Feb 5, 2011

More on Krems, Austria

"[...] I was asked by an art museum in Austria to do an installation project. The museum was in this really little town called Krems, about an hour from Vienna. And so I went to check it out. Krems is this sort of a perfect little Austrian town on the Danube filled with medieval churches and these elegant onion-domed towers and spires. The Kunsthalle there is connected to a twelfth century church where they do a lot of their larger exhibitions now. This building was a church for about six hundred years and since then it's been used for like a variety of different things like a kind of a flop house for pilgrims and indigents, and then a convent and then it was an all purpose kind of cultural institution - it's this huge structure and very resonant acoustics with really really long delays. The museum wanted me to design something, some sort of sound installation, whatever I wanted, especially for this particular space with its resonance.

At first I was trying to figure out how to get the church to talk, to make something about language, about language that was going up... [...]

Every day I would walk around this little town, and the weird thing about this place was that right in the middle of town there was this huge maximum security prison - tall gray walls and these enormous guard towers... And it was really strange because mostly prisons are built out on heaths or in some uninhabited wild faraway area. So, I'm looking around the town and thinking about what to do and I climbed to the top of the belltower of this church to try to get a better view of the way the town was laid out, just a bigger picture. I was up there in the belfry and I suddenly realized that I could look directly over at the guy with a machine gun in the guardtower and then directly down into the prison yard from the belltower.

So, I proposed making this thing for the church - for the cultural institution - called
Life. It would work like this: we'd make a three dimensional life-size cast of one of the prisoners and place it in the apse in this church. And then using a live video feed, the image of the prisoner would be projected from the prison to the church. So the video signal would travel in a straight line from the prison, up the guard tower, across the street to the church, down the bell tower into the apse, and finally mapping onto this three dimensional cast. So you could walk up to this three dimensional image and touch it and would be something that was kind of there and not there. (I suppose a one way system from that point of view.)

I wrote some things for the curators about why I wanted to do this, about my interest in telepresence and how cameras are changing different attitudes towards particularly the human body - incarceration vs. incarnation - and distinguish the prison and the church. And I said I thought it would raise some interesting questions about time, icons and cameras and the function of institutions. Now of course I was also pretty nervous about this idea as well. I mean it's one thing for a priest to deliver a sermon about evil incarnate in a church and it's really another thing to actually come in as a foreigner and teleport a prisoner into the apse.

Anyway, the curators at the Kunsthalle were enthusiastic about doing the project but a couple of weeks later they discovered that Austrian law forbids the representation of the prisoner's face, so once they're in prison they're like erased and that's part - a big part - of the punishment. I decided that without the face, the projection would be pointless, I mean,
Life from the Collar down is just not that gripping. I mean, humans have (to have) eyes or, in a way, they aren't really there. So I dropped this idea. [...]"

(excerpt from a lecture given by Laurie Anderson at New School in 2005,
as heard in this video)

(FYI: this project was the predecessor of Laurie Anderson's Dal Vivo (Life) project)