Taking its inspiration from the writing style of romantic 19th century author Adalbert Stifter, Heiner Goebbels’ performance, Stifter’s Dinge seeks to engender a sense of shifting interest. Tucked away near the Baker Street Tube Station and deep inside the dark, industrial belly of Ambika P3 this most recent installation by the visionary composer and director has been put together in cooperation with Art Angel, the driving force behind countless large-scale projects ranging from Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave (2001) to Anri Sala & Sejla kameric’s 1395 Days without red, (2011). With such ambitious and influential projects to its credit, and with a name like Heiner Goebbels working with them, Ambika P3 does not disappoint.
One enters the space down a suitably echoing staircase, which issues onto a mezzanine floor overlooking the large installation below. A diligent team of modestly lit technicians poke away at switches and computer screens, overseeing the multi sensory cacophony at the other end of the space. Five pianos, in varying states of deconstruction and composition are arranged on a stage. Set like a train carriage on two parallel tracks, the arrangement periodically fumes with dry ice and casts looming shadows on the walls and the viewers. Light installations on the floor are manipulated at intervals during the four-hour cycle of the performance; gallery attendants are scattering them with salt and placing bars down to line their rectangular frames. To try and describe the whole experience here would make for rather a long read. Suffice to say the experience is one of intrigue and examination; of a shifting interest in one tiny facet of the performance to another.
This kind of concentration on individual parts is reflected in the overall movement of the piece, seemingly split into acts. The installation rumbles across the dimly lit concrete of the main space, accompanied by the sound of sporadically composed piano pieces. At a deep growl it turns what is an enormous feat of contrivance into an almost visceral experience.
The nature of the show now changes from the unguided tour, where the ‘audience’ is allowed to wander at will around the equipment and performance as it unfolds, to the seated performances where one is sited in one viewing position until the performance’s four-hour cycle comes to an end. Such an adjustment will transform the experience and make for a wholly different twist on Stifter’s Dinge. With an audience seated in one place for the duration of the cycle, Goebbels can point more directly at what it is he wants the audience to see during each ‘act’. It’s a direct reference to the romantic writing style of Stifter himself who analysed nature in minute detail. Most notably in his 1857 novel Der Nachsommer (The Indian Summer).
This exhibition comfortably defies categorisation. Across performance, installation, musical composition and kinetic sculpture, it shifts imperceptibly from one mode to the next, mingling an increasingly challenging dance culture in London, exemplified by Dance Umbrella Festival. It is the ambiguity in the articulation of lucidity, which makes the exhibition so compelling. Thus, placing it at the centre of an ongoing debate over the lines between performance, dance, music, and digital media in contemporary art.
Heiner Goebbels’ Stifter’s Dinge was performed at London’s Ambika P3 November 13 to 18 2012.