The second longest river in Central Europe draws a natural border in the landscape. It is a source of life that has allowed people to settle by its waters for centuries - at the same time, as a force of nature, it threatens these very people. The Rhine is a symbol, a political force, and a wounded creature, suffering from neglect as much as from human poisoning and industrial waste.
James Webb installed loudspeakers along the riverbank that played a series of 153 questions directed at the Rhine. Each question remained on the landscape for about 12 seconds before being followed by the next question. Passersby were invited to listen, look for information while overlooking the river, or possibly answer the questions themselves.
James Webb's artwork, developed for The Sound, focused on the river with its agency by asking it what it thinks, feels, and wants. What might this once mighty river have experienced in its life? Where does it overflow its banks and expand? What has been lost in its waters, what will never be found again? How would the Loreley itself tell its myth? How did the House of Bürgel move from one bank to the other? What signs point to the return of the Atlantic salmon?
For his sound art work in Monheim am Rhein, the South African artist developed the questions in a workshop at the Ulla Hahn House together with residents of Monheim in the run-up to the exhibition.
James Webb's Monheim work was part of a series of works in which the artist poses questions to selected objects as if they were sentient beings capable of responding. The series of artworks follows the assumption that each object is more than the sum of its parts and what it represents, and that each object has had individual experiences.
The dynamic nature of the works enables the artist and the audience to learn from the objects. Works in this series have been exhibited at the Biennale de Lyon (2022), among other venues, and are in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (Washington D.C.), the KADIST Foundation (Paris), and the Scheryn Art Collection (Cape Town).
James Webb lives and works in Cape Town and Stockholm and is known for his site-specific interventions and installations. Webb has had solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, SPACES, Cleveland, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery, among others.