Charlemagne Palestine

born as Chaim Moshe Tzadik Palestine 1947 in New York; lives in Brussels

Biography

Degree from Columbia University, New York, Mannes College of Music, New York, and California Institute of the Arts

Teaching at California Institute of the Arts


Visual Arts

Visual Arts

Charlemagne Palestine creates sounds, drawings, sculptural objects, and installations. He works predominately with plush toys and stuffed animals of all kinds, which he uses in large numbers in order to glorify them in the context of an animistic world view as a symbol of identification.

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Palestine criticizes developmental psychology, which only grants stuffed animals the value of so-called »transitional objects« during childhood, in order to satisfy the need for intimacy and protection, but denies them any function for adults.

The experience of having all his stuffed animals taken away by his mother before his bar mitzvah has remained a lasting trauma for Palestine. For him they are friends that one never gives away. He lives an animistic world view, revering and deifying stuffed animals. His oversized, three-headed, sitting Godbear is 6 meters high. Worn-out stuffed animals he calls orphans, which he collects and agglomerates in countless numbers into his works and stage shows.

When reduced simply to a representative of minimalism, Palestine counters with the wealth of his artistic practice—music, installation, narration, performance, and religious artistic praxis—retorting: »Minimalism is for me nothing. On the contrary, I invented maximalism.«

Author: Doris Leutgeb

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Music

Music

Charlemagne Palestine, is considered one of the pioneers of minimal music, along with Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young, even though he himself rejects the categorization.

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As the son of Russian Jewish parents he grew up under the influence of klezmer and Russian folk music and sang in the synagogue. He rang the bell at the Episcopalian Church St. Thomas on Fifth Avenue in New York, where for fifteen minutes each day he let predetermined church songs ring out on one of the few large, playable glockenspiels in North America.

Subsequently he often improvised for hours at a time and arouse the interest of the artists and musicians of the New York avant-garde scene like Tony Conrad, Moondog, La Monte Young, and John Cale (Velvet Underground), who successively hung out in the church and listened to him as attentively as they did critically, for the competition among those artists devoted to the invention of new music was intense. On account of the minor commercial success of his music, he switched over to visual arts.

In the mid-1990s Palestine released some of his earliest musical works. They became a source of inspiration for a new generation, including Nice Cave and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Solo albums followed, as did numerous collaborations, such as with Mika Vainio and Pan Sonic, Michael Gira (Swans), Tony Conrad, Keith Rowe, Terry Jennings, Rhys Chatham, Simone Forti, and Mama Baer.

He started giving live performances again, for which the largest and the loudest concert piano in the world (Bösendorfer Imperial) was perfectly suited to him.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Charlemagne Palestine

Golden Mean for Two Pianos, 1976

The Sage, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2005, with Charlemagne Palestine, 39:58 min.


Charlemagne Palestine plays his best-known musical piece Strumming Music (1974). The composition consists ultimately of only two notes, which are continuously struck at intervening speeds and modulating volumes over a period of forty-five minutes.

A collection of colorful stuffed animals populate the stage and the two grand pianos, upon which the artist plays, first in trance-like concentration on both, then switching back and forth from one to the other, and eventually back to both. Music performance and installation meld into each other becoming one single work, a Gesamtkunst-Meschuggeland (Palestine).

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Listeners experience a monotone, meditative music, which opens for them the possibility of a pure, empirical, preconceptual experience. Through the repetitive playing of the same sounds, differences become audible: these are enriched through resonance and the layering of tones, although they can only emerge in the first place through the act of permanent repetition. Those who, on contemplating this piece, think of identity as permanent repetition/return of difference will feel themselves playfully drawn to the thought of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who understands repetition as the unfolding of difference. Strumming Music urges an openness to difference and makes the listening experience of diversity possible, even before a switch to reflective thinking takes place.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

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Author:

Doris Leutgeb