With the audio exhibition “Zugetextet – Literatur als intermediale Praxis” (“Aural Annotations – Literature as an Intermedia Practice”), the Cluster of Excellence “Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective” at the Freie Universität opens up new perspectives on exhibits in the Humboldt Lab.
In 1806, masses of rock broke off from the Rossberg, burying the Swiss village of Goldau under a metre-high layer of rubble. This landslide was one of the worst natural disasters in Swiss history. In order to make it possible for people to comprehend what had happened, the tailor Joseph Martin Baumann, from Goldau, created two reliefs of the landslide a few years later. These are being shown in the inaugural exhibition of the Humboldt Lab.
The more-than-200-year-old models immediately caught Simon Godart's fascination. Together with other postdocs from the Cluster of Excellence “Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective” at the Freie Universität Berlin, Godart developed audio features for the exhibition in the Humboldt Forum. The postdocs have selected 15 exhibition objects or groups of objects that they found interesting and have linked them to excerpts from literary texts and to their own reflections.
Exhibition within an exhibition
The audio features establish relationships between objects in the collection and literary texts which, like the objects, originate from different eras and political and cultural contexts. In this way, these features connect visitors coming to the exhibition with their own experiences with the conceptual worlds of people from different contexts and lived environments. Dr Gorch Pieken, chief curator of the opening exhibition at the Humboldt Lab, describes “Zugetextet” as “an invisible exhibition within an exhibition through which the Cluster of Excellence opens up further points of access to the selected items.”
In each case, there is a literary quotation to listen to as well as an explanatory text that establishes the connection to the object in question. “The quotations may complement the objects, contradict them, or even further develop the ways one might think about them. It’s always about producing a new perspective,” says Dr Petra Wodtke, Academic Coordinator of the Berlin Partners Network at the Cluster of Excellence. In some cases, there is also a third part to listen to: conversations in which the researchers provide an insight into their own perspectives and the work processes. “We want to make it transparent that research always takes place in dialogue. And we wanted to give a voice to the researchers, who often remain anonymous,” explains Wodtke.
The postdocs selected a variety of different objects for their audio exhibition, including a children’s Bible from a German sect in Chile, an empty bottle of Fairy Liquid, and the cry for help of a textile worker from Bangladesh sewn into an item of clothing. When making his choices, Simon Godart was fascinated by the unknown. “I was immediately drawn to exhibition pieces that had something to do with rocks and mining. I found that exciting because I didn’t know the first thing about it,” he says. One of his contributions is devoted to a so-called “longitudinal section”, a sectional drawing that makes it possible to track the course of underground tunnels – “If you’re skilled at deciphering these kind of drawings,” says Godart of the item, which, for him, is still an “enigmatic object”.
Another audio feature is devoted to the Swiss landslide. During his research, Simon Godart came across a book by the doctor Karl Zay – Goldau und seine Gegend: Wie sie war und was sie geworden ist (“Goldau and its region: How it was and what it has become”) (1807) – in which the event is described in detail. To Godart’s delight, the book begins with a quotation from the poet Virgil. The author establishes a bridge to antiquity in order to develop his own line of reasoning. “This is proof of our hypothesis that literary temporalities make themselves felt – even where you don’t expect it,” says the doctor of philosophy.
“Aural Annotations – Literature as an Intermedia Practice” is not an audio tour in the traditional sense. The audio features do not follow a predefined order, and are independent of the audio guide, which is embedded into an overview tour through all the exhibitions in the Humboldt Forum. The contributions from Temporal Communities make it possible to experience the ideas that come to mind for top researchers when they contemplate the objects in the collection, says Gorch Pieken. The audio tour is a “prime example” of the so-called Third Mission to disseminate and popularise research and teaching far beyond the university’s borders.
The Temporal Communities cluster and literature as a practice
With their contribution, the postdocs also demonstrate what literature means from the perspective of the Cluster of Excellence. “It is important for us to understand literature as a practice; as something that brings about relationships between people, texts and objects – through time and space,” explains Anita Traninger, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, with a focus on rhetoric, at the Freie Universität and one of the Cluster's two directors. Literature is explored as a phenomenon that brings about relationships across cultural spaces and different eras, thereby creating “Temporal Communities”.
One example of this is the reception of Homer’s epics, explains Andrew James Johnston, Professor of English Literature at the Freie Universität and director of the Cluster. The contemporaries of the Greek poet form a community with later generations who see the subject matter of the Iliad and the Odyssey on the Italian opera stage of the 17th century. Viewers of the 2004 Hollywood film “Troy” also belong to this community. “The material is constantly being modified and adapted, re-created for new audiences in a wide variety of media, and used in a plethora of ways for forming identities.”
The approach of the Cluster of Excellence differs from positions within literary scholarship that focus solely on the text or are primarily interested in literature's aesthetic level, ignoring the social, the material, and media-related dimensions of literature,” explains the Clusters director Aninta Traninger. “Literature is more than what takes place between two book covers,” she emphasises. This means that literature is not only understood as the printed word, but also as a form of social action. Those who take part in this “doing literature” include authors and readers, for example, but also publishers.
|Date:||22. März 2021|
|Author:||Inga Dreyer Translation: Josephine Draper|