Graduates mentioned: Tatsuhiko Togashi, Alice dos Reis, Asja Keeman, Niels Albers, Johanna Arco, Malissa Canez Sabus, Gauthier Chambry, Tom Kemp, Gijs Velsink, Cécile Tafanelli, Thom Driver, Angelo Custódio, Júlia Carvalho de Aguiar
(1) Shortly after the Sandberg Instituut graduation, I am driving down a road in deep forest. It is late and I am tired. The collar of my jacket carries the fading scent of an almond-bitter perfume. It is a familiar road and I am going a bit too fast, desperate to get home. (2) In the distance, my headlights lock onto a fox. I slow down. On coming closer I realise it is something else.
A cute pink object is swerving wildly across both lanes of the road ahead, approaching with great speed. Its slimy filling oozing from a deep cut on its flank. The slime gushes onto the windscreen, blurring my vision. I lose control of the car and hit the kerb. Suddenly airborne, I see the forest speeding towards me. The young trees and bushes in my trajectory absorb the impact and upon landing I find myself unharmed amidst the shattered woods. Through the maze of violently cut branches I can see, beyond the darkness of the forest, the vague outline of a structure in the distance, emitting a dim reflection of the fading evening light. I do not head back to the familiar road, but instead decide to move towards the white grid structure.
(3) The structure turns out to be a landscape of white tiling that is adorned with metal machinery applications. Their functions are unclear, blending between fragments of slaughterhouse lines and domestic appliances. The unsettling familiarity of the domestic – though clinically overhygienic – embedded into the wild surroundings makes me want to explore these Fremdkörper. Helpless and confused, I attempt to complete a parcours trying to understand the purpose of this structure. Having approached a high viewpoint, I witness a similarly helpless approach to establishing a connection: a woman runs aimlessly back and forth. Unnoticed by her from my bird-of-prey perspective, I observe her hopeless endeavour to connect with the deer by anticipating and following their presumed ways.
“I set out to join my fellow deer, but this place doesn’t resemble the one where they told me to meet,” sobs the woman, out of breath. “To me this a memory of the Superstudio planes,” she then utters, and jumps down onto the grid from a metal railing.
(4) I descend to join her. Above our heads, a flock of birds returns from the city where it had been assisting in the set-up of an installation. Neatly arranged piles of soil dotted with fragile seedlings were to be connected to a watering system by a maze of meandering tubes. The birds are delighted to find a fellow bowerbird of human origin working on an infrastructure of similar spirit: at the margin of the tiled landscape, adjustments have been made. Metal elements are broken loose, spare tiles are piled up in heaps and spiralling towers to disrupt the grid. In combination with cut bushes and trees, these fragments of the civilised world are turned into a space for gatherings made of objects and materials whose transformations serve as recordings, or an archive, of a gathering initiated by this human bowerbird. He is playing host and providing a space for musical and social improvisation. Here the birds settle down to report on the days preceding the Sandberg Instituut graduation and the material dialogue they had established with one of the graduates.
“Every night when she had left, we set to work,” reports the chief bowerbird, a trained plumber.
The apprentice bowerbirds burst out:
“We couldn’t wait!”
“To help her make it work, sharing our knowledge.”
“Only tiny adjustments.”
“So rewarding to see her excitement, enjoying her reply.”
“So sad to see her finally leave.”
“That we couldn’t make her linger at the end.”
(5) We quietly pass the retiring flock of birds and move deeper into the camp to join a priest, a migration lawyer and a legally registered international couple. Gathered around a table, they are developing a role-play game on international marriage laws. At first the subtle intrusions and interventions by an unknown creature escape my attention; the slight disruptions in sound are yet not relatable for me. But the disruptions grow stronger. The players suddenly look up in panicked surprise: the sound of shattering glass, tiles and shrieking metal brings their session to a sudden end. From the bushes behind the players, a creature covered in flames emerges. A Wild Man invites us all to his makeshift bar nearby, offering gin and tonics. One of the birds is flickering around the Wild Man’s head and carefully lowers spare pieces of watering tubes into our glasses.
“These are the last straws you can cling to,” the Wild Man laughs.
With each of us contemplating his confusing performance, soon the only sound remaining is that of our soft straws nervously sucking air at the bottom of empty drinks.
(6) From the fringes of the clearing, shadows emerge and approach our small group.
“Of course you all know you can’t hang around forever with free drinks and everything,” says the Wild Man. “The graduates approaching are here to achieve a collective outburst of energy needed to complete their passage.”
“You are right go for it,” barks the Shadow Dog.
“To fuel and foster completion, the graduates will dismantle this place, causing havoc and chaos,” the Wild Man adds.
“There is not much time – where are the others?,” asks the Crying Crocodile.
“Don’t be afraid: more and more of them will join us from the woods during the countdown,” consoles the Wild Man, his flames flaring up encouragingly.
“The moment the group is completed, this place will instantly dissolve and each of you be transported to an unknown destiny. I am sure you all will make it.”
I see a Horse-Ridden Tongue whispering into the Wild Man’s ear. He is looking up, addressing me: “The lurker is the one who observes, but does not participate.” He salutes and I understand. I am dismissed.
The sound of an incoming e-mail brings me home. Superimposed by a recording of a series of agitating utterances, a compilation of waiting-area video streams of the game PUBG is playing in a browser tab. Up to a hundred players are uploaded before the game starts. This process takes about one minute, during which avatars can run freely and do anything without consequences. Pre-game anxiety and adrenaline seem to fuel the players’ drive for playful and untamed chaos. I read about how non-verbal singing provided a way forward out of a state of lovesickness while listening to a performer’s voice breaking free, thus bending the strict grid and upsetting the straight lines of the e-mail. Still trapped in foggy memories, I hear the screams and laughter of the players blend into a video of Whitney Houston’s charged melisma on YouTube. The sun is rising and I close my laptop.
Katharina Wahl is a designer and educator. She enjoys juggling with the exuberant and the unsettling in search of stimulating interconnection and playful irritation. With students at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG), she works on time capsules, fungi products or recreational proposals for astronauts and oil-rig personne