The annual art commission for Haus der Kunst’s Middle Hall for 2014/15 is “The Present Moment”, a work designed for the space by Albanian artist Anri Sala (b. 1974, Tirana).
For this monumental space, Sala has chosen an intimate format: The late romantic chamber music piece “Transfigured Night” by Arnold Schoenberg in its original string sextet version (Op. 4, composed in 1899) marks the starting point of his installation.
“The Present Moment” unfolds as the visitors pass through the doors into the hall. At the very beginning, a recording of a chamber music ensemble performing the original Schoenberg score is audible. This recording is supplemented by additional tracks, based on modulations of the score, as one progresses through the space. The tones of “Transfigured Night” wander across the hall, making their way toward the back. Upon their arrival at the end of the space, the sounds accumulate in constant repetition, as if “trapped in a cul-de-sac”.
Marking the end of the installation, a film is projected behind the row of columns. It shows a group of six musicians playing in a semicircle. The camera does not penetrate into their sphere, but gently brushes up against it.
The soundtrack of the film assembles all the D-notes in “Transfigured Night”. Each musician plays a D-note repetitively until it is replaced by the successive D-tone in the original score. The shots are dominated by closeups of elbows, forearms and wrists, and highlight the physical effort involved in the act of playing music. Anri Sala conceptualizes this “chain production thof notes” in reference to industrial models of the early 20 century: “It’s about a piece of chamber music that advances in space, generating sounds and prompting actions that were to happen only later in history such as the division of labor and its ensuing choreography of body movements.”
With “The Present Moment”, Sala takes his exploration of the interaction between sound and space, as most recently shown in the French Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, one step further. Through the greatest possible forgoing of materiality the artist explores a fundamental question, i.e. the notion of the present moment in an art form that is fleeting and ephemeral.
Following the choreography of the installation, the visitor is invited to experience the piece from different standpoints.