The meaning depends on the contentlessness
︎Saskia Monshouwer

It would seem that mythological worlds have been built up only to be
shattered again, and that new worlds were built from the fragments

                        –The Structural Study of Myth, by Claude Lévi-Strauss

Rosie Heinrich’s studio is a small, high-ceilinged space in North Amsterdam. It is warm when I come to visit. She greets me heartily and walks down the hallway to make tea. At her suggestion, I take a look around. I am amazed. I am curious. Everywhere, there are notes on the wall. These are the beginnings of a work, a scenario – that much is clear. I read short segments of text: a sentence from an interview, then another sentence. Some of the comments are underlined. There are comments in a regular handwriting on A5 index cards. Comments are typed out. There is a mathematical formula on a large sheet of paper, and several photographs – beautiful, clear portraits of two roundish men with blonde hair and blue eyes, and a woman. The blonde contrasts with the light blue haze of the background. There are photographs of a landscape with low growth, in which white balls are scattered about. In another photograph, there is dark stone – later confirmed to be lava – with black balloons. The white and the black balloons resemble the patches you see when you have a migraine in your eyes, empty patches in your field of vision. A not seeing, which you only later realize is announcing something concrete, like a headache.

Rosie Heinrich creates sound works, films, performances and publications. The notes I describe here are a single, specific stage in the long, long process of the evolution of a work. They form the beginnings of a scenario, a piece of the puzzle, a part of the process in which numerous interviews are transformed into a work of art: a story, built up of the meaningful silences between the words, the sound of a voice, rhythm, stopgaps and gestures that convey the reality of a person. They are a ‘stream of sound and consciousness’ that, for It was big enough to get me completely inside (2012), clarifies something about a esoteric experience. For It's possibly the only way that I can walk through myself (2014), it was about what it means to live with manic depression.  In we always need heroes¶, it is about the financial crash that took place in Iceland in 2008, when the country’s three biggest banks went bankrupt. It is this most recent work, soon to premiere in Iceland, and which is being presented in installation form at puntWG, which we will be speaking of here. The notes and comments I described above are all part of this work.

‘The economic side of the crisis was one thing,’ says the artist. ‘But for the Icelanders themselves, it was more. The people I interviewed confirmed that for them, it was primarily about a social and cultural collapse. That is what I am trying to visualize: what the crisis meant in the greater social perspective. I peel away the myth and investigate the politics of perception. I reconstruct what people experience and think about reality. They tell the stories themselves, and I reconstruct their observations and collective fantasies. That statement by Claude Lévi-Strauss, that it seems like mythological worlds exist only to splinter apart, so that the fragments can be built into new stories, seemed like a motto for the Iceland project.

‘My work begins with the interviews. Depending on what those I interview can handle, they last for two or sometimes three or so hours. If all goes well, and the interview is interesting, I return to that person, often four or more times. I enjoy being in conversation; it is a way of learning about my subject while simultaneously collecting material that I can later work with. I love listening, giving people the space to talk about the specific subject of my project as well as deviating from the main topic, in whichever direction they find relevant. I take notice when  people formulate something in a beautiful way. I look for special moments that I can use later. As you can see here, I have transcribed everything. Even the uhs, ahs and ums, the silences and the unfinished words, the tiny gestures that may indicate a particular feeling. These moments become some of the starting points for the editing process of my films.’

Rosie Heinrich stands up and shows me a folder with the complete transcriptions from her interviews. Some sections of text are highlighted yellow, others annotated. She sits down at a computer and shows me a segment of film. Slow, black-and-white images of modernist buildings pass by. A woman, Birna Bragadóttir, is speaking: a beautiful, slow and carefully spoken voice set against a background of the archives of the National Library of Iceland. As the landscape and architecture move past like pieces of a puzzle, the people being interviewed speak. The subtitles dance. Rosie Heinrich takes the disentangled images and words and transforms them into typography and silence, subsequently weaving them all together. She even developed her own notation system so as to write down the sounds of stammers and stuttered repetitions within spoken language: symbols for a meta-dialogue.

It is truly exceptional to follow Rosie Heinrich’s linguistic expressions: the sound, the rhythm, the weight of voices. You immediately realize that stories are more than just sentences strung together. That, in our reading, writing, television-watching world, knowledge sometimes seems to be lacking. We forget that telling is more than a reconstruction of a reality bound by rules. It is itself a construct!

The work of Rosie Heinrich can be seen in the context of Wittgenstein’s game of language and the remarkable experiments of Georges Perec, an often misunderstood writer. It is not about ordering for its own sake: it is about the emotions that such orderings keep under control, that, despite all the fences and barriers apparently restraining the chaos, still come to the fore.