Michael Delia: Untitled

sound performance and musical instruments
st. Bernard chapel, convent
Plasy Monastery 1992




Michael Delia


Miloš Vojtěchovský


Hermit Foundation


Plasy Monastery

Michael Delia took part in various music performance improvisations together with Paul Panhyusen, Phill Niblock, Jo Truman and Jaroslav Kořán in the St. Bernard Chapel and Ambient. He was invited by Paul Panhyusen to join his long string installation performance where he played  frame drum. Following the long string performance, he and Jo Truman circled the ambient corridors drumming and singing, meeting back in the chapel with the long strings having been removed. There they continued with drum and voice with Jo switching to didgeridoo. 
After given some strings from Paul he constructed a bottle zither using material found in the convent, later playing the zither and mbira in an improvisation together with Jaroslav Kořán in the St. Bernards Chapel.

Michael Delia, 2019


The 90’s were a time for expansion and to follow one’s own inspiration. The importance of meeting people and sharing your work, to be inspired through travel, exchanging ideas with those you met, and most importantly to be open to improvise with what one encountered on this journey. Synchronicity was definitely everywhere in those chance encounters and would lead to unexpected, but in some cases, life changing opportunities.

Networking, a term often used at the time, was about a physical meeting of people and place, an actual searching through traveling, stepping across borders without knowing but welcoming the moments. Here is an account of my own journey through many of such meetings which set me on my artistic path.

In September of 1985 I moved to NYC to begin my MFA studies at the School of Visual Arts. SVA’s Master’s program was very new, just a few years old. You were given a small cubical for a studio on a warehouse floor the school was renting for its graduate program. The students were very international and had a who’s who list of NY artists professors. Many students, older, came with a focus on creating gallery ready art. The school had two galleries, one in SOHO where I participated in several group exhibitions. During the first years in NY, I also began attending new music concerts at the Alternative Museum in Tribeca and the first Knitting Factory down on Houston St. A performance by Fast Forward I saw at this time with his ensemble performing on steel drum and drums combined with found metal and objects was a big influence on my work. It sparked an interest in sound created outside of the conventional instrumental means I had been only aware of. This experimentation found its way into my sculptural work where I began to build various homemade instruments and sound sculptures from found objects and material which had already been present in my artwork since my undergraduate days at Moravian College in Bethlehem where I would use them in creating mix media constructions.

In November of 1988 I attended a concert at Brooklyn academy of music titled the Night of 1000 Bands. I met there Fast Forward and talked about how my work had been influenced by seeing his concert. I visited his studio the next year and he told me about a concert of Paul Panhuysen he was going to at Experimental Intermedia, a space run by Phill Niblock down on Centre St. Paul had installed a long string installation in the space and performed on it with rosined hands which he ran across the strings setting them in vibration creating a sound unlike anything I had previously experienced. There were also small motors which mechanically played the strings. I was later introduced to both he and Phill by Fast after the concert and became a regular at XI concerts since that night. Paul was the founder together with his wife Helene of the Apollohuis in Eindhoven, Holland, an important and seminal space for sound and installation art.

After graduating from SVA’s graduate program in 1987, I took some metal working classes at the school’s undergraduate sculpture facility. Through an artist I met there I was introduced to artists living in Brooklyn who were renovating a building in Red Hook. At a small BBQ in the yard of the building on Van Brunt St. (the future site of the Kentler International Drawing Space) I met Florence Neal and her husband Scott Pfaffmann who were renovating the building with help of Jens Venneman and his partner Jennifer Protas. They were all members of the BWAC (Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Association) and The Ridge St. Gallery, an artist run space located on Ridge St. in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Scott was the director at the time, and he encouraged me to participate in their outdoor sculpture show which was next spring in the Empire Fulton State Park underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in the artist neighborhood called Dumbo. Jens and Jennifer were also members of the Ridge St. Gallery, an artists’ run space where most of the members were Brooklyn artists who all met at Pratt Institute. I had also considered attending Pratt but chose SVA. Now ironically, I would meet the group who would have been colleagues at Pratt.

Jennifer invited me to her exhibition in the spring of 1990 and later that year Jens had an exhibition in November. They moved the following year to Amsterdam to an area near the Vondel Park. My first exhibit there was part of a group show in February of 1991 and later that year in June I had my first solo exhibition titled “Compounded Territories” and was in collaboration with the writer Lynn Crawford who wrote two texts which were presented in the gallery. It was my first exhibition showing the new sound sculptures I had been developing. One consisted of four large metal gongs where the audience was invited to play. Another was a kinetic mobile wind chime made of found metal objects set in motion by an oscillating fan with a moving light which created moving shadows on the wall in sync with the sounds. The whirl of the fan sounded similar to a film projector creating a cinematic experience. It was my first exhibition where sound, light and performance were central to the work. The exhibition brought together friends from the art world and downtown music/performance scene.

In the fall of 1990 Fast Forward curated three days of music performances at PS 122 in the East Village. The LA based performance artist Anna Homler was performing on the first night. After her performance I found a button with the head of Mozart on it near where she was performing. I approached her and asked if it was hers. ”You’ve found my Mozart,” she exclaimed. We met again on the third evening and then kept in touch after she returned to LA. She was often going to Europe to perform and was going to have an exhibition in Melkfabriek in Hertogen’bosch in Holland at the end of June. This planted a seed in my mind.

I had always wanted to visit Amsterdam, so I planned a trip for a few weeks to coincide with Anna’s exhibition. Fast Forward’s partner Lucienne Vidah was Dutch and still living in Amsterdam. I had met her recently on one of her frequent visits to NY and she said I could stay in her flat. After a few days in Amsterdam, I took a train to Den Bosch to visit Anna. She was performing with the sound artist Ad van Buren at the Melkfabrik, a former milk factory, now an arts space. There was an open house with many performances and studios open. On the roof was a ritual cooking performance by the artist Cees Gunsing. There I was introduced to Milos Vojtěchovský, a Czech artist/curator who had a gallery in Amsterdam, Galerie Oko. He asked me if I had ever been to Prague, not thinking at all that a year later I would be there. I also met the performance artist Grace de la Luna who was a member of the Dutch performance group Zyklus. Phill Niblock appeared at Lucienne’s one afternoon for a visit. We knew each other only from the concerts at his loft. It was the first-time meeting in Europe. I also met Jens and Jennifer at a dinner party they hosted in their place and there I was introduced to artist friends who were part of the Stichting Catacombe, a collective space in the east of Amsterdam.

In March of 1992 I saw the film “Step Across the Border” in NYC and a few months later I stepped across the border into what was then still Czechoslovakia while traveling to the first Hermit Symposium. The film is a documentary about the musician Fred Frith and it is about his life of musical improvisation showing his many collaborations with various musicians. A contemporary troubadour, the film show’s him with Czech musicians Pavel Fajt and Iva Bittova. Later that spring Jens had returned to NY for an exhibition of his work at the Ridge St. Gallery. We had been in touch about doing an exhibition together at the Stichting Catacombe in Amsterdam sometime in the summer. I knew Anna was returning in June to Europe and she had mentioned a symposium that Milos was organizing in a monastery in Czechoslovakia. The idea to spend an extended period of time in Amsterdam became a reality when I was granted a sabbatical from my work at the Bronx Zoo. So, I left for Amsterdam in June of 1992 for a 3-month sabbatical. I had created a sound object for a solo dance piece by Lucienne that would be performed that June in Amsterdam. She had a friend who rented me a flat on the Hendrik de Keizerplein and I set up a studio there with the main instruments I had been playing and recording with in NY, an mbira, a frame drum and a recently built santoorpan, a percussive string instrument with an oil drum “pan” for a resonator. Once in Amsterdam I met Grace de la Luna and other members of Zyklus. They said they were busy getting ready to go to Czechoslovakia to participate in the symposium Milos was organizing in a monastery in Plasy. I knew Anna was attending so I got in touch with Milos and after visiting him he invited me to go. The symposium was already in progress with many artists working there since May. Milos was traveling back and forth and was soon leaving again. He gave me a map and a small, printed invitation for the symposium where I saw more names of artists I knew, Phill Niblock and Paul Panhuysen. There was a Czech bus that would change where it picked up passengers as it didn’t have an official station in Amsterdam. Milos drew a map where I could find it and what day and time.

When I went to get the bus, it was nowhere to be found. I later called Milos and he said they often have to move from the spot if police come and chase them. So, I thought it’s probably best I don’t go as I had just arrived in Amsterdam and was enjoying my time but the next day Milos phoned that a car was leaving to go to Plasy. A Canadian photographer was driving in an old Renault together with an Australian singer and didgeridoo player Jo Truman. We made two overnight stops, in Cologne and then Berlin. When finally arriving at the border near Dresden we were stopped from entering because they didn’t have the necessary visa to enter. My American passport at the time was all I needed so I made the decision to continue on my own.

Therefore, stepping across the border. Two women working at the checkpoint invited me to go with them for dinner so I soon found myself in a Czech pub eating Chicken Kung Pao, the only thing I recognized on the menu. They then left me somewhere and with my makeshift map I started to hitch-hike.

After several rides I found myself on a road with fields all around not sure where I was, and it began to rain. It was already evening, and I was prepared to sleep somewhere outside when a taxi drove up. I hailed it down and showed him my map and pointed to Plasy. So off we went and after what I think was some 40 kilometers, we entered Plasy and arrived at the monastery. I had exchanged guilders at the border and proceeded to pay him 600 hundred crowns (a huge amount I was later told..) but well worth it to me. I arrived in the convent and saw Grace de la Luna sitting on the stairs. She greeted me as if she was expecting me at that moment and pointed me to a dance performance in Refractory upstairs. There I saw Phill and Paul and later Milos. We all went after to the pub U Suku across the street where I met more of the residents. The dancers who were performing said I could sleep that night in the corner room they were staying in the convent and later agreed I could stay there until the end of the symposium. The next day I began to play the frame drum and mbira I had with me. The instruments were transformed by the incredible acoustic resonance of the “convent”. Paul Panhuysen heard me playing the frame drum in the St. Bernards Chapel and invited me to perform together with his long string instrument he would be installing in the chapel for a performance later that day. Jo Truman and Chris had arrived as well after getting visa’s eventually in Dresden. Paul invited Jo to sing, and he and Phill played the long strings walking along then with rosined hands. Paul gave me the strings from the performance after he took them down and I set about to create a bottle zither with wood, a wine bottle, and some bolts for bridges I found in the lower level of the convent.

I had arrived for the last weekend of performances where I met from Prague Jaroslav Kořán and his brother Michal who were there performing with their group The Forgotten Orchestra of Dreamland. Anna Homler was also performing together with Ad Van Burens long magnetic tape delay instrument. Later that evening Phill Niblock music was vibrating the entire building with speakers in both the St. Bernards Chapel and St. Benedict and the last day on Sunday was Fred Frith and Pavel Fajt performing in the Refractory to finish the symposium. I stayed in Plasy some days later and learned that Moravians and Jan Amos Comenius who I knew from the college I attended originally were from Czechia. When people later asked me why I went to Czechoslovakia and later to Prague I would often say fate led me there.

The next year, 1993, I returned to Plasy to participate in the symposium ”Growthrings” after a year back in NYC after my summer sabbatical from the Bronx Zoo. I had received the catalog from the first symposium from a Czech woman, Dana, traveling from Prague to NY. At times I wasn’t sure if it all had been a dream... the contrast was so great between Plasy and NY. Receiving the catalog brought it back to reality and I decided to return the next year.

During the “Growthrings” symposium I built seven instruments from various objects and garden tools I found in Plasy. I had come prepared this time with my own strings and tools to work with as well as taking advantage of the workshop located on the ground floor of the convent. I also came with more mbira’s and again a frame drum. It was during this symposium where I performed my first solo concert on mbira together with the instruments I had built in Plasy. The instruments that survived from that time have been exhibited now in the exhibition “Flashback Hermit” some 30 years later. I also performed again that year with Jaroslav and Michal Kořán in their group Horologe of Dreamers and met Petr Nikl who asked me to play during his puppet performance.

Florence Neal was also in Plasy to participate in “Growthrings”. She had heard about my experience and was looking for an adventure out of Brooklyn. The building that she and her husband Scott had been renovating was finished and they established a gallery on the ground floor, The Kentler International Drawing Space. In the fall of 1993 Jiří Kornatovský from Plasy exhibited his large graphite drawings. He was a co-organizer of the symposium with Miloš and later with his brother Ivo Kornatovský. Florence invited me to exhibit the next year in January 1994 and later Martin Zet and Gertrude Moser-Wagner also exhibited at the Kentler. I received an invitation from Paul and Helene Panhuysen to exhibit my work at the Apollohuis in May of 1994. Later in June I went again to Plasy for the Transparent Messenger symposium. I performed again on the instruments I had created the year before as well as with The Forgotten Orchestra of Dreamland. That year I met the Austrian artist Gertrude Moser-Wagner who invited me to work on a performance together. She spoke about an artists’ residency in Styria, Austria created by Heimo Wallner and a group of artists and musicians, also from Czechoslovakia. Michal Murin, Jozef Cseres and Marian Palla were all early participants.

I returned again to NY in late summer of 1994 and later in the year the exhibition “Celebrate Prague” opened in the World Financial Center. Many artists who I had met in Plasy, Ivan Kafka, Vladimír Kokolia, and Margita Titlova-Ylovsky were all in NY. Many Czechs who had immigrated to NY before 89 also where there. From that time on both places, Prague/Plasy/Czechia and NYC would be connected. It also signaled a time where the influences of the western Art world and market capital economy would begin to dampen the early optimism and openness of the early 90’s. By 1996 I decided to leave NY and live in Prague. I applied for and received and Arts-link grant to teach one semester at FAVU, the art academy in Brno. That year I exhibited for the first time in Slovakia on the third Sound-off exhibition organized by Michal Murin and Jozef Cseres. There I exhibited with Milan Adamčak and Hungarian artist Viktor Lois. I also traveled to Mainz in Germany and exhibited in Galerie Kastrich, run by Harald Kubiczak, a German sound artist who had been in Plasy in 1992. My work had transformed to where I was working often on site-specific locations creating installations from material found in the local area. I had given up my studio in NY already in 1992 and was working in my apartment mostly on instruments and smaller works. I had met the poet Gloria in 1994 through the Dutch artist Annette van der Elzen whom I had first met in Den Bosch at the Melkfabriek. She was visiting NY and through her I met Gloria, who was also a sculptor and had attended SVA. We started to perform together as a duo where I would often play a different instrument for each poem. We performed often from 1994-98 in NY at many spoken word and music venues, Nueyoricans Poets cafe, Biblios, the Knitting Factory and Exit Art gallery.

In the fall of 1997 Jaroslav Kořán received an Arts-Link grant to come to NY for a residency which would take place at Experimental Intermedia. He stayed at my apartment and we worked together to create an instrument similar to his Orloj in Prague. We had access to work at the Kentler gallery in Red Hook and built the gamalon type instrument with found metal from the streets of Red hook Brooklyn and Styrofoam boxes found in Chinatown near experimental intermedia on Centre St. We presented the work in a concert as part of XI’s December series “Festival with no fancy name”. The next year I had a residency in Plasy, which had become the Center for metamedia, to record in the St. Benedict Chapel. Jaroslav did the recording and I invited musicians Vojtech Havel, Tomáš Ondrušek and Tereza Roglová. Milos invited Martin Alačam who I then met and played with for the first time. We played and recorded various duos and trio’s for four days which was then edited into the first CD Usuku and later released as the cassette “Birds and flies above” by the Agosto Foundation. I continue to play with Martin Alacam in a duo for mbira and guitar.

When the Hermit foundation left Plasy in the beginning of the new millennium my instruments which remained in Plasy came to Prague to be included in the exhibition  ‘Hnízda her” in the Rudolfinum in Prague. Conceived by Petr Nikl, it was an audience-interactive exhibition of sound and light objects with an extensive concert program during the entire time of the exhibition. The idea was for the exhibition to change over time with the artists developing the work or bringing in new works or repairing the existing ones. I was in Prague for the entire time of the exhibition simultaneously having a residency at the new location of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Jelení. Many artists and musicians who had participated in Plasy over the years were participating in Hnizda her.

In many ways the new residency program at the CCA continued in spirit the Center for Metamedia especially with Miloš now working there as a medialab coordinator. He soon renovated sheds in the back courtyard where there could be concerts and installations presented. I met there an American sound artist John Grzinich who was then traveling through Prague direction Saint Petersburg after spending an extended time in Slovenia. He spoke about a HEXPO Festival of self-organised cultural forms (2000) he had just participated in.

Later that year Gertrude Moser-Wagner, a friend and colleague from Hermit said she would be participating there the next year and encouraged me to go. Stazione di Topolo was held each July for 3 weeks since 1994. The organizers Donatella Ruttar and Moreno Miorelli would invite artists and musicians to come to the village to create work on site which was presented then on the weekend during the 3 weeks. Installations, concerts, workshops, and films shown in an outdoor cinema. They would stay in various houses together with the inhabitants. It had the openness I knew of the early Hermit symposiums and would operate mainly by word of mouth and recommendations from former “Topolonauts” as they were called, much like the “Hermits” of Plasy. They also encouraged one to first visit the village located on the border between Slovenia and Italy north of Udine in Friuli. Then a written proposal was sent months before the festival which would be included in a printed catalog prepared for that Stazione. I participated in 2003-2005, 2009, 2018 and 2019. Covid caused a pause in 2020, but it was able to continue in a smaller more local version, but after 2022 it was ended after 29ths. A whole generation was born and grown up during this time first living in the village and surrounding area and then later participating with their own work. A new organization “Robida collective” is now based in Topolo and is continuing there with a main mission to ”rethink the possibilities of cultural work in post-rural areas, which were once kept alive by agricultural production but were left behind by their inhabitants in the process of modern urbanization” (from the website robidacollective.com).

The Stazione di Topolo began as well as a way to give back to the village something positive after the isolation of being a village literally situated on the border of the Iron Curtain. It was in a restricted zone between Italy and Yugoslavia. The village of 450 inhabitants before the Second World War was reduced to 40 in 1994. During this period of isolation, it was the woman with their daughters who would leave to find work in other parts of Italy and the men stayed behind to work the land with the boys.

On the second day of the conference in Olomouc there was a discussion about how to continue in the future. The idea of a communal space with residences, exhibitions and performances taking place was suggested. But what I believe wasn’t clearly addressed was the importance of the context in which a new space existed, its connection and relationship to the town and community. Plasy already had the history of the monastery as well as the co-cooperation of the Kornatovský brothers, Jiří and Ivo who were from Plasy. Stazione di Topolo also had this history to work with as well as the organizers being from the village and local area.

Alexander’s Moust’s idea to continue the Hermit Flashback exhibition in Amsterdam has meaning outside of just organizing an exhibition somewhere since many of the early symposium participants were from Holland and I believe would be interested in participating and attending such an exhibition. It can be a good situation for another flashback amongst fellow Hermits. I recently met Florence Neal who would be interested in cooperation as well at the Kentler gallery which has become an established non-profit institution in Red Hook Brooklyn.

Michael Delia, New York, December 2023

Michael Delia (born 1963, USA) in an artist, musician and instrument builder who lives and works in New Jersey. His work spans a wide range of disciplines and media, encompassing painting, sculpture, installation, sound and music performance. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Moravian College in 1985 and an MFA degree in Sculpture from the School of Visual Arts (S.V.A.) in 1987. Delia’a work has been presented in various American and European venues; Experimental Intermedia, The Knitting Factory, Exit Art, Threadwaxing space, Czech Center NY, Galerie Kastrich in Mainz, Germany, CCNOA in Brussels, Belgium, Stighting Logos in Gent, Belgium, Het Apollohuis in Eindhoven, Holland, Hermit symposium in Plasy, Czech Republic, Sound Off exhibition and The Rosenberg Museum in Samorin, Slovakia, Galerie Manes, Galerie Skolska, Respect Festival and Galerie Rudolfinum in Prague, Czech Republic, Stazione di Topolo and Arte Sella in Italy and Mamu Galerie in Budapest, Hungary.

He has performed and collaborated with numerous artists/musicians/choreographers: Anna Homler, Jaroslav and Michal Kořán, Rajesh Meta, Martin Janiček, Ondřej Smeykal, Petr Nikl, Miloš Vojtěchovský, Martin Alacam, Hearn Gadbois, Jennifer Helia DeFelice, Angelica Castello, Antonio della Marina, Alessandra Zucchi, Al Margolis, Phill Niblock, Katherine Liberovskaya, Sofia Bustorff, Jozef Czeres, Zsolt Sores, Jon Rose, Irena and Vojtěch Havlovi, and choreographers Sally Gross, Gaby Glinz, and Lucienne Vidah.
Michael Delia came for the first Hermit symposium in 1992, attended events in the following years, and continues to collaborate with a number of Czech and international artists.