Lisa Premke was an artist-in-residence at Pepper House from August to September, 2018. During her stay here, she explored the sounds and patterns in the area and created ‘Singing Patterns’ using drawings, discarded material and local flora
I normally work in places that are rather remote, and isolated, and explore the kind of losses that shape the community or the society as a collective heritage. I was really interested to go to a place where there is not just one community, but many, and where I cannot just find one thing – I wanted to be confronted with a lot of things. The idea was to be overloaded, for once, and not remote. The first thing that I noticed was the multitude of the places of worship. At the same time, everything is full of patterns. My first week and a half, I was barely in the studio because I was just going everywhere, visited different places, spoke to different communities – just to get a feel of what the place feels like, what the place sounds like. Slowly things started to appear dominant to me. My initial impression was that there was no single sound, that it was a constant sound carpet that is continuous.
The presence of nature was one thing I found very interesting immediately. There’s so much humidity, and in that context I started observing all the patterns in the houses, there’s no sleek surfaces to the sound frequencies. They break differently, so that strengthens the sound carpet feel. I felt like people weren’t even reacting to sound anymore, even honking – there was a cloud over it all somehow. When I normally work I find traces of things, I’m interested in what people leave behind as individuals, but mainly as communities. I somehow found people don’t leave much behind here. I find it a surprising mix. The culture and heritage is so strong, everything gets carried, and yet there’s a constant fluctuation of things – there’s a huge mix of every culture, every religion. Everything is moving forward, and yet, everyone is carrying their history, culture and traditions. I don’t know how that works out yet in my practice, but it’s something new and something I quite like. I’ve worked with traces that are carried on and they transform very slowly. There’s an opposition to me here, because there’s a lot of contradictory elements that come together here.
When I see materials, I hear the sound. I started working with the rain chains, and when I see movement, I hear sound. I was here during the Monsoon time and it was raining a lot, it was just beautiful to see these patterns moving and the rain in them, and the nature taking over. You see them everywhere here. It was always at the back of my mind, and they have all different patterns in them, and different structures in them when you put them together so what I’m trying to do is find the different sounds of what they do if the wind moves them. What kind of sounds will they make? In the studio space, they’ve been made from plastic, unstained steel, all kinds of aluminium, and I see when they move, what kind of sounds they make. I picked different materials in the installation to have the different notes that I want. The audience is meant to interact with it as well.
At Pepper House
This studio space felt (to me) like exactly what Kochi is about. There were people constantly, but also a lot of nature and a huge harbor on the other side. I hear the birds fighting on one side of the room, and the boats making loud, blaring sounds on the other. It reminds me of the whole fluctuation of the things here. For me it’s emblematic of Kochi, because it combines everything. People come from all different languages and countries, so I hear everything that is so mixed here. Every different opening has a different sound.
Space and Sound
I studied Architecture because I was interested in space. Where I come from in Germany (Lower Saxony) is very isolated, I don’t have neighbours. We live in a village where the next neighbor is more than five hundred metres away. I was always fascinated by architecture because, in some ways, I grew up without it. I moved to studying sound because I come from a place where there is quite a lot of silence, during the winter everything is singular. If I see movement, there is a sound. My training in visual led to a fluid transition when I started working with sound, and my explorations with film were because sound studies was very advanced in that field.
Loss and Heritage
I think that loss is always perceived as a negative thing, but I think it’s more complex than that. It’s just that I often focus on the things that have gone missing because I find that it defines a society. I think it comes from a place where I didn’t feel personally connected to any loss in my cultural sphere, so I’m really fascinated by the affiliation people have with their cultural histories. I try to find and pick up traces of the loss, and study so that I can explore what it’s all about. This is what they’ve left behind as a community. There’s also a discussion about appropriation, privilege and looking from outside in, and I understand it completely. However, I think when I go somewhere I’m not trying to represent anybody, I’m going there with my own objective as an artist – my own desires and faults, and something I want to bring forward in my own work. This is also perhaps something I can find universally.
Interestingly, I use sound as a medium and not visual aesthetics, so it does change the entire approach. I also think sound and memory are intertwined, you carry the memories with you which are triggered when you hear something familiar. You quickly get transported back to the place. I feel that response to sound is also something beyond culture, something human. It’s something I can work with in a local context, but at the same time it’s something your body reacts to. I also hope to make new associations by listening carefully. Looking outside in, you can make connections.
This term was coined by curator Rawan Serhan, who I work with a project alongside Nadine Hattom, Joe Hornby, Marco Pando, and Eduardo Suarez. It is a year-long process to explore interconnections of the four mother-tongues Spanish, Arabic, English and German. How is a language perceived in an acoustic sense and what socio-historic circumstances settle a language in a certain frequency range? The sound sculptures use movement of different materials to make specific characteristic of each language visible; for example the velocity, intonation, use of consonants, frequency range or the utilization of vocal cords, etc. I’ve always been interested in languages, I think we always try to relate to a language even when it’s very far away from what we speak or are familiar with. There’s a lot of pre-judgment on language, a concept I also draw on from Psychology – the categories we draw on from the margins. I try to take the sound from the middle, from something that is pre-judged and then combine it with local material or something I see in the area. These rain chains, for example, they’re not from here but they describe an experience of the place.