Saturday 5 May 2012

Hearsay of The Soul

Hearsay of the Soul by Werner Herzog, at the Whitney Museum Bienial.

Installation: five-channel digital projection of twenty etchings by Hercule Segers.

Music by Ernst Reijseger.
  • 'A Una Rosa' with lyrics in the Wolof language by Mola Sylla, from Requiem for a Dying Planet
  • 'Shadow' from the Cave of Forgotten Dreams - an exerpt from Werner Herzog's film Ode to the Dawn of Man - featuring Ernst Reijseger (cello) Harmen Fraanje (organ)
  • 'Dank Sie Gott' (Georg Friedrich Handel), featuring contralto Emmi Leisner, from Requiem for a Dying Planet.

 17th century Durch artist Hercules Segers (1590-1638), a contemporary of Rembrandt, is all but unknown today. For the film maker Werner Herzog, though, Seger signifies nothing less than the beginning of modernity.

 "It is time that we make a pilgrimage to the work of Hercules Segers, the father of modernity in art. Sometimes great visionaries appear who seem to anticipate the course of our culture, like the pharaoh Akhenaten, who, in addition to creating a new style of art in ancient Egypt, was more than a thousand years ahead of his time as a monotheist. Or, like Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa, who, four hundred years ago, in his sixth book of Madrigals, created music that leads straight to the 20th century. The list is extendable: Holderlin, who as a poet went to the outer limits of human language, or Turner, predecessor of the Impressionists."

"Seger's images are like hearsay of the soul. They are like flashlights held in our uncertain hands, a frightened light that opens breaches into the recesses of a place that seems somewhat known to us: ourselves. We morph with these images. Caspar David Friedrich recognised this for himself: "I have to render myself to what surrounds me", he said. "I have to morph into a union with the clouds and the rocks, in order to be what I am"."

 "Personally, I owe Hercules Segers a lot. An installation of projections of some of his small prints, together with music of composer/cellist Ernst Reisjeger, should transform images into music, and music into images. Segers' and Resijeger's ecstasies morph into each other".


  "I have a suspicion that a distant echo resonates in a few moments of my own work. Hercules Seger's images and my films do not speak to each other, but for a brief moment, I hope, they might dance with each other".

The images projected here were produced around 1630 and demonstrate the imaginative power of Seger's landscapes. The vastness of the imagery, bordering on abstraction, is met with the artist's representation of interiority -- a combination heralding an  approach to image-making that would not become widespread for hundreds of years.


"His landscapes are not landscapes at all: they are states of mind; full of angst, desolation, solitude, a state of dreamlike vision."

"They create an illumination inside of us, and we instantly know that this is not a factual truth, but an ecstatic one".

A short video of part 3 of the installation, 'Dank Sie Gott', featuring Emmi Leisner. Unfortunately I could not find videos of the other 2 parts. The section with the cello was awesome.

This was an arresting experience: it was very moving as it communicated some great sorrow and longing.  It allowed you to give in to the experience which became all encompassing. It was sublime.


  1. I used to think that I didn't like video art / installations, but have realised that, like other forms of art, there are both good and bad examples. This looks interesting. The images and music seem to go together well. I'm quite jealous of yo getting to go over to New York - there seems to have been so much to see and experience.

    1. I feel the same about video art/installations and tend to avoid them. Like you however, I feel I should give them a chance as I have seen some excellent examples. I saw some stunning ones by Kostas Tsoklis in Athens a few years ago. David Hockney's film in 'A Bigger Picture' was very very god and I would really like to see the one about the 25(?) trees that you mention in one of your posts.

      The Herzog film was stunning: I was mesmerized. Part of it was featured in Herzog's feature film 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' so I want to try and see that.

      As for New York, it was quite an experience and I want to go back. We were meant to go this time last year, but had to cancel and that was a great disappointment. We managed it this year though and it was such a pleasure! So, things worked out in the end.

  2. It was bewitching.