The series of works "In Place" is to a large extent influenced by my reading of the works of Henri Lefebrve, in particular his two books "The Production of Space" and "Rhythmanalysis." Lefebvre dissects the issue of space, what constitutes a space, how we can create a space, what the social elements are of a space and how we interact with a space on these different planes. The daily rhythms of life, the dynamics of time passing and spaces changing over time, both on the grand historical scale from erection to ruin, as well as on the daily level all shape how space is formed and experienced. And these are precisely the issues I want to explore in spending time in different spaces, investigating them, experiencing them and then reflecting about them in the form of a text, with a focus on how these places sound. By playing back a recording of me reading these texts I bring the sound and atmosphere of places through my words and the gestures of my voice to the exhibition space, infusing it with the presence of these places, creating a space within a space. "In Place" exposes what remains at the juncture between the entity of a space and the presence of my voice, embodying my experience of that space in all its forms.
For "In Place: Panoramaweg" I spent eleven AM to six PM October 6, 2011 at a bench on the Pamoramaweg, a paved trail for sightseeing at the base of the Uetliberg in Zürich. The Pamoramaweg was first opened in 2005 and stretches 28 kilometers along the length of the city of Zürich its lake.
In Place: Panoramaweg, Zürich
Zurich opens up before me, stretching out to the north, sun tracing through trees from its horizon in the east. For once I've escaped the sound of traffic. The city rumbles quietly below. I arrive shortly before eleven A.M. and almost immediately the church bells start to go off, seemingly all the churches in Zurich ringing out eleven bells, each church slightly staggered from the other, creating a smear of ringing bells swaying back and forth across the city's basin, swept by the strong winds surging up from the Lake of Zurich and colliding with the slopes of the Uetliberg rising behind me.
Immediately in front of my bench lies a dairy farm, where many cows stand quietly in their stalls being milked. To the left of this the abandoned-looking Hotel Atlantis, probably once the pride and joy of this part of the city, now a home for refugees. And a bit further off to the right, just below the Jewish cemetery sprawls a huge housing complex slowly reaching completion. Occasionally, the sounds of jackhammers and bulldozers reach my bench, but for once the city seems mostly quiet.
With time I start to realize just how many sounds are in fact present here. The trains traveling up and down the Uetliberg blow their air horns and the track crossings ring their warning bells. I can hear the trains approaching, grinding heavily down their tracks. The birds are ever present, though not in fact as loud as where I live, in the heart of the city. And then the jetliners leaving and approaching Zurich's airport. It seems a plane passes nearly every five minutes, but this is probably an exaggeration on my part, the sound of these jet engines is so intrusive. I begin to curse myself for flying as much as I do. The city lies virtually under a net of crisscrossing jets and smaller regional planes, with the occasional helicopter cutting like a chainsaw through the sky. I'm not sure now what I would rather hear: cars or planes. Actually, neither, but in the city we have no choice. And some some people even live in a flight path.
I'm not sure what I expected to hear up on this ridge. I've been here before, even made recordings here before, but never really spent this much time here as I will today. What really grabs my attention is the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, like the sound of fine paper rustling. More than any other sound this stands out, different trees vibrating above me, in front of me, behind and off to either side. I get the sense of different colors of noise slowly phasing up against each other, like the wind brushing against itself.
People walk by now and then: mostly elderly, many with small yapping dogs. Most people don't even acknowledge my presence, which is fine by me. There is in fact no one else sitting up here, so perhaps it does look a bit strange. Maybe this is what being old will be about one day, just sitting on a bench in some park taking it all in, not even thinking about this being some art project, not even thinking about anything, or at least not thinking about what I'm hearing or what this all means, just to sit and listen and look and not do anything else. Maybe when I'm old I'll just stop all this thinking and I won't have to type all these words about me sitting on a bench somewhere.
After a couple of hours a kindergarten troops slowly by, kids screaming, some lagging behind. One little boy has bitten the electrified fence and is screaming bloody murder. His cries cut like a knife through my afternoon idyll. It seems to me in this moment that the sound of a screaming child is the most powerful form of noise known to man. But, thankfully, they are soon gone, disappearing back into forest. It takes some time for my ears to recover and register the sounds around me again. It seems everything has grown louder now, birds I hadn't heard before, multiple construction sites drifting in over the wind, two trains passing at once, one uphill, one down. I must be imagining all this or perhaps this was just timing, everything picking up in the afternoon.
The wind continues to play a maestro's role, swaying the sound of the city below with each surging gust. It's as if god has his hand on a giant panning knob, slowly sweeping the perspective from left to right, at times pushing the sounds right up to the field in front of me, or sending everything flying off into the north, slipping away over the hills into Oerlikon.
I'm trying to imagine the field in front of me from the perspective of an ant, with the sound of all the blades of grass vibrating in the wind like so many giant trees. I guess this would be more of a rumble than the gentle hiss I'm now hearing. My mind starts to drift with ideas for making this field audible–a field within this vast field of sound drifting up from the city and down from the Uetliberg. I'm caught in the nexus between these two sources of sound. At times I feel the Uetliberg practically stooping over me with all its trains and wind and its great shadows; and the city sweeping up from below like a wave, reaching out to carry me back to its sea.
The afternoon wears on and the sun begins to disappear behind looming gray clouds. Before long it will start to rain. Noise from the various construction sites below seems louder now, as if the workers are trying to push their jobs through before the rain starts to fall. Or maybe I'm just becoming impatient and tired, my senses frazzled from trying to take this all in for so many hours now. I'm beginning to wonder how long I want to continue sitting here today: the bench is so hard, the wind cuts through my thin pants and I feel like I might be coming down with a cold. And then I see a hawk circling slowly over the field in front of me. He's looking for mice. Another smaller bird flies after the hawk, trying to dive down on to his back. After many attempts he succeeds, only to bounce away quickly and fly on towards the forest, his mission accomplished. "What was that all about?" Probably the most dramatic thing I've seen all day, that and the kid biting the electrified fence. Like the soaring hawk I also begin to feel my spirits rise and I know that I can make it for a couple hours more. I want to sit here until sundown, but I know I won't make it. The wind has picked up and gradually the first drops of rain make their way through the leaves above me. Instead of the wind blowing through the trees I'm now hearing the patter of many rain drops. And the field of sound around me seems to have folded in on itself, muted by the sound of the rain and the thick mat of gray clouds pressing down from above. It's not yet sundown but the day is nearly done, darkness slowly consuming the city below, obscuring the slopes of the Uetliberg behind.
I get up and stretch, get lost in the rain's now amplified descent on my umbrella. It seems like the wind has stopped. Everyone else with their dogs and kids has gone home for the day. The birds are probably sitting in their trees somewhere, the cows long since back in their barn, and all the laundry which had been hanging out to dry on the balconies and roof of the Hotel Atlantis this morning has been taken in. The Uetliberg train sounds less bright and persistent now, less optimistic about the day. And below the city lies in a murky brew of the occasional church bell and nothing more. It's time to go home.