Robert Stokowy’s Structures (Albuquerque) are performative, radically site-specific sound installations. There are eight of them in Albuquerque Open Space land around the city. Each piece, or score, uses the elements that are already there. You put them together when you arrive. Stokowy says there is no right or wrong way to do it.
Weekly Alibi sat down with Robert Stokowy, who came from Berlin to install this work, near one of his pieces opening this weekend at the Rio Grande Nature Center to get a better idea about land art, soundscapes and how Stokowy’s work empowers each of us to make our own art. The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Weekly Alibi: Are all the pieces like this? There isn’t a physical form?
Robert Stokowy: The sign itself with the instructions and the text with the piece is kind of a prompt. It is a starting point. All of the eight (pieces) are text based. They are all conceptual. You as the reader, as the recipient, have to read it, you have to listen, you have to see, you have to feel and you have to take a little bit of time. The piece is taking a risk in a way that I ask the person to say, “Okay, maybe I don’t even understand. Conceptual art. Land art. What is that? There is nothing there.”
The easiest way to deal with art is when you put something in a place, and it’s just there. You can walk around it, you can look at it, you can touch it, but if you are the one who is asked to really create it yourself, it is empowerment, but it also asking a lot of the person, timewise, creative wise. It is energy that you have to put into that. I assume that some people will just go, look at it and say “that’s not for me,” but other people might really like it.
Exactly. At first there is nothing there, and you have to create it.
Of the eight, are there ones that differ significantly from each other?
Yes. Some of them, like the one right here [at Rio Grande Nature Center] are very applied, more naturalistic. It’s using the river. It’s using the material like a branch. There are some pieces that are much more abstract. For instance, the one in the Foothills (Sandia Foothills–Embudo Trail). If you look at the ground, we perceive the ground visually as solid, but if you actually look at it from a very small angle, you have all of these rocks being smushed together. There are always little gaps. There is a lot of air in there.
Exactly. That there is a lot of air in what we perceive as very solid is an interesting aspect. I take it from there to a more abstract approach of saying, “let’s think about that.” Where there is air, there are particles that can resonate. Is there something resonating in the ground? Can we extend that hypothetical or speculative experience in a piece? That’s what I did. You really have to think about it and come to a cognitive perception of that happening. Of the nature around you pulsating. I think that is a very abstract approach to it that still says something about how the environment is.
Did Open Space approach about this project or did you approach them?
I approached them. All the installations I do, and have done, have always been self-organized.
Why were you drawn to the city of Albuquerque?
It’s a fantastic environment. When I came to New Mexico for the first time in 2012, I did a road trip through New Mexico up to the West Coast. I was just sitting in the car just being amazed because you go over a little hill and then it opens ups. That vast space is something you are not used to when you are from Europe. Over the years, doing a lot of hiking and spending a lot of time outside, I became aware of the sounds and how different the sounds are. The fact that you can stand in Golden Open Space that takes a lot of time to get there and you don’t hear anything. That is amazing.
Do you want those that approach your work to understand your experience or have their own?
Definitely their own. I’ve started in the last three years to reduce my role of the artist as far as possible. I’m still the one who wrote it. I’m still the one that put that up there and who organized the whole thing, but when it comes to the experience, it’s not, “oh this is what Robert did,” it’s about you interacting with the environment that you’re in. It is about each individual and their view on that. That is something where I do not play a role. It is the sounds and the visuals and other sensory inputs that you have in a place and the text. It’s that triangle relation. I want people to really find out something about their own perception, about their own creativity. The thing is to make art and art-making accessible. Here is a prompt, but you’re making the piece, this is not the piece.