Tuning-3. Hildegard of Bingen
The mystical chants of a Benedictine nun in the surreal space of the Moscow artist Irina Korina’s sculpture invite spectators to a world of dreams, spiritual perfection, and a consideration of the meanings of modern life.
The writer, poet, doctor, linguist, naturalist, philosopher, and musician Hildegard of Bingen, canonised by the Catholic church in 2012, is perhaps the first composer to have had their biography preserved by history. Mystical visions that accompanied the future prioress of the Benedictine abbey of Rupertsberg from her youth were the basis for her magnum opus — the Scivias anthology (1151–1152), which describes in detail the entire cycle of existence from the creation of the universe to the Day of Judgement. In a 1917 study, the historian of science Charles Singer described Hildegard’s visions as follows: «In all [visions] a prominent feature is a point or a group of points of light, which shimmer and move, usually in a wavelike manner, and are most often interpreted as stars or flaming eyes. In quite a number of cases one light, larger than the rest, exhibits a series of concentric circular figures of wavering form.»
Hildegard of Bingen was the first composer in the western musical tradition to write scores to her own words, without drawing a clear line between words and sound. She thought in a syncretic manner, and thus contributed to an important tradition of European art, which would reach its culmination eight centuries later in the work of Richard Wagner. Hildegard of Bingen’s religious chants and their rich melodic ornaments were unusual for their time in their duration and expressive, personal intona-tion. Having nothing in common with the musical canon of the High Middle Ages, they were not properly appreciated until the end of the twentieth century: in the words of the philosopher and culturologist Sergei Averintsev, Hildegard of Bingen’s works «constructed a certain non-existent super-language, anticipating the word-creation experiments of modern times by many centuries.»
Irina Korina, a theatre artist by training, is well-known for her total installations, which borrow design elements from post-Soviet public spaces. By turning these inside out, inserting unexpected accents, and reassembling entire museum halls in accordance with her artistic tasks, Korina not only precisely defined visual codes but also revealed the central nerve of the era of rampant «evroremont» (European-style renovations) and how this style crept into all spheres of life and relations in society. In Korina’s opinion, the style of Russian design in the first decade of the twenty-first century set the tone of urban reality and influenced the deeply personal preoccupations of city-dwellers.
The Camouflage installation (2001) is one of Korina’s early works: the viewer enters a kind of heterotopia — a space of unclear purpose that bears traces of human activity. Camouflage resembles a theatre foyer or hotel lobby — a place where people were (perhaps) waiting for something, but left in a hurry. Among the patterns on the wallpaper, we discern photographs of people getting dressed or undressing; their number increases closer to the source of light, their figures flitting about like moths by a streetlight. Bags from markets and hardware stores seem to contain forgotten clothing, and mobile phones can be heard ringing from somewhere. This installation, which was conceived long before social networks became popular, explores the phenomenon of social camouflage, the imitation of desired social status, and the development of a public, external persona.
Irina Korina’s surrealist spaces are like dreams. Like the shining dots and concentric circles in Hildegard’s visions, the light fixtures of post-Soviet interiors recreate a lost, half-forgotten world. The mystic chants of the Benedictine nun resemble the total installations of the Moscow artist in their universal range and recognizable language — the first serves as an inspiration to spiritual betterment, the second as a contemplation of the meaning of modern existence.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)
Eleni-Lydia Stamellou, soprano
Olga Komok, psaltery
Recorded at Petersburg Recording Studio. Commissioned by V–A– C Foundation (2022)
Sound engineer Alexey Barashkin