“ROOOM #2” by Mirjam Sögner, ©Georg Meyer

How Much Does an Answer Weigh?

“ROOOM #2” is the second of a four-part series conceived by Mirjam Sögner and could be visited 7 May 2022 at Heizhaus, Uferstudios Berlin. Created by Sögner in collaboration with Fernando Belfiore, “ROOOM #2” was a performance without performers in which, for me, meditations on the weight of experience floated to the surface.

It started outside the room, inside a balloon. In the courtyard at Uferstudios, the artists shook out two huge bags full of them, inflated with breath. They tumbled softly around the feet of the assembled guests until we each picked one up. There was something inside. Pop, pop, bang. Some of us burst our balloons open under a foot, or by squeezing it with both hands, wincing and holding our faces away. Mine was under-inflated so I pulled out my keys and jabbed it open. Inside, there was a rolled-up slip of paper with instructions written on it: we were each to record our life stories on our phones, with as much detail as possible, in four minutes. After that we could go into the room, where we’d been told to expect an experiment in performatively activating space without the need for a performer. “ROOOMS” is a series of such experiments, organised by Mirjam Sögner, and devised in collaboration with a different artist each time. This one, with Fernando Belfiore, was the second of a planned four.

We instinctively spread out across the courtyard as if to give one another — or ourselves —privacy. I felt shy and told my story under my breath. Three minutes, 58 seconds. I stopped the recording and went inside.

More balloons — these ones were helium-filled, and floated at different heights. I instantly felt that this studio space had a volume. I’m not used to walking through a door and then immediately considering how much material, how much stuff, the room in front of me could hold. The experience gave me the vague sensation of myself floating. Each balloon hovered over a question taped to the floor. They were questions about memories, values, and feelings, but, though I scribbled some of them down, I’m not sure that they individually mattered very much. What mattered was how they altered the space. We could choose to answer any of them by writing on a notecard, then pulling on the string of the balloon until we could reach a paper bag tied to it. After putting our notecard into the bag, we released it again. As answers accumulated, so the balloons sank. Some, presumably those under the weight of the greatest number of answers, were grounded permanently.

Other variations on hovering, filling, drifting, and popping followed. Underscoring it all were our own voices, snippets of the impossibly brief life stories we recorded were now playing over the sound system. I even enjoyed it when my own voice played out — relieved of the burden of making sense, my words had a kind of poetry to them. I realised then that these floating objects and ideas were making me aware of opposing influences — gravity, mass, weight. Questions, acted on by answers. A life, acted on by an accumulation of moments lived. I was experiencing how things get full and heavy. Then I thought about helium and remembered things can get full and light too.

Photo: “ROOOM #2” by Mirjam Sögner at Heizhaus, Uferstudios Berlin © Georg Meyer

“ROOOM #2” also ended outside the room. Sögner encouraged some of us to take balloons with us when we left. I tied mine to my bike’s handlebars and went on a long walk along the Panke with a friend. The balloon hovered above me like a curious leashed pet that couldn’t be bothered with gravity and needed some coaxing to get around corners and through doorways. The wind was up, and batted it into a tree branch where its thin thread tangled elaborately. A little boy watched me free it. “Do you want it?” I asked him. He reached out. “But make sure you hold tight,” my friend said. The balloon wandered on with him to other rooms, other volumes.

“ROOOM #2” by Mirjam Sögner, in collaboration with Fernando Belfiore (Sound: Samuel Hertz, Production: Diethild Meier), was shown as the second of a four-part series, on 7 May 2022 at Heizhaus, Uferstudios Berlin.

“ROOOM #3” by Mirjam Sögner & Angela Schubot, in collaboration with Tanzfabrik Berlin, will be shown in September 2022. “ROOOM #4”, created by Mirjam Sögner & Marta Navaridas, to be visited in November 2022.