The published diaries of famous authors and public figures have always seemed unreliable to me. Could there have been days that were edited out; grievances, smoothed over; affairs left unacknowledged? Did the writer keep a second diary where she hewed to another narrative, with the illegible and senseless, recorded as they were? In this secret volume, perhaps the narrator would be more trustworthy. Then again, maybe not.
Such questions about the true narration of the self take on another meaning in Ricarda Denzer’s diaristic work. She calls her entries ‘audio-visual thought protocols’, but she makes these handwritten notes and sketches while conducting interviews and recording conversations with other people, thus combining the diaristic with the conversational; writing with listening. What’s immediately obvious is that her practice departs from the purely stenographic. Conversations aren’t transcribed word for word. Instead, Denzer’s shorthand is the visual version of her own internal soundtrack, her reaction to what she hears. The exhibition is dominated by the act of listening to this internal monologue: transcribing the original audio to its graphic representation and back to the audio again.
Composer Peter Szely wrote a partitur based on the artist’s protocols by isolating phrases and words into individual voices and pitches. The resulting sound architecture in the gallery almost becomes an experiment in echolocation: Visitors walk around nearly bat-like in daylight. The recited statements take on a physical quality, acquiring a location, shape, height, even mass and density. By chance perhaps, Denzer, who has long worked with interview and narrative forms, scrawled in the top left corner of one page of notes, hanging on the wall ‘The voice itself is a kind of body’. And the phrase appears again in the top right corner, written from the top to the bottom of the page, as if she had been interrupted and were trying to revisit the thought anew.
Denzer has produced about 500 pages of these notes in the last six years under the title Aufzeichnungen (Notations, 2006–12). Only ten pages are displayed here, mostly covered in her looping, bubbly script. Sometimes, she adds light tracings of the paper’s grid pattern or fills in the grid squares with intense colours. Snatches of phrases read, ‘The Freudian slip; what does one slip?’ And ‘Dialoge sind einfach zu langweilig, zu … hin und her …’ (Dialogues are simply too boring, too … back and forth …). Whether these lines are based on a conversation or internal musings isn’t clear. When fused together, the lines raise the question of how precisely we can judge our own cognitive processes and experiences, or whether we can judge them reliably at all.
Denzer’s video of her performance packen (Packing, 2011) – screened in an adjacent room – shows the artist swiftly packing and folding a parachute, making the necessary measurements and adjustments against her body, as if the parachute were a large piece of clothing. The noise the material makes brushing against itself is unexpectedly abrasive, not unlike the sound of the peeling of old manila tape from cardboard boxes, only amplified. And as with Denzer’s audio-visual protocols, sound is again tantamount to creating a split kind of consciousness. Suddenly, one becomes aware of one’s own internal processing of experience – the visual versus the aural, in addition to the associations being triggered here – and how jarring it is that none of these match.