Jens Brand is a visual and sound artist. Lives and works in Berlin. Carsten Steiffarth is a curator of sound art and current director of Singuhr Projets, Berlin. Both were in residence at SOMA, developing a project for the Ex Teresa Museum in collaboration with the Goethe Institut and Singuhr Projects, Berlin.
– You both have collaborated before in a series of projects, right? For instance, Space/Site Work II. How did all of this begin?
Carsten Steiffarth: We were from different countries. Jens was from the West of Germany and I was from the East. We met after the reunification in Berlin. Jens happened to be there during the opening of the Hoergalerie…
Jens Brand: I don’t remember being there! I saw one of the shows but wasn’t at the opening.
CS: We don’t really have to get into details.
JB: But of course, the sound art scene is very small, even back then, so it is really easy to meet people that share the same interests.
CS: The first time we worked together in a project was in 2005 for the Hoergalerie – In Mitte (der Welt).
– Carsten, can you tell us more about the art space you lead, Singuhr Projects?
CS: Singuhr is not really a gallery. We don’t sell anything. We only produce works, we find the money to support our artists. But we don’t work with fifteen artists at a time. The rule from the beginning was to work with only one artist, at one time. This means openness to work with different artistic approaches. After eighteen years, I was happy to end with Hoergalerie [the predecesor of Singuhr] I really didn’t like its name. Singuhr Projects still works with sound, but it intends to broaden the horizon. We work with theatre music, video installations etc.
–How is a sound gallery different from a regular artwork gallery? Is there a real difference within the art market?
CS: There is really not much difference. The real difference is that your generally work with big scale projects, that is to say, installations. Art fairs have paid attention to them, but there is still a predominance of paintings and sculptures over installations.
JB: Then, there is of course the reliability of an art sound pice. When you work with sound, you work with a medium that can have transgression in time. The object must be a machine, it is basically a mechanical/technical issue. For me there is no point in looking around for galleries. It’s a waste of time.
– I am interested in learning more about your conceptual and art-historical references. Could you elaborate on that?
CS: Sound art is a really wide field. There is a background ranging from the performance movement to installation and kinetic art. To work with sound is very special, because you work with a time based medium. But you also work with light, temperature and many other factors.
JB: I learn from other living artists. I would organise concerts with people that work with sound and learn from conversations. In my thinking, sound has space. I relate to visual things but also to sonic things, and I believe that shows in my work, but of course not in every work. It took me a long time to tolerate the idea of sound art. It is a political issue to give a name to this kind of art. People need to label things in order to understand them. There are many contradictions, the visual arts department holds one opinion, saying that sound art basically works with installations, and the music department holds another one. I really don’t name what I do.
CS: Yeah, during the first years of collaboration, I would introduce him to another artists and say, “this is Jens Brand, he is a conceptual artist”. I had to often use it because no one knew – back in the 90s in Germany– what a sound artist did. It is a recent term, really. But even though the field is growing, curators are not really giving much attention to this kind of ephemeral artworks.
– Jens, can you tell us a bit about the piece you showed last night (Tracking Fogg)? It was first presented at a radio station in Cologne (WDR3 Studio Akustische Kunst). I’m sure that the radio station has its own particularities, which made you present your work there. What were your preoccupations last night for the showcasing of this piece?
JB: It was really experimental. I wouldn’t call it a “work”, it was more of a game. In my work I try to put everything into account, so if there is something that could be frustrating, I take it as an aesthetic quality.
The essential feature of the piece was that feature of the radio. There was this projection of the data, which is very similar to the subtext which is transmitted in radio stations. There is something to listen to, but there is also something to read. To me, it is a very bizarre mixture of media. In a lot of my work there is an aspect of humour, one that nobody probably understands except for me [laughs], that is inside, here in my brain. I wanted to comment on the idea of the DJ, and sonification …
–What is sonification?
JB: It is pointless. It is basically a community that discusses about the idea of putting data into sound, but that’s ridiculous …
CS: It is the process of turning scientific data into sound … The DNA, the blood in your veins, they are all sounds and can be sonified.
– Both of you are based in Berlin. Does the city have a particular link to the showcasing of sound art?
CS: In the 60s, the Galerie Block showcased fluxus pieces made by artists working with sound. Its founder, René Block became director of the German Academic Exchange Service, so he would consider inviting sound artists for one year residencies. In Berlin, there are of course music festivals, but they're very broad. An have only thee days time for showcasing. Hence the need to open other spaces.