It would be misleading to take the title of Tiril Hasselknippe’s exhibition, Phones, at Galerie DREI in Cologne, in its common usage. Instead, Hasselknippe was interested in the word’s etymology, the Greek root, phon, meaning voice, sound or tone. The press release for the show refers to early electronic ambient music, describing it as ‘basically a very dense, suffused silence’ which was also an apt description of the works in the exhibition.
Comprising a handful of scattered, discrete sculptures, the smallest work, attached to a wall, looked a bit like an egg slicer (Phones (Xylophone), all works 2015) carved from four connected sections of wooden batten with a sanded round indentation in the middle. If the bars could move independently, one could imagine playing it like the xylophone in the title. Looking like a briefly parked flying carpet, a fibreglass matt with frayed edges lay on the floor. Unevenly coated in blue synthetic resin, it appeared scuffy and raw but light at the same time (Phones (shield)). In previous, similar floor works, the artist cast topographies of the California desert; here, however, the title refers to a car windshield, the frame for passengers’ view of the landscape and for protection against the elements. An absurd touch was added: the decorative flourishes of four silver harp strings attached to the piece.
Three larger works, rising to about stomach height and made of concrete (Phones (pillar)), also bore strings, which hung like long hairs from the balding head of an ageing hippie. Attached only on one side, their lack of tension meant their tuning pegs lay uselessly on the ground next to them. Leant against the wall, these three works evoked buttresses on the facades of Gothic cathedrals. Hasselknippe cast them on site then dusted them with pink pigment. Softly undulating on the underside and jagged on top; raw and rough on one side and and pink and smooth on the other they appeared as biomorphic, bodily impressions. Using the gallery itself as if the architecture represented the consistent expansion of the instrument, a harp made of a carved batten cast in bronze leant outward into the room, attached to the wall by seven strings (Phones (harp)); as unplayable as all the other instruments. Nevertheless, this work pointed to where music could emerge: in the tension between artistic intervention and site.
‘No strings attached’ points to something free of obligations. Conversely, the strings with which the artist outfits her works suggest a concrete bind. Through this relatively small detail the individual works and their relationship to their surroundings are altered. The theme of absent sound opens up space for the observer to think associatively and to consider the artist’s nearly contrary-seeming insistence on the poetic potential of her art.
Translated by Jane Yager
First published in Issue 19