Krista Dzudzilo’s exhibition ‘The Sixth Creation of the World’. Review by Jānis Taurens

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Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

‘Die Welt zerfällt in Tatsachen.’

(Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1.2)

One way to ‘write’ a review of Krista Dzudzilo’s The Sixth Creation of the World is to put on a recording of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 6, probably the first performance I remember hearing as a child, namely, the one by Rafael Kubelík and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, published on two Soviet-era records under a Deutsche Grammophon licence. Then, record the playing of the recording, and send off the resulting audio file instead of a written review. The gaps between the movements of the symphony and the sound of turning over the record would indicate ‘invisible’ elements of the performance. But this idea would not work, because Mahler’s symphony is many times longer than what is needed for a reasonable review. However, the performative gesture of such a review would be justified, because, as the artist indicates in her statement displayed at the entrance to the exhibition, the first, and apparently the most important, element of the work of art is Mahler’s Symphony No 6, even though we cannot hear it in the exhibition. (The second, and visually more impressive, element is the ‘moving image with the flautist’, who silently turns the pages of the score. The third element is the illuminated, concrete ‘my mother’s hands’.)

This non-present, or ‘non-audible’, element is an essential part of the whole work of art. It contains a small element of apophatic, or negative, theology. I say ‘small’, because in apophatic theology (and this is my own non-theological view), there is no humility, although ‘humility’ is an important word for describing Krista’s work. And yet her works also circumvent this excuse. For example, the video work Clarity[1] is faultless (clean) in its form, but contrary to the artist’s intention, and allowing myself to freely paraphrase a letter from Valdis Āboliņš to Jānis Borgs, it is unintentionally dirty in its content. A woman kneeling on steps and the endless washing of what could just as well be an endless surface or a Möbius strip, or a Jacob’s ladder (for men), is not only an indirect reference to Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ performances, but also to the Sisyphean daily duties of a woman. (For viewers, it is their views and opinions, including those about art, that have been imposed on them, and can never be completely washed away.)

But what can we see and hear in Sixth Creation of the World? Dzudzilo tells me that it echoes the ‘classic, formal portrait’ of the 17th century, and that this work ‘reflects the portrait of my essence’. The string of associative images ought to include Mahler’s view of the symphony as the world, the human as a microcosm, the creation of which (‘the breath of life’) is linked with the hands of Dzudzilo’s mother, which hold an invisible flute. In the symphony, however, the piccolo makes its entrance in the final movement to play a few shrill musical phrases, as we see in the ‘moving image’ and hear in the empty space of the exhibition hall. What are these phrases? Both English translations of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (the first being C.K. Ogden’s 1922 translation, the second by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness in 1961) are unanimous in the cool restraint of their logic: ‘The world divides into facts,’ even though the original German word zerfallen can also mean ‘to disintegrate, to fall into pieces, to fragment’, and so on. Apparently, the symphony’s world falls apart into separate musical phrases, and we can hear the shrill sounds of only one instrument, sounds that would otherwise be barely distinguishable from the fabric of the entire composition, but, having been taken out of the musical context of the Symphony No 6, pierce the ears like … like the screams of a woman in labour (yes, this interpretation is also possible in the string of associations I sketched out previously). In other words, the piccolo, which Mahler used only in the fourth movement of his symphony, with its shrillness, shows that our world is radically fragmented.

At this moment, I could be accused of turning the name of Dzudzilo’s work from ‘creation/composition’ to ‘decomposition’, and some metaphorically inclined reader will comment that I’ve dipped my pen in ‘the ink of melancholy’. But what are Mahler’s music and his world like today, and how will viewers view this work of art?

Mahler’s symphonies began to enjoy wider appreciation only in the ‘era of technical reproduction’, when, thanks to LP records, listeners were able to hear them without waiting for relatively rare, inaccessible and expensive concert performances. The loss of aura and ambience which is characteristic of technical reproduction opened up new routes for musical development, which, pointedly quoting the concept of ‘aura’ created by Walter Benjamin, Adorno described in one of his notes in Philosophy of New Music. He understands a work of art with an aura to be a closed work of art, the disintegration of which can happen either unconsciously, by arriving at the category of mass-produced and technically reproduced art, or consciously, by making it critical and fragmentary. And this, in turn, links art with the social structure of society, and the current political events of the day (Adorno’s book was published in 1949): ‘The closed artwork is bourgeois, the mechanical artwork belongs to fascism, the fragmentary artwork, in its complete negativity, intends utopia.’[2] The unconscious fragmentariness of the world, which is facilitated by splitting it into units of information (as opposed to the disappearing skill of narration and the unity of narrative, another of Benjamin’s thoughts), permits a fascist manipulation of human consciousness that is expressed in the Assad-like use of chemical weapons, the Trump-like firing of missiles, and the driving of trucks (seemingly by blind, robotic creatures) into crowds of people, which is something that has also recently happened in the city currently hosting a retrospective of Marina Abramović’s work.

Dzudzilo’s work is a deconstruction, and the putting back together of the world is the utopia included in its title. Can the viewer comprehend this? In this fragmentary age, when visitors to an exhibition devote only a few minutes to the question ‘What is this work of art about?’ or even more unambitiously ‘What can be seen in it?’, the viewers obtain only a single fragment (in contrast to the length of Mahler’s symphony[3]), and the meaning of the work of art slips away from them. For example, if they have by chance been lucky enough to notice/hear one of the few final extracts of the symphony, in which the flautist finally plays the phrases assigned to the piccolo, they will probably not understand what it really is. Should the work of art be observed from the beginning, as I did in the artist’s workshop, and which, even though watched on a modest-sized screen compared to the impressive video projection on the second-floor wall of the Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, left a fascinating impression on me? (In fact, it made me admit that a conceptually cleaner solution would involve the exhibition of only the video projection; but I will return to this issue later.) Even a patient viewer will probably have to piece together the symphony’s score, or, more precisely, the turning of its pages fixed in video format, from two separate parts: from a random moment as they come into the exhibition hall to the very last point, and from the moment the score is opened to a seemingly ‘already seen’ frame, which, of course, cannot be precisely defined. And can this work of art be understood (and appreciated) by a person who has never, not even once in his or her life, heard Mahler’s symphony?

The content of truth contained in this work of art cannot be exactly identified, and the necessary and sufficient conditions for the viewer’s perception cannot be established. The breath blown into the flute, which the majority of viewers/listeners will not wait around to witness, can be understood as Beckett’s ‘breath’ in his play of the same name (Breath), which, as opposed to Mahler’s world, is dramatic absurdity compressed to the very minimum. And the utopianism of the critical extract also remains in the fragmented perception. In this case, it is confirmed by the woman, the mother as creator, the artist as creator, the flautist (the woman as a member of a symphony orchestra is a relatively new achievement of Western culture), and finally, the woman’s hands, which assume the still paradigmatic role of conductor-dictator.[4]

Placed in the foreground and clearly lit in a dark space, the hands cast in concrete supposedly fulfil the role of the conductor, and this explanation reconciled me with this ‘scenographic’ element. One of the questions to which I was seeking an answer the first time I watched the ‘moving image’ was: How is the flautist able to ‘keep up’ the symphony’s tempo without a conductor? After all, tempos are one of the most essential elements of interpretation when it comes to a composition on this scale. (I will add that Leibnitz believed that the ‘maintenance’ of the world performed by God during each moment of its existence can be compared to the act of creation itself.) Dzudzilo answered that the flautist hummed all the melody lines to herself. This musical action can be regarded as a feminist counter-argument to the ‘heavy hand’ shown by the conductor in the final scene of Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal … And suddenly I envisage that the word izirt (‘to unravel’) could be used when translating into Latvian the phrase from Wittgenstein mentioned at the beginning of this review (Die Welt zerfällt in Tatsachen). The word also corresponds to knitted and woven fabrics, which were once considered typical materials made by women. However, the piecing back together again of an unravelled world anticipates a utopia, and today any contemporary ‘performance’ of Mahler other than fragmentary is probably not possible.

Krista Dzudzilo’s exhibition The Sixth Creation of the World open till 14 May, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Creative Studio

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

Sixth Creation of the World, exhibition view, Arsenāls Exhibition Hall, Riga, 2017. Photo: Krista Dzudzilo

[1] Exhibited in the summer house of the Mākslai vajag telpu (Art Needs Space) fund in July–August of 2015. Ironically, the work was filmed on the staircase of the Art Academy of Latvia.

[2]     Adorno, Theodor W., Philosophy of New Music. Tr. by Robert Hullot-Kentor. University of Minnesota Press, 2006, p. 183, n. 75.

[3]     A performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 6, for example, by Klaus Tennstedt (EMI, 1983), is almost an hour and a half long. Dzudzilo’s video is only slightly shorter, thanks in part to the fact that the exposition of the first movement, which is written in sonata allegro form and thus uncharacteristic of Mahler, is not repeated (the players do not turn back to the beginning).

[4]     See, for example, Norman Lebrecht’s critical examination of conductors, especially Herbert von Karajan: Lebrecht, Norman, The Maestro Myth: Great Conductors in Pursuit of Power, Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Artists:
Jānis Taurens
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May 10, 2017
Published in Review from Latvia
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