KATHLEEN FORDE & Emily Berçir Zimmerman

You often speak of a shift in political perspective or worldview with respect to Float! Could you be more specific about some of the paradigms you think would benefit from this shift in perspective . . . for example, are you thinking about the current economy or a specific region of political power?

Mainly I think of the idea of “gaining awareness” as a political act. There´s a paradigm in certain strands of political activism that suggests that a political act consists of a concerted action carried out by preferably more than one person and that this action at its best should contain a symbolic political message.

I don´t think one necessarily needs a grand gesture to gain political relevance in one’s actions. There are a lot of people that want to change things out there but maybe they have a more cautious nature. There are a lot of ways to do things once one is aware of that range. I think that little changes in everyday life, concerning, for instance, economical and/or ecological behavior can force hierarchies to change. But you have to be aware of what you are doing and why. Awareness is the most important condition for that. At this point, consequences are very likely to follow.

Speaking specifically to political power, I always find it hard to bear when politicians take over certain core areas or topics for which they claim responsibility. They personally benefit from this focus for a while when things seem to be going well and yet if things change for the worse, suddenly no one is to blame. Responsibility is sourced out to a multilayer construction of “global necessities.”

Indeed the current global crisis with its bailed-out “Too-Big-To-Fail Banks” has a special resonance. For the first time, at least in this century, people of all countries are simultaneously confronted with the ignorance and corruption of the predominant western political-economic system. I follow this in Germany and a bit in the US. The popular outrage is in both countries present. In a strange way, it unites people internationally. This could be frustrating certainly, but with a different view or perspective it could bear a potential for novel solutions and new ways forward.

Before taking on this commission, did you ever experience a flotation tank session?

No. I just read a lot about it. I visited a tank when I was drafting the idea for the installation to mentally and bodily have an impression of this. Meanwhile, I also experienced a couple of sessions. Some were really impressive experiences. (Actually, I have a tank session tomorrow evening.)

What was your experience like the first time you floated in a flotation tank?

The first experience was a bit claustrophobic in the beginning. One has to get used to the environment. After a while, I had strong acoustic sensations which I eventually realized was the sound of my blood pulsing through my ears and my heart. The heartbeat is a familiar rhythm of course but it took me a while to figure out what that low white noise was. Mentally, it was a rather meditative experience.

You mentioned Sun Ra as being influential when thinking about this piece and include his book in the context section of your installation. Can you talk a little bit more about this relationship?

“I´m not interested in what is possible, I´m interested in what is impossible“ is an idiosyncratic quote by Sun Ra. He turned towards outer space and infinity for his exploration that he often refers to as “The Unknown.“ You could equate this with a quest to seek the potential in everything or perhaps an interest in looking for solutions that seem irrational or strange.

Float! and the use of the isolation-tank within the installation seems to have parallels to this way of thinking in that being in the tank provides a bodily and mental perception that refers to the idea of being in outer space. Nevertheless, since it contextualizes politics that seem to be contradictory on first sight, you might consider it a vehicle that longs for rational thinking. It is not. In the way that music to Sun Ra was the medium of a human ritual, the tank is a vehicle (or having the new experience of being in the tank is the vehicle) to perhaps even avoid rational thinking, but much more so to dissolve common patterns of mental and bodily thinking.

Regardless, Sun Ra is a great musician and composer and in a way his work gives me the feeling of familiarity. This could be because music and sound is the same background I come from.

You create a distinction between organized political action and everyday action in a manner that bears affinity to the division of strategic and tactical action in Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. Have his writings informed your thinking about this project at all?

Although Michel de Certeau wasn´t my primary influence while working on the layout of Float!, I agree that in retrospect the idea of tactical behavior, respectively to disrupt the strategic practices of the powerful through tactical actions in everyday life, is a conception that is apparently related. In tandem with thinking of the categories above, the installation piece addresses the mental (and bodily) process that might lead to tactical behavior. I think of this precedent process as relevant, politically speaking. I also would like to play with the thought that the strict distinction between tactical and strategic behavior (in the sense of Michel de Certeau) might be blurred in recent years. I see a reason for this being the potential that the internet is providing the individual as an accessible, bidirectional communication-and-distribution apparatus.

Can you say more about the relationship of mental and bodily thinking in Float!? Was the dissolution you mentioned important in your initial conceptualization of the piece?

Let´s think of the situation within the tank: your body will be exposed to weightlessness, you float in saltwater, the air around you has the same temperature as your body and you are, at least for most of the time during such a session, deprived of visual and acoustic impulses. That means you don´t see anything in the tank and it is silent around you. So the whole situation is very intimate. On the other hand the same environment provides a certain wideness and freedom just because your senses are not fed anymore. I think this is a very special situation concerning the interplay of body and mind. With respect to my own floating tank experiences I can say that they differed from each other. Some were very impressive and had to do with rather irrational mental impressions. Nevertheless, all sessions felt quite comfortable to me. But the irrational part of thinking that appeared is the appealing part to me. So you could say that Float! provides a framework, a context, that relates to being in the state of zero gravity with your body and mind. The context is political awareness. At the very beginning of the tank-session you condition yourself with an image or an idea of that context. Then you mainly just have to relax, which sometimes is hard enough to do.

How do the two aspects of this installation – the flotation tank and the context area – complement one another?

The floating tank is an environment that can be entered and that can be experienced. It demands a certain time and attention and I very much appreciate the idea that someone maybe spends an hour within this piece. At the same time the tank is the necessary precondition for the speech performance that will ultimately be on display in the context area.

In general I like the idea that a sculpture or an installation consists of functional elements that are exposed to interaction or simply can be used by the audience. In this sense the context area provides the audio archive of the speeches along with a variety of books and further material that is relevant for the piece and that can be looked into right on site.

What would an ideal response from an audience member be to your two commissions?

The ideal response is that there is simply a person who is interested in the idea of Float! who is willing to try it out. There is nothing as defined as a desired “result“ of being in the tank. There is the intention to deliver an impulse that is inherent in Float!. The gesture of an audience willing to expose themselves to this is the initial step. Of course I want attendees of the tank to have an extraordinary experience.

With regards to the audio-speeches I think it would be a successful moment if someone considers it after they leave the tank, maybe speaks about it . . . if it becomes a communicator in some way . . . or a basis for a new thought that is interesting enough to play with.

Artist interviews were conducted via email correspondence between the artists, Kathleen Forde, and Emily Berçir Zimmerman. Several questions were posed at the outset, and the artists’ responses to those questions became the source for further discussion.