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Margit Zuckriegl | The Part and the Whole

At a time when in science and technical mathematics something as revolutionary as quantum physics, a concept introduced by Max Planck, which was operating with until then unusual parameters such as the energy potential of matter, was being discussed, endeavours were undertaken in the field of visual arts to stop focusing on the whole image as the sole option of artistic contemplation and, rather, to explore the relation between the parts and the whole. So both physics and pictorial art had seen the beginning of some sort of "introspection" during the first decades of the 20th century, a quest for the smallest units, for the congruency of the whole and its parts. Whether it was the constructivist schools, whose starting point was the exploration of dimensional limitation, proportions and spatial reference systems, or Cubism with a focus on the simultaneity of perspective and events – something became of virulent importance at the time of early Modernism, something that had not been noticed before: the perspective of the world is subcategorised into many sub-perspectives, things consist of an infinity of small, microscopically tiny particles and their movements, entirety results from the structure of its parts and is, thus, deconstructible. "The part and the whole" was the title of German physicist Werner Heisenberg's collection of conversations revolving around atomic physics1, in which he reflects upon his personal approach to quantum theory; he does not only torpedo and redefine the notion of "simultaneity" or "order", he also touches upon the tendencies of change in the field of art: by stating that "space and time are, thus, not as independent of each other as one has thought "2, he not only bridges the gap to contemporary music, which he expressly addresses, but also to modern days' performance and media art.

Rarely has the interrelation between individual parts in the process of creating one big whole been visualised in such an insistent and stringent manner as in the picture of the "orchestra". Primarily, it is always the same way of playing music together, singing, performing which creates one simultaneous sound experience. Unnoticed, there remains an individual contribution to a holistic phenomenology even if Heisenbergs' theory of fundamental structure forms the basis thereof.

In her latest media work, Katharina Struber explores exactly these themes and their intersections: in the example of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, she reveals the act of playing music together as one collective process which may be subdivided into an infinite series of many further processes. Her medium is the combination of video film and still photography, which she uses in a reciprocal manner and, by doing so, traces a cinematic sequence via photography, lifting the time-dependent element of the video material while processing it for photographic images. She intertwines capital categories of the arts, which so many artists and theorists have worked on since the days of Renaissance: hearing and seeing, space and time, the individual and the collective, activity and pause, sound and silence, abundance or scantiness. The orchestra that Katharina Struber observes with her media is rehearsing a piece by John Cage – who legendarily rejected any form of musical tradition and was the protagonist of the subversion of sound: Quartets I – VIII was the title of his musical pieces that he composed for the bicentennial celebrations in the US. Following the principles of his trend-setting text "Silence"3 in which he subcategorises a lecture on music into 4 simultaneous columns, which he further subdivides into 12 lines each comprising 48 units according to a dimensional limitation of 7, 6, 14, 14, 7, he also arranged the hymn-like composition about the rights of freedom of the American citizen as a commitment to the principles of a new alliance between individual and collective: "I have written two parts for one pianist. Each part may be played separately or they may be played simultaneously"4. According to Cage, the act of playing music simultaneously, if need be with one musician only who plays several instruments at the same time, or, also, with an orchestra's tutti, always remains a fragile balance, albeit one that should be striven for. This endangered balance between the individuals and the tangible energy of their collective action becomes apparent in Katharina Struber's photographic tableaux. The aspects of simultaneous action result, on the one hand, in a space-containing overall picture of the whole; on the other hand – just like in the Cubist paintings of Braque or Picasso – they may be seen as autonomous, particular views of one single, comprehensive composition.

1 Werner Heisenberg, Der Teil und das Ganze – Gespräche im Umkreis der Atomphysik (Physics and Beyond – Encounters and Conversations), Munich, 1973
2 See note 1, p 31 (German version)
3 John Cage, Silence, Frankfurt am Main, 1995
4 See note 3., p 79 (German version)

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