Artlyst was fortunate enough to attend the première of a rather special collaboration that was several years in the making. A project that brought together two of the world’s most influential and enduring cultural figures – artist Gerhard Richter and composer Arvo Pärt. Both men have made works inspired by and dedicated to the other and these were premièred at MIF15 in a special exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester – where both cultural luminaries were in attendance.
The exhibition is comprised of a suite of four new works by Richter, ‘Birkenau’ (2015) refers to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and apparently hidden beneath its painterly surface is a pencil drawing, copied from four photographs depicting piles of bodies.
The second work is ‘Doppelgrau’ (2014) – both are presented to the viewer with Arvo Pärt’s composition ‘Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima’ which was performed live in the gallery by the celebrated Estonian choir Vox Clamantis – and after the première by local choirs. Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival and the Whitworth, the exhibition is curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Alex Poots.
Richter and the Estonian composer Pärt seemed to be close, as they tested the boundaries between image and sound; Pärt’s choral work echoed through the gallery, sung by a choir that stood among us. The work refers to the visions of the Virgin that appeared to three shepherd children in rural Portugal in 1917, an event predicting the second world war, and prophesied the hell to follow.
Pärt’s ‘Drie Hirtenkinder aus Fatima’, is a rendition of the 8th Psalm (Alleluia, alleluia … Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength). The choir repeats the same song, a total of seven times in succession, yet subtly changing it on every occasion, as the choral sound is juxtaposed with Richter’s four grey diptychs, hanging opposite the Birkenau panels, these continue the dialogue concerning subtle difference that began with the choir’s different renditions of Pärt’s work – effected via the subtlety of ambient lighting.
The panels seem to be a reflection of something dark – as murky journalists reflect in the surfaces of the work as perhaps an echo of the serious tone of Pärt’s composition – as the piece seemed to darken with each rendition, yet it remained quite beautiful.
Both works reflect and sanctify the other; the irreligious scrambling of journalists ceased and the gallery space was transformed into hallowed ground, as the striations on Richter’s panels seemed to transform into patterned waves of sound.
Time is the key here – the combination takes painting and sound and creates a moving temporal installation – as we stood and reflected the passing of each moment while Richter’s works reflected the depths of the past like darkened tunnels, or masked its history with wavering abstraction.
Words, Audio and Photos: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 All rights reserved, additional images courtesy of the gallery.
Richter / Pärt – Manchester International Festival, Whitworth Gallery, Manchester – until 19 July 2015