Philip Albus & Ana Berkenhoff: Space Machine No. 1
Spoiler Park 21. August 2020
Every two years – biennially, as the curators say – there’s a summer performance festival that takes place in Frankfurt on the Main, and it’s called Implantieren. Implantieren, German for “to implant”, has been invented by Frankfurt’s independent dance and performance creators, and is made possible notably by ID_Frankfurt e.V. (InDependent Dance and Performance). The festival’s goal is to make local artists’s approaches and handwritings visible and audible in the public sphere, or, to be more specific, in the urban space. The 2020 edition of the festival has been conceived and curated by Eleonora Herder, Alessia Neumann, Sophie Osburg, Paola Wechs, and Ines Wuttke, an all-women team who did an amazing job in organizing everything in spite of an ever-changing situation concerning Covid-19 regulations.
On the opening yesterday evening, August 20, I was able to attend Philip Albus’s and Ana Berkenhoff’s installation Space Machine No. 1, which is to be seen (and heard, first and foremost) in a small space at the festival’s center on Weckmarkt, right behind one of the city’s more memorable landmarks, Frankfurt Cathedral. Albus and Berkenhoff use a small shop with a window to the street for their set-up: As with a lot of other festivals, there’s a complicated layering of spaces and places going on, which, in a way, prolongs and reiterates the idea of implementing something into something else.
What I see when I enter the room (after having cleaned my hands with some disinfectant) is a high table that looks like a weird altar or DJ set, and arranged on it, there are some electronic devices, some handwritten notes, and some flowers, too. I read about “Klangarchiv”, a “sonic documentary project” that aims to capture and preserve “endangered acoustic spaces”: Philip Albus has started a sound archive which takes the ambiences and the atmospheres of carefully chosen indoor spaces, and he makes it possible that acoustic qualities can be reproduced with electronic means. The three buildings made available here are Berlin’s Stadtbad Wedding, Berlin’s Zwingli-Kirche, and Mannheim’s Frei-Otto-Halle – the so-called “Multihalle”, an architectural structure in the middle of a park that had been used for all different kinds of events but is more or less abandoned now. What is also artificially reproduced is the acoustic quality of the space where the installation, which gives a good reference point.
A simple pad with buttons is in the middle of the table – a notice tells us to select a Space (buttons A–F), and to select an Atmo (buttons I–IV). As Space, I go for the main space in Zwinglikirche (button D), and as an ambience I add the soundscape of Mannheim’s Herzogenriedpark (button I). By speaking and by playing the kalimba, a small music instrument on the table, I get an impression of how the church space in Berlin must feel, while at the same time being able to listen to the sounds of birds and leaves in the wind in a park. I read that Albus and Berkenhoff write about “a technology that allows to apply the aural properties of a captured space to any given sound.”
It’s a funny feeling to be in that installation space. When I look out of the shop window, I can see people drinking beers, wearing masks, and discussing about the festival. Standing at the table, making my choices, I have to think about the different uses of original rooms that have been reproduced here: The altar-like installation gets more concise because of the church space, and possibility to control the sound lets the allusion to the DJ set get stronger. Different spaces and places are overlapped and remixed here, and this enforces the feeling of being in more places at the same time. What rhymes with the festival title here is that Albus and Berkenhoff manage to implement different spaces in this small shop, while leaving it to their audience to control which combination of spaces they want to experience, and how they want to produce sounds themselves, within these soundscapes. The small installation gives us a glimpse into this sound archive, and lets us travel to different spaces at the same time in a way. What does this have to do with dance and performance? I have to think of Michel Foucault’s notion of the heterotopia here that I seemingly come back to again and again.
Foucault talks about theater spaces as heterotopias because of a special capability. This is the capability, “of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (as can be read here in English). Now, this incompatibility of the sites is illustrated by Foucault with referring to the “rectangle of the stage”, where “places” can appear one after the other, and still remain foreign to one another. Where Foucault thinks of visual places, or set designs, that appear in a series one after the other, Space Machine No. 1 makes it possible to combine spaces, and lets them overlap. By implementing and implanting different spaces into one another, Albus and Berkenhoff challenge us to think about spatiality itself, and about our sensual experience of different spatialities. Where, in a traditional proscenium theatre space, many people watch a series of spaces and events, we have here a series of visitors in the theater space who, one after the other, experience a multiplicity of spaces at the same time. I think this heterotopian approach, for the opening of a festival that’s called Implantieren, is a simple as it is striking. I also have the impression, after getting glimpses and overhearing rumors about the other performances and projects to come over the next days, that this idea of combining spaces and diving into the complexity of urban and architectural constructions will be an important part of Implantieren’s 2020 issue. The whole program can be looked up here.