Lee Mingwei

Sonic Blossom, 2013

“Sonic Blossom”. A poetic title. Blossom, delicate and fragile, music like a breath of wind, soft sounds – developing, blossoming, withering – ephemeral and utterly beautiful. A synesthetic title. Our ears are urged to perceive sounds – and our eyes to see the beauty of the blossoms.

“Sonic Blossom” is a work by the Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei, developed in 2013. As the title would suggest, this work is not about a thing, it is not a physical, object-based work of art.“ Sonic Blossom” is fleeting and performative. It’s about triggering and representing relationships between people, at a specific place, a specific time. So-called relational art. Even if the work is not physical, it nevertheless has a specific object. Indeed several objects. Gifting and being gifted, transience, biographical aspects of the artist and Franz Schubert’s songs, which Lee Mingwei gives out as “sonic blossoms” for his work.

It’s about triggering and representing relationships.

A singer goes through the exhibition rooms. She is dressed in an apparently Asian outfit with a floral pattern – designed by the artist herself. She chooses an exhibition visitor, goes up to them and asks: “May I give you a gift of a song?”1 If the person agrees, then he or she takes a seat on a chair provided and the performer stands opposite. She begins to sing one of Franz Schubert’s famous songs. As she does so, she focuses entirely on the person, because she is singing the song solely and entirely for them. Since the song is transmitted to the surrounding exhibition area via loudspeakers, other museum visitors can also share in the performance. As onlookers. When the song comes to an end, everyone goes their own way: The moment passes as quickly as it emerged.

Inspired by Franz Schubert

Lee Mingwei himself explains the development of the work from his biography. Schubert’s songs gave him and his mother comfort during a time when she was recovering from a serious operation; a period in which he was made aware of the transience of life, and at the same time he developed a new appreciation for the beauty of the moment. Beauty and transience – these are represented both by the song and the blossom. Mingwei delves further, outlining the fact that during his childhood in Taipei his mother played Schubert to him in order to soothe him.

Franz Schubert, “the king of the German Lied” in Taiwan – who’d have thought it? Linked to his personal history, Mingwei now brings Schubert’s songs back to Germany as part of his work “Sonic Blossom”. music

This work is not only about beauty and transience, but also about gifting as a gesture, the act of friendship and attachment.

Schubert wrote around 600 songs. They are the epitome of the German Romantik. All the more so, because they are lyrics set to music. Music and language come together in a typical mixture of great melancholy and indescribable beauty. The motif of transience is here too, the helplessness of the individual. Nature, night, longing.

For “Sonic Blossom” Mingwei selected five songs for the singers to choose from: Du bist die Ruh (Friedrich Rückert), An den Mond (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), Frühlingsglaube (Johann Ludwig Uhland), Nacht und Träume (Matthäus von Collin), Auf dem Wasser zu singen (Friedrich Leopold zu Stolberg-Stolberg).

May I give you a gift of a song?

“May I give you a gift of a song?” – Mingwei stresses that this work is not only about his biography or about beauty and transience, but also about gifting as a gesture, the act of friendship and attachment. The selected people unexpectedly receive a fleeting, immaterial gift. This way, Mingwei picks up on one of the biggest themes of humanity. If you believe important anthropologists, sociologists and philosophers such as Bronislav Malinowski, Marcel Mauss or Jacques Derrida, who dedicated entire works to the act of giving, offering gifts is one of the most important and fundamental institutions of human interaction. And here, as in Mingwei’s performance concept, it’s not only about the gifts that come wrapped in colorful paper adorned with bows (for birthdays, Christmas or other celebrations).

Gifts are symbols of friendship and affection, and at the same time they create indebtedness between those involved. Gifts are not always selfless acts. We need only consider the Trojan Horse, which was a gift to the unsuspecting Trojans. A gift, the act of giving, calls for a reciprocal gift. Be it material or immaterial. Most cultural scientists now agree on that. But back to Mingwei’s work: What happens when the person offered the gift rejects it? What happens if they stand up and leave in the middle of the song? Both of these are unlikely, but the possibility alone shows that even with the gift of a song in “Sonic Blossom”, a kind of implicit contract is entered into. If the visitor accepts the gift, then she is not only given a gift, but she also gifts the performer her time, her attention and perhaps also joy and gratitude.

"Sonic Blossom" is a gift to the museum and to the public. And what is the reciprocal gift?

Incidentally, Mingwei’s work could also be considered a gift within a gift. After all, the giving of the song to the visitor is part of the artist’s concept. He, for his part, considers his work as a gift to the museum and to the public. And what is the reciprocal gift? The museum gives Mingwei’s work a space, a public platform, an audience.

In the foreground of “Sonic Blossom” is the individual encounter between singer and listener. What at first glance appears very fleeting has great symbolic power. That is the particular strength of this artistic work. Its concept is conceivably simple, yet what it triggers and implies can be endlessly complex. Just like human relationships.

Lisa Beisswanger

Lisa Beisswanger is an art historian and teaches at Justus Liebig University Giessen. She is currently writing her doctoral thesis on the topic of performative art forms in museum contexts.


Städel Museum

Deutsches Architekturmuseum

MMK1 Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main

Museum Angewandte Kunst

Daily, 11AM–2PM + 3PM–6PM
SCHIRN, within the PEACE exhibition