exhibition essay for Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec’s show The Rhythms of Presence solo show at the SKUC Gallery in Ljubljana- Slovenia 18.11 - 9.12.2016

The Politics of Rhythm

“If it is through rhythm that we get the sense that we have to undo ourselves, as everything around us starts to undo itself, and if in approaching this sensation of the movement of everything we ourselves are a part of this movement, it is because rhythm renovates the meaning of things.“(Henri Meschonnic, A Rhythm Party Manifesto, November 2, 1999)

Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec’s works perform the invisible possibility of architecture, of text, and of a city, inviting us to experience the visible through its invisible and mobile temporality. The works are at once highly conceptual, providing outlines, ideas and a frame of presence rather than its experience, while inviting experience as an imaginary engagement in what presence might be.

The timing of this show forces upon its title The Rhythms of Presence and thus upon its work, inevitably and unavoidably a political dimension. This dimension is not literally the tapping sound of invisible feet or the count of a manipulated metronome, but is the imaginary capacity created by the rhythms of absence and presence, the heard and the unheard, and its reception within a concurrent political actuality of counting and dis-counting, and the consequent fear of not being able to make oneself count.

His works’ allusion to measure and meter appears like a magician’s trick, creating an illusion of the real as if I was equipped with a faulty ruler but asked to measure it still.  And through this task I experience the chasm between what is measurable and what is possible, and I deny neither the meter nor possibility but come to question their divide.

Rhythm becomes a Zeitgeist, a poltergeist of a current political drift that encroaches upon the empty room that is Vrhovec Sambolec’s piece The Rhythms of Presence from which the show takes its name. This empty room, its surface and form, is animated and inhabited by the sounds of footsteps recorded elsewhere and transformed into temporal and spatial information played out here as taps and knocks to provide an invisible measure of a present circumstance.

The piece pursues the possibility of measure and measurement and confirms the transformative potential of incommensurability. However, in the current political context the incommensurable becomes forced into the presence of an immeasurable absolute: the empty room that invites the imagination of another is tied down to the vision of the only one that seems possible now; and the invisible mobility of sound sees its plural footsteps drowned in the singularity of a marching beat. What might have sounded as opportunity, as spaces opening up for new connections and a serendipitous, “postrhythmic” beat when the work was first shown in Berlin last year, is now directed by the amplification of political absolutes and the exclusion of other meters, triggering a re-reading of the work that invites the darkest expectations.(1)

This Zeitgeist as the phantom of the homogeneity and divisiveness of a current political ideology is an invisible force that lingers also between the collective and compassionate humanity reverberating in Vrhovec Sambolec’s With a Passerby.(2) The work, a sonic texture of private rhythms woven between the artist’s own footsteps and the movement of people passing by, performs the social encounters that produce a sense of communality and prepare the ground for its denunciation. Walking with a stranger tests the limits of community and holds the potential for the “fetishized figure” of an us, reduced to absolute homogeneity, to articulate the “idealized hatred” for the other, the unseen Passerby. This political spectre answers the syncopation of plural footsteps with a mythical absolute that smothers possibility in the expectation of an unquestionable real that consolidates sentiments of marginalisation in slogans for a perversely exclusive belonging in a false past, where the stranger is not in the rhythm of my presence but absolutely absent.

Vrhovec Sambolec’s works make this present political reality tangible through incommensurable rhythms that force themselves into my imagination and make me sense how space is taken and the unheard silenced through the amplification of the dominant. However his works do not rest on this absolute singularity but persevere on the side of real possibility to expose the ghost of the Right and prepare the articulation of its rejection. It is through his rhythms that we get the sense of our own movement, and get to understand ‘that we have to undo ourselves, as everything around us starts to undo itself.’


1. The piece from which the show takes its title was first exhibited at Errant Bodies Space in Berlin, in November-December 2015.

2. This interpretation is inspired by Étienne Balibar’s public lectures at the Critical Theory Institute of the University of California in 1996 published as Violence and Civility by Columbia University Press, NY, 2015.