. I had actually done the shopping for this vehicle from the comfort of my drawing table—not, however, as one might do today, by surveying the local listings online, but by looking out the window and across the street to the large used-car lot on the corner. There I spied a four-door, metallic green Fiat I thought might do the trick, and it became ours just days before we took off for the country.  


Our inaugural journey to the Rundling, in November 1986, was thus understandably fraught with nerves, not only because it was to be our test drive with the car, but even more so for its being the first time since he had fled the GDR, in 1960, that Blum felt he might chance taking any form of ground transportation whatsoever to traverse East German territory. You’ll appreciate that we both felt apprehensive about what might befall him were he to be challenged at the border crossings, or if we were, God forbid, to have a breakdown en route and be forced to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Volkspolizei for technical assistance. Yet, as daunting as the prospects had appeared beforehand, nothing untoward occurred either at the checkpoints or with the car in transit.


Eberhard Blum on the western bank of the Elbe River, across from Dömitz, East Germany, Winter 1986/87.

The Elbe formed a stretch of the Ost–West divide in those parts, and once we had settled into our life of georgic exile, we drove to the river’s banks and gazed across the sruface of its gelid water and frozen flood meadows to Dömitz, a town of three thousand souls lying within the strictly monitored no-go zone along the border. From the wind-raked embankment where we stood, we had a clear view of the house in which Blum had often visited a maternal uncle’s family as a boy. In 1986, however, it was less accessible to him than New York.

 

For me, it was unsettling—goodness knows what it was for him—to stand looking at that house’s walls, roof, and windows, imagining his Tante Herta still living there alone. Had anyone suggested that, on a summer’s afternoon but three years hence, he and I would be sitting around her kitchen table with his cousins, eating her celebrated Frankfurter Kranz, we would have merely cocked an eyebrow, thinking it a hollow jest indeed.


Such well-founded skepticism notwithstanding, the worm, as we know, at length did turn, so that on 8 July 1990, we found ourselves sitting in that house, at that table, in that company, eating that delicious cake. Afterwards, as we drove back to Berlin in the never-ending daylight of a Northern summer evening, we had the Transitautobahn entirely to ourselves, for the World Cup playoffs were being broadcast on TV and, in that sanguine season of deutsche Einheit, we seemed to be the only inhabitants of either Germany to have chosen not to watch the final game—which West Germany went on to win against Argentina, 1:0.