Maps of parallels 41ºN and 49ºN (At a Scale of Ten Seconds to One Degree)


Helen Mirra / Ernst Karel

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Helen Mirra doesn’t bring the kind of easy-conceptualism often characteristic of contemporary visual and sound art to the table. Her creations are in contrast with the practices and configurations established in an artistic field known for its experimental focus, but also tending to turn forms and methods into patterns.

The collaboration with Ernst Karel documented here – a map of the latitudes delineating the geographical area where the European – North American history of deforestation and resforestation has played out – seems something that we could file under the subgenre Acoustic Ecology, as defined by Murray Schafer. Truth is we can’t: all the sounds suggest they were produced by nature, but their origins are entirely artificial and they function in a representative, parabolic way, by means of noise generators, a rewind film crank (without the film), a bass guitar and a guitar.

If a map is the representation of a topographic reality in a minor scale, that virtual condition is even more enhanced with these resources. And when we are convinced that music is something else than what we get here, music emerges, with a subtle, but strong effect, with micro and macro dimensions. Appearances trick us; we know that, but we always forget it.

In 1999 I made a silent 16mm film of a latitude line, at a scale of one foot of film to one degree of latitude. It was simply coded, blue for sea, green for land. I also made related wall works with 16mm cotton banding, at a scale of one inch to one degree. In 2002 I made an exhibition titled Declining Interval Lands, referring to the land between the latitude lines 41º and 49ºN in North America where elm trees flourished until the scourge of Dutch Elm Disease nearly eradicated them in the mid-20th century. With much more detail than the structure of my film and cotton line works allowed, Ernst and I made maps of 41º and 49º, with sounds not imitating natural sounds, but analogous to them. The exhibition version is in dual mono, with one CD-player per speaker at opposite sides of a space; here 41º is in the left channel, and 49º in the right. – H M

Published coincidentally with the book Edge Habitat Materials (Chicago: WhiteWalls 2014) and the exhibition Edge Habitat (Lisbon: Culturgest, 7 June – 14 September 2014).


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