Monday, July 23, 2018

The air itself is one vast library

What a strange chaos is this wide atmosphere we breathe! Every atom, impressed with good and with ill, retains at once the motion which philosophers and sages have imparted to it, mixed and combined in ten thousand ways with all that is worthless and base. The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered. There, in their mutable but unerring characters, mixed with the earliest, as well as with the latest sighs of mortality, stand for ever recorded, vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled, perpetuating in the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man’s changeful will.
— from The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, by Charles Babbage.

This quotation serves as a springboard for appreciating the work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The exhibit Unstable Presence is showing at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) until September 9.

In Vicious Circular Breathing, for example, the participant steps into a glass box and breathes, breathing in the air breathed by previous participants. The breath is represented by bellows which, via respiration tubes, inflate and deflate a number of brown paper bags.

Other works are more purely sound-based. You can step inside a sphere and here all of Bach's works at the same time. In another room voices are "translated" into light and layered on top of each other.

I am reminded of a couple of Wim Wenders' films — the angels that perceive everything at once (Wings of Desire); sound that is removed from its context, distilled (Lisbon Story).

All of which stands to complement my reading of Rilke...
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

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