The Heisenberg Transfiguration (2001)

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

In 2001, I curated and participated in three art and sound shows in an effort to stimulate, at the most direct level, creative and personal interchanges among vistor and newcomer artists to Montreal. One of these nights saw and heard my performance piece titled The Heisenberg Transfiguration. It is here that I would like to memorialize the atmosphere this idea- and mood-based piece sought to create.

In the performance area stood an oblong, white coffee table. On it was placed a white coffee-maker with a dripper mechanism and a transparent glass receptacle. A low, modernist-styled, black desk lamp hung just above the coffee-maker. Two stereo speakers flanked the both sides of the table.

A friend of mine by the name of CourtnAy read the introductory text (now lost to time), in which I linked the philosophy of the piece with a brief exposition of the “observer effect” (discovered by Werner Heisenberg), a unique concept in physics. Today, the Wikipedia entry for this concept explains:

“In physics, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. A commonplace example is checking the pressure in an automobile tire; this is difficult to do without letting out some of the air, thus changing the pressure.”

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics), consulted November 2, 2012).

The idea behind the performance piece was that through the observation of the making of green tea in the coffee-maker and through the ministry of Art, Music, and Science, the audience will transform the fundamental substance of the liquid at hand, which it will then be free to consume.

Lights were shut, and the modernist-looking desk lamp was simultaneously lit. There was a sudden change of atmosphere. Tea light candles for each participant were given out. The light of the desk lamp was soft, and both the white table and the white coffee-maker seemed to be transported in a special glow. I placed a generous amount of green tea in the receptacle and turned on the coffee-maker. It blinked in the half-darkness with its red eye.

A tea field in winter, waiting for the watchful transformation by the sun.

Soft music started emanating from the speakers: it was Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble’s interpretation of Cristóbal de Morales’ Parce mihi domine. (Listen to it here, read about the album with it as the first track here.) Over the gentle wash of Renaissance voices soared the inspired saxophone melody, creating a syncretic spiritual experience. Slowly, the green tea maker, lit from above as if it was a tabernaculum for the creative essencequietly gurgled and yielded its first drops. Even the sounds coming from the coffee-maker seemed to add positively to the effect. The music became stronger, and so did the tea, and all the while the receptacle of Art was patiently being filled with the golden nectar. The sublime tension mounted with the growing emotion of the music.

At the climax, when the receptacle was full and the performance reached a moment of suspense, one of my acquaintances sitting in the circle of participants on the floor, a man with red hair combed back with 1950s pomade into a pompadour, a sincere lover of country music and a steadfast attendee of barfly blue grass concerts sporting a worn-out jean jacket, seemed to have buckled under the atmospheric pressure, and shouted out “This is some kind of a $%#! religious cult!”.

But soon the lights were lit, the suspense lifted, after a moment of silence people started talking, and the tea was distributed in small cups for all to consume. Some did consume, while others did not. Just like in the real world. Everything seemed to be back in order.