DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

Black Chords Plays Lyrics

Thirteen black guitars and amplifiers are arranged in the space. Walls of black fabric separate the ensemble from its setting, creating an aesthetic situation dominated by spotlights on the individual guitars.

Black Chords Plays Lyrics is a multimedia installation by the French artist Saâdane Afif. The computer-controlled orchestration of the guitars produces chords — every day, seven days a week, from the opening of the Aue-Pavillon's doors until the evening, when it lies there in the abandoned exhibition. As the title implies, the tonal mood of the instruments tends to be dark and there aren't any musicians anywhere to be seen. This is ensured by Uwe Pawlak from the documenta 12 construction team.

As a (hobby) guitarist and member of the documenta team for the Aue-Pavillon, Pawlak, a native of Kassel, was predestined to take on the supervision of Afif's artwork for its duration, as well as his other tasks. Every second day he spends at least an hour retuning the thirteen guitars. When the Aue-Pavillon closes at 8 pm, Pawlak makes his way to the installation to run a tone check for the next day.

Beautifully draped and lit as it is, of course the artwork invites people to touch the exponents — as Pawlak reports: “There are always people who can't keep their hands off the guitars. They turn a dial or tinker with the tuning, and then the sound's not the same anymore.” Once the amplifiers were turned up so loud that the guitars blasted out around the Aue-Pavillon at rock concert volume. Pawlak often has to intervene in such cases, as not all of the in-house technical staff are musical or familiar with the equipment.

Overall the trained electrician likes Afif's chords and arrangements very much. The work fascinated him from the outset when installing it, and the same holds true for many of the visitors: “Some people stay quite a while, standing among the guitars and just listening,” as Pawlak said, talking about what he'd seen in the exhibition.

In the coming week, the multimedia installation is to have a brief spell of more intensive engagement: having spent almost four weeks playing their Power Chords it's time for a new set of strings.

Sarah Willems

Click here for more information on Afif's black chords plays lyrics

*all Photos: Julia Zimmermann, © Julia Zimmermann/documenta GmbH