Freelance artist Lilian Beidler’s work is hard to categorise; it seems to shift medium, format, and subject with every piece, representing a multitude of strands in her artistic and personal thinking. It is perhaps fitting that this is so, given the diversity of her formal education – she has degrees in Music and Media Arts, Contemporary Arts Practice, and Performance Making from Bern University of the Arts in Switzerland and Goldsmiths University, London. A look through a few of her recent pieces gives us: a video diary advent calendar (Countdown to Arabic), a participatory piece for audience, mp3 players and loudspeakers (PAVILION), a custom-made electronic musical instrument (Voicestrument), and a physical performance piece (running). The picture that emerges is that of an artist constantly searching for new modes of expression, never shying away from putting herself or others at the centre of them.
Lilian’s world is characterised by a hyper-awareness of the media that shape our experiences and a willingness to explore their emotional, social and personal connotations. In Voicestrument (2015), the microphone, joystick and electrical cable are all seen and engaged with as objects possessing a latent eroticism. A BDSM threesome between human, space and technology, where voice is modulated by computer according to the acoustics of the room. In PAVILION (2015), members of the audience interact socially through recorded sound bites. The social groupings and de-groupings they form are entirely mediated by samples they trigger with mp3 players, which reveal stories of people working on campus at Goldsmiths (where the first performance took place) as they are played back over loudspeakers. The piece then evolves as a shifting play of identities, as the participants apprehend and redefine the relationships they have to the people on the soundtrack, the other people in the room, and the (virtual) relationships the people on the soundtrack have with each other.
Running (2014) is a piece in which gestures of frustration, exhaustion and anger interrupt each other. (For the curious, here is an interview about this piece between Lilian and previous WEISSLICH contributor Cathy van Eck). Turning her movement into sound, Lilian runs with increasing urgency around a space in which electronic nodes activated on each wall create long, sustained tones. Eventually, she stands in the middle of the space and, with a ritualistic slowness, smashes a plate onto the floor. The sustained chord stops and she starts running again, this time having to contend with the shards she’s just made on the floor. It’s a Sisyphean myth of a piece, the performer trapped in an infinity loop of her own making. A wave of frustration is stopped by a moment of anger, making the next inevitable wave more difficult still, and on it goes. It reminds me of the kind of mental torture you perform on yourself, mid-argument, just after you’ve rashly said something horrible to someone else. The anger has a poisonous quality; it makes arguing so much harder, and you desperately wish you hadn’t said it, but you did, and part of it felt good, and now you’ve got to deal with it. The more you think about how much you’ve hurt the other person, the worse it seems, and the worse it seems, the more you wish you could do something about it. Come to think of it, situations like those do sometimes end up with plates getting smashed.
Lilian performing running in Columbus, Ohio, 2013
Countdown to Arabic is an advent calendar in Youtube video format where Lilian learns Arabic for 24 days, from 1st to 24th December 2015. It’s an explicitly political response to our refugee-fearing climate, in which, for Lilian, “it is urgent to create a superior humanitarian arch that canopies both a Christian tradition and studying the language of the Koran”. Instead of counting down to Christmas, she counts down to what we in the Christian West have been repeatedly told to fear by our media. It’s an idea that could come across as heavy-handed and overbearingly political, but instead, she documents her learning with a lightness of touch and a charm that infuses the whole project with a sense of genuine fun. What emerges is a thought that runs so counter to our mainstream politics (at least in the UK, but I’d venture to say also in Switzerland, France and many other European countries) it seems radical to even write it down: it’s fun to connect with people from other cultures, it’s fun to learn a new language and break cultural divides, it’s fun to try to understand ‘the other’. In Countdown to Arabic, Lilian sees the human being as a subject capable of language-learning, and by extension, relationship-building. By turning herself into the vessel through which potential cultural understanding can occur, she makes a piece that is much more profound than an initial look at the videos would suggest. Through the seemingly mundane tasks of trying to pronounce ع (‘ayn), studiously copying down the alphabet, or practising with her cat, we feel compelled to see through the artifice of linguistic divide. I’ll leave you with the final episode, Day 24, where Lilian discovers that there are 14 different ways to say ‘love’ in Arabic:
Lilian is making a new work for Weisslich Vol. 8, this Saturday 23rd July at 8pm, Hundred Years Gallery.