A Slightly Curving Place

A Slightly Curving Place

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)

Padmini Chettur, study for A Slightly Curving Place, 2020. Image: Sara 

July 21, 2020
A Slightly Curving Place
July 23–September 20, 2020
Coming to Know: September 5–18, a series of three digital public events convened with Brooke Holmes, Professor of Classics, Princeton University
Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)
John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10
10557 Berlin

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What does it mean to try and listen to the past? To ask this question draws awareness both to sound as a social event—music, theater, and dance as forms of lived collectivity—and to its absence which remains. Such listening confronts a sense that the past cannot be captured. It is about that which is lost but nevertheless always with us—the simultaneity of the past in the present, a collectivity across time beyond possession and accumulation.

The life and work of Umashankar Manthravadi is a history of sound and technology through the second half of the 20th century. As a self-taught acoustic archaeologist, he has been building ambisonic microphones since the 1990s to measure the acoustic properties of premodern performance spaces. A Slightly Curving Place responds to his proposition that we can’t just look for theaters in landscapes of the past, we must listen for them.

The exhibition derives its title from a Prakrit phrase in Jain cosmology. Isipabbharabhumi refers to a special place above the heavens shaped like a parasol. It is where the disembodied souls of the perfected ones go to live in eternal isolation. Sealed off from the rest of the cosmos, they are unable to interact with other souls, unable to hear them or be heard. In this exhibition, a slightly curving place is to be found not at the apex of the universe but under an ambisonic dome of speakers. Here, an assembly of listeners gathers to sense a past they cannot hear.

Centered around an audio play and a video installation, A Slightly Curving Place brings together writers, choreographers, composers, actors, dancers, musicians, field recordists, and sound, light, and graphic designers who engage and transform not just each other’s work but also that of many others. Generated through a series of relays between script and voice and sound and movement, the audio play extends the notion of an archaeological site to include text and technologies and the fields of recording. Writers produced narrative and conceptual scripts. Performers performed them. Sound designers approached the recorded material through their various understandings of sound as matter, meaning, and music. With each, a defined location emerges with no visible boundaries present. Elements from Umashankar’s biography serve as a compass amid the material in vitrines, while elsewhere, on projection screens, a dancing body positions the endlessness of time in relation to a series of ruptures that is history. The sound that arrives is only a record of sound as it might have been.

Tuning in to the static of the past so as to reckon with the noise of the present is also an invocation to listen to the dramatic changes in our own acousmatic landscapes. Can we hear that which has become unavailable to us, namely the historical transformation of our senses in modernity?

Digital Discourse Program: Coming to Know
Convened with Brooke Holmes (Professor of Classics, Princeton University), Coming to Know is a series of digital public events unfolding over three weeks in response to three modalities—tuning, recording, digging—proposed by A Slightly Curving Place. Setting aside the predominantly visual techniques of knowledge that characterize the archaeological site, the museum, and the larger project of colonial modernity to possess the past, the participants will release a cluster of concepts that refracts the process of listening itself as a mode of coming to know that never arrives at its object. Rather than a didactic supplement to an alien, premodern place and time, the program will experiment in fashioning a sound system for listening to one another that transforms our sense of knowledge held in common. 

With Vinit Agarwal, Anurima Banerji, Moushumi Bhowmik, Padmini Chettur, Nida Ghouse, Brooke Holmes, Alexander Keefe, Umashankar Manthravadi, Mark Payne, Uzma Z. Rizvi, Regina Sarreiter, Phiroze Vasunia. More about the program and attendance hkw.de/curvingplace

Publication A Slightly Curving Place
A volume accompanying the exhibition will be published by archive books in September 2020. With contributions by Vinit Agarwal, Moushumi Bhowmik, Padmini Chettur, Nida Ghouse, Alexander Keefe, Sukanta Majumdar, Umashankar Manthravadi, Maarten Visser and others.

The exhibition is realized in collaboration with and with contributions by Umashankar Manthravadi, Bani Abidi, Mojisola Adebayo, Vinit Agarwal, Sukhesh Arora, Anurima Banerji, Lilia Di Bella, Moushumi Bhowmik, Arunima Chatterjee, Madhuri Chattopadyay, Padmini Chettur, Emese Csornai, Padma Damodaran, Hugo Esquinca, Jenifer Evans, Eunice Fong, Tyler Friedman, Janardan Ghosh, Brooke Holmes, Alexander Keefe, Sukanta Majumdar, Robert Millis, Farah Mulla, Rita Sonal Panjatan, Ayaz Pasha, TJ Rehmi, RENU, Uzma Z. Rizvi, Sara, Yashas Shetty, The Travelling Archive, Maarten Visser and others.

Curated by Nida Ghouse

The ambisonic dome, which comprises 21 speakers and produces a three-dimensional sound field, has been provided by the Audio Communication Group, Technische Universität Berlin.

Part of The New Alphabet (2019-2021), supported by the Minister of State for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag. With friendly support of Goethe-Institut e.V.

Haus der Kulturen der Welt is supported by the Minister of State for Culture and the Media as well as by the Federal Foreign Office.

More about the exhibition here

Press Contact:
Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Anne Maier
anne.maier [​at​] hkw.de
T +49 30 39787 153/196

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July 21, 2020

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