Lautlos: the softest sounds

Article by Natasha Klimenko in Berlin; Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2013

Appropriately, the old bell hangs inside a bell jar, muffled in glass, its ticking heard in a minute radius surrounding it. Taken outside of the body, here is the sound of the heart; here is the strange recollection of old school bells; the ringing of forgotten alarm clocks. The feelings are tender, the way memories are. Each impression is so fragile, that the moment you try to preserve the poetry of Nina Canell’s sculpture, Uttermost Beat of the Heart, it crumbles.

Lautlos, translating to “noiseless” or “silent”, is one of the exhibitions currently showing at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Bringing together the works of Rolf Julius and Nina Canell, two artists who had never personally met, the joint exhibition mainly features sculptural work, revealing the similar aesthetic tendencies of the two artists, as well as their synchronized eyes and ears for the subtleties of sense perception.

Julius is known for his innovative work with “Small Sounds” – that is, sculptural pieces bridging the gap between the aural and the visual, wherein sounds adapt a texture and otherwise “mute” objects speak. Thus, in low audio works such as Vierteilige Klangskulptur, where speakers are placed in a bowl of water, in a paper bag, and underneath iron plates, the affect is not only audible, but also physical. The sounds of water seem to gurgle in and out of hearing; the iron sounds stand as columns rising straight out of the plates; the paper rustles from within a brittle depth.

Canell, working in a similar minimalist style, creates simple mechanisms, resulting in poetic sculptural moments that bring the symbolic nature of everyday debris to the forefront of the pieces. Many of her works, such as the fine, framed threads of Forgotten Curves, require such a concentrated perception that the hairline cracks in the walls become visible. Other pieces, in their minimal make up and their “out-of-context” feeling, demonstrate their placement in space: existing in a white world, but also hovering in the mind like a dream.

An insistent feeling of “uncovering” lingers throughout the gallery. The uncovering pulls at time and space, which settle on the artworks in slender, invisible layers, and are taken off lightly one at a time by the multi-farious impressions incited by the pieces seen.

The passing of time is strongly suggested by the aged quality of the materials used by Canell and Julius, yet allusions to time and space also appear in more trembling manners: for example, Julius’ Glas, an auditory sculpture with a speaker set behind a pane of glass, projects sounds which seems to be coming from a distance—from the other side of the glass, or from another place and time. This barely explicable feeling of memory similarly haunts so much of Canell’s work. The Remnants of Spring or Indian Summer, for example, seem so strangely familiar in their arrangement, falling together the way once-known objects form in the mind upon their disappearance from immediate experience.

Similarly, the loose boundaries between artificial and natural materials is striking within both of the artists’ works. Though using largely man-made items, the gracefulness of Canell’s pieces demonstrates the potentially organic quality of her tools: the copper net in Here & Gone Again resembles thread, the electric items of Indian Summer appear translucent as if insect wings. Comparably, the sounds of Julius’ installations, though entirely artificial, take on a natural intonation, sounding of rain, the chirping of birds, or the ticking of crickets.

To end on a critical note, it must be said that with an exhibition featuring work of this quality, it was disappointing to see a lack of context provided by the curation itself. These are pieces to be seen and felt, certainly — but with the subtlety of some of the works, particularly the extremely low volume of Julius’ sound sculptures, it seems that the intentions of the artist, especially for the unfamiliar viewer, could have easily been missed. Of course, entering a territory of written explanation vis-à-vis immediate impression has its difficulties and quarrelsome aspects. This is especially true for such a minimalistic and white walled exhibition, where all but essential writing on the walls would have detracted from the show. However, perhaps a small booklet, similar to that provided with the Martin Honert exhibit a floor down, would have been helpful in giving a developmental background to the artists’ practices and an introduction to the pieces shown.


Additional Information

Hamburger Bahnhof
“Lautlos” – Nina Canell & Rolf Julius
Exhibition: Nov. 30, 2012 – April 21, 2013
Invalidenstraße 50-51 (click here for map)


Natasha Klimenko is a writer and artist living in Berlin. Originally from Canada, she received a BA in Cultural Theory and History from the University of King’s College, Halifax. Currently, Natasha is working as an art journalist, a photographer, and an independent film-maker.

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