Trash or Art?

Impressions by Sieglinde Geisel, translated from German by Thomas Nießer.

Ever since the ingenious story of the cleaning lady there has been a growing awareness of the fine line between trash and art. “Is this art or can I throw it away?” could serve as the guiding principle for the trash-performance by the Argentinian poet Cristian Forte and the German composer Harald Muenz. The production is subtitled “An asemic procedure”. The word “asemic” means the inability to communicate with the help of symbols. So we are warned: We won’t get very far if we try to understand.

What we experience during the next hour goes beyond the language: To ask the symbols for the meaning would be contrary to the intention of the artist. In fact, words are of inferior significance here. What is important can be seen and, more importantly, heard. The words here generally play a supporting role. The high points are to be seen and, more importantly, to be heard. Harald Muenz, sitting mainly at his mixing desk and working fully focussed on his control levers, explores the space between sound and noise. Only gradually do you realise how far he goes with this. The audience is invited to move around the room, whereby initially we stand in the front part – until suddenly something rumbles at the rear. One thinks that there is the action, but when we all rush back not to miss anything, nobody is there, just a canopy with a plastic sheet. Sounds without visual sources are somewhat uncanny and one suddenly becomes aware that the separation of sounds from their source is a fundamental interference with the nature of things. Not only has man subjugated the earth but also its sounds and in passing is this evening a manifestation of that dominion.

We are first led to think that this spectacle is trash. Cristian Forte drags a blue recycling bin into the room (paper rubbish obviously doesn’t smell). Before we see the contents of the bin however, we hear it: Forte holds the microphone in the bin and all at once it appears to speak, sing or as if the microphone itself produced a sound. Mysterious interferences arise, emanating from the confined space of the bin as the microphone head isn’t touching anything. Is this how a recycling bin sounds?

It is in the next room that the bin gets tipped out, underneath the plastic sheet of the canopy. Bags from the bakery, household paper, leaflets from institutes of literature – This home-made recycling bin tells the story of the house. The innocent rustling of the sprawled out papers has something comforting about it, like the creaking of floorboards, as we go about back and forth. With natural noises, one knows what to expect – completely in contrast to the sounds, which encroach on us from the loudspeaker. Harold Muenz uses his devices not only for the reproduction of sound but as an instrument in itself: the microphone produces its own sound.

© Evgeny Revvo

Cristian Forte takes the paper and enwraps the microphone in it. Thus eerie, fictitious sounds arise; later on the paper-cloaked microphone is pulled over the floor by its cable. One stands around with pricked up ears, alert and read to take flight, as Muenz is none too gentle. There are very few sounds in nature which can cause us pain and until the discovery of electricity, the sound of metal on metal was the loudest experience of sound that the world had to offer. But now all limits have been abolished. Electronically produced sounds show no consideration for the degree of what is human, they originate from machines, which have their own rules.. Harald Muenz doesn’t shy away from extremes: the piercing whistle of the feedback-effect are as much part of his repertoire as the opposite. He elicits sounds from the loudspeaker which are so deep, we can only “hear” them through our bodies. The oscillations make the stomach vibrate and enter the bones – no pleasant effect and we start avoiding the rear space.

Is art the opposite of trash? Art is order: from the chaos of the tipped-out paper waste, Christian Forte creates for himself small islands of order under the canopy. He tears shreds out of a colourfully printed catalogue and places them neatly on the blue surface of the tipped-over bin and he places paper rolls along the rods of the canopy. He smoothens down a piece of paper and scribbles something on it. At the top of the screen we can see what it is, but that’s no good as we cannot decipher – letter garbage. A second writing appears, as if by invisible hand, a modern writing on the wall, as mysterious as its biblical original. The only word that can be read at long last is, should one be surprised, the word ‘trash’.

The spectators wander to and fro between the two rooms, thus turning, without realising it, into the players of the sound installation. We pass through sound-waves and alter them with our bodies. The connection between the two rooms is dialectical as in the front room there is a screen just as well: On it we see the rear room as a framed picture. It is a ‘Ready Made’ which makes us realise that the question of art or trash is on of context: The upside-down paper bin, released out of the everyday life and displayed, turns into a work of art just as much as Duchamps’ toilet bowl. Finally, the invisible hand becomes debunked as well: What we have seen on the screen in the rear room, Harold Muenz writes down on a slide. I am reminded of the story of the Wizard of Oz: Everything is just stage-managed; the simpler the installation the more spectacular the effect. Modern technology imperceptibly turns our everyday lives into an Oz-world.

© Evgeny Revvo

In this trash-show, put on by a poet and a composer, words only play a subordinate role. One could easily have missed the poetry-installation, which, towards the end of the performance, was projected on a wall:

Sie sind anwesend gewesen
You have been present
Sie würden abweisend sein You would be unfriendly
abwesend absent
Sie würden abgewiesen You would be turned away
wurden were
werden become
Sie wurden abweisend They became unfriendly
Wirkten abwesend Appeared absent

A poetic cameo, in which letters change line by line. It is a game of small causes and big effects. Words, as long as they make sense, are no trash – and the other way round. Trash or art? Noise or sound? That is a question of the state of aggregation, in fact of both the object and the observer.