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Hilbert Space - A performance art piece by Karl Nussbaum
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

The first time I met the New-York-based filmmaker Karl Nussbaum was at a party by some friends of mine here in Hamburg several years ago. At that time he was going through a very difficult time since his father had just recently died. They had a very close relationship and Nussbaum was trying to deal with this loss. I hadn’t seen him since then and was looking forward to seeing his performance piece. The performance took place in one of the most beautiful rooms at Kolbenhof. The old factory hall is immense with high ceilings and stripped down to its bare factory walls, a perfect setting for Nussbaum’s performance. As the performance began, Nussbaum had his back to us and began by explaining that was a tribute to a very special person who dealt in theoretical space, a mathematician who was an expert in Hilbert Space, his father.  This sent chills down my back as I realized that he had come up with a solution in dealing with the loss of his father. The silk line screen then took the form of a hovering parachute which was approximately two meters over Nussbaum’s head which was controlled by strings in which he could control the movement as it changed form. At the same time the film projected images of mathematical equations, weather conditions, old photographs and things decaying as the sequence continues and then spirals upward to a dimension of pure infinity. Nussbaum cleverly integrated Hilbert Space into this piece. I read that a vibrating string can be used as a model for Hilbert Space and that made it very clear to me that the silk screen was also representing this particular kind of math but at the same time was giving the piece a spiritual heavenly sense of space as well.

Nussbaum had found a unique and very profound way of dealing with the mourning of his father. Through his artistic view he was able to channel his emotion into a live performance which not only paid tribute to an extraordinary mathematician and holocaust survivor but gave a spiritual awareness to the viewer that was very moving on a universal level. It clearly had been a painful but healing process which has now given him a path to move onward to other pieces of work.

Karl Nussbaum had taken such an important journey into an inspiring and undiscovered territory of mixing experimental art with filmmaking.  It was the only piece like it at the festival and I would have loved to see more. I suppose we normally see this kind of work for art museums and not for film festivals. Perhaps it would be nice to have more of these cross-over forms of art available in an ever-shrinking platform of creativity. Nussbaum is currently working on another project which will be at the next Hamburg Film Festival. So don’t miss it!