work-in-process: learning to listen?

October 5, 2020 Hannah Perner-Wilson

The first in a series of work-in-process conversations with the S&&O masters students Anna Vera Kelle and Leoni Voegelin, who are currently amid a collaborative process of developing work that will be shown as part of Theater der Dinge at Schaubude Berlin as well as at the next S&&O group presentation on 7.10.2020.

This conversation took part on Discord over the course of one week, where I wrote them one (or sometimes two) question at a time and they responded individually. The conversation bellow is raw and unedited.


HPW_ In both your written masters thesis you demonstrate your abilities to situate your own thinking within contemporary theoretical discourses. using language as a material for communicating your ideas. but you are also makers of technological things and creators of situations. before i ask you about the piece you are currently collaborating on, i wanted to ask how you manage (or how you experience) the transition (the back and forth) between making & thinking?

AVK_ That’s exactly the stage we are facing right now. how to transition our thoughts into an experience. For me this is what theatre is about to translate thoughts and ideas into a situation and experience. In a way it’s a way of proving the ideas. when ideas don’t turn out it brings us back to the question, is it the idea that doesn’t work or is it the translation that doesn’t work?

But I’m somehow avoiding your question.
Maybe these are the steps:
– theoretical idea/issue and the question why do we want to address this on stage?
– looking for examples of it in the world that surrounds us
– how can we translate the example into an artificial and condensed experience?
– making/building – testing/proving

LV_Was für eine passende Frage. I think this ist the troubelshooting we have to go through right now and it is not easy. The making level has to keep up with the thinking level, because it is how we want to express ourselfes in the end. Before we can create situations for others, for an audience, we have to find ways to create situations for us, that allow us to make (technological things). So maybe the question is, if we have to make it for ourselfes – not only first, sondern in total? I guess only if we manage this step, it is also a Mehrwert and an interesting experience for others, because it deals with things we have been engaged with, it deals with a process of thinking and making.


HPW_ “The making level has to keep up with the thinking level” oh, i like this statement. it is something i experience in my own work. and often choose materials&techniques that allow for my making to keep up with my thinking. like apples and toothpicks….. ATtiny microcontrollers and paper….. LEDs and honey….
so now i’m super curious to ask you to introduce the piece you are currently collaborating on. what are the ideas that brought you together, what materials might you use to translating them into “an artificial and condensed experience”? and what does your workspace look like!?

AVK_ We are into non-human agents and how we can invite them into theatre performances. The topic of festival Theater der Dinge at Schaubude Berlin this year is “Künstliche Körper” and they ask “Wie verändert die digitale Transformation unsere Vorstellungen und unsere Bilder von Körpern?”. We started to ask ourselves where our body starts and where it ends and how we can use digital instruments like microcontroller and sensors to explore that and how our body communicates with our surrounding without us even noticing. They invited us to present our exploration there.

LV_ The questions that we are engaged with are questions that deal with perception. How do we react to our surroundings is something we might think of if we walk along the noisy streets of Berlin. But how does our surrounding world react to us is more tricky to answer. It all depends on which scale you want to anwer this question. But what we share as a thought is, that there are reactions and they perpetuate. There are not only actions and reactions, there is much more, that is not as obvious and as traceable like the first. To answer your question about what the piece might become; we want to create a space bzw. a situation, where you trigger actions or reactions by beeing present and therefore enter a Handlungsraum. You can call it an observatory of your own body and it’s influence on your surrounding. But think it small. We are still exploring

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HPW_ theories of non-human actors, more-than-human agency, new materialism…. have opened our minds to believing that different perspectives on life are equally valid and valuable. these theories have made us hungry for experiencing life as many material realities. what attracts you to theories of non-human agency? why do you think it is important to share and explore these theories with others? what potential do you see these theories hold for contributing to more desirable futures?

AVK_ For me it’s really about getting rid of some ideas of the enlightment that support ideas of (natural) hierachies, humans dominating the world as well as the absurd idea of objectivity. I mean it’s funny that we actually believe that we can look from outside and pretend not to be part of. The idea of objectivity is strongly connected to domination and would be great to create experiences that don’t reproduce this phenomena. I think the discourses you mentioned can help us with that. Also to see (global) social issues and the climate change as part of the same problem.Bruno Latour describes that really catchy in his book “Das terrestrische Manifest”.

LV_ I am going with Anna Vera. There are physical laws and social agreements which we consider important and which define our space and our interactions. But what puzzles and fascinates me is how other living beings, spaces and situations are structured. How they develop and change. How is interaction and action for others, more-than-humans? Of course I can only try to understand, but it is a beginning. The becoming-with of things becomes more and more important and we have also to understand that we do not live in a vacuum. Maybe we can learn from our environment how things can work. By acknowledging others, we can ask ourselves questions about our world. What are our laws and agreements? What are our problems and possibilities? This system may not necessarily be balanced, but what it is, in any case, is a collection of a multitude of beings and of successive moments.

Here you can see Leoni experimenting with a microphone sensor and a piezo that “responses” to the data the microphone sensor depicts. Also, she is wearing the breathing
-belt that is connected to a vibration motor that moves salt on an overhead projector. That’s what makes the moving dots as well as the buzzing sound. I always think of insects or microbes when I look at it.

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HPW_ it sounds like the interactive experience you are developing for the Theater der Dinge is driven by this hunger to experience other realities through more bodily encounters. you are building technology to extend our human ability to perceive our entangledness with the world, but you don’t know what experiences it will enable. in this sense your work is part experiment. are you also experimenting on yourselves as part of the development process? and if so, what are some first results that you can share?

AVK_ I experimented a lot with a self-made breathing-belt in the past month. It was quite frustrating, because it often didn’t really do what I expectedit to do. I felt everytime I put in on and opened the sketch, it did something else. At some point I realized that I am while trying to depict communication at the same time experience the borders of communication. I also realized that working with sensors is alot about in this case me interpreting my breath as well as the data the sensor depicts. (Which brings us back to the non-sense idea of objectivity.)

LV_ Yes it’s an experiment. At the moment first an experiment of thought and then it becomes physical. Sometimes I think it should be the other way around because then you can explore. If we really want to experience we should not judge or be biased and this works best if we haven’t thought of it in advance. This I can say here in an interview, but it’s not as easy as it sounds! Experimenting with a process and being open and not knowing what will come out in the end, is also a bit scary and it requires a lot of confidence, I not always have. Often the successes are really small but I even make a Freudenjump when a LED is lighting up. I like the LEDs. Because it can be a little light, but what happens in the background is that all the sensors get a different input on light, sound, vibration etc and I know, I am receiving them.

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HPW_ @AVK it sounds like your frustration, “because (the textile sensor) often didn’t really do what I expected it to do”, could be an experience of the agency of another material. the textile sensor you are using knows nothing of your breathing the way you know it….. but still you choose to work with it because it allows you to translate the movement of your chest (via the movement of it’s fibers) into changing electrical signals. 

@LV you write of maybe a similar experience, when you say that “not knowing what turns out in the end is also a bit scary and it requires a lot of confidence”. the blinking of an LED, while satisfying, might be contributing to our “non-sense idea of objectivity”. simplicity & objectivity might be providing us with a false sense of confidence, that we need to relinquish if we wish to work with other materials on different terms.

what it would be like to choose the materials & technologies we work with, not based on how well their performance meets our expectations, but on what we hope we might learn from them. as leoni wrote “…to learn from our surrounding , how things can also work (otherwise?)“ – meaning as makers we should also be good listeners in order to take in all there is to be learned.

given these thoughts……. could you speak of something you learned last week from your material collaborators?

LV_ You are very right with your statement about objective blinking and good listening. I have learned (and am still learning) that you have to be precise even if you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes I tend to interpret everything the way I want to see it and am not really attentive to what is going on. Last week I even cheated, I don’t know what happend, but I faded out some parts and overlooked others because it didn’t meet my expectations! Really not what it is all about..

AVK_ what I learn: patience and accuracy in observing them and “communicating” with them….

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HPW_ this is not the first time you collaborate. what do you enjoy about working together? maybe you can mention something you have learned from the other by working together.

AVK_ About Leoni I appreciate her sensitive and intuitive approach to ideas as well as materials, her cinematic sense, her knowledge about art (history) and her ability to contextualize on the one hand and to practice lateral thinking on the other. I learn from her to give and take time and that probing if you can’t follow a certain approach initialize a lot new ideas.

LV_ I appreciate working together with Anna Vera. When we work together, there are two different backgrounds, opinions and positions towards the world, and I really enjoy getting to know Anna Veras Sicht der Dinge. She is very much precise and pushes me to rethink things that are often not thought through. I think this also makes her a good coder… She’s logical where I am not so much. I also like the fact that we do things together, we are a team. What I also like very much about working with her is that when something is on her mind, it really grows and every morning she comes away with more thoughts about it and new aspects of it that we didn’t think about before. She has a thousand things on her mind at the same time, and I can’t always follow her pace. But she listens to me, and if I can make an argument (and if it has a little logic in it), she appreciates it very much and takes it further. What I mean to say is that she is not stubborn at all when there is intellectual debate about ideas, she takes up what she thinks makes sense. And, excuse me, one last thing, she is straightforward and fearlessly tackles any problem that may arise.

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HPW_ naming things now seems a very human act. have you given your experiment a title yet? did you involve any non-human-actors in the namensgebung?

AVK_ we have several names, and they are changing time by time but the official one is EARTHBOUNDS. It’s quite a literal name that includes all actors that are bound to earth, I guess…