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21 Jul 2009, Posted by Eric Karstens in Off topic: Art, etc., 0 Comments

Haunted Media Art in Dortmund


Hartware MedienKunstverein (HMKV) in Dortmund proves, once again, that it is one of the most creative and original organisations exhibiting video and media art in Germany and beyond. Their exhibition Awake are Only the Spirits – On Ghosts and their Media, curated by Inke Arns and Thibaut de Ruyter, is definitely worth the trip to Dortmund in the heart of the Ruhr area, once Germany’s coal mining and steel milling powerhouse, which is currently in final preparations to become the European Capital of Culture 2010.
HMKV’s own venue, the Phoenix-Halle, is a quite spectacular remnant of a former Hoesch steel plant. Its vast open space, with giant crane hooks still dangling from the ceiling, can be configured to meet the requirements of different kinds of exhibitions. Its surroundings offer a quintessentiual vista of contemporary Ruhr: blast furnace ruins tower over brand-new developments designed to host high-tech and IT businesses.

The show’s title may sound dubious, but it is actually very well selected and always keeps an ironic – however cautiously admiring – distance from its exhibits. There are, for instance, displays of the lifetime efforts of two men who tried to prove that dead people spoke to them through white noise and intentionally distorted sounds and images on (video-)tapes, TV screens, or radios. But the curators put them in bays with grey wall colour in order to separate them from the white- or black-walled displays of art elsewhere in the room. Rather than take such eccentrics (to put it mildly) too seriously, they use them as examples of how artists might have found the inspiration to tackle ghosts and the supernatural in their works.

The actual art works play with the subject in a variety of ways. While some expose the self-appointed psychics to ridicule, many use them as a hook for experiments with electronic and audiovisual equipment, and yet others try to approach the border area of the paranormal by setting out sensors that may or may not catch signals from beyond.

Lucas and Jason Ajemijan from the United States, for example, transcribed a 1971 Black Sabbath song in reverse order and then had it performed by an orchestra in order to find out whether it contained hidden messages. They videotaped the performance and now play the video forward (i.e., the song backwards), only to suddenly switch the tape’s playing direction midway. This makes for a quite bizarre and fascinating musical experience and is embedded into a full-room installation.

Carl Michael von Hausswolff set up an ominous-looking lab where the displays of live electronic instruments such as a sonar, an oscilloscope and a radar, which are supposed to react to movements in the room, are projected on the wall. Combined with a sound installation, the impression is indeed otherworldly and seems – despite the modern technology – ancient and sinister.

Tom McCarthy recorded snippets read from local newspapers on a flight data recorder (“Black Box”) and broadcasts them over a low-power FM station to the neighbourhood of the Phoenix-Halle, where people can tune their regular radios to the eerie programme.

These are only a few examples of how the exhibition balances tongue-in-cheek approaches with inquisitive and sometimes almost scientific explorations as well as provides peculiar sensory input. It features a total of 22 artists and runs from 16 May to 18 October 2009. Opening times are Thursdays and Fridays from 16.00-20.00 h and Saturdays and Sundays from 11.00-20.00 h.

By the way, a similarly-themed exhibition took place in 2008 at the Kunstnernes hus in Oslo, titled The Ghost in the Machine, which may have provided some stimuli for this one.

See a related blog post by Marc Weidenbaum here.