“In history, they stand for a general scientific progress; yet as instruments they only exist in the moment in which they fulfill a specific task. Thus, at the moment I look at them, the objects are not. Silent, dustless, functionless, they are preserved under glass and aren’t.

In her work soundless voices, bitten tongues, haptic hands, artist Dominique Hurth intertwines three object biographies with three women biographies, that have often been ignored or forgotten in official historiography. Lise Meitner (1878–1968), Elsa Neumann (1872–1902) and Lydia Rabinowitsch-Kempner (1871–1935) were three scientists that stand for groundbreaking research into physics and microbiology: Meitner formulated the theory of nuclear fission, Rabinowitsch-Kempner described the transmission of tuberculosis. As women, they also stand for emancipation in the sciences. Neumann was the first woman in Berlin to receive a PhD in physics and Rabinowitsch-Kempner was the first woman to be appointed professor at the Berlin University, the precursor of Humboldt-Universität.

In her performance, Hurth occupies the silence created by the void and lets the women and objects speak. Hurth researched the biographies of objects and her three protagonists in various scientific archives. Among them were the collection of historical physical instruments of the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin Adlershof, the Archives of the Max Planck Society in Berlin Dahlem and the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge.

By using blown glass, Dominique Hurth has sculpturally transformed the objects for her performance. In this way, an induction foil, an ion tube and a series of pipettes get replicated and scaled up: air gets blown into the raw material in order to give it a form. It breathes through the material, a body alike, and it is air again that activates the objects through speech. The objects become props. For a moment the silent vessels gain voice, later return to the state of soundlessness. One usually bites a tongue to prevent oneself from saying something. Yet while activated, the sealed-off vessels explore what they can tell about the hands at the instruments in a speculative and polyphonic matter. The instruments become subjects of attention: they speak and act. They are being negotiated – being held, handled, spoken from.
soundless voices, bitten tongues, haptic hands Installation (blown glass, ceramics, acrylglas, accoustic foam, iron) and 3-part performance (2 performers, English & German, each part 25 minutes)

Co-produced with the Tieranatomisches Theater Berlin (2019). The writing of the script for the performances has been informed by dialogues with the philosopher of technology Anne Lefebvre (ENS Paris-Saclay), the author Daniela Cascella (Sheffield Hallam University) and the cultural anthropologist Silvy Chakkalakal (Humboldt-Universität). Performers: Elliott Cennetoglu and Lina Campanella

Production and research assistance: Zoé Thonet
Design poster: Indre Klimaite (Klimaite Klimaite)

Curator Tieranatomisches Theater: Felix Sattler
Photo credit: Michael Pfisterer

Work exhibited at:
T AT Berlin, 2019
Künstlerhaus Bremen, 2023