These are some thoughts that I presented at a talk at Luca Art School in Gent/Belgium in November 2022. What you can read here is more a script than a well structured text or a lecture. It is a collection of considerations and examples of my artistic works that include aspects of rituality and sustainability. Most of what I have done as an artist during the last decade has a ritual flavour although I don´t intend always to create rituals. Sustainability is part of my work because I use to include the dimension of time into the conditions of the situations I create. In conceptual works like “to Eternal Peace”, durational projects like “Grundgesetzwanderung/Constition walk” or “7000 (dead) trees” and in my durational voice performances.
Ritual – Nature - Breathing
Rituals as a practice that is very much related to repetition maybe emerged by watching and experiencing nature. Nature is mainly structured by repetition, the movement of sun and moon, seasons, breathing, night and day. In other words: Doing a ritual has the potential to bring us closer to nature again.
Voice is very close to the very fundamental repetitive action or movement: Breathing. I use this form of repetition in some of my voice performances.
Rituals are a way to connect with nature through a very human form of activity. Rituals show something that we have to look for on a not only artistic level. We need to re-create a mind set that includes “nature” and culture and humankind into one framework. We have to learn again that these aspects are not divided by nature but by a sort of thinking that dominates western culture since enlightenment and capitalism.
Normal and ritual action
What is the difference between a normal action and a ritual action? (Very often ritual practice consists of simple actions.) But Ritual has a special form of awareness. The action itself is the important thing and not so much the result of the action.
Tee-Ceremony: It is not about: Oh I would like to drink a cup of tea! But about a whole process of actions done in a very clear and conscious way. This is very close to Performance Art. Performances have almost never the purpose to create a result that will stay after the performance is over – like painting a picture. In this sense Performance Art is not sustainable.
Art and time
Sustainability is a question of time or how to work with time and in time. My projects are very often long durational performances or activities. And in these durational structures again repetition plays a central role. Example: GG-Wanderung, 7000 (tote) Bäume, Totenklage
Repetition comes into Rituals on two levels. Very often in a Ritual certain action are done more than once (Mantra singing, Rosenkranz/Rosary, certain gestures) and on the other hand Rituals are mainly designed to be repeated on certain occasions or certain days during the year.
In my art work I use both forms of Ritual very often. My performances have often aspects of repetition (voice performances like “following” but also 7000 dead trees) and I/we have created some performances that can be repeated as long as we want to do it or it makes some sense. But repetition in performance art is not like repeating a song or a theatre play. You only can take the material you work with and adapt them to the situation that you find at the spot where you will perform. But still it is a repetition – only that we are aware of the impossibility to really repeat something.
(big difference to cultural based rituals: there is no chance to decide if people in the community want to do them or not. They are part of their life form. Art as we understand it needs the chance of individual choices.)
My impression is that the renaissance of Rituals in Art and Theatre put the focus on two aspects: the healing power of rituals and the role of rituals for initiations and in moments of transition from one state of being into another one. There is nothing wrong with these focuses but for me as an artist, rituals are more a way to connect with the world - whatever that means – and create a reciprocal relationship, i.e. a relationship in which both/all sides are influenced by each other.
Ritual, Repetition and Sustainability have in common a connection to time. They all contain a linear and a circular aspect of time running.
Rituals happen in time and need time that moves forward and at the same time (!) a ritual calls for repetition, which is a circular idea.
Repetition has not only the circular aspect of time in it but also something else. Through repeating a certain action (a sound, a melody, a text, a movement, a gesture etc.) the quality of this action will change. And the relation between myself and the repeated action changes through repetition.
Sustainability is a word that appeared the first time in a book about forestry (late 18th century).
The project has a ritualistic flavour, because the main work is not the thousands of photos but the actions that create an awareness for the dead trees that I and my supporter see. Find it, make a photo, find a small stone in the landscape where the trees was standing, put the tree on a list, write down where the tree was found and the photo was taken, making prints of all the photos, put them in spaces on the walls to create an installation where other people repeat a part of this ritual. They see all the trees on the wall and if they want they can focus on single examples – sometimes for aesthetic reasons sometimes for others. All these activities are important and have a ritual aspect. It is a practice to exercise the way you look at the world.
One year 2013 with 22 readings all done in Köln in different spaces continuing to read Musils novel “man without qualities”. Repeating the same setting of different spaces and read from the same book chronologically for one year.
During two years 2017-19 on 63 days I walked from the very west of Germany to the very east and recited the first part of the German constitution that contains the human rights part.
Repetition: Always the same text always at another place;
Ritual: recitings in public or outside on places that seemed (to me) good for an action like this.
Sustainability: I am not sure but there was the idea to set a line or a trace with these strong thoughts through Germany and see if there is some effect (although I will never find out if or if not…);
Sustainability in myself! Yes: One of the leading questions for this durational performance was how my relationship to this text and the content of the articles would develop during the time of the performance walk. It clearly had a sustainable effect. I will never live without this text, even if I don´t know all the words by heart for the rest of my life, the memory is so strong that I very often refer to it in all sorts of circumstances.
The GG-Performance was a very clearly structured ritual (some moments of chance though) with a clear order of actions and the repetition of one structure for five times.
The GG-Box is based on the idea of sustainability. I want to make sure (in an artistic and not scientific way!) that this constitution, surely the best Germany had so far, will survive and be remembered in times to come.
A voice performance that I did in a cave in the Swabian Alb in 2021 (part of a performance-film project that was initiated by VestAndPage). Definitely a ritual. Already the date that I have chosen had a certain importance. The night to the 21st of June, summer solstice. A moment in the year that was known by all groups of human beings since the beginning of homo sapiens (and maybe even earlier). These caves are a very important places for the history of humankind starting 40 000 years ago. Some of the first artistic artefacts of humans were found there, also some of the oldest musical instruments (flutes made of mammoth ivory).
I sat in this cave from sunset to sunrise and every hour…
Night to the 21st of June, summer solstice, from sunset to sunrise.
Time Measuring during the performance:
With a knot cord, which I took from the artist Terry Fox and which has 552 knots, according to the steps/stones of the labyrinth of Chartres. The inclusion of the labyrinth can be understood as a symbolic intermediate step on the path to the cave as the original place of life and (cult).
On a personal level, it is a step into memory, my earlier work with cord and voice on different occasions.
From sunset to sunrise (summer solstice, i.e. the shortest night of the year) I sat on a chair in the back of the cave and made a vocal sound with each breath. Each period had 552 sounds, one breath per knot of the cord. Then a short break to stretch my legs, have a drink, etc.
The performative situation in the cave was co-created by Agnes Pollner, who spent the night sitting at the entrance to the cave and meditating on the place. Like many other things, this turned out to be not as easy as we had assumed. Her task was greater than suspected. She became, in a sense, a guardian who watched over the entrance to the cave.
An early voice performance with strong repetitive and ritual aspects.
A cord with 552 knots according to the number of steps at the labyrinth of the Cathedral of Chartres.
An Homage to Terry Fox who invented this cord as a score for some of his sound sculptures where he used very long piano wires.