Franz Martin Olbrisch

'A view of art based on communication shows things in their layered multiplicity and reveals possibilities transcending our acquaintance with the world, thereby offering viewers fresh insight and knowledge instead of binding them to a world of imaginary longings.'

(Franz Martin Olbrisch)


Franz Martin Olbrisch's spaces are shopwindows on human perception ? dense, fine-meshed creations into which the visitor tangibly plunges, thereby becoming part of the creation, part of the almost tactile interplay of sound, image and motion, of memories and associations, of projections and reflections. Olbrisch, drawing on the sociological theory of Niklas Luhmann, creates self-contained systems of communication, multi-dimensional spaces marked out by models of referential thought. Space, in his terms, is defined by place and time, encompassing architectural, historical and social features as well as personal experiences on an equal basis. By 'measuring, surveying, accumulating and layering', Olbrisch discloses the simultaneities hidden within a space, sensually spreading out their intersections and parallelisms and transferring them artistically into a synchronous amalgam.


Roaming, tarrying, roaming

Olbrisch, who was born in Mühlheim on the Ruhr in 1952, refers to his intermedia works as 'events' or 'interaction surfaces'. After learning to become a surveyor (in what he calls a 'Kafkaesque detour'), he studied composition at the Berlin University of the Arts from 1979 to 1985. A scholarship from the Berlin Cultural Senate allowed him to create his first event for the New National Gallery in 1988-9: Im Anfänglichen läuft keine Spur ? wer könnte da suchen ('No trace runs in the beginning ? who could search for it there') for three action artists, five instrumentalists and live electronics. The work already incorporated recipients and vantage points as an integral part of the composition: outside world and interior space, environment and art were separated yet conjoined by the translucent façade of Mies van der Rohe's building. Acoustical and visual information overlapped. The central perspective was abolished; audience members determined their positions themselves. Behind this conception is Olbrisch's belief that, in art, it is no longer possible to define a standpoint from which the whole can be properly observed. As he put it, 'Every position has its own aesthetic valuation' ? an approach that has found artistic expression in various formats in all his works since 1988.


Into the uncertain

'There's always something arbitrary about a beginning': thus reads another precept espoused by this artist, who has carried a heavy teaching load since 1986 and was appointed professor and head of the Electronic Music Studio at Dresden?s Carl Maria von Weber School of Music in 2008. There?s something arbitrary about our powers of perception as well. What we merely brush past, where we choose to tarry, what connections we make: all of this results from a complex interplay of observations and experiences, from what position we assume, whether involuntarily or deliberately. Yet our position is not without presuppositions. The same can be said of Olbrisch's spaces. They are spaces of experience, contemplative spaces in the truest sense of the word, filled with things forgotten and present, manifest and non-existent, belonging to ourselves or to others ? the convoluted pathways of their history. Thus the musical environment Dissimilation (1999), a site-specific work for the 'Nightingale' coal mine in Witten, established links in various ways to the former everyday lives of the miners ? e.g. through isolated piles of coal or stray petitions from the miners to the authorities. Several passages from these letters were read aloud, occasionally interspersed with excerpts from romantic mining literature and other sources. Loudspeakers emitted knocking, scraping and aqueous sounds. Visitors could influence this sonic level by pushing a bell button. Their actions as a whole were fed into an algorithm, indirectly altering the audible result.


Fugitive encounters

'The images in the labyrinth of places and times are assembled into a new unity, thereby falsifying their origins, though they continue to convey the history of their origin. The labyrinth itself must advance to become the object of artistic creation.'

Into this labyrinth Olbrisch places his acoustical material from the 'quarry' of the audible universe: spoken or sung words, instrumental or electronic sounds, recordings from the world around us, snippets from contemporary works by his fellow composers, albeit so 'falsified' that their origins can no longer be detected. Quotations resemble archaeological findings. But rather than forming a straightforward reference, they receive a new, momentary validity. Olbrisch's sound installation Infinito blanco, created in 2009 in Frankfurt Radio?s Golden Hall for a concert of contemporary music, manipulates 'scraps from recent compositions'. These isolated and almost disjointed sound events are cast into the room by white expanses like beams of light ? a compositional response to the strange sense of lavish detachment that Olbrisch felt at this site. The adjective 'blanco' in the title means not only 'white' but 'empty', reminding us that the Golden Room was originally built as a possible plenary assembly hall for the German Parliament, though nothing about it recalls that purpose today.


Reflection, reverberation

Since the early 1990s roughly half of Olbrisch's intermedia works have originated in collaboration with Beate Olbrisch. These two artists integrate photographic and video sequences of palimpsest-like images, blurringly overlapped layers of varying intensity that likewise conceal parts of their origin. One example of their collaboration is the concert environment Schichtwechsel ? temps et mouvement ('Change of shift ? time and motion', 2006). Three projection surfaces spread out on the floor gave visitors an unusual feeling of closeness to the motion pictures. Moreover, mirrors embedded in the projection surfaces cast parts of the video into the room and, conversely, parts of the room and the audience into the projection. The sound, in contrast, seemed to emerge ex nihilo: the layers of sampled sounds seemed like acoustical photographs 'frozen in time'.


It is precisely in works like these that our sense perceptions are specially blended in the manner of information and yet preserve their identity. Olbrisch dispatches his visitor's faculties of perception and memory on a journey through 'labyrinths of places and times', whose convoluted pathways each visitor bestrides in his or her own way.


Susanne Laurentius


produced by

Deutscher Musikrat gemeinnützige Projekt-
gesellschaft mbH


Zeitgenössische Musik

Weberstraße 59, 53113 Bonn

P 02 28 - 20 91 170
F 02 28 - 20 91 200

curators of the exhibition

Stefan Fricke,

Johannes S. Sistermanns