A review by An-Katrien Callebaut
CHAPTER 4: GATHERING / WHISPERS OF WIND
Nov 9, 2022 – Middelheim Museum Antwerp
In the afternoon, back in the Braempavilion, we learnt about active listening by sound artist Els Viaene. Tip one: take your time to sense your environment. Wander around. Immerse yourself in the mix of sounds, in the many layers and details. Tip two: let your microphones be an extension of your own body/ears. While listening to her compositions, we each had a personal experience of travelling to that environment.
This method of active listening is essential too in Nele Möller’s doctoral research under the title “The Forest Echoes Back”. In this research, she sets up a conversation with a forest close to her previous home in Germany that has been disappearing because of the same beetle plague that affected Alexandra Crouwer’s Plot. Möller followed animal tracks, talked to a hunter about his knowledge of this forest and looked up the historical women who planted these trees after WWII. She tries to involve and be aware of the whole community that has formed around this forest. The active listening method is her way of building that attention. Her research is based on her interaction with that space, so automatically, she started to question what her own position towards the land is or could be.
To end the day and the symposium with that same question, the same search for a story or conversation, we all received a little booklet from her. With this little booklet, we were encouraged to do an active listening exercise. Starting inside with controlled breathing and tuning in to our own heartbeats, we then drifted out into the park. The instructions in the book led us to find a comfortable spot and question our relationship with this place. It was an individual exercise, so now and then, you saw others walking past or closing their eyes. I focused on the sound of my footsteps in the grass, crumbling the autumn leaves beneath them. I walked towards a tree, stopped before it and exhaled loudly towards its stem. It made me feel small, the echo. Then I chose a position near a sculpture to which I was attracted. Try to enter into a dialogue with that place verbally or non-verbally, said the booklet. Imagine the lost, erased, inaudible voices/sounds of this place. What are you unable to hear?
We all paid close attention.