a couple of days before leaving for my lightening fast sydney/brisbane escapade, lucas (the great connector) emailed me about tony birch/tom nicholson‘s work at artspace, which needed some [artist-as-]participants. i can’t remember lucas’ description exactly, but it mentioned a lecture, tom nicholson, a building in carlton and a spare spot on the 26th february.
lock me in!
i have been really interested in tom‘s work for a while and his sound/performance/list collaboration ‘lines toward another century’ with andrew byrne with had me hopping from side to side.
thanks to a bit of a crazy schedule, i didn’t have time to do any research into the project, which worked in my favour i think. i just rocked up, said hello to the gals at artspace, got instructions and launched into it. no time for over-analysing – plenty of time for that during the performance.
the darkened room featured included 5 desks, with a desk lamp and a series of projections behind the ‘stations’. each participant/artist read the lecture aloud and to themselves, according to the instructions, as we were giving a paper to a room of 30 students. easy. kinda.
the inbuilt difficulties (and points of interest) included reading at the same time as everyone else, the combination of reading internally and aloud whilst maintaining the same timing and the slight physical duress of sitting in the high-contrast environment for 40 minutes at a time. i always forget how quickly my body is affected by durational work.
despite having to concentrate quite heavily, i found myself thinking A LOT about the work in a variety of ways. so much so that it has taken me about a week to work out what the hell i need to say about it.
camp pell is based in and around royal park, melbourne, and the lectures are about a series of images from the state library of victoria. the idea behind tom’s research of the imagery was to not just imagine the context for the photos in question, but to catalogue and corroborate the stories and history of the time/place. unsurprisingly, the complex relationship to imagery, history and colonialisation comes up very early in the piece.
the area in question is very “local” to me – i ride across, around, through there regularly and is a permanent fixture in my psychogeography. reading about this place and its history/image-history was instantly transportive. rather than imagining the events or the landscape of the images, it was like i was remembering those places. the works, for me, were quite different to enacting an arbitrary narrative. they were infused with a sense of my own experience. which, as any good installation artist knows, is the stuff you want people to take from a work.
the sound elements to the work were also interesting to me – the syncopation of vocal relay and the differing tones was amazing. not to mention the randomness of timing. having to share the soundscape with others at times was amusing – another aspect to the territorial nature of the work – but also the sense of authority with which we all projected our voices. in a way, it homogenised the pitch and weight of our ranges. in the way that i guess memory will desaturate imagery, a lecture format desaturated our vocal contrasts. i think this is an area that my vocologist friend tim noonan would have been fascinated by.
reading aloud is physically exausting too, and i think that this shared effort required to communicate the work is another interesting point of connection with other artists and the work itself. it became a visceral task, which has become physical memory, as well as a mental one. something infinitely bound with psychogeography and a relationship with the indigenous manner of remembering ones place.
as well as remembering and listening, i learned a lot. despite the line in my lecture about ‘only the most demonstrative student could have gotten away with not hearing about this history of the ill-fated [burke and wills] trip’ i actually knew hardly any detail about the crazy hair-brained voyage up the guts of the place. in history lessons i only ever remember wondering why the hell they started the trip in the first place and thought it was blatantly obvious to trust the local indigenous kids to help you survive. but i guess, at 15 i hadn’t really discovered the true nature of the proud white colonial male.
as an aside, the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the burke and wills trip is on the 20th august this year and no doubt, there will be commemorations of some kind. it will be interesting to see what, exactly. given that its place as a valuable point in our history has become an uncomfortable indication of our true colonial history (ie bumbling idiots with too much money kill the only help they get and are survived by the only member of their trip who is humble enough to follow guidance from local aboriginal tribe). i’m almost intrigued enough to go along. almost.
other points of goodness in the work are the obvious conceptual links between art and text, art and language, language and meaning, text and meaning. not to mention tom’s regular investigation into publication/archive/library/reading-as-political-action and the contemporary nature of artist-as-participant/audience-as-participant in performative works. i can’t even begin to digest all that stuff today, i’m glad that i was able to participate – it gave me a burst of food for thought and reminded me why i make the kind of work i do, and to follow the lead of artists like these guys.