Interview with Christina Kubisch by Lou Jonas, March, 2016
In 1978/79 you had an exhibition with Fabrizio Plessi at the Neue Galerie, where you performed Water Face. I wanted to figure out together with you how this performance came about.
I was living in Italy at that time, in Milan, since 1973. I was originally educated as a musician, as a flutist. Then I started with performance and met Fabrizio Plessi, who is a video artist. Like myself, he was interested in breaking down these boundaries: for example, “this is music,” “this is sculpture,” “this is painting,” etc. We started to work together on what we called “video concerts.” The idea was that we performed something live with sound and people could hear what we were doing, but at the same time there was a kind of translation with media. The translation was on one hand visual, through monitors. For example, there was a detail captured through a video camera and transferred to a screen. So it became something different from what people were looking at. And the same thing happened with the sound. I played live, people could hear me, but through the microphone the sound was transferred to a speaker and the speaker was of course something different than a live sound.
So you had two options at the same time.
We had two realities I would say. We had what is seen and heard normally, without amplification, without media, which is what we know, and then we had that kind of translation through the technical world, and that was the second layer. People could choose. They could come close to us and listen to us. But they could also stay away and listen to the speakers. They could look at us, at the performance, but they could look as well at the videos. They had a kind of interchange between two realities.
That’s the case for Water Face, where you had kind of an installation with monitors if I am right.
I have the scores for this. We have the pictures of the steel drum and the water jet and it plays a kind of melody. I had the same numbers as on the steel drum painted around my mouth. And I was talking about water. There was a score with words describing what water could be or what water could represent. This score is written like a minimal composition with words that seem the same and then slowly change. I was constantly reciting this kind of text, while the steel drum was playing. People could see me, my mouth and the video screen. They could hear me talking and they could hear this kind of repeating water sound on the steel drum. It was in a way minimal music, but on the other hand it had more emotions than American minimal music had. American minimal music is very straightforward, it’s very strict. That’s what I don’t like about it. It is really very conceptual and very fixed as a composition, while this was more a kind of European minimal music I would say.
I just saw a TV documentary on Plessi’s work from the seventies where he is talking about the importance of emotions in Italian culture.
I think that’s the difference. We cannot avoid having an emotional side in what we do because of our history, maybe even our music history. I always admired American minimal art because it is so pure, it is so abstract. But I was never able to do something like that myself. Then I lived too many years in Italy. So, I think there is some color in it, some opening up. You have the same thing with Gavin Bryars, for example. He is a minimal musician from London and his pieces like The Sinking of the Titanic (1975) are very emotional minimal pieces. That’s something which makes a difference, though there were some connections in the seventies between the two worlds.
I would like to come back to the description of the installation of Water Face. Could you explain to me what the painted marks around your mouth represent?
Those are exactly the same notes as on the steel drum. These are sounds. For example, D2 is the second octave of the D-tone and so on. I am the “water speaker” actually. It was more like an idea to have the same form and to have a correspondence. The images of both parts were of similar size so you were a little bit surprised because you didn’t know what this strange thing might be. And suddenly something started to move and you see it’s not a drawing, it is a human being.
Exactly. While watching the video, it took me some time to understand what I was looking at.
In the archive of the Ludwig Forum we also have a record of your series Emergency Solos (1975).
This series was just about what I can do with the flute that is not traditional playing. On the other hand, I thought women when they are playing an instrument always seem like beautiful females, kind of erotic women, and a composer is always a man who is working straightforwardly and seriously. So there was this division between our roles. While there were a lot of performances at that time where women were hurting themselves, such as Marina Abramovic or Gina Pane, I was never into that kind of really strict body-hurting. I love music too much and I like composition. So my pieces were in that kind of feminist tradition but with a little bit of humor as well. And that was important!