over the years i have done a little bit of this – intervening in others’ works to do my own listening version of it.
it’s quite interesting to me to ‘enliven’ others’ work through this subtle performance. perhaps people don’t get it, but as part of my practice, it’s a way that i can interact with the ideas in others works that reflect my own. and as an audience member, i am also participating in a way that i choose.
the two previous works i’ve done in this way have been to ‘negate’ the listening experience in their work – to listen to something else instead (in the case of a Jean Luc Guionnet work at West Space) and to sleep in to an alarm playing music over the gallery (in the case of the Perfect Day to Chase Tornadoes work at Kunstraum Quartier).
i recently did the same as part of Amalia Pica’s work at chisenhale gallery. although it was less and intervention, more of a response to an opening for volunteers to listen. And, rather than a negation, this was specifically an activation of a work – a listening trumpet in the middle of the gallery.
Sitting for 3.5 hours, it gave me a chance to think about my own similar work in a concentrated way. Some thoughts i had at the time:
listening is deemed to be activated when there is a response to the sound.
as i sat and listened, a young boy and his dad came up and because my role was to be a human listening object, i couldn’t respond in any way to the spoken/given sounds. the boy whispered hello, and his dad asked whether i though spain or france would win the football on the weekend. i heard them loud and clear, but because i didn’t ‘respond’ in an expected way, they believed the work was ‘broken’. interestingly, they didn’t try to ‘fix it’, or try a hundred times (like you do when headphones are broken, or the computer won’t turn on, or the DVD stops playing) but it was interesting to note that ‘working’ meant ‘responding’. that someone is ‘listening’ when they actually respond to what you’ve said.
of course, part of that is true. in communication and from a psychoanalytical point of view, one proves the action by another responsive action. but from an experiential point of view, it’s not necessarily the case. I was listening. intently.
I also thought about what this means for us all wearing headphones. the idea that we can be ‘not listening’ still works, becuase we don’t respond (or we have a delayed response) when someone talks to us. nice.
the performance of listening really is a subtractive device.
i’ve spoken about this before – when i was doing my listening and being works. i wondered whether it was just that particular installation (covered in mirrors), or just my perception, but when i performed this work for amalia, a similar thing happened: people would be chatting as they come into the gallery and then, as they see me, they immediately shut the hell up. it happened twice and it was amazing – i wish i had been able to record it. voice levels became low and subdued and they crept around the work. seeing that one is listening, it seems one becomes self-conscious. and perhaps with that, one stops ‘expressing’ oneself.
this has to become a new area of research for me – it’s too good!
What is the pose of a listener?
I’ve been interested in the ‘poses’ of listeners for a while, but participating in this work had me questioning to best convey, through form, that I’m really listening? Is there a best ‘pose’ for listening? Should I move slightly from a ‘passive’ to an ‘active’ pose with the move of my head? Should I look up, or down? Should I act as if I’m concentrating, or is the lack of eye contact enough? I previously made some silhouette works of people ‘listening’ and some feedback I got was that they ‘didn’t really look like they were listening’. Which I thought was hilarious and definitely impetus for a body of work. The presence of the cone/trumpet negated some of the ambiguity, but it was an interesting experiment to see whether I could convey that action of listening, should the trumpet not be there. If that makes sense. It’s all about ‘codes’.
I’ve previously had to ask myself ‘What is the uniform of a listener?’ – which came up again in this work when I got ‘busted’ getting up from the cone to go to the toilet. I wondered if the audience wondered if I was meant to be there, or just another audience member who had decided to sit on the floor and listen. One day I’d like to work with a fashion designer to come up with such a ‘uniform’, but it may have to wait.
The accoustics of Chisenhale gallery itself are amazing. Incredibly resonant, all conversations become garbled very quickly and people speaking becomes a bubble of sounds that pop and diappear very quickly. At some points in the afternoon, there was a beautiful soundtrack which i could have magnetically recorded – combining the hard rhythm of someone walking in heels, with the activity of a spoken conversation, plus the faint echo of traffic from outside and then this beautiful ‘space’ in between all the sounds, from the acoutic shape of the gallery.
It was such a gift to be able to experience and think about all of these things for myself and for another’s work. Having done something like this, now for the third time, i may have to make it a regular part of my practice.
the exhibition is on until the 15th july at chisenhale in london (a gallery i always make a point of visiting when i’m in town) – you should check it out and there’s a panel discussion this thursday too!
What Makes A Sense of Place, Installation view. Photo Andy Keate, from chisenhale.org.uk
she sees red listening from claire selby on instagram