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Heiner Goebbels

Die Provinz des Menschen / The Human Province

January 15 to April 10, 2016
An exhibition by Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden at the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau

Composer and theatre practitioner Heiner Goebbels has created a unique multimedia installation for Dresden, in which he brings together, in new and unexpected ways, an array of images, sounds, speech, spaces, and rhythms – building up layer upon layer of visual and auditory experiences.

The installation is made up of 54 different film sequences, played on a giant wall of monitors, together forming a composition that explores polyphony both as a musical and visual phenomenon and that presents an urban soundscape of various cities, criss-crossed by actor André Wilms. We hear the sound of Wilms’s footsteps, overlaid with extracts from a recording of Elias Canetti’s book The Human Province, in which the author expounds, explores, and comments upon his understanding of modern society.

Recorded in cities throughout the world, these video clips multiply and loop with the effect that the voices of the protagonist coalesce to form a single chorus – which, despite its polyphony, only serves to amplify his feelings of loneliness and make his isolation tangible to us. We watch the same man observing the same rituals over the course of ten years, between 2004 and 2014, pacing the streets of over 45 cities in more than 25 different countries.


As a counterpoint to the large installation’s proliferation of imagery and sound, Heiner Goebbels has created another film installation, "Landscape 3 (Duisburg-Nord)": a more contemplative piece that invites visitors to reflect upon the theme of human absence.

“The Human Province” and „Landscape 3“ are two works that not just complement, but arguably even need one another – the front and reverse, as it were, of the same page. The one side depicts a troubled homeward journey, obsessively tracing the same route through different cities in an attempt to retreat from the world and its complexities. On the other we encounter a landscape, the very impenetrability of which brings us to a state of contemplation and then to a realization that what we are contemplating is not in fact a landscape but rather a theatre. (Heiner Goebbels)

The second video installation has as its source a piece of music theatre, "De Materie" (1989) by the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, a production of which Heiner Goebbels directed for the 2014 Ruhrtriennale. In the fourth act, a flock of sheep frolic in a large, dark industrial building – the power station of the Duisburg North Landscape Park – while an illuminated airship circles overhead. Goebbels has edited a recording of this extraordinary scene especially for the exhibition in the Lipsiusbau.

Heiner Goebbels (b. 1952) studied sociology and music and has lived in Frankfurt am Main since 1972. Since the mid-1980s he has created numerous scenic concerts, audio pieces, and works for ensemble and full orchestra (Surrogate Cities). His successful music theatre productions include Schwarz auf Weiss (1996), Eislermaterial, Max Black (1998), Eraritjaritjaka – musée des phrases (2004), and Stifters Dinge (2007). He is a professor at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies at the Justus Leibig University in Giessen, where he has taught since 1999. In 2006 he was elected president of the Hessische Theaterakademie. From 2012 to 2014 he was director of the Ruhrtriennale ‒ International Festival of the Arts.