Paul DeMarinis (US) Firebirds

pyro-sonic spectacle

Fire talk to me

"We inhabit all the time the universe of voices, we are continuously bombarded by

voices, we have to make our daily way through the jungle of voices, and we have to use all kinds of machetes and compasses so as not to get lost. There are voices of other people, the voices of music, the voices of media, and the medium, before being the message (MacLuhan), is perhaps above all the voice. All those voices are shouting, whispering, crying, caressing, threatening, imploring, seducing, commanding, hypnotizing …", says Mladen Dolar in the intro of his book His Master's Voice.

These days Zagreb has the privileged opportunity to witness innovative contemporary art project which, by using voice, creates a small alternative history of media. These voices, part of the artwork Firebirds, created by Paul DeMarinis in the medieval tower Lotrščak sonically appear through fire. These voices are well known to us, but here, they are caught in fictive time - in between gathering around a fireplace and gathering around a radio or a television. The time that deals with a possible archeology of media which never came to bear. Specifically, Firebirds is a rare artwork that demiurgically applies a little-known scientific capability to a small pyro-sonic spectacle. The artist uses fire as an audio speaker. Inspired by an article in Nature magazine from the Sixties, in which a never-before explained phenomenon of the generation of audible soundwaves triggered by a flame caught in a magnetic field was described, Paul DeMarinis decided to create such a device for his installation.

According to Slovenian philosopher Mladen Dolar, whose theory of voice is based on the Lacan's theoretical psychoanalyses, together with the usual understanding of voice as carrier of meaning and its aesthetic/fetishistic comprehension (of a singing voice, for example), a voice itself, being in the interrelationship between a single individual and social spaces is always an object on which a certain politic is inscribed. In this work, the artist appropriates recorded voices of famous world politicians. Fire spreads the militant voices of historic world leaders, such as Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt or Stalin, throughout the space. Listening to these voices, we can hear that the difference among them is in the use of different languages, not in the voice or commanding tone. They become “the positive voice of pure command,” in the words of Dolar, “his Master's voice.” Likewise, the voices in Firebirds, as the source of power and authority, find themselves at the intersection of the subject and the sovereign, the Master. At the very moment when we listen to the voice is when we also obey (ob-audire, gehorchen etc), listening is the incipient subjection. Despite the fact that world politicians entrance and instill servitude within a people, primarily through speech, in DeMarinis' appropriation the voices simply repeat. Incognizant of being caught in the redundancy and enchantment of their own greatness, they are trapped, further made emphatic by the use of bird cages for each voice. By carrying the political voice through fire, he defamiliarizes it, turning it to a new kind of porous material. The fabric of the voice becomes visible. Fairytale-like visualization turns these political icons into garrulous parrots that exist only in the media. The Wizards of Oz are now revealed, unaware that they became part of the pyro-circus in the golden cage. However, the alchemy of the process is revealed only to a careful and discriminating viewer - the one who expects magic from art.

Paul DeMarinis (US)

Paul DeMarinis is an artists and professor at Stanford University, California. He has been working as an electronic media artist since 1971 and has created numerous performance works, sound and computer installations and interactive electronic inventions. He has performed internationally, at The Kitchen, Festival d'Automne a Paris, Het Apollohuis in Holland and at Ars Electronica in Linz and created music for Merce Cunningham Dance Co. His interactive audio artworks have been shown at the I.C.C. in Tokyo, Bravin Post Lee Gallery in New York and The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. He has been an Artist-in-Residence at The Exploratorium and at Xerox PARC and has received major awards and fellowships in both Visual Arts and Music from The National Endowment for the Arts, N.Y.F.A., N.Y.S.C.A., the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Much of his work involves speech processed and synthesized by computers, available on the Lovely Music Ltd. compact disc Music as a Second Language, and the Apollohuis CD A Listener's Companion. Major installation works include The Edison Effect that uses optics and computers to make new sounds by scanning ancient phonograph records with lasers, Gray Matter that uses the interaction of body and electricity to make music, and The Messenger that examines the myths of electricity in communication. Public artworks include large scale interactive installations at Park Tower Hall in Tokyo, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and Expo 1998 in Lisbon and an interactive audio environment at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in 2003.