listening to others’ works

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!

image credits: 
What Makes A Sense of Place, Installation view. Photo Andy Keate, from chisenhale.org.uk
she sees red listening from claire selby on instagram

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audience are people too

i’ve been going to stand-up comedy gigs a bit more lately. mostly because bonnie ‘fabulous’ davies is really active in the perth stand-up scene and has been generous in inviting me to gigs.

last night i went to chuckles gong comedy, which is quite the hilarious audience-participatory deal. 
the comedy is only as good as its judges and last night i had the fortune of at least seeing the first half with some ruthless judges (i’ve now made it a mini-mission to be a judge next month, ahem).
anyway, in a post-gig discussion about comedy, i found myself up on my soap box about sexism and misogyny in comedy. i know, how unusual.
this came about, not just because i’m a sweary, ranty feminist. 
some of the jokes last night were appalling. so many men using degrading portrayals women as a vehicle to talk about their dicks! i mean, seriously. there are only so many times i can hear about a dick on stage – not even performance art is that bad. 
classics like:
if women were ruled by their vaginas, they’d be freaked out by children’s heads;
ladies, if a guy opens the door, just suck their cock and save time;
when guys get caught checking out chicks…. (serious? never even been done before? wow)
and lots of whinging about being single (no shit, douchey mcdouche)
of course, because the audience was at least half full of blokes (friends with the mostly-male comedians), they get a few laughs. which is why they keep telling the damn things.
although ‘know your audience’ is excellent counsel for stand-up comedy, going for lowest common denominator is like shooting fish in a barrell. 
heard the one about ‘just because you can masturbate on a public bus doesn’t mean you should’?
just because you can be a sexist jerk and get some laughs doesn’t mean you should. 
to be able to make a room full of people laugh at dick and fart jokes is not actually that hard. 
it takes skill, true wit and real intelligence to be able to hold court and make a stack of people all laugh at what is common humour.
c’mon, just be fucking hilarious.
(and this is where i get sanctimonious.. )
i also don’t think a comedian’s role is just to get a few giggles and a bit of an ego stroke. 
most comedians are observant, interested in what makes people tick and on some level believe that a humourous way to look at life is an opportunity to sometimes say something serious. 
i think they can raise the standards of what people find humourous (and by definition, then, not funny at all). they can make the kind of difference on an audience’s perceptions than art can only dream of. 
i just wish they’d take that role and put it to good use.
and to women going to comedy nights, i reckon we should start heckling a little more. sick of hearing jokes about just sucking a guy’s cock when he opens a door for you ‘cos that’s what he really wants? BORING!! GET OFF!
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something to listen to

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i just wanted to quickly back up on last week’s performance Give Me Something To Listen To.

it was an amazing experience.
sometimes i bit terrifying, right?

i didn’t actually know what would happen. i could have sat in an empty chair for three hours, trying to convince myself that ‘better luck next time’ is adequate consolation.

thankfully that wasn’t the case – there was a pretty steady stream of people who liked the idea and had things to bring me. some people knew me and brought things that were incredibly meaningful (or just mean – ahem). others heard about the work, liked the idea and brought things they thought i might like, or that they wanted me to like. others brought their favourite song or even their own work.

performance

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my ‘performance’ in this instance is quite subtle. another artist described it as ‘not performing performing’. but with an ever-changing audience, those that stayed and watched me listening noticed a few interesting things about the action of listening in this way.

as each person sat down and i handed over my headphone jack to them (the first person i plugged it into their ipod myself and it just felt a little bit violatory), it was almost ceremonial. as was the end, when they handed back my headphone jack.

each track was quite different and i tried to be as true as i could to whatever i was listening to.

i really listened and the world changed a little bit each time. sometimes my world became a movie, or a film clip. sometimes i was completely taken over by joy and movement – like when heidi gave me ‘i want you back’, by the jackson 5 – my favourite song of all time. or when gonzalo put jay-z and mc punjabi’s remix of blame the boys. we just rolled together.

accompaniment.

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each person sitting next to me had a different level of comfort. some were completely comfortable – especially those who almost listened along with me – they could see where i was up to in the track. others were quite uncomfortable, or bored. most started fidgeting at about the 1’30 mark. 3’30 is quite a long time when you’re just sitting there.

looking through the early documentation, it’s interesting to look at the shape of the space between me and the other ‘performer’.

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sometimes it really felt like i had a partner in crime. other times that other person became a character in a music narrative, depending on the song/track.

significance

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i asked everyone afterwards about the significance of the track they chose and we had some great discussions. after the hypnosis for pubic hair loss, we discussed the idea of gender as a psychological construct (and thus able to be changed through hypnosis).

sarah gave me a song that she knew was one of the first songs she ever gave me. sarah and her brother’s collection was incredibly influential on my love of music.

lynda’s choice of alvin lucier’s i am sitting in a room was an obvious one for her. we were able to discuss the significance of distortion, and of the next level of listening to that work in a room, different to the one i was in.

it was also amazing to see how relevant the tracks became. even by people who had never met me before and knew nothing about my practice. For instance, someone gave me Dreams by Fleetwood Mac and i had never heard the line ‘play the way you feel it, but listen to the sound..’ before. Wow.

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it was the first time i performed that work as a whole and i have to say that i’m pretty happy with how it worked.

thanks to those who came. and for those in other cities, or if you missed out in melbourne, i have a feeling this is just the beginning.

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the listening booth: end of residency at collingwood neighbourhood house

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i’ve been quite the boringly busy blogger this year, haven’t i? 
constantly apologising for blogging about things way after they’ve passed.
so ’tis with the end of the residency at collingwood housing estate.
as the end of the residency loomed,  i really wasn’t sure the best way to ‘mark’ the occasion. my initial idea was to put on a concert, with the local band, some experimental music peeps and some vocal groups from the local area.
whilst i don’t think it’s a stupid idea, the failure of the movie night helped me realise that my resources (time, money, skllls and patience) were too limited to be able to pull of something like that on the estate. and it just felt like i was going to make a work that kinda failed.
so i cancelled the tentative plans i had made, but that left me with a bit of a hole in my plans and a sense of impending anticlimax. 
thankfully i was able to chat about it with sue kent, the administrator and person who started collingwood neighbourhood house. she suggested, very sensibly, that i join the community safety day which was planned for the weekend after our conversation. it was a super-quick turnaround, but a great idea: the community would be out, it was going to add to a  sense of safety and awareness (listening, that is), and i’d be included in an event that already had community support, promotion and context. perfect.
the only problem was the i wasn’t sure the best way to include some of the art community in that end-of-residency rah-rah. it wasn’t a sexy event and i also didn’t feel like making into a typical art event with a bunch of artists who aren’t really into community-engaged practice.
thankfully my friend lucas came to the rescue – he suggested exactly the right thing, which resulted in two quite private tours for invited arty guests as well as members of the estate. perfect.
finishing touches


having brought my finale 10 days forward, i had to work really hard to bring everything to completion, but thankfully i just put my mind to it, and employed an assistant. mark, a local in transitional housing and main guy for the men’s shed was my assistant for the week and he was amazing. he helped me put together the listening booth and string up all the wiring for the underground sound listening stations.
i worked my arse off writing up the sound wall, compiling the CD, getting maps printed and sorting out the logistics of inviting people to a one-off tour. all whilst  talking to loads of people from the area about what was happening. it was pretty intense, but amazing week. and it was really satisfying. those posts about each of the artworks will give you an idea of the meta processes of the whole work, but the overall fervent activity about all the works really brought everything together and did make it feel like a finale. the locals got a sense of what i was doing, and i started to see what my work was about and how it fit.
the listening booth and tours of the housing estate
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thankfully the listening booth was the perfect device to bring all the works together on the one day.
i gave out CDs, maps to the estate and it was a great site from which to leave the tours.
the tours were great! a really nice mix of locals and arty-visitors and each person took something different away about the residency and the estate itself.
each group started with underground sound listening stations, to the sound wall, through one of the tower foyers and back to harmsworth park. i spoke a little about my experience on the estate, some about the work, about the significance of the places we passed (including the neighbourhood house and the DHS office0  the first group was overflowing, with quite a lot of the local peeps joining in (including a couple of kids) and we were treated to an outstanding tirade about public housing by a resident as we passed through the foyer of 229.
the second tour was slightly smaller, but later in the day. it was still a great little tour and some great questions asked about the nature of sound on the estate. I think most of the visitors really enjoyed all the works, and the chance to have them placed in context with a bit of a story and a chance to compare and contrast.
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during the week afterwards, i was able to give people who couldn’t make the main tours a consolation tour – with out the booth and vibe of the day, but still a glimpse into the sound works, the wall and a copy of the CD and maps.
i was so flattered at all the people who came and the great feedback i got about the works.
i also feel incredibly honoured that i was able to make the work that i did, and to be able to connect with such a wide variety of residents and locals to the collingwood housing estate.

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mad props to 
the wurundjeri elders and their ancestors who allowed me to make work on the country and who were generous with their time and blessings
mark ryder, who was a total rock; 
to sue kent and john bainbridge who ended up totally backing me, even though i was an upstart early on; 
to kaukau who helped me and really befriended me
to my guest listeners: eddy carroll, jed from VACRO and travis marke with his year 8 music class
and to lucas, who helped me reason it out.
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everybody’s favourite song

when i first arrived on the estate as the artist-in-resident, i was trying to find other ways to observe sound on the estate (as well as the listening works). in the first week, i went into the neighbourhood house for a meeting – possibly a CHEAC meeting, and i observed deb, a resident, come in, make a beeline for the stereo, put a CD on, go directly to track 17 and listen intently. she didn’t have her ears pressed to the speaker, but she was intensely focused on the song, as though she had dived out of the present moment and into whatever meaning that song held for her.

i wrote that down on the whiteboard in the studio, as well as the name of a CD i had found lying around, thinking that i was going to start collecting sounds in an ambient way. sounds that i ‘happened upon’.

somewhere along the way i realised that others probably had similar experiences to particular songs – one’s that they carried with them. and that was a particular phenomena of listening and sound in public housing. so i started asking people what their favourite song was, and writing it down.

ages ago, niko and i had talked about the device of The Playlist as a means of empowering people – an abstract form of choice that people could move around, customise and personalise. I didn’t actually think i would end up making a playlist, but that’s what happened.

unsurprisingly, it was a great device for talking to residents about music, listening, what i was doing and who they were. just personal enough to expose a little bit of ourselves, but not so much that i would be intruding or interfering in delicate dynamics or defense mechanisms.

as i wrote here, children and teenagers were the most in touch with their favourite songs. they knew, as though their lives depended on it. perhaps your favourite song is currency in the school yard – like if you like justin bieber, i’ll talk to you, but if you like beyoncé, i’ll only play with you once. i don’t know – i just came up with that then.

A&R peeps for justin bieber, beyoncé, taio cruz, usher, eminem, LMFAO and gym class heroes will all be pleased to know that their biggest fans are 8 – 12 year olds in poor areas. i’m guessing that’s exactly who they’re pitched at (except beyonce – she rocks my socks too and jackie, 12 and i were friends for an afternoon because of it).

older residents were also quite in touch with their favourite song – like all the likes/dislikes over the years had decanted, leaving that one song that just stuck through. the beatles, simon and garfunkel, lynard skynard.

obviously there were a few “i dunno”s and a lot of “ooh, aah, ummm”, but most people could think of something – at least a band or musician that they liked. the vietnamese on the block loved traditional asian melodies and soft, sweet sounds. and the aboriginal crew loved archie roach and bob marley. more than once i got ‘took the children away’ stuck in my head.

and above all else, people loved love songs.

day after day, i wrote up one song of the day on the blackboards,  i made sure that i chose a love song if i could.  love me do, i love you like a love song, everything i do, i do it for you, greatest love of all, when i fall in love, i want you back.

time and time again. simple and universal, clearly.

here’s the final playlist, pretty much in chronological order. i made CDs and handed them out to peeps from the listening booth. i left some at the neighbourhood centre and i will be making a new batch of full sets in the next few weeks.

everything is alright – jesus christ superstar: deb
love is in the air – john paul young: anna
you are so beautiful to me – joe cocker: nga
red & black – les miserables: geraldine
little wings – jimi hendrix – gunther
money for nothing – dire straights
three little birds – bob marley: reg, reggae
gold dust woman – stevie nicks: lola
the power of love – huey lewis and the news: johnny
mua ru’ng: han
when i fall in love – nat king cole: mark
drive-by – the necks: tony
use me up – bill withers: jed
dj got us falling in love – usher: jake
not afraid – eminem: danny
party rock anthem – LMFAO: KK, ikro
freak the freak out – victoria justice: vanahn
set fire to the rain – adéle: maurice
ace hood – lifestyle
all i ever wanted – : sumeyra
i love you like a love song – selena gomez: hillary
venus – bananarama: val
luper – earl sweatshirt: brian
venus in furs – velvet underground: hugh
rain over me – pitbull: sondos
all day – cody simpson: hana
i wish you would – flamingoes: nick
whitney houston – greatest love of all: kaukau
itchycoo park – small faces: susanne
baby got back – sir mix-a-lot: cst pallisier
fight the power – public enemy: snr cst mclaughlin
catch a fire – mojo juju: nikita
memory lane – nas: james
flame trees – cold chisel: shane
took the children away – archie roach: james, tracey
take it easy – the eagles
stereo heart –  gym class heroes: vanahn
run to the hills – iron maiden: wally
fade to black – metallica: rob
under the bridge – RHCP: simon
the end – the doors: simon
sweet home alabama – lynard skynard: deb
superstition – stevie wonder: sue
sole survivor – rolling stones: sue
bad romance – lady gaga: de-anne
dynamite – taio cruz: shey
someone like you – adele: lillian
one time – justin bieber: jessica, natasha, isabella
never say never – justin bieber: vanja, natasha, jessica, izabella, elisha
pray – justin bieber: natasha
love on top: beyoncé – tia
ram jam – spiderbain: kerry
all the single ladies – beyoncé: jackie
california – tupac: DJ
love me too – the beatles: john
traditional greek songs: greek women’s group
L-O-V-E – al green
feel so close – calvin harris: emma NYCH
i needed you – chris brown
sounds of silence – simon and garfunkel: peter
everything i do (i do it for you) – bryan adams: tammy
white lotus – poy
i want you back – jackson 5: lauren
khe sanh – sharon boyd
love story – taylor swift: jessica
beat it – michael jackson – taylor b

let me know if you’d like a copy.

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The Listening Booth

The Listening Booth

I’ll be wheeling this baby out to Harmsworth Park on the weekend for the final project of my residency at the Collingwood Housing Estate.

I’m running guided tours, which are for residents, but if you’d like to come along, leave me a comment and i’ll see if I can save you a place. If you’re reading about this on here you’re probably partially interested in what i’ve been up to and likely interested in socially-engaged practice of sorts.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx