Kunstsammlung NRW
Richie Hawtin und Andreas Gursky in der Ausstellung, Foto: Johannes Krämer

Richie Hawtin: "The Art of DJing" – when art and the sound installation encounter another in space

The harmonious interplay of visual and architectonic aspects with electronic music is decisive for the Canadian DJ Richie Hawtins, and this interest finds an artistic highpoint in the sound installation Gursky Modular 2 (2016), created especially for Andreas Gursky.

For #32, Noura Dirani describes the relationship between this musician and the fine arts, and presents a track produced specifically for the Gursky exhibition at the K20. An exclusive offering: readers can listen to the piece on this webpage.  

Since the 1990s, the Canadian music producer and DJ Richie Hawtin has been known for innovations in the realms of electronic music and technological musical instruments. His interest in the relationship between visual signs and auditory frequencies has played a consistent of role in his creative production.



Richie Hawtin, photo: Sebastian Drüen

With his life multimedia performances, given under the pseudonym "Plastikman," Hawtin offered visitors their first audiovisual experience of electronic music. His stage performances incorporate architectural elements and lighting effects that correspond to his music, and which seemed to mirror the bodily movements of the musicians, themselves almost performative in character.

Already with "Contain" (1998), Hawtin – appearing as "Plastikman" – processed his spatial and architectural experiences of the late 1990s: inspired by the work of Mark Rothko, whose application of paint evokes the experience of the sublime in viewers, and by the sculptures of Anish Kapoor, Hawtin became increasingly interested in relationships with the surrounding space.

In recent years, Hawtin has produced sound installations and performances for the Grand Palais in Paris (2011) and the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2013), among others, through which he responds to the specific spatial characteristics of the specific site, while at the same time investigating the reciprocal influences between technology and contemporary art.

The installation of works by Andreas Gursky at the Kunstsammlung NRW

In summer of 2016, Hawtin created a minimalist sound installation especially for the exhibition Andreas Gursky – nicht abstrakt at the K20 of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, which was designed to accompany Gursky's photographic work. Andreas Gursky himself perceives analogies between the rhythmic sound patterns of electronic music and the abstract forms of his photography, both involving series, patterns, and repetition. Through these strategies, this artist seeks to endow his images with immediacy. Hawtin has responded to Gursky's photographs with a sound installation that fills the space with rhythm far less than it attempts to translate visual 'empty spaces' into the realm of the auditory. This audible equivalent seems to enhance the effectiveness of the images, inviting visitors to linger.



Installation view at the K20, photo: Achim Kukulies
Installation view at the K20, photo: Achim Kukulies


The sound installation Gursky Modular 2

In the exhibition space itself, however, the loudspeakers that are the source of these audited frequencies are not visible to visitors. They were built into the walls of the exhibition galleries, hence becoming vibrating membranes that act as counterparts to Gursky's images. With the Cocoon series, Gursky created images that seem to translate musical experience directly: the repetitive, gleaming metallic structures of the curving, honeycombed sound walls of a music club literally pulsate in harmony with the rhythms of the electronic music.

We would like to thank Richie Hawtin and his studio for making available the track "Gursky Modular 2," which we are documenting here in conjunction with installation photos of the exhibition.

The author Noura Dirani is an art historian who has been a research intern at the Kunstsammlung since autumn of 2015. Together with the artists and their teams, she worked intensively on this exhibition at the K20.

Opening on November 10, 2016 at the Gagosian Gallery in New York is the successor exhibition of works by Andreas Gursky, entitled "Not Abstract II." Richie Hawtin collaborated on this show as well.