Art exhibition: Bringing the sounds of the Israeli West Bank barrier to Denmark

Opened on February 11th, Jacob Kirkegaard’s ‘all & nothing’ (original title: ‘alt & intet’) is currently the newest contribution to ARoS art museum’s exhibition series ‘ARoS FOCUS//NEW NORDIC’, which presents Nordic contemporary art.

by Victoria Mrosek, Victoria Vorbröker and Punvi Kalia, feature photo by Hon Sophia Balod

When a disputed land is divided by building a wall, it is rare that one gets to witness what goes on on the other side. Prayers offered to God are vaguely heard, similar to the ones on your side of the wall. Bombardments are heard, which claim lives like they do in your own neighbourhood. The division is superficial and imposed.

Danish artist Jacob Kirkegaard tries to capture these sounds, which are at once haunting and familiar. They remind us of news clippings of war zones or scenes out of documentaries, of divided and troubled lands. The sound installations immediately transport you to that very space where people live this reality daily.

Feeling the sound
Kirkegaard, born in 1975, is known for his fascinating recordings of all manner of sounds. His art unites scientific research in the field of acoustics and artistic staging and thereby reminds its audience that sound can still be a valuable element in the modern visual world.

As part of the ‘all & nothing’ exhibition under ‘ARoS FOCUS//NEW NORDIC’, Kirkegaard brings us a piece of work in the form of a wall, which represents the Israeli West Bank barrier and what people living there hear day in and day out.

Visitors interact with art installations at art exhibit

Visitors interact with the wall installation (photo: Hon Sophia Balod)

Consisting of a network of fences and a concrete wall, this barrier is an issue of controversy as its supporters claim that it protects Israeli civilians from Palestinian attacks, whereas those who oppose it maintain that the barrier is an attempt to annex Palestinian land under the guise of security.

The sound of politics
The political dimension behind Kirkegaard’s art is subtle, as he refuses to formulate clear statements of protest or political opposition. Rather the audience are reminded of political topics that might remain unheard in ordinary people’s daily routines in Denmark; for instance, climate change and the conflict in the Middle East.

In the sound installation ‘through the wall’,  he has incorporated 30 minutes of field recordings from both sides of the Israeli West Bank barrier. He placed both ambient microphones and vibration sensors directly on the concrete surfaces of the barrier to get the mixture of sounds.

The basic idea behind this installation is to encourage people to listen to both sides, pressing their ear against the wall and therefore giving way to dialogue. Initially, the sounds might seem identical, but then they move on and eventually you can make out certain differences: violent air passing through narrow hallways, serene evening prayers to Allah, radio noise, the sound of heavy vehicles passing by on rough roads, occasional gunshot or bombardment – they all merge to create a picture in your head about the specific area.

Infinity and emptiness
‘Black Metal Square 1 – 3’ has been specifically created for the exhibition at ARoS. It consists of three freely hanging black metal plates whose subtle natural vibration are amplified and played back into themselves, evoking resonant frequencies. With this installation Kirkegaard alludes to infinity exposed in art and astronomy.

Black Metal Square (photo by Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen)

‘Black Metal Square 1 – 3’ was specifically created for the exhibition at ARoS (photo: Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen)

Another striking installation is ‘Aion’, an audio-visual piece. The spectator is taken to abandoned spaces inside of radioactive zones in a former nuclear plant in Chernobyl. Both the ambient sounds and the visuals are layered, and hence echo the emptiness of these spaces.

Art enthusiasts listen to an audio-visual installation

Art enthusiasts take in audio-visual installation ‘Aion’ (photo: Hon Sophia Balod)

Art in the darkness
The ‘all & nothing’ exhibition comprises five sound installations. With the very first step into the room, the visitor should understand that this exhibition wants its spectators to listen rather than to watch. Everything contains sound – an element that is seen in all of Kirkegaard’s works. Advanced equipment allows the artist to record pitches even deep inside the human ear. How do we hear sound? The installation ‘Earside Out’ gives it away.

Those who attend this exhibition anticipating shrill sounds or joyful melodies will be disappointed. Kirkegaard expects his audience to listen carefully, but also allows them to have a haptic experience. One thing is certain: you will feel the resonance.

The exhibition will be open until the end of May and is free for under 18s. For more information, please visit the ARoS website.

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