A Sound and Light Mise-en-Scène of a World in Shadow
Werner Cee, Klaus Grünberg, Beate Schüler
DARKNESS1816 is a sound and light installation by Beate Schüler, Werner Cee and Klaus Grünberg that looks back at the extraordinary weather phenomena that characterized the year 1816. Serving as points of departure are the apocalyptic poem “Darkness”, which Lord Byron wrote in 1816 under the impression of the events in question, American patents of the era for techniques of manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere, and soundscapes and field recordings. The lighting will interact with these sounds and texts, with colours oscillating between idyllic and infernal.
During the year 1816, it was unusually cold and dark in large parts of the Northern Hemisphere. In Europe, Asia and North America, extreme rainfall, frost and snow destroyed crops and led to famine, sickness and death. People were not aware of the true cause of all this: the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Mount Tambora in April 1815, an explosion 170,000 times stronger than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, had triggered one of the largest known climate catastrophes in human history. In addition to the immeasurable destruction wrought by earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia, the “Year Without a Summer” had a significant impact on all areas of social and political life throughout large areas of the world, not least in the realms of art and literature.
The new atmospheric phenomena of the year 1816 left their mark in the worlds of literature and painting, inspiring authors such as Lord Byron to write the apocalyptic poem “Darkness” and Mary Shelley to begin her novel "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus", and painters like William Turner and Caspar David Friedrich to document the unusually intensive colours of the sky in their landscape paintings. The object or subject depicted no longer occupied the centre of these artists’ work; instead, light and colour themselves, the atmospheric realm “between things”, took its place. The artists themselves remained unaware of the reason why nature had changed. It was not until the twentieth century that scientists were able to discover a cause in the eruption of Mount Tambora.
The audience wanders through a pale, smouldering world of archaic, violent electronic sounds, of thunderstorms, fairytale tunes and romantic dark images. The production connects poetry with passages of text from historical accounts of the volcanic eruption and of the subsequent year of disaster. Inspired by the explosive colours of the sunsets in Romantic painting the site-specific light installation pulls you into the glowing brightness of a setting world.