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Dani Gal: Sampled Histories


In the exhibition "Freisteller" at the Deutsche Guggenheim, visitors unexpectedly become DJs when they approach Dani Gal's record players. The Israeli multimedia artist is one of this year's Villa Romana fellows. The furious performance he gave in Feb-ruary at the artists' house in Florence and now at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin appears emblematic for the Villa Romana's new programmatic orientation, says Tim Ackermann.


Dani Gal, Architecture regarding the future of conversation, installation view, Freisteller, Deutsche Guggenheim,
Photo Mathias Schormann


The Deutsche Guggenheim, May 2008: the black Pioneer record player sits on a pedestal in the middle of the exhibition space, where it seems as alien as a relic from the Hi-Fi-obsessed eighties — and as sublime as a Ready-Made by Marcel Duchamp. The vinyl disc on the turntable revolves; the arm wanders along the record’s grooves and reaches the end. Then it swings back and hovers for a moment before the record player kicks back into motion, as though guided by an invisible hand. Through the loud-speakers, unintelligible fragments of conversation can be heard. The visitor has to draw nearer to the artwork to identify the voice of a man speaking in English: "archi-tecture is like language… when you are really good at it you can be a poet." One step closer and a name can be deciphered on the record: Mies van der Rohe. At the same moment, however, the playing speed of the record player shifts and the architect's voice drops a few octaves, wobbling horribly. Once again, only sentence fragments can be heard: "…honesty of the material…," "…nothing lasts forever…"


Dani Gal, Villa Romana 2008
Photo © Gregor Hohenberg

The modified record player was created by the Israeli artist Dani Gal for the exhibition Freisteller. Through the end of June, the show at the Deutsche Guggenheim presents new pictures, installations, and videos by current fellows of the Villa Romana in Florence. Ever since1905, the Villa Romana Prize has been awarded annually to exceptional young artists. Along with Gal, this year's prizewinners are Julia Schmidt, Asli Sungu, and Clemens von Wedemeyer.

Dani Gal, who was born in Israel in 1975 and today lives in Berlin, tellingly called his record player/sound installation Architecture regarding the future of conversations, an allusion to a record containing interviews with famous modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, and Walter Gropius titled Conversations regarding the future of architecture. And it's precisely this LP that the artist has rotating on two record players in the exhibition. Mies van der Rohe, Saarinen, and Gropius & Co. explain their utopian visions of a pioneering architecture. The fact that these discourses in architec-tural modernism continually elude the listener's reach and withdraw into unintelligibility lies entirely in the artist's intention. His title already indicates that he is primarily interested in the "future of conversation."


The Ballot or the Bullet! - voiceoverhead, performance by Dani Gal and Achim Lengerer at the atrium of Deutsche Bank in Berlin,
Photo Mathias Schormann


Thus, his work for the Deutsche Guggenheim is interactive: sensors in the pedestals register every movement in the vicinity, converting it into electronic impulses which then regulate the record player's speed and volume. "Visitors in the exhibition become aware of their movements in space and their relation to one other when they manipulate the record that documents the main thinkers of modern architecture," explains Gal. And so it's literally in visitors' own hands how much they understand of the recorded architects' talks; together, they assume the responsibility of authorship. One suddenly gets a sense of what the Israeli artist means by the "performative act of speaking."


Dani Gal, Grand Wizzard, 2008,
Photo collage © Dani Gal

Dani Gal is a manic collector of sound recordings of historical significance — a sound bite junkie, as it were. At last count, his "Historical Record Archive" consists of over 300 recordings of a wide array of events that left a mark on world history, from the invention of the phonograph to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The collection includes original sound footage from the victory celebrations aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri following the end of the Second World War, as well as the resignation speech of the American president Richard Nixon in 1974 and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Gal also owns records of speeches by Martin Luther King in Washington in 1963 and Helmut Kohl in Dresden in 1989. The majority of these recordings were created for the purpose of propaganda.


Dani Gal, The talking mountain of Israel,
video/audio installation, 2007
© Dani Gal

In the case of recordings reaching further back into the past, the crackling and rustling of the vinyl blends with the speaker's voice. This provides a corresponding feeling of authenticity and, in the case of highly emotional passages, for goose bumps. "You can feel the room," says Gal, " the situation in which the recording took place, the time and the quality of the recording devices. For me, this makes it more interesting to listen to vinyl records than, for example, to read historical speeches. I find it interesting to listen to the situation that was documented." The audio material is always a record of something that has happened, and for this reason it accommodates the above-mentioned "performative act of speaking." One could also understand the artist's perhaps most important thought in yet another vein: as speech that itself becomes performance when Gal short-circuits his historical sound material using the contemporary principle of sampling.

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