'From Space to Place'
An Interview with Andreas Oldörp

The interview was conducted by Wolf Jahn in Hamburg, December 2001

Mr. Oldörp, your works sound, ring, rumble or whatever you want to call it. Does your work therefore belong to the field generally referred to as 'sound-art'?
It is at least classed with sound-art. Actually I am not very happy with this term. It merely describes what music has always achieved, namely to work creatively with sound. And even if the word 'art' is taken to mean 'fine art', its combination with 'sound' leads to a predominance of this 'special' - i.e. rarely used - material which does not exist in most of my works.

What term would you use to define your work?
Since the use of any term results in the predominance of a single aspect only, I would stress the architectural space: the quality of the 'here and now', the express reference of my work to its place of origin; the impossibility to 'transplant' them. I guess that 'Installation-Art' would be the most fitting term for it.

Space, because your works create space or because they react to a selected space?
When I work, I start out from a given space, which I experience as an 'interlocutor' while my concepts develop. This not only covers the salient points of its architecture, but also its quality of material, among other things its ability to represent traces of history, in a nutshell: time. But first, I also try to understand light, temperature and especially the habits of use in connection with space, its current or also historical function. In a next step, I try to work an additional dimension into these rooms, to focus them aesthetically, to transform them.
I characterised this process in 1998 in a title for an installation with the rooms of the town-gallery in Backnang with the words 'From Space to Place'.

Transforming a space into a place - where do you see the essential difference?
A space is full of possibilities, can be used in various ways, is at one's disposal. The possibility of its 'occupation' may suggest itself, but it is still not real. In contrast, a place is already focused.

Could you explain this further, perhaps with the help of a concrete example?
It is important to me that the meaning of these terms should be obvious, as they need to be grasped immediately. We speak of subjective space (Denk-räume), space of movement (Bewegungs-Räume), the tidying up of spaces (Auf-Räumen), thereby pointing to (developing) empty space. Contrasting with these notions is the term I often employ, i.e. the one of 'localisation' (Ver-Ort-ung). This term describes a concrete personal relation, the 'place of action' (Ort der Handlung), the 'place where something happens' (Tat-Ort).

This place, which is of prime importance, is an acoustic place for you ...
... only to a certain extent, as it cannot be separated from its haptic and visual dimensions. But perhaps I ought to state more clearly why I insist to focus on the place with regard to the aesthetical perception. On the one hand, I simply deny that there can be any perception other than a whole one. Even if the image is conveyed via the eye only, music only via the ear, these means of perception should be viewed only in a further comprehensive context. The question for me now is only whether I accept this fact and take it seriously and how extensively I use it as a basis for my art. This is also connected to the fact that 'effect' alone is not enough for me. I strive for 'effectiveness'. Thus, I have to ascertain the situation of my visitors in order to do that responsibly. I have to produce an overlap as extensively as possible between my way of experience and theirs, for which rooms create a very obvious and firm common ground. This is not an especially novel thought, though. The tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk resulted after all also from the longing for an encompassing effectiveness.

Some of your works have been realised in traditionally sacral rooms, e.g. in St.Petri church in Lübeck. But even if the room is of a more profane nature, your installations are now and again experienced as sacral. Does the association with the 'sacral' bother you?
It irritated me at first; perhaps because in my works there were moments, the extreme intensity of which surprised me and reminded me - in a positive sense - of religious experiences. Of course, people react very differently to my installations. Some were almost militantly provoked, others very intensively 'in there'. It is precisely this state of being 'in there' which made it clear to me that the term 'sacral' in general describes an 'encounter with oneself'.

What does this mean exactly, this 'encounter with oneself'?
To converse with oneself. No, perhaps not with oneself, but rather with the 'I' beyond self-consciousness.

What we call the 'self' or the 'I' has been shaken to its core. We now view it as a culturally conditioned construction rather than a natural reality.
This is totally irrelevant in the context of what I mean. Whether the self is real or imaginary, is regarded as a fact or fiction does not interest me. What is important is that something speaks, answers or is simply experienced as a vis-à-vis.

Let us return to our opening question and the question concerning sound.
Why sound at all? What role does it play for the transformation of space to place?

I have already talked in detail elsewhere about how I came upon sound as a sculpturally workable material - and that takes more than just a few words. I therefore want to restrict myself to a few basic aspects. It is easy to notice just how strong an effect the acoustic part of our everyday life has on us by stopping our ears (as far as possible). It is also easy to observe to what extent it establishes reality; you simply turn off of the sound of the television. In both cases, a feeling of 'withdrawal' is created. The world appears as if seen from a submarine. Surprisingly, the visible alone cannot sufficiently establish the sensation of immediacy. On the other hand, our daily 'mobile-phone-performances' impressively illustrate how completely we enter into 'another reality' during periods of concentrated listening. The power of music to change our mood is generally known. In deep silence, in soundproof rooms, the lack of 'being borne' by acoustic stimulation frightens us. It seems to me that our acoustic perception is mainly responsible for our - not only physical - ascertainment of ourselves. Does it not therefore suggest itself to the artist to try out this powerful material? During my studies, however, it seemed necessary to me to bestow a certain duration to these sounds in order to understand them sculpturally and thus work on them. In this static form, so to speak, it becomes especially clear that sound is pure immediate energy - comparable to light and heat - which can be experienced in partial aspects not only via the ear, but via the whole body.

The sound of you work is rarely homophonous, but rather changes with the movement of the bodies in the room.
Even when I only set one source of sound, as for example in Eutin in the centre of a water tower with 'grožes Weiž', I try to produce a sound which more or less 'splits up' under the acoustic conditions of the room. Almost like light in a prism - allthough this analogy is not quite correct. You can make an amazing observation when following the permanent vibration: namely that the characteristic colouring of a sound is a result of the mix of a key note with the most diverse overtones which are set free by the architecture and can partly be experienced individually. The opposite is quite evident in the mixture-register of an organ. Here, three or four pipes sound together when a key is pressed and produce this special and complex, but homogenous quality of sound. In my installations, acoustic architecture and complex sound-structures are produced, the variety of which is not apparent and thus can only be experienced through movement. They are produced when I try to 'enter into the sound' - which, incidentally, can also be aided by the purposeful bringing together of certain sounds.

How does your audience react to your installations?
Some visitors asked where exactly the exhibition was located. Nevertheless, it is very important to me that the visual part is much reduced. I regard it as necessary as a guideline during the 'entering'- or 'initiation'- phase. After all, I do expect a lot of visitors when I demand a general slowing down or a 'seeing with the ears' as a pre-condition for a 'successful' aesthetical experience. The process of reorientation away from the exterior to the interior requires time and a course. And it is this course I describe when determining my sources of sound. Provided you are so disposed, walking turns into strolling and hearing into listening almost by itself. And then - and only then - can the visual part recede completely, comparable to the sound which before was only perceived vaguely as a background.

What role do the visitors play? They must become active, i.e. wander if they want to hear anything.
What role do recipients play in art anyway is what I keep asking myself. What role do they still want to play? Of course, 'they must become active'! But in what manner do they, respectively can they still do that? There seems to be a predominant need to be 'entertained', to take up more of a passive attitude, which is already often complied with in artistic production. But I think your question aims at something else. My decision to initiate processes with my installations and make movement necessary is closely connected to my conception of art. With my works, I try to reach a level on which I - except as the author in the sense of a binding back and modification - lose my significance. An installation, a place has to be 'simply right', independent and self-reliant, in order to work as an 'instrument', in the sense of a tool, i.e. to be of use for the visitor - but for me as well. If it is not used, it simply remains potential and thus not really fathomable. The mere idea or the image of a hammer does not (or only in a very indirect manner) convey the experience of its impact on my thumb either. But the comparison with a hammer leads into a far too instrumental direction, as my sounds do not immediately create meaning. They are explicitly free of value.

Free of value in what sense? Are there no hearing habits which also have an influence on your works?
Free of value means that there is no meaning, no story, no dramaturgy.

But is not the opposite possible: that the viewer detects a meaning well enough, simply by taking up different positions, thereby constructing something like an action, time and a course of their own?
Yes, that is what is produced in their heads and naturally hearing habits play a role here too. But they are limited to the individual, the very personal sphere of the recipients. The 'I' would have arrived at its 'here and now', with consequences which have no impact on another person. Allow me to ask you a question in turn: Do spaces with a comparable potential exist outside art?

Not perhaps documented ones. But art is always in need of rooms which make it clear that art is taking place between their walls. If people do not know that they are confronted with art, there is a danger that they simply overlook or overhear it.
This holds true for the greater part of the cases, especially when the fact has to be stressed that a work of art wants to 'irritate constructively'. Irritation, bafflement, astonishment or also helplessness are pre-conditions for change in every living context. What 'art-places' can additionally offer are shelters, places of aesthetical perception in which the 'everyday logic' does not apply directly, where you can put yourself in jeopardy in a serious manner, but not in the last consequence. It is exactly this quality which I would like to introduce within other contexts.

In your outdoor work 'Über den Teichen' ('Over the Ponds') in the Rothaar-mountains there is indeed no indication of art. The sound simply wafts over the countryside and the strollers are faced with the challenge to make head or tail of it themselves.
Here, the vehicle of the 'shelter of art' is not necessary. Strolling around the ponds, the walk in the wood is sufficient as a basic mood to be aesthetically capable of action with the additional quality of the installation.

Is there no danger that this enters one ear, only to come out the other?
I can very well understand any person who gets impatient or nervous when observing the world with a wise heart. Nevertheless, art only makes sense in our age if it takes for granted a constructive attitude of its recipients to the world and has confidence in their involvement.