It seemed I’d stepped…

It seemed I’d stepped from the rainy morning walk into a room of frozen thought. The room was full of people between their twenties and their seventies and yet it seemed most of them had agreed to set their understanding on an average age of middle. Middle thinking, I mean. The safety of the shared, mental age of middle. Wrapped in self-aggrandising frameworks, the curators sheltered their thoughts behind the flat screens of presenting (as in: ‘I’m not making any statements here, I have nothing to question, I’m just presenting these slides to you’). Artists tiringly repeated conformed formulas to forcefully comb their pedigreed works into more flatness. ‘I am … a sound artist’, sound thundering in the vast chambers of ego. Theorists theorised. In the frenzy of tidying up ideas, they forgot to listen. ‘Sound art’ had a German accent, stuck in the vexing rhyming refrains of problematisation extrapolation presentation documentation. Images of silenced monuments of sound kept parading in the slideshow, more remindful of tombstones than of any presumed ‘activation of the public space’. Activating what and whose space remained unclear. Been there, mourned. Still tombstones of what is safe and comforts, words kept being emitted but added up to nothing. [in a whisper]: Today it is Thursday, tomorrow we die. Today you’re dressed up with sound art and a lie. The wind rattling the window panes and the rain hammering down the night before echoed in my mind and in my body that could not sleep. How I wished someone had brought those sounds into that room and into their words. I want to tell you what I could not write. Can a voice connect fragmented records. You have strong voices, for another route. You have strong voices uprooted.

And nobody in that group of middles would acknowledge confusion – unless in a quote legitimised by someone else. Then they could lock it in a safe and wear it occasionally as an embellishment. And nobody among those middles would pay attention to the sounds and voices of elsewhere, pointing elsewhere. Alright love, you’re sweet. Let’s move on to the serious stuff now. To the practical bits, that is. Ooo the good practical ones. Prone to the mantra of wherethereispublicfundingtherewillbesoundart. With speakers. Lots of them, so we can then take nice pictures of these emblems and produce a catalogue.

In the room, most artists speak the same language. My problem is not with their works: it’s in how they speak of them, the words they use, the trite and worn-out expressions that say no more. They show slides, play snippets of sounds almost apologetically. They say: ‘You should have been there to really understand the installation’. Their language becomes transparent. It’s the opposite of sound. Sound fleets, ever unfathomable: while language becomes too familiar, to the point when certain expressions are taken for granted. ‘You should have been there to really understand the installation’. Why then are you, and we, here in this room, discussing your work, if you say we should have been there? Is this space then a deterioration? A denial of the fact that we’re here? Are we sorry to be here? Or is it a nod to the fact that few people have been there and by consequence they are the sole retainers of that experience, and can control it? I want to be there when I can but I also want to be here, and this here is not derived, weak, or less significant. To celebrate the permanence of The Archive of ‘having been there’ means control: to imply that only a small number of chosen few can access that there is dangerously tied to power. Meanwhile the living records of sounds move around, with mess and contradictions: in the people who were there and heard them, and in those who weren’t but still can experience them, and re-make them in their thoughts. Remember Edison via Villiers? ‘It is helpless to represent the voice of conscience. Can I record the voice of the blood?’ I can hear those impossible sounds, in his (their) words: not having been there. Sonic palimpsests are written and muted and they infiltrate perceptions and dissolve in them, they move.

Two days later, early one morning I left, heading back to my inward time, feeling the cold rush of wind on my face and the clear nordic air sweeping my thoughts. For a long time the previous evening I’d thought about the middle thinking I’d witnessed and its vain belief that documents can inscribe the middle thinkers in history. I wanted to listen to another thinking, to the silenced. As I stepped on the bus to the airport, I could hear the turmoil of more voices. It was time to go and write them. Like Kathy Acker said or maybe it was Chris Kraus, as a writer I don’t make things up: I perceive and record. And, let me add, I voice.

5 Responses to “It seemed I’d stepped…”

  1. I think I recognise this . . . mmm, yes, and then I was walking round the Daido Moriyama exhibition the other day, thinking this is about how to live, not how to die.

  2. The anxiety of the day I attended was palpable. I have been writing about the day on and off since then and will conclude soon… your sound-reading was wonderful and I will read your book…. before too long. Curiously attending this event was a part of reconfiguring how I can engage in writing and speaking about. Finding that voice is not easy and the relationships of making and doing – reflecting, writing speaking about can become inversely fragmented or solidified in an art practice. Many artists continue to view formats of presentation in retrospective mode through a language and processes of traditional documentation. There can be an urgency that comes with releasing those sensations and unfixing them.

    • Thank you for your comments, Alain. I would be interested in reading what you wrote, too. I think it’s a case of making those spaces of presentation/representation alive, and not just a faint reflection of what is ‘not there’.

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