An architect-cum-artist from Berlin, Lisa Premke has created a series of artwork using acoustics and visuals from Pune. Seated in a gallery cluttered with brooms, steel banisters and other raw material of her sculptures, she tells Dipanita Nath about her aim to present things familiar to a viewer in a different context. Excerpts of the interview:
How does Pune sound to an acoustic artist?
I came to Pune on September 15… For the first two weeks, I walked through the whole city for at least two or three hours a day just to get a feel of what’s different about the city. I noticed a paradox here — a huge crowd made of people who exist in small units. These units work among themselves very well and also rub against one another and create a lot of noise. I love that the city is so active, but, at the same time, I wish it would be like a machine that works a little bit more cohesively.
Even here in the gallery where you are working, the roar of traffic forms a constant background sound. Has this inspired your work?
I made a project with drummers. I recorded the street sound and used this in an orchestra. The drummers used brooms for drumsticks, because the sound of sweeping is common and, if you think about it, calming. The composition was such that every time there is honk (in the street), the drummers would have to stop playing and start the piece all over again. Sometimes they could only play for one second because there were honks after honks. We will screen the video at the exhibition from November 2-10 at TIFA Working Studios.
How did you become interested in sound as an art form?
I grew up on a farm in Germany where you don’t have neighbours for hundreds of metres. In winter, the trees are dry and the ground is covered with snow… It is really quiet. So, when you hear something you know what it is — one bird or two rabbits. The singling out of sounds that I do with my artwork comes out of this early memory.I focus on one material, one object, and one audience in my work as it has to say something and tell us how to listen. In my work, I calculate how long does it have to be so that the audience has to come close and engage with it, almost touch it to hear it.
How is the experience of living in a big city such as Berlin after growing up on a farm?
It is often that when people grow up in countryside they are drawn to cities. I don’t think I could live in the countryside again. In Berlin, where I live, I love that it is a constantly changing city, and at the same time, people are super quiet.
As an architect, are you also interested in private spaces?
…I like to take a glimpse through windows into houses. When I come to a new city, I wonder how different communities relate to one another. One way to understand this is to see what kind of material people use, what they can afford and what they don’t care about… People here use a lot of fabrics… Not just fabrics, but also carpets…
I used to think, ‘What are these different types of materials that rub against one another and start a conversation?’
This, in fact, was the idea behind a sculpture in which I have formed carpet rolls that twist themselves and make a sound by pressing against each other. There are spiky plastic doormats, a swathe of fake grass, bathroom doormats and soft materials that go under carpets. When these rub against one another, they produce a sound that would rarely be heard otherwise.
Does it affect you as an artist that you are a foreigner looking at a city as an outsider before creating works based on its essential nature?
I am curious about how society works… When people visit me in Berlin, they are pointing out at things that are too familiar for me to see. It is true that as a foreigner, I stand out. I have found that, like Berlin, where people are aware of art and ask questions, people in Pune have shown a huge curiosity. Everywhere I have gone, I have explained what I am doing and people are inquisitive and want to understand.