‘I explore the borders of function and poetry.’ An interview with Angela Anzi
Angela Anzi studied at HFBK Hamburg. She graduated with a Masters degree in July 2017. She was interviewed by Art Springboard’s Wolfram Schnelle in October 2017.
Wolfram Schnelle: Starting with your final presentation, Hilfestellung an Objekten 2 [Assistance for Objects], maybe you can tell me a bit about what you do, what your work is about, what interests you, what engages you?
Angela Anzi: I was searching for a point where perception breaks open, and I wanted to work on how media connect: how hearing, feeling, and seeing interact with each other. I came to the human auditory range, and I found it particularly interesting that people can’t hear tones below 20 Hertz – but they can actually feel them. Sine tones are often used in hearing tests – pure tones, clear waveforms, without any overtones. And this pertains to measuring and testing, and I found it interesting to work with this idea, with a pure tone, at and below the limits of hearing. It’s fascinating.
That was the beginning of my work. I did some research and decided to work with clay as a material because clay is very vibratory. I made these relatively large objects in the shapes of chimneys – hollow caps, comprised of many segments – and each object includes a large speaker that I can supply with its own signals from sine tones. Later I added smaller objects out of paper clay as well as steel frameworks with applied porcelain plates.
Then I added accessories from everyday materials, such as packing materials like bubble wrap or Styrofoam. And I found the contrast interesting: you encounter packing materials in everyday life, so the sounds that these materials make are familiar, but in the performance they are isolated and filled with sound by sine tones, which are usually used as a measuring instrument. There is tension in the materials but also in the sounds. While packaging material produces familiar sounds since it’s meant to be touched, the sine tone has a certain brutality. Infrasound can influence the nervous system up to the point of vomiting. It’s something that can be used as a weapon in war. This source of tension interested me and then I worked out a performance where I built up acoustic layers that displace or break through each other. So, I started with the limits of human hearing and ended with interaction. It’s often the case that I start at one point and then it gets broader and I try to build up layers within which I can think and through which I can look at the work. You have sculptural aspects, performative aspects but also the element of listening and feeling in the work.
WS: Right at the beginning, you said that you want to break perception open. The observer is made aware of something; he experiences something that he otherwise wouldn’t have seen or heard. What role does the observer play for you?
AA: In the case of my final project, an observer experiences the sound exactly as the objects and I do. It’s a collective experience. The vibration can be experienced because there’s a performance in which I build up acoustic layers with a pragmatic approach, for example by positioning a sheet of sandwich paper above a loudspeaker. The objects themselves have a relation to the human body through their size and their shiny surface. Depending on the viewer's point of view in space, his experience changes because, among other things, sound is concentrated differently in space.
WS: You’ve said previously that you studied speech and language therapy, and worked as a speech and language therapist. Does that play into your work?
AA: As an artist or a speech and language therapist, I’m the same person, and maybe I follow the same sort of intuition. When I’m active as a speech and language therapist, I also analyse situations – and I use all my senses for that. And I take a similar approach with art. It’s connected on that level.
WS: Going back a bit, could you explain how you discovered art? How did you decide ‘Now I’m going to study art and make it my profession’?
AA: It was certainly a circuitous path. As a kid I played a lot of piano, I drew and painted a lot – it was part of my everyday routine. When I studied speech and language therapy these kinds of creative projects and processes were absent – something was missing. It became clear that an education in art would follow – that I was developing a passion.
WS: What inspires you when you’re starting a new work? Where do you start? Maybe you could explain the process of how new works develop?
AA: I think it’s often the case that a new project begins conceptually as I’m working. Most often when I’m occupied with something, the process of making is important – I experiment with materials or with relationships, and I look at how things affect each other to then take it to an abstract or conceptual level.
Everyday life is also important, like conversations with friends. And sometimes small things are very inspiring: the wind blows so strongly in your ears that you can barely hear your surroundings, and then you come to a windless alley and perceive the space around you. So I isolate and write down those kinds of moments, and collect them and eventually return to them.
WS: You’ve created Hilfestelle an Objekten I, II, and now III. What changed from one to the next, and will there be more?
AA: It could be that there are more. In the first one there was this contrast between invisible moving air and clear geometric forms. I played with changing forms and created sounds, such as rustling or fluttering. I tried to break open the concept of sculpture. I was never satisfied with just an object; I developed a system of how I could approach objects, which is also reflected in the title Hilfestellungen an Objekten. I asked myself the question, ‘How can I stage a performance that is nonetheless sculptural?’
With Hilfestellung an Objekten II, I applied the system again to a material [clay] which is much more elaborate to work with. Loudspeakers set air in motion and objects in vibration, sound became more important. In Hilfestellungen an Objekten I, I worked with paper and cardboard – materials that are quick and easy to work with.
In Hilfestellung an Objekten III I worked from the very beginning with a specific outdoor space, the garden of an exhibition site. I built pavilions and watered or splashed them together with Lea Burkhalter, each using one garden hose. With the garden hose I had many more opportunities to move more freely. And I suppose that’s the first step to somewhere else within the format of this series of works.
WS: Tell me about some of your other work that’s important to you.
AA: There’s a work, a bit older at this point, that I’ve now returned to, called Schlafende Objekte [Sleeping Objects], which was an installation of objects made of wax paper that began to breathe when they were blown by pivoting fans. I installed them in a very dark room so that at first you only heard rustling and couldn’t see them. At the entrance to the exhibition venue, which was a disused hen-house, I placed a large board that I painted in a matte blue. Outside you had this play of colour where the sun hit the board and inside you had these staged objects. Looking back, it was an important work because a lot of ideas derived from it: the exploration of boundaries of perception, the staging and animation of objects, the investigation of material through moving air, autoactive versus choreographed parameters, or the search for simultaneousness of clarity and volatility.
WS: There are artists who work with objects that call the concept of sculpture into question or expand on it, similar to what you are doing. Are there artists that particularly interest you?
AA: There are often singular works. At the Fondation Beyeler – this was a while ago – I saw a film by Philippe Parreno where he had laid out a garden. He filmed a journey through this garden, and in the garden were probes that produced signals. You could hear the signals in the film and the signal was also transferred to a pond in front of the museum where the signal was converted with a piezoelectric speaker which created these vibrations on the water.
I also like some older works, like the Water Walk by John Cage or Beuys who hangs a book in a tree so that the wind can read in it. I find Hito Steyerl’s works interesting, and sometimes books as well, like Life a User’s Manual by [Georges] Perec or The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.
WS: How was your experience at the HFBK and what did you take from it in terms of your work?
AA: First of all, I thought being a student was great, because there are simply a lot of resources there that you can use. I mean the workshops as well as the seminars and discussions one can take part in. Leading discussions was definitely one of the most important points, both with my fellow students as well as with the professors, and because I spent quite a while at HFBK we were mutually influenced, and it was wonderful that you could share and exchange like that.
WS: How did these discussions influence your work?
AA: The nature of reflection, or the way in which questions are posed, or what is understood and what isn’t by my classmates, or how they see and understand things. Every professor had their own way of leading these discussions. These are people with particular stances and certain perspectives. To locate myself within these different positions is an important process.
WS: Are there any particular moments that you remember?
AA: One moment in particular, no, not as such. There is more of a feeling. The beginning of my time there was obviously at a different level of intensity than later in my studies. Maybe one interesting point was when I realized it all wasn’t so exciting. I got deeper into things, and worked less on externalities and testing and looking at what was possible. I think that was an important moment in my work.
WS: Let’s return to the topic of tones and perception. You make things visible that the viewer otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience. You do this in an almost pseudo-scientific way, creating these laboratory-like environments. This brings us into the realms of science and esoteric or religious themes. To what degree does this interest you?
AA: I explore the borders of function and poetry, to experiment in that area. Sometimes I lean more toward one direction, sometimes the other.
WS: In your work Hilfestellung an Objekten how important is it that you be there as an artist to activate these things?
AA: I think it’s important that someone is there. It doesn’t have to be me – especially as I am also writing a score at the moment. I still haven’t come up with a satisfying solution to how to show the objects from Hilfestellungen an Objekten I and II as a static situation, because I find the change or transition happening in the interaction to be interesting. Often things only become noticeable when they’re in a state of change.
WS: Earlier you showed me what you’re working on now. It seems to me not to be directly related to sound or performance, but closer in the end to a sculpture. To what degree is this related to what you’ve previously done? What interests you about what you’re working on now?
AA: The transformation from something familiar – in this case the spoon which I’ve recreated in clay but more brutally. I engage in the process of forming, then I put a sparkling glaze on it and I combine many of them and form a group, which becomes a structure. Transformations occur on multiple levels, which interests me. But I’m also interested in working more with garden hoses.
WS: Why’s that?
AA: I find pouring and spraying somehow fascinating. I find the different qualities of spraying interesting, how water varies from almost a mist to a sharp stream. I view hoses as a sculptural point of entry, to water as a material. At the same time, I’m thinking about the performativity of hobby gardeners, sprinkler systems and irrigation in tropical greenhouses.
WS: What’s next for you? What are your plans?
AA: After a very busy half year, I’m now happy to be in my studio. And to have time for new work.
To see all works by Angela Anzi click here.
To learn more about the artist, click here.