Roman Signer

Roman Signer
Roman Signer, Piano, 2010, collection Frac Franche-Comté © Roman Signer, photo credits: © Biennale Son | Olivier Lovey

Piano, 2010

Modified grand piano, 50 ping-pong balls, 2 standing fans

Work presented as part of the exhibition Echos d'une collection - Works by Frac Franche-Comté

Ping-pong balls placed on the strings of a grand piano are agitated by the breath of two fans placed on either side of the instrument. The rolling and bouncing of the balls causes the strings to tinkle, creating a kind of mechanical piano with random sounds.

Here, the breath of air is used to bring the work to life, as on other occasions it may be fire or water. The particularity of the piece is that it can function almost indefinitely, whereas Roman Signer's works are usually based on ephemeral action.

The relationship with the instrument is reminiscent of John Cage's "prepared pianos" and other pianistic actions, as well as certain Fluxus performances. Two years before this piece, Roman Signer, the son of a musician, had already played the violin in a different way, by dropping sand on the instrument suspended in the air(Sandmusik, video, 2008).

In 2014, we find the piano in action on a mountain lake in South Tyrol. As a young Icelandic pianist, Víkingur Ólafsson, sits on a raft, performing Alexander Scriabin's Vers la flamme, a helicopter appears and circles above him, like a large drone blowing the waves around the boat(Vers la flamme - Ein Konzert mit Störung, 2014).

Courtesy Frac Franche-Comté and the artist

Roman Signer

Born in 1938 in Appenzell

Lives and works in St. Gallen

Roman Signer has more than once recounted his childhood near a bridge loaded with dynamite in case of German invasion during the war, his grandfather a locksmith, his father a musician... After starting out as a draughtsman, it wasn't until the age of 28 that he entered the Fine Arts School in Zurich, completing his studies in Lucerne and Warsaw. And despite the often jarring appearance of his ephemeral sculptures, it wasn't until he was in his fifties that he won real recognition with a selection for Documenta in Kassel in 1987 - where he blew up thousands of sheets of paper to form an ephemeral, volatile wall.

In 1989, he took leave of Appenzell, where he felt too much misunderstanding for his art and its playful aspects, by burning a succession of wicks for almost 20 km along the rails to St. Gallen, where he then settled.

At the Skulptur Projekte exhibition in Münster in 1997, he presented two pieces activated by water: a walking stick was set in motion above a pond, while a travelling fountain resulted from the transformation of a Piaggio tricycle, a vehicle he would reuse repeatedly in his actions - notably for a flight on a Polish ski jump ramp. Other objects (buckets, kayaks, fishing boots, balloons, umbrellas, etc.) also recur periodically in Roman Signer's actions - he finds the term more apt than performance - as a poetic vocabulary as much as a practical toolbox.

Roman Signer represents Switzerland at the Venice Biennale in 1999. These were the beginnings of a long series of appearances at major international events. Although his art is often explosive, it is not limited to these fleeting moments. It's part of time. It's often difficult to tell when an action begins and when it's over. The explosion has taken place, but the smoke that dissipates, the impression that we are still left with, are all still part of the event. Sometimes, it's also a few traces left on the site of the performance, or the video that captured it.

exposure time

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