May 26, 2013

(Venice Biennale): Helmut Lemke: the Surplus Value of Sound

On Tuesday, I head off to Venice for the Biennale - lots of previews, parties and meetings planned. I have a particular interest in the show at the Palazzo Bembo as I wrote the catalogue introduction for Helmut Lemke's exhibition there.
Here is that essay: 

Since the 1970's Helmut Lemke has developed site-specific concerts, performances and installations. His endeavours have taken him to concert halls and outdoor markets, to Galleries and Museums and to the frozen seas off Greenland, to Function Rooms of Pubs and to International Festivals. He has presented his work all over the globe, collaborating with other Sound Artists and Musicians, with Dancers and Scientists, Visual Artists and Architects, Poets and Archaeologists, Performance Artists and Wildlife Rangers. He has experienced many audible sounds as well as those made audible through creative interventions, and fundamentally come to understand the site the sound requires.
Through these investigations into sounds, some obvious, some familiar, some to be found, he has become a Cageian presence, not in the sense of musical or poetic lineage but as the value proposition conduit for a contemporary insight into sound itself. Lemke has observed that sound is behind you when you gaze toward the horizon: he places us in that moment, and constructs for us the awe of our relationship between the sound he unveils and the phenomenology of presence in that environment. This pursuit and representation of the fundamentals of sound is driven by his conception “über den hörwert”, a Marxian analog of the surplus value of hearing. His aim to represent a specific environment through its sounds at a specific moment requires listening with all senses. Accepting the impossibility of resonating the actual sounds heard in the moment he heard them, he constructs a conceptual aural present. Lemke talks about the tools he uses to communicate sounds heard to non-witnesses of the original, the remarkable articulation of his line, - raw and skeletal - poetry, visual poetry, onomatopoeia, soundpainting, photography and sound recordings, uncovering the democracy of microphones. He states his attempt to describe, to reproduce the experience of sound itself, its thickness, the ontology of being in sound, but this is not accurate: in fact, he becomes the act of hearing. In the offering of his approximations, objective and subjective improvisations, Lemke evokes memories of sound, and more, posits the second hearing, ours, in a new existential space, as a synesthetic osmosis. His quiet declaration of inwardness tunnels us into him and our ears are replaced by his. To know of the source of a sound helps to imagine it. Lemke is the source of the sound because whether or not his listeners really hear what he has drawn, written and document, verification lays in his trust in the audience’s willingness and capacity to absorb the inspiration and imagination of being. Reflecting declarations of purpose from Lawrence Weiner, William Carlos Williams et al., Helmut Lemke makes art useful to us, we can cross the bridges he has made for us.

The Palazzo Bembo approximation is a remarkable opportunity for a duplicate experience. In the unique of the Venetian city soundscape, we experience Lemke’s hearing of the site in the site. By stopping to hear and becoming the well, catching all of sound, Lemke has made himself the disembodied microphone, the universal hearer/ signifier of the sounds in the forest that no-one is there to hear, the teacher, the artist, the beekeeper

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