Mostly artefacts and artifice: history in public

This week’s wrap-up stretches across museums and institutions concerned with history.

The Money Gallery: Britism Museum
The Money Gallery is a gallery that, would benefit from being properly expanded. The historical coinage/artefacts of trade are really interesting, including the chinese coins that didn’t change in 2000 years (that’s good design for you. The modern era of currency hasn’t really been explored that well and could unpack the nature of currency, value and monetary history.

The history of accounting was briefly covered with a monument to pretty much the first auditor, but could have expanded right out. Questions that could have been investigated include: How did accounting evolve? How did we, as a society, come to agree on ways of managing money? How did we establishing methods of checks and balances?
Given that money and trade and currency underpin society, British history and London as the centre of global Finance, I think it would give laymen an insight into finance and the ways in which it intersects with history, art and anthropology.

On the Road: British Library
The British Library is currently displaying the original scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Toad. It’s a beautiful object that just oozes that manic style of the book and connects history, the importance of collection and the legacy of beat poetry. You couldn’t really read the words on it – with low lux protecting the manuscripts integrity making it a little difficult – but there were chunks of break-out text that reminded me of how great the book is.

The Jewellery Gallery: Victoria and Albert Museum
As a compliment to the history of trade and artefacts at the british museum, the jewellery gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum is about craftsmanship and social identity through the history of personal ornamentation. Of course it could be waaaaay bigger but, for a mostly-private collection, It is still pretty amazing.  Although it rarely changes, it is a gallery that those living in or visiting London can pop into for inspiration and a reminder of the immense wealth and power that is conveyed through bespoke jewellery.

On the street: Blue Plaques
When not popping into museums, of course you still get to experience a sense of history about London and history through the blue plaques scheme.

We walk past places where REAL SHIT HAPPENED. Yesterday I came across the old residence of Emmeline Pankhurst. Being a foreigner, Emmeline Pankhurst has, until now, been just be a name in the history books, or a link on wikipedia. Not a real person who did amazing things! Yesterday I had a moment where the history of her life and the reality of mine suddenly connected. Lineage.

In Australia, I’m removed from that. Which is exactly why colonisation works – I’m completely divorced from the immense history of the land I was raised on because my ancestors killed pretty much everyone who could have possibly passed down that history. And, because I’m from english stock and so far from the sites of my family history, the concept of being connected to history is a little foreign to me. Which is why I’m particularly enjoying the cold, dark and grey city I’m in.

public institutions


Often my work about art in public space has more of an art leaning – sound, performance, space, etc.

Lately, it’s been focused on the public bit. The bios politikos seen in hannah arendt‘s the human condition.  Gender and sexual identity are a massive part of what drives my high horse, especially when it comes to public insitutions and, unsurprisingly, i’ve been supporting recent pushes for marriage equality across sexual orientation.

As it stands, i think the institution of marriage is in a bit of a state – it needs to be reconnected to the reasons for having an area of law that governs relationships between people that combine emotion and posessions and effect how succession is legislated (ie: families).

This is a little something of what I wrote to the Senate for their inquiry into the issue:

I have family who have been afforded protection by the Marriage Act who have been violent, abusive, financially negligent and hold complete disregard for the rights of their spouses.

I have family and dear friends who are in loving, committed relationships – who uphold the human rights of their partners, who participate in their communities, who value love, support and financial stability, yet who are not afforded the same rights when it comes to participating in the institution of marriage.

In every other way they uphold the responsibilities of their entitlement to being protected by the Marriage Act. And yet their sexual orientation (something for which their employment, education and citizenship itself cannot be discriminated against) is the only quality which continues to exclude them.

This is not right.

What it says about Australia is that our Marriage Act, and the institution of marriage is only for the protection of a certain percentage of our population, many of whom we allow to continue abusing it and corrupting it without recourse.

I support marriage equality, as it will realign our institution of Marriage with the kind of values it needs to continue: love, committment, participation in the community and upholding the human rights of our loved ones.

I would like Australia’s politikos to be as robust as possible.

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at the beginning of 2009, 4 artists from my masters class answered a call for artists to make ephemeral work in a carpark space in collingwood.

at the end of the meeting it was proposed that, rather than install yet more artwork, the organisation (collingwood neighbourhood house) install artists on site, to be there and do what we do. based on a canadian hospital residency program, the idea was that artists on site, engaging directly with the community and making a variety of works is far more beneficial than a slightly disembodied work. it was also an opportunity to have a series of artists working with each other, supporting projects and populating the (previously scary, unsafe) space.


2 years’ on, many prototypes and significant funding applications later, the program has recently started, with its first round of artists on site.

roarawar feartata collective are in the space at the moment, and doing an great job of breaching and infiltrating the spaces of the estate in magical and interesting ways. they’re getting to really know the nature of the estate.

we had harvest festival on the weekend and although it was rained out, i had the chance to dress up and play character for some Q&A style surveying about art.

we’ve got a blog that is in its early stages, but i’ll link to it a fair bit over the next 12 months. i’ll be in residence during september/october/november doing my sound/listening/acoustic works – watch this space.

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sound out

melbourne in train

transience has afforded me some thinking time about public transport.

i’ve been spending a bit of time on it lately and noticing the difference between transport in melbourne and those systems that i experienced in berlin, london and dubai.

i noticed, particularly, how loud our trains were. and i don’t mean to run, but the human noise level on them. people talk much, much louder, teenagers actually shout and scream at each other on them, so many people have mobile phone conversations on them and there is a general din about them.

and which probably explains why we have far more people with headphones on trains that i ever noticed in any of those cities*

i’ve managed to come up with two quick, simplistic reasons for that so far, separate from a cynical view on the commercial influence of personal music devices:

most of the trains in berlin and london have large sections of train with a central aisle in which many people stand and people sit flanking that aisle. people face strangers and sit next to each other. conversations between compatriots are rarely conducted across the divide, and so the conversations are far more hushed. added to this, the sound of train the underground perhaps drowns out a possibility of discussion, and certainly of mobile phone discussion.

whereas most trains in melbourne have small series of facing banks of seats and a central aisle. in peak hour, people stand in the central aisle, but don’t interrupt the flow of cross-conversation. generally it’s actually quieter at peak hour, because there are more strangers sitting opposite each other, but even still, it’s pretty chatty. 

given that only 4 stations are underground (and thus have access to networks except vodafone), the amount of mobile chatter is also way more than i became used to.

teenagers still act appallingly in berlin and london (i watched a boy spit on strangers into the window of a train as it was taking off in berlin), but they don’t seem to be quite so loud as our obnoxious youngsters, which indicates that culturally, there is an etiquette around noise in public.

even shouting across streets in berlin and dubai was rare. i think this culture of australians as loudmouths comes from our sense of space. we have a large soundspace, born from our stereotypical access to space (which gives me the shits). we’re rarely walking/sitting/being in confined spaces with millions of other people – we walk so far apart that we have to yell. we can’t possible sit so close together that we almost touch – which leads to practically yelling at each other from across a train.

melbourne’s population is growing like mad at the moment – it will be interesting to see in 5 year’s time if this changes the way we relate to each other on an auditory level. will we evolve to communicate closer together, or will we grip tightly to our sense of entitlement at space and continue to yell over a chasm of public space?

*i haven’t done controlled experiments, but for those who may critically object, suggesting that perhaps i don’t have evidence, you’re probably right. but i suggest you read my blog more and remember that i have spent the last 3 years obsessed with how people wear headphones in public. so there.

image credit: sinan229 from flickr
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dancing in the streets again.

dancing in the streets_0010

today i spent the afternoon pretty much back at the start of my masters research: in a silent gig in public, dancing to music with a bunch of people in headphones. public/private/public.

the first time i did it was at ars electronica 2007 and it kickstarted my investigation into sound in public, the role/symbol/place of headphones in public and the ensuing 2 years’ masters degree on all things related.

today was a silent parade for climate change, organised by 350 org and it was mad-fun.

what better a place to dance on the streets as part of political action but in berlin! berliners LOVE their electronic music and LOVE dancing (i should know, my club-induced sleeping patterns are getting ridiculous). it was awesome.

dancing in the streets_0026_web

the vibe itself was fantastic – i dipped in and out of different shared experiences with it, giving it a diversity of engagement that really floated my boat, and made for an even more enjoyable and thought-provoking afternoon.

of course, each of these points of together/alone with the parade had slightly different aspects of public/private/public politics:

through the media
i had to join the parade halfway through. so with twitter and their hashtag, i connected with the parade halfway through. connecting as an outsider to the crowd using social media + political engagement, easy – media studies 101.

full engagement
then, i joined the party. i danced my arse of for a while in a group of others all dancing and enjoying themselves with a cracking soundtrack and lots of clapping, w00ts and smiles. we were all in this together, for a common cause and enjoyment. and we were surrounded by a bunch of people who weren’t sharing, but engaged with curiosity – watching and wondering and maybe feeling a bit like outsiders. [more on the ‘outsider’ aspect of such a situation in a minute].

separated engagement
as the parade moved, i grabbed my bike, headphones still in range and rode on ahead, physically separate from the crowd, but still sonically and technologically engaged [wirelessly]. it was pretty special – i was riding in my own space, listening to music on my own, unable to see/hear others, but just knowing that they were there. i think this experience is exactly why the internet works.

and i had the fuckin’ coolest extra little public/private/public moment –  i’m riding away from the crowd, passed the polizei van escorting us and one of the officers has the headphones on (so he can keep track of what’s happening, i guess). and HE’S DANCING TOO!! i gave him a mega smile + bodacious wave and kept riding.
private citizen + public representative togetherness moment. swoon.

dancing in the streets_0038_web

separated, but with one other
another lone bike-rider with headphones caught up with me and together we were riding, dancing, w00ting and throwing our hands up in the air, having our own little private/public/private dance party. in fact, i think that confused people outside the ‘gig’ even more – just two crazy girls dressed in black, on bikes, wearing headphones, dancing like maniacs with each other. but it was another one of those moments of sharing an experience with another person, as part of a wider crew, that was just priceless.

i decided to do a part of my listening to the city project as part of the parade, so once the crowd stopped at the park on spandauer straße, i turned the radio headphones off and became an observer. my observation was largely based on what i could hear (which is hilarious when you’re hearing what everyone else cannot), but it was still as an outside observer. there were lots of people also observing what was going on – some knowing a little bit about it, some not knowing and quiet alienated, others unknowing, but fascinated, or nonplussed. interesting levels of understanding and public engagement.

one thing i noticed is that having ‘outsiders’ is an important dynamic to an event like this. it generates curiosity, a point to engage, thought and ‘difference’. the alienation is not didactic, or perhaps even intended, but i did notice that because people couldn’t (or didn’t have to) engage, they stood around and watched, thought and perhaps envied the process. i know that the advertising peeps crave that juicy experience a lot, but as an artist and activist, it was the first time i understood how it could be used for good.

full engagement again.
and, right at the end, i put the headphones back on and danced with the crowd for another little while. the level of dancing reduced by the time we got to the park, some just opting to lay back in the glorious autumn sunshine and listen, but the sense of common and einheit was still very strong, without a harsh word, or forced action in earshot. brilliant.

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listening to the history of listening


yesterday sarah mosca and i went on a mission to teufelsberg in berlin – to the old NSA listening station. a proper structure for sound/listening in the public realm.


and oh my god, it was fucking amazing.


we had a string of excellent luck: the weather was great, we found our way ok, dodged fences, security and ticket inspectors.


we were like two of the famous five off on ad adventure. we even had a packed lunch – a thoroughly modern version of ‘slices of ham and lashings of ginger beer’.


the station was unbelievable – visually and acoustically.


sarah and i did an impromptu quasi-performance of sorts, fucking around with the zany acousitcs of the listening dome – something that both blixa bargeld and alice hui-sheng chang would have been proud of.


i then tried to squeeze in a quick listening project of the lift shaft before die sicherheit arrived. fingers crossed i can go back soonish.

here’s wikipedia’s history of the place, just to put it into perspective.

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