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Studying Grief in the Phenomenology of Darkness: An International Artistic Research Project

Sound artist Robert Elias Stokowy of Berlin and Yulia Chernenko, lecturer at the HSE Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design, have initiated a joint German-Russian artistic research project entitled ‘Phenomenology of Darkness’.

Robert Elias Stokowy is a sound artist, composer and artistic researcher from Cologne, Germany. He creates experimental compositions, text-based interventions, audiovisual performances and (radically site-specific) installations. His diverse projects all fit into an overarching artistic research process, which focuses on the inner structural characteristics of sonic environments. In his work, the artist seeks to explore the epistemic and creative potential of sonic surroundings and access new perspectives in our environment by exploring the potential of sonic and visual structures in urban surroundings. He particularly focuses on the aspect of the audible visuals as well as visual potential of sound.

The project ‘Phenomenology of Darkness’ is part of Stokowy’s Berlin-based art group Studio Heomugeoto's work cycle STAGES OF GRIEF, which will span the next 3-5 years. During that time Studio Heomugeoto will put together exhibitions, concerts, performances, book and record publications, and more on the topic of grief. Each project will have its own focus (in this case, darkness), while still engaging the overarching topic of grief. For each project, new artists from different art disciplines and countries will be invited. ‘Together we will explore the varieties of grief — how grief manifests itself, which forms it can take and, lastly, how it can be presented in an artistic context. This work cycle is an ARTISTIC RESEARCH project, meaning that art is used as a tool to explore a certain topic,’ Robert Elias Stokowy says.

The idea for the project originated with the creation of increasingly visual artworks. Up to that point, Robert Elias Stokowy had been working exclusively with sound. The theme of darkness then emerged as a common denominator for all pieces. ‘At that time, I was researching the topic and thinking about the human condition. What we have in common, what our shared underlying experience is. I found that this can be fear (based on Fritz Riemann's book Basic forms of fear). Fear informs our daily actions, thoughts and decisions. I wanted to use art to explore this topic. The most deeply rooted fear, of course, is the fear of ceasing to live (death). We are mortal and can't change that fact. This leads to grief,’ says Robert Elias Stokowy.

Sound artist Robert Elias Stokowy
From Robert Stokowy's personal archive

The project’s main aim is to give people a chance to have an experience through art. Studio Heomugeoto's work allows people to reflect upon their own personal experiences, grief, death, fear, and most importantly, empathy. ‘We want to create a space in which people can come together and engage in an honest, open, and creative exchange of thoughts and ideas,’ says Stokowy.

‘When Robert suggested exploring darkness together in a Russia Tour, I thought, “This is just a perfect idea” — especially given that Russian cultural philosophers and poets took a lot from German poets and writers when it came to the theme of darkness and the human condition”’, says Julia Chernenko. ‘Moreover, the main theme of Robert's artistic research means a lot for me both intellectually and personally; as a Russian I feel a certain psychological block in sharing grief in public. That was my reason for joining the project and making my contribution, as well as for reflecting upon Robert's work further and seeing how viewers reflected upon my own pieces.

‘I have been studying storytelling for 6 years, and I defended my Candidate of Sciences thesis on the topic of so-called shared narratives in 2017. The topics of darkness and grief are therefore especially interesting to me from a research perspective; I aim to explore shared narratives dedicated to these notions in human life. 

Yulia Chernenko, Lecturer at the HSE Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design
From Yulia Chernenko's personal archive

‘During my part of the performance, I share the grief that I felt during my life within the "Poetic-Anatomy Theatre", becoming an example of one who faces the darkness and thinks about darkness for those who listen to my poems. This, I believe, creates a trustful space where people can share their own stories to me.’

The first performance took place on February 12 at the Peresvetov Gallery in Moscow. The School of Media, and the Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design will host a discussion of the project on February 14. The discussion will follow a short presentation of the concept and the initial findings of the authors.

Chernenko and Stokowy will continue their Russian tour showing and engaging people in this unique experience in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

They will explore the different manifestations and expressions of inner and outer darkness in human life and depict their findings in sound art, prints, and drawings, as well as poetic texts. Every participant will have the opportunity to share his/her own experience and understanding.

The ambitious project will span 3-5 years and travel across the globe. The project will be shown in South Korea and Scandinavia and other countries through collaboration with researchers and artists.

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