Concrete, & The Smear
Ola Ståhl / PS Malmö (2008-2010)

The Atlantic Wall is a defense structure spanning across France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Norway, thus covering much of the Atlantic coast in Europe. Dating back to the Second World War, it was erected by the German Nazi regime to protect occupied territory from allied invasion. In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, work began on the Danish stretch of the Atlantic Wall. Danish construction companies and Danish labourers were hired en masse to ensure as swift a construction as possible of the bunkers, depots, radar towers, etc. that came to populate the designated stretch of land. Although at the end of the war, the extension of the defense structure into Denmark and Norway had yet to be completed, this massive construction project left much of the Atlantic coast in the region scattered with concrete bunkers and other similar structures. Difficult to blow up or even to conceal, many of these structures are now left on beaches, increasingly sinking into the sand with erosion, and in groves, parks and woodlands in and around coastal cities and towns, where they offer both an interesting, often redundant and derelict yet fairly versatile, architectural space and an eerie reminder of a historical trauma involving and intertwining military occupation and ambiguously ‘pragmatic’ collaboration policies.

Taking the dual perspective offered by the bunker as a physical structure – its hollow interior and the vantage point of its flat roof – as a point of departure, Concrete, & The Smear sets out to develop a text premised on three different trajectories or positions of writing: First, the enclosed, hollow receptacle of the bunker structure itself is pursued in a text that departs from the physical structure and sets off to explore soldiers’ testimonies of what life was like in these bunkers and a wide range of images of such receptacle like spaces in philosophy and literature (Plato’s concept of the Chora, for instance, later picked up on by Kristeva and Derrida; Deleuze & Guattari’s notion of a smooth space as well as that of a Body without Organs; Johan Jönson’s continuous reference to actual bunkers in Restaktivitet; Ulrike Meinhof’s notes so vividly describing the bunker-like conditions in Stammheim, etc.). Second, the cartographical perspective offered by the vantage point of the flat roof of the bunker is explored in terms of aggregates of lines constructed between bunkers, worked through in the text in the form of inventories, lists, references to archival material related to German military and strategic concerns, the actual construction work, and the visits and reports of Danish and allied officials to the sites following the German defeat. Third, the often derelict structures that now remain are engaged with choreographically, as stages for movement (walking between and climbing bunkers, entering and exploring bunkers, etc.), and as structures with very specific affective and acoustic properties.

The tripartite text assemblage thus composed was then used to produce an audio collage taking as its point of departure a series of live recordings of the texts being performed on top of and within bunker structures around Blåvand, near the Dainsh city Esbjerg. These recordings, which include the ‘natural’ sound environments around and the acoustical properties of the bunkers, have been edited, remixed and modified in different ways in sound collages used alongside graphic works based on architectural drawings of bunker models, in an installation exhibited at Esbjerg Art Museum, Denmark, in 2008. For the installation, small speaker heads were attached to the windows of the facade of the building facing the inner courtyard turning the facade into a sounding membrane of sorts. Accompanied by simple vinyl shapes attached to the window glass referencing the architectural drawings of one of the most common bunkers, the sound installation thus turned the inside and outside of the building into two different soundscapes echoing the structures and properties of the bunkers themselves. In 2009 an additional remix, featuring recordings made at bunker structures in the Swedish regions Österlen and Bjäre, was created for an exhibition at NEON Gallery in Brösarp, Sweden, where a tall silo was turned into an audiovisual environment in which the sound would oscillate between sets of speakers placed just beneath the ceiling and below the floors, with videos featuring the collages of texts and graphics projected onto the curved walls. In 2010 additional field recordings from bunker complexes in the Marin Headlands, California, USA, were incorporated into the project which was then featured in a sound art program / installation curated by SoundFjord for Swedish Dragonfly Festival and on the CD release Alternating Current (London, SoundFjord, SF001). A final installment of the project took the form of an artist’s book produced for the exhibition Drift of Summer at RM Gallery and Projects, Auckland, New Zealand (2010) containing parts of the project archives in the form of texts, graphic collages, maps, edited audio recordings and remixes.

Esbjergs kunstmuseum
Esbjerg, Denmark, 2008

Signals [the excrements, they pile up and freeze]
Front [the beach, the roadblocks that bind us]
Animals [you hear it, it’s an animal’s voice]
There’s movement [after the first sleep of the night]
Paths [pearls of sweat traversing his forehead]
There is movement [no vowels, no consonants, no letters [letters are insects beneath your skin], that’s the way to do it]
Passage [shoe prints in the concrete, a drawing of an Edelweiss flower on the wall]
Concrete [the bunker is what was there the sun and there’s another sun, a black one]
One thing and another [Lili Marleen]
The bunker [this is his true crime]
The smear [an entirely different gravity, one that eliminates all organs and all bodies and your teeth too]

NEON Gallery
Brösarp, Sweden, 2009

Concrete, & The Smear from Ola Ståhl on Vimeo.

RM Gallery & Project Space
Auckland, New Zealand, 2010