The exhibit of Habitat One, a video painting diptych by Alexander Pohnert, proved a rich experience to savor with repeated viewings. This artist is exploring the opposites of unity and separateness; expressing it through the visuals, the subject matter, and deeper references to medical science and queer culture.
I related Pohnert primarily with performance art. However, he has been revisiting video (examples of past work) as a medium. This exhibit, Habitat One, was located at SHIFT; a concept and art space an Köpenicker Str. 70 here in Berlin. The porcelain tile and whiteness of the space was perfect for his installation.
He choose two flying subjects, a bat and a flock of birds, to represent the concepts of separateness and unity. The bat represents the solitary subject. While bats do often roost in groups, when darkness comes, they tend to fly off alone in search of insects as food. Pohnert visited a forest at night with a chiropterologist, a bat researcher, to study and track a bat. They used an ultrasound device to transpose down the inaudible radar clicks bats use for sight and location of their prey.
You can hear these sounds alongside others in the soundscape that Philip Marshall created in collaboration. Marshall is the driving force of the cassette-only label, The Tapeworm. A graphic designer by training, he is also a self-taught sound creator. Pohnert previously met Marshall and knew the two would eventually collaborate. ”Give me a riddle, I like to solve it,” said Marshall to me. That was part of his impetus in Habitat One. He riddled and then created a soundscape which included field recordings of bats and birds, samples of pianos, and generous manipulation of the waveform itself. Marshall commented that he enjoyed the creativity and freedom Pohnert granted him.
Alongside these bat field recordings, is the video Pohnert captured of their search at night. Tracking a bat is not easy. Only with an ultrasound device could they seek and track a bat by listening to the radar click’s intensity and frequency. This sound faded in and out as they chased the bat in the darkness. The video painting you see captures this frenzy of almost useless activity; of motion and desperation to find a solitary bat. Yet, there is beauty in the video of blurred forest plants seen only in the concentrated light of a flashlight; shadows of limbs – people and trees.
On the opposite wall of SHIFT was the second video painting; a distant view of a flock of birds on a featureless neutral sky. I was first struck with the pace. If its twin across the room was 100 kph, then the birds were a leisurely 2 kph. What was desperation and chaos is instead calm and unity. The birds flock together into an metabody that slowly moves as a whole across the projection.
When one bird might take lead and guide this unified body one direction, thereafter, another bird takes lead to refine subtly the direction; contributing their own into the whole. While there are separate biological entities, they are together in their efforts and have a connectedness. There is no desperate motion, no futility, …there is one and us and we…at the same time.
The relationship between the two parts of the diptych becomes deeper with multiple viewings. I noticed that Pohnert also expressed the topics using the production itself. The bat video is high contrast, high fidelity distinct pixels, saturated, and having clear boundaries. The birds were instead low contrast, slightly pixelated quality, muted, and the flocks were visually mirrored in the video creating additional patterns of synergy and unity.