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Haunted by a horse - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sun, May. 4th, 2008 09:35 am
Haunted by a horse

I was haunted on my trip to Denmark. Not by the ghost of a murdered king on the ramparts of Elsinore, but by some of the most mournful air conditioning systems I've ever heard. The bathroom in my room at the Cabin Hotel in Aarhus was filled with spine-tinglingly creepy sighing, as if a spirit were trapped under the shower drain. Later, the same spook seemed to follow me on the train to Fredericia.



Danish TV is already creepy enough, filled with the subtitled ghosts of old 80s American TV shows. I sought something more specifically Danish at the reconstructed village called Den Gamle By (The Old Town) and in the Aarhus art gallery, where I found the windswept 1930s canvases of Jens Sondergaard and Nils Lergaard satisfying, in a harrowing, windswept way. But the spookiest, most fascinating thing was the song that accompanied a 1970 Super 8 film of a horse being sacrificed out on the pack ice. I got obsessed with the mourning song about the horse, returning time and again to try and record bits of its strange open chords, its mournful shamanic singing, part Nico, part Bjork. And of course the wind, keening in the background.

Fluxus seems to have had tentacles everywhere -- the Danish wing was represented by people like Bjorn Norgaard, Lene Adler Petersen -- who made the horse film -- and the composer Henning Christiansen (right) who made the song that accompanies it. They came to Scotland with Joseph Beuys in the early 70s, invited by Richard Demarco, and you can hear the results (someone -- possibly Beuys himself -- tuning a piano in the courtyard of the Edinburgh Art College, for instance) on the Henning Christiansen page at Ubu.com. There's nothing quite like the Horse Song there, though perhaps Abschiedssymphonie comes closest; field recordings and vocal gestures mixed with piano composition and primitive scratching noises.



The Fluxus Danes killed a horse out on the ice partly as a protest against the pointless human sacrifice then going on in Vietnam, partly to "comment on the way in which museums accumulated our common heritage". You can actually see clips of the Super 8 film "Hesteofringen" -- warning: it's rather disturbing -- here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). I've made an mp3 of the song so that it can haunt you as it now haunts me:

The Horse Sacrifice, Henning Christiansen (stereo mp3 file)



I'd never heard of Henning Christiansen before, but you can read about him on this page -- how he attended the Darmstadt summer school in 1962, then hooked up with George Maciunas' crew in Wiesbaden and joined Fluxus, "embracing a multitude of disciplines verging on the political, including performance, painting and making music with stones, buckets of water, glass bowls, sheep, birds and tape delay". And here's a glimpse of a 2007 show he mounted. He's an old troll now with green ears, but still making music more haunting than the Danish air conditioning.

As for the horse, its spirit lives on; we don't need to look far to find new pointless wars for the poor beast to symbolize.

23CommentReply

microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 07:57 am (UTC)

Speaking of Hamlet, I find it quite amusing that Hamlet is a somewhat common Armenian name, which pops up now and then in business names. I remember a sign I would pass every day of a house for sale, that looked like this:
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
No mention of a last name, just one huge HAMLET and some specifics of the house. And that is the Hamlet pictured selling the house in my artistic representation! You could say he haunted me every time I went home I guess.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 07:59 am (UTC)

And by Armenian, I mean 1/3 of my town's population is Armenian so Hamlet is quite commonplace around these parts! Though no Ophelia's. :(


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seinneann_ceoil
seinneann_ceoil
seinneann_ceoil
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 08:13 am (UTC)

This doesn't seem to fit with the whole "ludic" playfulness that's supposed to permeate Fluxus. But I guess it is destruction art....


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
OH YOU TWIST IT AND TURN IT

MOMUS MOMUS WHEN YOU WERE IN DENMARK DID YOU MEET THOMAS TROELSEN??!

And when you did, did you twist it and turn it, twist it and burn it, slice it and burn it, and did you CRUCIFY HIS HEART??!


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 09:22 am (UTC)

Fabulous. We protest killing by killing something. But then the art world has always been something of an irony free zone.

I think what disturbs me about this is the literalness of it, for art to work it seems that there should always be an element of transmutation. This just feels like lazy thinking.

Prefer his green ear. A homage to Van Gogh I'll bet.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 09:57 am (UTC)

I think what disturbs me about this is the literalness of it

I don't think it's literal at all. Vietnam protest is only one of the putative themes, remember -- another is the museumification of ritual. And this action fits into the Joseph Beuys mode of shamanism. I'd say it's also about Danishness, about ancient and modern ways of being, about grief and collusion and that place where they meet, about rural and folk ways of life and animal husbandry (when our relationship with animals wasn't a sentimental one). There are obvious overlaps with what the Viennese Actionists were doing at the time too.

I think killing the horse was horrible, but there's no doubt that the song wouldn't haunt me quite the way it does if the animal hadn't died. Needless to say I'm against sacrifice and in favour of kindness to animals. But don't forget that we live in a culture not only posited on a religion based on a sacrifice -- "he died so that we may have eternal life" etc -- but in a world where vaguely-seen others are continually being sacrificed for our economic comfort. Not to mention that we all die as a kind of biological sacrifice to our children, if we have them. Sacrifice is still very much with us.


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 10:22 am (UTC)

The killing of the animal is, in some ways, the smallest part of my objection. We kill things for all sorts of reasons, clothing, conservation, to manufacture things like glue, perfume etc. Utility can have a range of meanings. It's just that I don't think that the act can carry the weight of the meaning you load upon it. This comes at least in part from my objection to much modern artistic practice - the whole business of the critic filling up the space left by the limitations of the art itself. But I'd better shut up now before I start sounding too much like Tom Wolfe.

It's all personal, of course - the scary thing about all this is how well the hoary old cliché "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" runs through cultural dialogue like marrow through bone. If it works for you then fine. It doesn't for me. I'd suspect that a song by you on the subject of all this would prove more interesting to me than the subject itself.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 10:48 am (UTC)

Vietnam was a mistake. I feel the killing of the horse was just too. If you're going to protest about war kill yourself.I'd understand your heart then. The horse only acts to bring protest to you, you can't hear the likes of us when you're dead. FACT

Iraq needs a horse.

I'm off to email Kerry Catona to see if she'll be the "horse" for this generation. I'll mutter something about £10,000 and a front cover shot for Ok!.

I'll keep you posted.


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 11:55 am (UTC)
They shoot celebrities, don't they?

I dare say Kerry will be gone in a shot, at this point a chicken balti takeaway and twenty fags would have lassooed her... if not we shouldn't have too much problem finding another 26th rate ultra-famous-for-nothing celeb to dispatch.


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bikerbar
bikerbar
bikerbar
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 11:09 am (UTC)

Interesting sychronicity between this post and the death of a horse at the Kentucky derby .. the animals are driven too hard, its a garish spectacle, a bit too pumped up. America at the time of the Vetnam war was just beginning the descent into mediated spectacle, now we are ghosts in the machine.

And the sacrifice of this horse in Denmark had little to do with Vietnam, I would wager, and more to do with the longing for some pagan masculine bonding through death ... oh wait thats Vietnam too, freaky ..

have a look:
The Teeth Mother Naked at Last
by Robert Bly


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obliterati
obliterati
Night of the Living Dave
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 05:33 pm (UTC)

Agreed about the Kentucky Derby, it seems strange that Danish television happened to be playing this at the same time American viewers were watching Eight Belles die in the most publicized horse race around.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 06:32 pm (UTC)

Oh, it wasn't on Danish TV, it was a video installation in the Aarhus modern art museum. The remains of the horse were right there in jars, Damien Hirst style (but a good twenty years before his shark).


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 12:35 pm (UTC)
Haunted by a horse

the horse in tarkovski's andrey rublyov -falling off a high church staircase or something like that;obviously pushed- did it for me ages ago.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 12:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Haunted by a horse

Or Eisensteins dead white horse in october, lifted high by the mechanical bridge structure.


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youllstillbe
RQ
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
tv

90210 is still the defining resource for youth culture here in Denmark. It is shown every day and when they run out of episodes, they simply show it again from the start.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
frou frou

Another April

The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let our eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak's great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust.

-Merrill

There was a youtube of the Frantisek Zapasy film you saw in Prague that showed a white horse stuck in the mud in an open field, but I can't find it anymore :(


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
Re: frou frou

Something about that haunting horsey dirge reminded me of Cental Park West.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/51205726@N00/34354317/in/set-72157600168168733/ Please could you tell me some bits about this photo? Where were you in performance, and anything else surrounding it?

Thank you,
Ria.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)



Oh my God, I didn't know any photos of me that long ago existed!

I think this is probably taken in 1988. I'm wearing my MA1 bomber jacket and playing a borrowed or rented guitar. I think it's a London pub, but I have no idea which one.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
SKINNER?

I have always and always will hate those platypus guitars.

Lowden or nothing.

Although nice touch matching your belt and the head of the guitar PERFECTLY.


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC)

That's a nice photo.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Mon, May. 5th, 2008 02:38 am (UTC)

I've always wondered about that picture, too! Though I've always been a little shy in asking about these kinds of things.


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Mon, May. 5th, 2008 02:36 am (UTC)

surprised nobody has mentioned Guillermo Vargas yet!


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