Center for Klangkunst
“Playing to the Birds”
Annika Kahrs’ video “Playing to the Birds”(2013) depicts a “concert of birds” in reverse. We look into a festive hall with a black piano standing in the center – the perfect setting for a traditional bourgeois musical salon. Carefully arranged in the foreground are several differently shaped birdhouses with various kinds of domesticated birds. A young man walks in, sits down at the piano and starts playing Frantz Liszt’s piano piece Légende No. 1: St. François d’Assise. La prédication aux oiseaux to his feathered audience. For this virtuous concert, the 19th century composer and pianist was inspired by the often-depicted biblical story of St. Francis of Assisi, father of the order of the Franciscans, preaching to a flock of birds he encountered on a field. The believe that all creatures have a soul and a sense for perception was the spiritual message in this legend (however still coming out of an anthropocentric world view). Liszt further attempts to translate this mutual understanding through music as a “universal language”, mimicking, in his piano staccatos, the “singing” of birds. It’s hard to tell if the birds understand, or appreciate the performance (as they did Francis’ preaching) – they chirp along as they did before. But Kahrs’ careful cinematography, focusing on individual birds as they move around in their cages to the music, occasionally twisting a head, seems to suggest that they do. In her humorous yet poetical stagings of musical experiments, Kahrs examines both the power and the limitations of music and its performance.
This is also the case in Strings (2010), where we watch a string quartet performing the first bars of Ludwig van Beethoven’s work c-Moll op. 18 Nr. 4. (around 1800). The string quartet belongs to the most advanced forms of the Viennese Classic, consisting of a highly specialized ensemble within a fixed hierarchical setting, without which the complexity of the musical score wouldn’t be manageable. The two violins, viola and violoncello play together in perfect harmony through the fortissimo of the first act. But the harmonic interplay becomes challenged, and gradually falls apart, when the musicians switch places – and thus, instruments – from left to right, four times throughout the performance. The question that occurs here is perhaps no less complex than the musical score: what does it mean for a group or society, when even the highest specialized skills fail to interplay when facing a new constellation, when the hierarchical setting is interrupted?
Annika Kahrs (born 1984 in Achim, lives in Hamburg) has had solo exhibitions at Galeria Joan Prats, Barcelona; Kunsthalle Bremerhaven (2015); Produzentengalerie Hamburg; Situations, Bristol (2014); Kunstraum München (2013); ph-projects, Berlin (2012); and Golden Pudel Club, Hamburg (2011). Her work has been shown in (selection): 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art; Weserburg-Museum für Moderne Kunst, Bremen; Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin; United Art Museum, Wuhan; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (2015); Hamburger Kunstverein; Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, Hamburg; FOAM, Amsterdam; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2014, 2012); Basurto, Mexico City (2014); ph-projects, Berlin; Tanas and Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin; Bienal International de Curitiba; Hamburger Kunsthalle (2013); Kunsthalle Ravensburg (2012); Galerie Sassa Trülzsch, Berlin; Bundeskunsthalle, Hamburg; and Goldsmiths College, London (2011). In 2012, she was selected for the George-Maciunas-Grant for young artists at Tanas, Berlin.