If and Only If (2018) based on Igor Stravinsky’s Elegy for Solo Viola, charts the course of a journey, which becomes an integral part of its musical composition.
A snail, gradually travels the full length of a viola bow, innocuously moving across it, but minutely disrupting the exquisite balance on which the maestro’s playing instinctively relies. This traversing emulates a concealed dialogue between two voices that is subtly implied at the heart of the composition.
Though the work is performed as a monologue, it is in this allusion to dialogue
in the form of the sound of two strings, that Sala renders Stravinsky’s Elegy as a tactile interaction between the renowned violist Gérard Caussé and a garden snail. The snail, its location and pace imposing itself on the performance, causes the viola player to simultaneously make adjustments for and thus compose with this evolving situation. The standard duration of Elegy is thus subverted through the interaction between the musician and the snail, revised to almost double its usual time. When the snail slows down, hesitating to move forward, Gérard Caussé adapts the Elegy to encourage the snail to carry on.
The music becomes an organic composition and a mutual effort, created by the performance of the violist and action of the snail, resulting in a soundtrack to the snail’s ‘epic voyage.’
Composed as a two-voices polyphony, this piece—of about 5 minutes—is shorter than the total duration of the film, which is 9 minutes and 47 seconds. Thus, while the musician found himself constrained to adapt his performance to cope with the presence of the gastropod, the artist was in turn forced to adapt the music itself to keep pace with the rythm of the movement and not to risk interrupting it until the ascent was complete; at times separating the two voices of the piece to lengthen its duration. One of the principal consequences is that the music is not illustrating or accompanying an action but is actually the consequence of the action played out in the film; which is also presented in cinemascope format, with the effect of accentuating the fictional appearance of an event that is, however, very real.
Anri Sala was born in 1974 in Tirana, Albania. He lives and works in Berlin. Since the 1990’s, Anri Sala has been working in a range of media including video, photography, installation, and more recently drawings and sculptures. His work explores the boundaries between image and sound in order to generate carefully assembled time-based moments which overlap one another. Through a new form of language, his work opens to multiple perspectives and interpretations, bringing together the past, present and future. According prominence to light, sound and space design, Anri Sala’s work is often presented in immersive spaces, thus stimulating our senses and creating a link between the body and the architecture. Anri Sala has been awarded a number of prizes during his career, such as theThe Vincent Award, Den Haag in 2014, and the Biennale di Venezia (Young Artist Prize) in 2001, among others.