Vertigo | 2017 | Sound installation
On a ‘dark and dull December day’ King Bahram walks in the Red Dome of the Princess of the Fourth Clime, Nasrin Nush, to hear her story about the importance of the colour red. Vertigo visitors are invited to step into the exhibition rooms to explore a contemporary interpretation of this story encapsulated in a multiverse of music, environmental sounds and poetry recitals aired simultaneously in five transmissions that can only be heard with the aid of a radio-and-headphone set.

Vertigo, with its nonlinear narration and overlapping sound, offers a unique experience to each visitor. Exploration of the Shirvanshahs Palace rooms in a quest for the ephemeral sounds is a metaphor for the centuries-long journey of a part of the Seven Beauties poem (1197) written by Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209). The plot about a wise and self-sufficient Slavonic beauty who declares she will marry only her equal, and thus tests her suitors with riddles, is found in the writings of the Frenchman François Pétis de la Croix, the Italian Carlo Gozzi, and the German authors Friedrich von Schiller, Karl Gustav Vollmöller and Bertolt Brecht. Nizami’s nameless princess became the famous literary figure Turandot, princess from China. The plot further migrated into music: the German composer Carl Maria von Weber, the Italians Ferruccio Busoni and Giacomo Puccini, and the Briton Havergal Brian are among those who composed operas on this subject.

As Vertigo explores the shifts in gender attitudes and cross-fertilizing cultural mutations that have taken place throughout the human history, sound material is mixed and distorted along with text. So, Nessun Dorma, which is sung in by a tenor in Puccini’s opera Turandot, is voiced in Vertigo’s multiverse by a countertenor, a chorus of female voices and even a vocaloid (computer programme). Another famous piece, Le Cygne by Camille Saint-Saëns, illustrates the reverse journey of a classical European music piece into Eastern classical music traditions. The composition is recorded in Azerbaijan mugham modes on the ancient musical instruments mentioned in Nizami’s poetry. The tradition of riddle is continued in poetry recitals and text readings in different languages.

Almost like a message in a game of Chinese Whispers, Nizami Ganjavi’s plot has passed through a number of transformations over the centuries. The Vertigo collective has taken the process further, to imagine what kind of person Nizami’s protagonist, an intellectual and astute princess, would be in modern times; what would her thoughts and essence be? She might be even someone you know, living anywhere in the world; at the same time, she is no one and nowhere. Vertigo has created a composite portrait of a real-life women, simultaneously strong and vulnerable.