presented somewhere else, but then you find another location and
it works equally well, if not better. For me, it’s also nice to show a
work in a contained room, which allows me to regain the intimacy
that I lose when I put things out into open space.
SB: Do you have an ideal location that you would like to work with?
SP: I do. If I’m in a city and I see a unique space, I remember it. I
would really like to do a project that involves all the train stations
along the elevated Stadtbahn in Berlin. Some of them have very
interesting histories, such as the Friedrichstraße station. Until 1990,
its departure hall, which was built under East Germany’s Socialist
Unity regime, was a border crossing into West Berlin. Because it
was the scene of so many painful farewells, Berliners dubbed this
modern steel and glass construction the “Palace of Tears.” I would
like to do an exhibition, involving all of the stations, in which you
would hop on and off trains to see it. I had this idea when I first
moved to Berlin, but I didn’t know anyone. I’ve been talking to different people ever since and hope I can realize it one day. You have
to get some backing and weight behind you. In the U.K., I have
worked with the London-based Artangel, an organization that has
produced art projects in unexpected places for over 30 years. It can
really help when you want to realize something ambitious, but
there isn’t a similar organization in Berlin.
SB: Your recent Bonniers Konsthall exhibition (“Lost in Space,”
February 22–May 7, 2017) featured a new film.
SP: The film was funded by the Konsthall, and it was exciting
to have a proper crew and cinematographer. The exhibition was
inspired by the Swedish composer and conductor Karl-Birger
Blomdahl (1916–68), who wrote an amazing opera called Aniara
(1959), based on a poem by Harry Martinson. It is about a failed
mission to Mars; people are trying to flee Earth because it has
been damaged by environmental destruction and nuclear war.
Eight thousand passengers enter an enormous spacecraft, the
Aniara, en route to Mars, but it veers off course and they’re
doomed to drift aimlessly until they die. The opera is very progressive and eclectic. Blomdahl worked with 12-tone music, which I
have deconstructed in the past. In this case, I took apart a composition by Blomdahl and have each of the 12 tones come from its
own speaker. I then decided to film one of the tones, the C tone,
the very first one you hear in the opera. It is played in sequence
by a violin, and it sounds like a coded message. In fact, it is Morse
code for “S.O.S. Aniara.” It gradually builds up, with other instrumentation coming in. It’s a very full and complex opera, but it
begins with just this C tone. My film A Single Voice (2017) depicts
the violinist in a darkened space; the camera orbits around her
as she’s listening for the C tone. She’s also looking at the monitor
and waiting in anticipation for the tone to come.
Stephanie Buhmann is a writer based in Brooklyn.
A Single Voice, 2017. View of installation at the Bonniers Konsthall, Sweden.