Olaf Nicolai. Escalier du chant.

by florence cheval

»My work has to do with the meaning of sound – as does the title of the work: when saying the French title “Escalier du Chant” out loud, there is an allusion to Marcel Duchamp. His work “Nude Descending a Staircase” painted 100 years ago, radically extended the traditional concept of the static picture into the visual experience of motion. Duchamp’s painting renders time visible. My work also combines a staircase with a temporal experience.« (Olaf Nicolai)

The spacious staircase of the Pinakothek der Moderne opens unto the rooms of the museum’s collection on the upper floor. It also constitutes a semi-public space which is deliberately reminiscent of the architecture of the Agora or Amphitheatre. By stepping onto the stairs, visitors also step onto a stage, although usually they do this without consciously “acting”. Using this situation as a starting point, twelve international composers were invited to compose songs to be performed on the stairs. The composers were asked to refer their songs to political events which had a certain current significance to them – events which can no more be predicted at this moment than the compositions themselves.

The songs were be performed as a cappella pieces on twelve Sundays in year 2011 on the central staircase. Even though the dates of the performances are fixed, the exact times are not: the singers will decide when they will perform and how many times they will repeat the performance each day. Instead of standing on a stage facing an audience, at every appearance the singers will join into the rhythm of the people stepping up and down the stairs. By entering and beginning their performance at random, they transform the stairs into a momentary stage, on which the audience now finds itself as participants in a play. Unlike a concert, the performances create an unexpected and brief situation that transforms the bodies of the people present, the audible sounds and the spatio-temporal framework of the situation into an unpredictable, performative configuration.