a poetic investigation of sound as a physical phenomenon
Exhibition / Lecture-Performance by Els Viaene
Opening with performance: 3 February 2023 / 8PM* (booked out!)
Performance: 4 February 2023 / 8PM* (booked out!)
Exhibition: 5 – 19 February 2023 / 2 – 8pm
Liebig 12 / Liebigstraße 12 / 10247 Berlin / www.liebig12.net
* limited capacity – no later entry to performance

“Why can’t sounds be visible? Would the feedback from ear to eye cause fatal oscillation?”
(Pauline Oliveros)

What is sound? What is this phenomenon that we can neither see nor touch?
The Belgian artist Els Viaene has been working for over 15 years with the medium of sound – a material that can be captured with recording devices, shaped digitally or analogously. In her large, sometimes space-consuming installations, the sound experience is the end product. According to her perception, however, apparatuses, objects and technologies always stood in the foreground – between her and the sound. She increasingly began to question her working methodology. The longer she worked with sound, the more it eluded her. How could a renewed approach succeed, how does one get a hold of a material that never makes itself visible? These questions were the starting point for a longer research project. She examined sound at its source, approaching it as a physical phenomenon: a vibration, a wave, a change in air pressure. But how and with what can sound be shaped so that it manifests itself as a tangible, visible medium?

At the end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century, the natural sciences began to understand sound as a physical phenomenon, to investigate it experimentally and to describe it abstractly.
In 1876, the British researcher John Tyndall published a collection of historical experiments (by himself and other scientists) that summarized the state of knowledge of that time and illustrated it in an impressive way. His particular focus was on the translation and visualization of sound – the communication of the phenomenon in so-called show experiments. Many of the theories he presented for the first time in a collected form are now considered the basis of modern acoustics. The history of the study of sound within the natural sciences formed the starting point for Els Viaene’s investigations. In collaboration with the Ghent University Museum (GUM), she analyzed and reconstructed many of these historical experimental setups.

With the material and findings, Els Viaene returned to her studio and developed a series of new experimental setups in which she transforms sound into something visible.
In a mixture of exhibition, installation and performance, she makes these personal explorations accessible to an audience. Sounds leave traces on surfaces or write figures of light in the dark space. They pulse in precisely choreographed cloud formations and dazzle on surface layers of volatile glycerine membranes. Strings and rods, powder and gas bubbles, mirrors and lasers make sound waves visible. The special fascination lies in the completely analogue reproducibility, which, however, captivates through its magic, especially in the age of the digital. Els Viaene embarks together with the audience on a journey through the history of historical experiments towards her own poetic translations and interpretations.
This exhibition for Liebig 12 is a chamber of wonders where science and sound collide, blurring the concepts of seeing and hearing, the perception of what we see and hear, and their mutual influence.

concept and realisation: Els Viaene
curator: Carsten Stabenow / tunedcity.net
technical assistance: Koen Daems
video electronics: Elias Heuninck
light design: Simon Siegmann
support: Torsten Oetken

Thanks to Ghent University Museum and Roland Carchon, Danny Van de Steene, Dirk Eeckhaut
and Allegra Solitude / Liebig12.

Ways of Seeing Sound @ Liebig 12 was funded by initiative neue musik berlin e.V. and Flanders State of the Art.


(Images: Els Viaene, John Tyndall (illustration from “Sound, a course of eight lectures”, 1876) Kobie Nel/Lydgalleriet (balloon)
The first version of this was shown at Lydgalleriet, Bergen/Norway in 2021.