Feature - 23 May 2012
Laptops, loops and body movements
The particular, subtly ardent tone in the title of Hannah Weinberger’s solo exhibition earlier this year at Kunsthalle Basel was somehow misleading. With its wistful address to some spectral thou, When You Leave, Walk Out Backwards, So I’ll Think You’re Walking In indicated a more plaintive practice than the young Swiss artist engages in. After moving through her five provocatively spare rooms at the Kunsthalle – filled with a few white curtains (to absorb echo), a constellation of lithe, sculptural black speakers and the motley sounds emanating from them – one realized that the show’s title was closer to a punning equation, approximating the spectator’s body as it moved around the exhibition, without a certain route or specific goal, all to catch Weinberger’s at once familiar and alien musical compositions. If the show’s title was also a coy nod to the ideal spectator-listener – one who never leaves or ceases receiving the artist’s work – well that seemed right too.
Weinberger’s interest in others – as receivers or collaborators – is a hallmark of her nascent body of work, in which reception, participation, and seriality feature prominently. Early pieces featured her voice, singing simple sounds, which became an aural companion to works by other artists in group shows. For Karma International’s exhibition Slip Snip Trip in 2010, Weinberger created a hushed, 20-minute untitled soundtrack with the same few notes sung repeatedly, yet she recorded them as two contrapuntal tracks. By creating a sweet, hypnotic loop, Weinberger evoked a stringent formalism and witty feminism while investing the surrounding works with an intimate coherency. Land of La (2011), made for the group exhibition Corso Multisala at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, found her trilling Annie Hall’s favorite vocal tic. Her incessant la’s conjured – in just two letters – the exact smarting, self-conscious carelessness that the larger group exhibition appeared to be at pains to evoke and describe.
Yet Weinberger’s most well-known works are not solo efforts. In 2009, she presented Interdisziplinäres Konzert at Zurich University of the Arts. Long tables were set up in a grid; friends sat down, each equipped with a MacBook. In the dim, dappled light of a disco ball, the laptops’ Apple logos glowed like a consumerist constellation. The mostly young, male performers – so many heads tucked into their screens – improvised on GarageBand as Weinberger unobtrusively yet decisively conducted. The disarming visual effect was inseparable from the sound itself, which was weirdly harmonic despite the improvised assembly. Other concerts with the same crew – peers from the New Jerseyy project space and Karma International diaspora – followed. In works like Jam Session and Corso Multisala (both 2011), Weinberger began incorporating instruments – sax, trumpet, marimba – and dispensing with the laptops.
But the impact of digitization – along with the easy artistic tools, distribution channels and omnivorous social networks it has borne – remains the rhizomic root of Weinberger’s practice. See her earliest works’ titles, like Social Network (2009) and Google (2008–10). Likewise, for her Kunsthalle Basel exhibition, she composed 22 hours of music on her MacBook, using presets as primary material. The results – played through 11 loops on different speakers, all in 4/4 time, between 80–140 beats per minute, approximating the heartbeat – form a series of soothing, repetitive near-clichés, from jazz guitar to rumba to ambient sounds. Familiar as background music, all are used by sites of commerce or leisure to provide atmosphere. Yet assembled together like a spectral store of labels (sans material logos), they sound patently strange, brought as they are to the foreground. This dialectical relationship between background and foreground braces the show and bears forth other oppositions: singular experience versus communal experience, reality versus virtuality, the material versus the immaterial, sculpture (the modernist-looking speakers) versus theater (the sober yet theatrical curtains).
For When You Leave, Walk Out Backwards, So I’ll Think You’re Walking In, her first solo show, Weinberger appears to have left behind the compulsive collaborative impulse that marks her network of artistic peers in Switzerland and elsewhere. Yet the site-specific work depends exactly on the spectators’ bodies that fill and move among its rooms, as her title explicitly addresses. Fluently, Weinberger has flooded the Kunsthalle’s traditional social-architectural spaces with the rapid discursiveness and content fluidity of virtual communication, making the immaterial (sonically) material, as it were. In this way, the historical and contemporary social-artistic movements
that Weinberger’s works draw from and describe are also the very social movement they encourage. See the other bodies in the galleries listening – as like in a loop they are continually drawn into the artist’s practice.
First published in Issue 5