If ever there was an organisation that had its proverbial finger firmly on the pulse of cutting edge contemporary art forms, it is commissioning body Artangel. This month, the team that brought us Roger Hiorns’ sparkling azure ex-council flat grotto and Rachel Whiteread’s full-size casting of her own House have orchestrated the delivery of another extraordinary project to the heart of subterranean London: Heiner Goebbels’ Stifter’s Dinge.
Having travelled across the world, this remarkable ‘performative installation’ returns to its original home at Ambika P3, Marylebone Road. The massive monolithic interior of the former concrete testing facility has once again been transformed to become Goebbels’ cavernous laboratory of sound and light. Stifter’s Dinge defies definition: it is at once a theatrical performance, a visual spectacle, a musical sculpture – and yet it is none of these things exclusively.
A towering structure blinking with LEDs supports five pianos which appear to play themselves, singing out short melodies which combine and blend with the clanking and clunking of other components in the installation. Bodies of water bubble and ripple with the reverberations of sound; a thin mist hovers across the scene. Lights flash and dance across the space, casting abstract patterns on vast gauze screens that lower themselves from the ceiling at various intervals. Phantom-like voices hauntingly play out over projected images of idealised landscape paintings. At times meditative, at times unsettling, the experience is totally mesmerizing.
The title of the work translates as ‘Stifter’s Things’, after nineteenth-century writer Adalbert Stifter who was (in)famous for his fastidious, vividly detailed descriptions of nature: part of his attempt to close the gap between the ambiguity of language and the reality of experience. Goebbels uses similar tactics of immersion in his ‘no-man show’. The contemporary composer created this piece for instruments, not their players; and as the only human presence in the room, the audience is made to focus on the objects themselves which appear to perform autonomously.
This is a project to experience, not one to read about. Stifter was right – sometimes language just doesn’t have the capacity to adequately describe nature (or a multi-faceted, sensory-immersive installation). Artangel never fail to deliver the cutting-edge of cool – the newest addition to their list of weird and wonderful projects is no exception and should not be missed. (Words: Florence Ritter)
Heiner Goebbels: Stifter’s Dinge, in its new drop-in 4 hour long format The Unguided Tour, runs until 18th November. For more info, click HERE. A series of the original performances run between 13th-18th November.