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Hearsay of the Soul
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© Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog
German, 2012
Five-channel video installation

2013.2

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Segers's images are hearsay of the soul. They are like flashlights held in our uncertain hands, a frightened light that opens breaches into the recesses of a place that seems somewhat known to us: our selves. We morph with these images.
–Werner Herzog

Hearsay of the Soul represents celebrated filmmaker Werner Herzog's first foray into video art. The 18-minute, five-channel installation was created for the 2012 Whitney Biennial. It combines landscape etchings by the Dutch artist Hercules Segers (about 1589 – about 1638) with scores and a performance by Dutch composer and cellist Ernst Reijseger (b. 1954). This juxtaposition of images from the distant past with pieces of contemporary avant-garde music results in a richly layered work.

Hearsay of the Soul is an installation of five videos, projected on three adjacent walls of a gallery. It is comprised of footage that slowly pans over a sequence of landscape etchings by Segers, who developed an imaginative style of depicting rugged and mountainous terrain with innovative techniques of hand-coloring. As details of individual prints fill each screen, traces of the etching plate, individual incised lines, and subtle thin washes of color become prominent and serve to abstract natural forms. The video also includes a performance by Reijseger playing the cello and Harmen Fraanje (b. 1976) playing the organ in a Lutheran church in Haarlem, recorded with a rudimentary handheld camera. The music was originally composed for Herzog's 2010 film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and includes a re-worked recording of an aria composed by George Frideric Handel and recorded in 1928 by the contralto Emmi Leinser.

The structural and compositional simplicity of Hearsay of the Soul reflects Herzog's approach to both his documentary work and short films, which emphasize the use of basic and available materials coupled with dramatic music to evoke strong feelings from the viewer.

Credits: Music by Ernst Reijseger from the albums Requiem for a Dying Planet (Winter & Winter, 2006) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Winter & Winter, 2011); film excerpt from Werner Herzog's Ode to the Dawn of Man (2011), featuring Ernst Reijseger (cello) and Harmen Fraanje (organ); sound producer: Stefan Winter