Curator and writer Arkadiusz Póltorak (PL) is contributing to RE:SOUND, the 8th International Conference on the Histories of Media Arts 2019 – Aalborg, Denmark with:
“A schizoanalytical perspective on Cilia Erens’ sound works and binaural recording” (publication December 2019).
His paper session is part of the theme ‘Locating the Real’; session chair Rahma Khazam.
Since early 1980s, the Dutch artist Cilia Erens has carried out experiments with binaural recording in close collaboration with sound engineers. This gives a media-archeological edge to the oeuvre of an artist revered for her minimalist approach to sound editing. According to the media theorist Friedrich Kittler, it was not until the advancement of binaural registration that humans became capable of storing sound “beyond words and melodies—the colorations of instruments, sonic spaces, and even abyssal stochastic noise”. One could say that in Erens’ work this possibility turns into a rule: if storing the sound-itself becomes feasible, melodies and words have to wan and make room for eerily exact details.
Cilia Erens’ works—including sound walks and free-standing sound installations—can hardly be labeled as musical. There is very little of classically conceived composition in any track she employs. Still, it remains highly debatable whether her practice supports the Kittlerian account of sonic media, according to which everything that produces meaning (for instance, musical composition or speech) is a dialectical negation of the sound-itself. Although Erens’ works are far from musical pieces, they are not mere soundscapes either. In works such as Timelapse China (STEIM, Amsterdam 2017), the artist blends recordings sourced in vastly different times and places in order to envelop the listener in a fully ‘synthetic’ sound space. If such listening experiences might be compared – matching Kittler’s account of binaural recording – to a state of induced psychosis, whereby the listener’s head “becomes one with arriving information”, this means precisely that as composed works they provide access to the very “real” that Kittler associated with ‘sound-itself’ and placed in a dialectical relationship with montage, melody etc. As such, Erens’ works challenge Friedrich Kittler’s take on Lacanian psychoanalysis—with the trialectics of the real, symbolic and imaginary at the forefront—and in so doing, they ask for a more horizontal, “schizoanalytical” theorization of sonic media.
Drawing upon the (anti-)Kittlerian interpretation of Erens’ works, I aim to situate her oeuvre within a tradition of contemporary art that I chose to call “schizorealist”, hinting at its affinity to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s philosophy. I use the term in question to denote practices that abandon symbolization in favour of indeterminacy, “experience” in favour of representation, postmedia in favour of pictoriality, and horizontal subjectivities in favour of the vertical subject. Although the label applies to works of vastly different artists (say, from John Cage to Pierre Huyghe), in my paper I am going to sketch a particular line of its development. This genealogy begins in Cologne in the early eighties, where Cilia Erens and Marianne van Hooff’s early collaborative work was presented alongside pieces of emerging visual artists from Germany and the Netherlands, whose elaborate treatment of space and ‘environmental’ approach to exhibition-making marked a departure from ‘dry’, language-based conceptual art as well as static, vertical notions of subjectivity.