streets of Paris
June, 20, 2016
collection of M HKA, Antwerp
Re-arrangement of Art of Fugue
by J.S. Bach
curated by Azad Asifovich
Augenmusik is a site- and time-specific performance that reflects on the condition of the State of Emergency declared in France after the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015 that traumatised the city, turning it into a body of collective pain [..] Katya EV’s work responded to the atmosphere of fear, and to the government’s declared state of emergency, through an alternative kind of public assembly an appropriation of symbols of state power.
On the day of the summer solstice, at the beginning of the l'heure bleue (twilight), twenty-four performers departed simultaneously from each of the twenty four “entrances” to Paris. Holding flashing blue police emergency lights in front of them, the participants walked from the Parisian ring towards the geometrical center of the city at Les Halles, where they placed the sirens next to one other on the ground. The sounds of the sirens, each tuned in a particular way, when combined together played a short electronic rendition of Bach’s The Art of Fugue.
A strong signifier of state power and a signal of danger, in Katya EV’s performance the police siren is taken over by the performers, thereby shifting power metaphorically to the people. Entering through the strategic defence points of the city, the performers converged on the historical “Belly of Paris,” referring to the ancient Greek understanding of the market square as a space for practicing direct democracy. The polyphonic texture of Bach’s composition served as a metaphor for the political equality of voices, as opposed the contemporary understanding of democracy which reduces this polyphony to the single voice of the majority.
The performance triggered a strong reaction that revealed the sense of panic embedded in society. It disclosed a mutual distrust and aggression between the police and people living in the city. During the performance twenty two of twenty-four performers were stopped by the police, and two of the participants were suspected of terrorism and detained for questioning. At the end of the performance armed police special forces were waiting for the performers at Les Halles. They intended to disperse the “gathering” prohibited during the State of Emergency. They failed because the assembly of sirens replaced the forbidden assembly of people.
By following the canons of the local legal system, in Augenmusik Katya EV tested the borders of state power, through an alternative kind of public assembly as well as the use of state instruments as the objects of empowerment for civil disobedience.
Text by Katia Krupennikova