intrinsic space / Creating space
Years ago I spent New Year’s Eve in a small log cabin, far from the civilized world, in a mountainous region of Norway. While there, I had an experience that gave me a flash of insight into what the essential point of it really is for me as an artist. After a long journey, I arrived at the cabin and was elated by the rugged, snowy landscape. The first few days flew past, filled with forays into the surrounding area and explorations of the mountaintops around me. Such a magnificent white space! At some point, however, a blizzard started, accompanied by howling winds, blowing so fiercely that there was little else to do than wait inside until the storm died down. After three days, I was able to venture outside again; it was still snowing, but the storm had passed and I was impatient after the long wait. I followed the contours of the valley. After striding through the snow for several hours on my cross-country skis, something started to nag at me. I was uneasy; there was something that had caught me off balance and I was unsure what it was. I stood still to figure out what had caught my attention. The falling snow and the horizon blended together, seamless right up to my feet. I had no idea how far I was looking – was it one metre or ten, fifty, a hundred? Everything was white; nothing defined the space in which I stood. The same sensation applied to my ears. What space was I hearing? What sound in that space? Silence? No, there was definitely a rustling noise. Was it the sound of the falling snow? Or the rushing of my own blood? Does snow actually rustle as it falls? I stood still and my ears and eyes seemed like a camera that is unable to focus. I became aware of how strongly I orientate myself with my eyes and ears, mapping the space in which I stand ... and how strongly that orientation is imbued with emotions, memories, sounds, smells. Take away that orientation and there is confusion, unease; all sense of proportion vanishes. Back home, the following question occupied my thoughts: If space ceases to exist, if it cannot be perceived, is it possible to create perceptions that bring about the experience of space? 148
With that in mind, I returned from Norway and started work on an installation in which the audience is in a completely shuttered space and has to come up with their own representation of that space by experiencing moving light and sound. Various sounds – short taps, heavy thrumming bass notes and glissandos – bounce off the acoustics of the space. Your ears are quite capable of forming an impression of the materiality, size and proportions of the space through those perceived sounds. That’s how a bat finds its way too: by sending pulses of sound out into the space around it and hearing how they echo back. Later, more installations and performances followed in which the experience of space played a key role. One installation was built using a microphone and a speaker to hear the unique sounds native to a space. Each space has its own echo and its own timbre. By introducing a sound into that space and recording it, and then recording that echoed sound again and playing it back again, over and over, a sound process emerges in which the acoustics of the space play an increasingly major role with each successive recording. In each repetition, the echo and timbre have more and more impact on the original sound, until the recorded timbre has receded into nothingness and only the sound of the space itself remains. It is like a very slow feedback process that produces amazing sounds. At this stage, moving through the space again with the microphone and the speaker induces a sound pattern that is entirely indigenous to the space itself. In another installation, I took thin sheets of steel, 1 metre by 2 metres, and used a motor to induce vibrations in the steel. The resulting sound is reminiscent of the familiar ‘thunder sheets’. The motors that induce the vibrations are computer-operated with extreme precision. The installation is set up in a fort along the New Dutch Water Defence Line – a defence structure that flooded the land in response to threats, which was rendered useless by the time it was completed due to the invention of the aeroplane.