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Foreword 6

The invisible forces of what we can’t say Alice McCormick 8

The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis in conversation with Tony Nolan 28

Artist biographies 50

Acknowledgements 55

Index 56

0ɩQɩFɩɩ E ɩA CɩE


The Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) is not only a national platform for excellence in the presentation of photography, but also a centre for experimentation, a laboratory for testing out new artistic ideas and stepping off into the unknown. This is where I see the singular significance of such projects as APHASIA by Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis. Encompassing many mediums – including sculpture, video, music, sound, performance and fog – this transnational collaboration doesn’t fit neatly within the broad spectrum of photography (though photography is included in the work). Instead, it transcends both category and genre, as it speaks of things unseen and unheard, playing out on a level between images and words – not unlike the power of infrasonic sound. O’Callaghan’s description seems both poetic and perceptive when she says: ‘It’s the subconscious finding its little way out.’ APHASIA is not alone. Indeed, it follows another installation-based work, Sascha Weidner’s UNVEILED / the Sydney project, to recently grace our gallery spaces. Collectively such works help usher in photography in its expanded form, with the medium resonating ever more powerfully within a multidisciplinary context. And as ACP celebrates its fortieth year in 2013 – a watershed for photography in this country – we hope that APHASIA and UNVEILED will be joined by other kindred spirits to become part of our future. Kon Gouriotis, Director, Australian Centre for Photography 6


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SHE The IêUIRIBLE invisible ɩɩɩ FNQCERɩNF forces of VHASɩVE what we ɩɩCAêÓSɩRAX can’t say Alice McCormick

I am haunted. I am haunted by something. H. G. Wells, The Door in the Wall (1906)

I. The Red Door

In H. G. Wells’s story ‘The Door in the Wall’, a green door grants access to a parallel universe, a utopian world where the motherless child can live out his fantasies for companionship in a Garden of Eden-like existence. And now here in ‘Aphasia’ (rhymes with fantasia) we are faced with a red one. Red doors suggest danger. But, then again, they can also look quite stately. In Irish folklore, red doors are said to ward off ghouls, while according to ancient Chinese culture, a red door holds connotations of good fortune and high social standing. There were the doors painted with a red cross of lamb’s blood in Judeo-Christian stories so that the Angel of Death would know to pass over them. Red both attracts and repels. Red is the colour of love, sex and fire trucks. It is the invisible colour of temptation. Think of the forbidden door in Bluebeard, The Secret Garden, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood … The red door in ‘Aphasia’ acts as a portal – it is the door through which we enter the exhibition. So how do we proceed? A young child would not hesitate. Young children storm into unfamiliar spaces; they don’t tiptoe. They storm into parks, into cafes, into sports stadiums, into zoos. Public spaces are catnip for children. Our approach is tentative, and I wonder if perhaps there is a formal code of honour for these spaces that we, as adults, have come to neglect? The boundary between artwork 9

The invisible forces of what we can’t say

and audience blurs when you’re doing it right. Lights, camera, action. (That’s where we come in. We’re the action.) A rabbit, not the White Rabbit, hops past us to disappear into the forest. We cannot follow him or find out where he goes. We open the door and walk into the next room slowly, quietly, sneaking into the unknown, expectation of adventure. Fog skates in along the polished concrete floor towards us as we enter, rising up – fog also rises! – to curl its way around the sharp corners of the gallery walls, softening their edges. A scene composed of greys and whispers, daylight cordoned to some elsewhere place. We let our feet disappear into it. Fog steals through memory, as fog steals through everything, obscuring the shapes of things and the names of things, thereby also confusing any additional thoughts that we might have wanted to have about them. (Fog also goes well with forests and rave parties.) Around by the front windows, a second red door appears in a landscape photograph, excitedly redder against the green. It does not look at ease in nature. Without walls to support it, the red door in the landscape oscillates between the real and the imaginary. It looks magical. We stop at the door, on the cusp between worlds. Back inside the room, there is a third red door which hovers somewhere in the distance. This appears in the same landscape as seen before, but this time a little further off, and on video. This third door leads back into the grove but we are unable to get through it. The path between us and the screen is obstructed by a rectangular prism of tape followed by a rectangular prism of sound.


Alice McCormick II. Lost for Words

Translated literally, ‘aphasia’ means the loss of speech. Medically, however, and more importantly perhaps, metaphorically, ‘aphasia’ refers to the loss of language. Damage the brain’s language centre and words disappear, sometimes all of them. Language vanishes. No comprehension of language, no ability to name or describe anything, limited access to the realm of abstract thought, no future, no past, no other intellectual impairments. You’re as sharp as you ever were but – until your elastic plastic brain finds a new site to build its new language centre – you’ve got nothing to say, and no words to say it with. You’re speechless. The limits of your language define the limits of your world. Famed British–American neurologist Oliver Sacks writes that the condition is not uncommon.1 And poets since the dark ages can confirm this.2 ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’ is how the Austrian–British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once phrased it. It is a powerfully jumped-up little phrase, but I prefer the way Wittgenstein’s friend and brilliant young colleague, the mathematician Frank Ramsey, put it: ‘What we can’t say we can’t say, and we can’t whistle it either.’

1. Oliver Sacks, ‘A neurologist’s notebook: Recalled to life’, the New Yorker, 31 October 2005, pp. 46–53. 2. ‘Everything cannot be so easily grasped and conveyed as we are generally led to believe; most events are unconveyable and come to pass in a space that no word has ever penetrated.’: Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1929.


The invisible forces of what we can’t say

Alice McCormick

Can music fill the place where words leave off, in art, at least, as it does so in life? Sacks writes that music therapy is invaluable for some patients with aphasia, those who find they can sing the words to a song become reassured that language is not wholly lost, that they still have access to words somewhere inside them.

room, as such; there is a soundtrack, a composition. It plays through six speakers. Indecipherable whispers. Decipherable whispers … Preferring the moniker of ‘composer’ to that of ‘sound artist’, David Sudmalis manifests the feeling of aphasia in this installation by way of its haunting soundscape: letters from the past; sounds of the body, including the voice, breathing, singing, heartbeats; skin sounds, in particular drum tones; metal sounds, such as the bell and cymbals and gongs and singing bowls; other percussion, including the piano; sine tones.

III. A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

The musician is perhaps the most modest of animals, but he is also the proudest. It is he who invented the sublime art of ruining poetry. Erik Satie

The music that plays in the hall outside the door through which we enter the exhibition of ‘Aphasia’ plays ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’, a popular and traditional welcome chorale sung in Irish. Céad míle fáilte romhat, a Íosa, a Íosa … A hundred thousand welcomes, O Jesus, O Jesus … ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’ is a Catholic children’s song, often played during one’s first Holy Communion. Not that we’d recognise it here. As so many voices in contemporary art these days seem to be, the sounds are transformed, haunted by that spooky, magical, dreamscape quality. Think of Susan Philipsz singing ‘The Internationale’ on Cockatoo Island a few years ago for the Biennale of Sydney. Still on, still on, Through the Looking Glass-like fantasies propel us to search for a secret garden around the corner. There is no ‘music’ in this 12

Within Sudmalis’s composition, Darragh O’Callaghan’s voice becomes an instrument of expression, as the cello might. But notes registered here become but a fragment, a snippet, a sound grab, stressing the instrument’s incompleteness, its limitations. Words lose all but the ghost of their meaning, appearing in sentences stripped of coherence, cherry-picked, recorded, reordered and transposed. Context is denied, sentences become disembodied, transcripts fractured. The meaning is broken, the audio tape can’t be heard, the memories can’t be accessed. Instead, we are left with the inaudible, the forgotten, the erased, the unheard, our notion of what is sound and what is (un)sound … Long infrasonic waves amplify sounds in the audible spectrum. We are really in it now, at the mercy of invisible forces. Our minds cannot make sense of the commotion. It is a disorientating sensation. One becomes acutely aware of the process of listening. The discordant memories of an unseen other terrorise our thoughts. Repetitions of a past life that might be better left unsaid. We contemplate the shocking conditions of interpersonal relationships and the resounding stress to the psyche of growing up anywhere, with anyone. There is the fear, the 13

The invisible forces of what we can’t say

pulse of our heartbeat resonating up through our ears. We are met with misunderstandings, and the failure to grasp what’s being said. Are paternal relationships always this frightening? Such invisible forces enter into us, race down through our body and clamp onto our heart: the trouble of understanding one another, of secrets, of secret hiding places in the forest … French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard argued for an art of the sublime that was concerned with ‘presenting the unpresentable’.3 Certain radical, abrupt, uncompromising artistic acts might actively refuse to be understood – refuse to fall within known narratives and schemes of meaning – and might thereby confront viewers with their own conceptual limitations. IV. Closure

Why it’s simply impassible! Alice: Why, don’t you mean impossible? Door: No, I do mean impassible. (Chuckles) Nothing’s impossible! Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

3. Jean-François Lyotard, ‘Presenting the unpresentable: The sublime’, Artforum, April 1982, pp. 64–9.


Alice McCormick

In Willie Doherty’s 2005 video installation Closure, an anonymous woman in a black coat paces around the confines of the prison courtyard. We hear her internal monologue as a voice-over, the all-too-steady, repetitive, cold-blooded rhythm of her language in timing with the all-too-steady, repetitive, cold-blooded rhythm of her footsteps. An uneasy rupture between the ruthless construction of her inner world and the violent disintegration of her outer one emerges through her disembodied thoughts: My purpose is clear. / My endurance is constant. The crack is splitting. / The glass is shattered. The film doesn’t resolve itself, and the viewer remains frustrated and restricted in this interminable state of heightened emotion. Hovering between confinement and liberty, the final red door in the exhibition refuses to open. This is the end of our imagination. This is the beginning of our imagination. One assumes this is what being trapped as a character in a Samuel Beckett play might feel like. The sound composition muddles our thoughts. Why have we paused? What is a door to the forest doing in here anyway? I’ve seen that door before. Once upon a time doors like this opened. They functioned as a portal to another world. We could escape the lonely realities of the everyday and step through them into secrets gardens, our own private utopias, into the subconscious of wonderland. But the red door promising entry to another world beyond the polished concrete floors and the white walls of this contemporary art space has tricked us. It was merely a deceptive 15

The invisible forces of what we can’t say

illusion. But then again, what were we expecting? We have been following the progress of art and its illusionistic devices in and out of all these centuries, haven’t we? And so our desire to go forward remains trapped against the perpetual resistance of this bloody red door. There is no exit. No exit, Sartre, no exit.



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The third voice: Darragh O'Callaghan and David Sudmalis in conversation with Tony Nolan

In December 2012 the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) reconfigured its gallery spaces to accommodate an unusually immersive installation, accessible only through a bright red door, which comprised seven discrete elements including video, sound, sculpture, photography and fog. Exploring the breakdown of communication and the desire to connect, APHASIA was a collaborative project involving Sydney composer David Sudmalis and Ireland-based visual and performance artist Darragh O’Callaghan. In the following edited conversation, they gather and unravel the show’s thematic threads, while expounding ‘the third voice of collaboration’, with ACP Curator Tony Nolan.1 Tony Nolan: Team ‘D’, you first met in the United Kingdom in 2011 when you realised that a potential collaboration would expand your individual practice. You have referred to it as an ‘interrogation’. This further led to a base camp to expand your experience, which was your residency at Bundanon, on the Shoalhaven River near Nowra, New South Wales, in 2012. Can you give us some history of the ebbs and flows within that journey leading up to the exhibition at ACP? Darragh O’Callaghan: We were introduced by a friend and looked at each other’s work and started to explore how we could potentially collaborate in some way, shape or form. Our first project didn’t logistically work out, and in that experience we found out a lot of things we had in common. So we decided to ditch the old idea and come forward with this one. The first one I suppose was me coming with an idea and asking [David] to respond, whereas this one is more the two of us coming together equally. I constantly question what I am doing and why I’m doing it and why the need for collaboration


The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

in my development of an idea’s potential outcomes. It is a bit like an ‘interrogation’. I think that’s probably Dave’s word. David Sudmalis: I think ‘interrogation’ is a good word because, from my perspective at least, Darragh was able to constantly question aspects of my personal practice – question their relevance and applicability – which then forced me to rethink them. So I think the sense of interrogation within APHASIA and the beauty and the honesty of the collaboration have come from the opportunity to start from ground zero. We both sat down at the beginning of the process and were able to build the whole structure from the foundations to the end work. And through that we found a number of points of difference, and built on aspects of each of our practices that I guess we have always taken for granted. DOC: For me taking outcomes for granted. Why the need for a particular outcome? So it’s really paring down the idea and asking what is the best potential way that we can show and express that idea? DS: The perfect example is performance. Darragh comes from a tradition of durational performance and I come from a music performance background. So when we started there was always this thing about performance. But as we progressed Darragh, in particular, challenged the necessity of performance: what does it add? In fact, after months of Darragh working through this performance idea, we realised it was not adding – it was detracting – and we were able to remove our own bodies from that live experience. So that’s an example of the interrogation.


In conversation with Tony Nolan

TN: This was something I was coming onto – with Darragh from a traditional fine-arts school background and David from a sound and composing background, what was the crossover point between the two practices? Was there a nib to that? Something that made you both say okay: ‘We should both work together’? DOC: Well my fine-art background was at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin, then furthered at the Royal College of Art in London. My four years of study in Dublin was mainly in sculpture and near the end of it I got into film and video. For my final-year piece I started to do field recordings of found sounds, so that’s when I got interested in sound and I really threw myself in there not knowing how to approach it. My sound tutor said: ‘Here you go; just work away on this stuff.’ And I worked with the computer gear and it developed from there. I think my interest in sound has always been there: I was looking at making installations using sound in my second year. The installation would light up because of the sound of your footstep or the sound of your presence. [But] I always felt I wasn’t a master in that field. With sound you can be all consumed by it and maybe lose some aspect of the visual, which I still wanted to retain, so I think it made sense for me to work with a sound artist. DS: Well, I came through what would be considered a traditional conservatorium model of composition training, specialising in music of the post-1950s European avant-garde and, to be honest, I was pretty good at it. In the developing phase of my career, moving from student into a professional composer, I found that I had a difficult and increasingly fractious relationship with the concert hall. I received a number of commissions from Symphony Australia and from 31

The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

important chamber groups and for international performances, but I started to become frustrated by the ‘cult of the premiere’ of new work, where you might spend anywhere up to eight months in intense composition and have it performed only once, and then the piece is gone forever. Often given the nature of new music the piece would be under-rehearsed, and so the performance, the only time you might hear it realised, would actually be quite poor. I found that increasingly difficult to deal with and so moved to making definitive versions of compositions using computers and electronic means. Removing myself from that equation – with the exception of when I was the performer myself – led to a whole range of other opportunities. Working with practitioners from other artforms – be it theatre, literature or the visual arts – I ended up doing a number of collaborations with people that were very interesting, particularly where they were experimenting with moving image, and I found that we could have a relationship in a piece that moved through time. Time was the organising principle and I didn’t have to worry that the level of sophistication in the visual arts component was different from that in the music component. The other point which I always find funny – because it’s really only the visual arts that speaks of this – is the term ‘sound artist’ [Darragh laughs]. Now I very much consider myself a composer, and I know that sound art has a long and proud history, but for me at least it is a term that I think is laid on a musical practice from a person that sits outside. It is just composition and the organisation of materials through time, so for me it’s thinking about sound and its intersection within an organising practice through time – that’s the essence of composition. So for this collaboration, just through talking about the arts and visiting a few galleries that we thought were interesting, we developed 32


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The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

In conversation with Tony Nolan

something of a shared understanding. We didn’t always share the same opinions but there was this openness to communication which was quite fresh. I read a quote the other day that said ‘politeness is the poison of collaboration’, and between us we’ve never been scared to [Darragh laughs] just lay it on the table and cop it on the chin – we know it’s coming from a place of professional practice, mutual respect for expertise, and we go from there. There are ebbs and flows in any collaboration – there have to be – but it’s always been built on trust and practice.

DOC: Oh, yes, the letters – the letters my dad wrote to me while he was in prison. I had them for years and I didn’t know what to do with them. It was this missed communication between my dad and myself. It would keep coming up again and again and resurrecting itself. I said I was going to read through the letters and see what came of them, and we recorded them.

We both get a lot of opportunities to collaborate, but I don’t actually collaborate with everyone who requests it. For me, the person needs to be somebody you can learn something from, be challenged by and trust. And that’s the bottom line. If any of those things are not there, then it’s not a collaboration. But this is quite different because there’s a certain courage that underscores it – not to mention the whole nature of distance involved in that which is a complicating factor. It would have been perfectly reasonable to say: ‘Man, this is just too hard.’ But the level of trust and courage and bravery and dedication to the practice fires you on. If you don’t expect your collaborative partner to give as much as you do – if you don’t receive that – then it’s not going to work.

DOC: Oh, yes.

TN: The result of your collaboration, the installation APHASIA, relates to the breakdown of language and therefore communication. How does the work re-configure through its mediums this difficulty in communication? DS: One of the starting points was the letters.


DS: Then it went from those letters from your dad to your dream book – remember that?

DS: It was this nature ever since we started talking together. Darragh had this idea of having a fantastic resource of words – words that I guess were laden with emotion. They weren’t always explicitly emotional, but there was a lot of feeling underneath them – both from the sender of the letters and the receiver’s own emotion in receiving them too. And then this other dynamic with the dreams that were … I use a word that Darragh hates and I’m not even going to mention it. DOC: Mention it anyway. DS: Well, I think Tony you mentioned this word at one point: ‘hyperreal’. There’s this essence of very strong emotion tied to it, but sometimes the imagery and the things that happen don’t always make an immediate sense – it’s really laden with meanings as well. So we had these two resources, and Darragh had always been keen to use them somehow but was not quite sure how. Darragh, remember the idea about embroidering some of the key words into Carrickmacross lace 35

The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

and having that as an installation? We might come back to that idea – lace – and how that ends up becoming 20 kilometres of tape. At the core of [APHASIA] were these key words, so we started off with that. And while we were at Bundanon – we had taken down a portable recording studio – Darragh read those letters and then re-recorded them, reading and whispering them, and then some singing as well. But it was all around these words. I would record in the morning and then work during the day, starting to isolate and bring together and juxtapose words, and seeing what new relationships would form. We had something of emotional intensity and at the central point of Darragh’s own experience – she brought all that – and then I would play with it and then we would start to critique and rework and refine it. DOC: Also, after I had dreams, I would remember in minute detail what was happening, specific colours, so I would start getting them down on paper in a combination of paintings, drawings and notes. Remember the one about the rat being under the bed [they both laugh]? We decided to record some of them and see how it would come across. One of the texts we were going to transcribe into Carrickmacross lace and work into the installation, and I knew the words had to be in there somewhere. It just really didn’t fit, but what I really liked was I started playing with the thread and multiples of the thread and I remember asking: ‘What other way can you see a simple line?’ The thread was like a line, a line that was creating a word. We then started playing with a DV [digital video] tape, but before I did that I made this mini mock-up of hanging thread with little weights on the bottom and then I was feeling the material and starting to play with the DV tape. I fell in love with it, the colour and the texture of 36


The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

the tape – it’s just so fragile. We started playing with that and then we moved on to the audio tape. That seemed to make sense because it’s holding the word within the line [of the tape]. Then I did a mock-up so I could visualise it huge – to feel what it’s like to walk through and maybe hear the words. I think that’s how it really developed, wasn’t it? DS: Our point of departure were these words. From the very beginning of the exhibition, when you walk in from the foyer, you have Darragh’s voice: you accept the invitation to negotiate the red door; you walk into another sound environment that is full of words; some words are clear, some are not, but everything is based around the text. And then you move through the tape sculpture and it is very much directly related to words being present or words being absent. TN: The artist’s voice is literally present. One of the most intimate components is David’s processing of Darragh’s singing. Can you give both sides to this sum? Do you look on it as a creation of a new language? DS: We call it the antechamber installation, the room of preparation before moving into the main space, the small vestibule of momentary repose before you walk into ‘the Big Kahuna’ moment. I admit it was a serendipitous outcome of all the recording we had done. Right at the very end I asked Darragh: ‘Is there anything else you want to do? Do you want to sing something?’ In previous things Darragh was always to be found walking around the place singing to herself. There’s this inherent musicality in her. So Darragh sang this Irish song called …


In conversation with Tony Nolan

DOC: Cead Mile Failte, which means 100,000 welcomes. I think we chose that one because I was singing it and it referred to one of the dreams, and then it became really relevant that we use it for the welcoming part of the exhibition. DS: A colleague of mine wrote a series of papers about collaboration and said that sometimes there are these moments of pure coincidence that gives rise to a third voice. She calls it the third voice of collaboration. Whether it’s coincidence or whether it’s like a funnel from the heavens, Darragh was singing that – she has lovely singing voice anyway – and the piece had a sense of relevance. Then my own playing with the recording rendered it unrecognisable as the original tune, but I still think it retains the emotional import of welcoming. There’s a certain warmth to it. That’s from the source material of Darragh singing, and so we have retained the emotional import of the original that’s sublimated in the actual sound installation. I think it’s true to both of us in the collaboration, a really tight point of unification. Don’t you reckon Darragh? DOC: That’s where we really took the trust on each other to say: ‘I’m able to take this and believe me this will work.’ It was feeding each other the whole way through the process, even although we couldn’t see the end for each component. So it very much developed step by step as opposed to saying: ‘Here’s how it’s going to look like and here’s how it’s going to sound like.’ It was very much ingredients put together to make this recipe I suppose. TN: There is a material use of objects, both existing and constructed. For example, the red door is the portal into the space while existing in 39

The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

two other mediums, photography and video. Then a mass of tape and fog, with the sound gradually permeating on a non-pictorial level. Is it intentional to manipulate the audience? DOC: In a way we direct them and, yes, it was intentional. We thought: ‘How can we turn this around and let the audience be the performer as such? In what way do they enter the space? What way do they usually turn? Can we feed them along a directional route that for them may not seem like one?’ Yes, it was very intentional.

In conversation with Tony Nolan

We were giving a direction in which we wanted [audiences] to lead – to go, to view, to experience. TN: The mediums used are mixed – incorporating sculpture, sound, video, photography and fog – to create, in your own words, an ‘immersive installation’. Can you discuss the balancing act between the mediums and the seven elements, the process that you went through, and the decisions made that went back and forward?

DS: I don’t know if ‘manipulate’ is the right word. What we’ve strived to do is provide some options, and those options are about engaging with the work. You don’t have to have to walk through the red door. It’s a decision to actually do it, as simple as that might be – that’s actually a process. Then there is the process of negotiating the mass tape sculptural installation – whether you avoid it and go around it, or whether you go through it, all of which provide a very different experience depending on the choice that you make. So I think rather than manipulating an audience or a spectator into a position where they have no choice, which for me is the term of manipulation, we suggest a number of ways of negotiating the piece. In that sense it’s an engagement with the work that takes place with the spectators saying to themselves or considering: ‘What shall I do?’ Now there are many ways of moving through the installation – we have seven different elements there and once you’re in that main space you can negotiate them in any which way you like. One of the challenges for us in working through [APHASIA] was to make it have some sort of cogent sense. We built that wall [behind the video] so in a way we were giving a direction, but of course everyone has a choice to do something or not.

DS: One of us might have taken the lead but everything was back and forward. There are seven elements to the installation, although it’s not my preferred way to think of them as discrete elements in isolation – they all feed into the same journey throughout the space. We’ve spoken about the antechamber installation, the red door, then we have two elements that deal with the occlusion of the senses – that is the fog and the tape. If one is in the tape, and the fog is operating appropriately, you do not see anything because you’re in this mass – there’s no horizon point other than the end of your nose. You’re immersed in something that is a visual art, your sense of vision is occluded. You’re not grounded. If you choose to look down, up to your ankles or calves is occluded in fog so you become almost a floating body. So those two elements tend to work together. On exiting that sense of visual occlusion, you have the video component right at the end. It’s the red door that you entered in a completely different environment now – but it’s still an obstacle and a path you have to negotiate. Making that choice to go into the tape, you lose that sense of vision, and as Darragh has often said: ‘That highlights or brings forth a greater reliance on your ears to hear what is going around.’ But it also places you right in the middle of the sensory stuff which is spatialised around



In conversation with Tony Nolan

the ‘sweet-spot’ – including the infrasonic sound which is not heard but still composed. DOC: The feeling of the mass cube on your skin is sensory. By being blinded your senses are increased and also the touch of the tape on your skin. I was also thinking what it would be like to be in that experience and also what it would be like to be outside. This flows through the whole exhibition. The door bridges the inside and the outside and we were thinking about the steps to get through the red door, through the fog, through the tape installation and what it’s like to be at the end. It’s not just two spaces – it’s three spaces and maybe a potential fourth space, which is the person’s head and where they might be. DS: I always think there’s a danger speaking about [APHASIA] as if everything’s separated out. It depends where you start. We didn’t start by saying we shall have a sound installation, a video and a sculpture. It didn’t start there. It started at a completely different level and it was about the word – the word and the senses – and everything else falls out from under that. TN: Are these the mechanics of that? DS: Yes, the drivers. The word and the senses. Does that make sense Darragh? DOC: Yes, and also necessity. If it didn’t need to be there it was cut. Everything was quite intentional in how these elements came together. There was a need for the fog as we spoke about the end of the tape and the floor, and the need for the sound on the outside, and how they all 42


The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

gelled together. And it was only when we were in the space it seemed the end product; we knew by that stage how it would come together, united as one piece. DOC: And also the experience of the space. We both found it really important to learn the space, feel what it’s like to be in that area and where you might be standing and what you might see or hear – that was very much part of the elements that really pulled it together. So as you know Tony, we spent a good bit of time coming in, examining the space, recording it, taking photos of it in every direction. DS: Intuition only works after planning because intuition without planning is guessing. TN: The elements within the installation as a whole have created different psychological and emotional reactions. What I found unnerving, almost distressing after a period of time, others described as calm. David, can you talk about the science behind the quadrophonic and infrasonic sound. DS: I might start with the infrasonic, which probably has a more direct response. Infrasonic is sound that sits below the lower limit of human hearing – generally speaking that’s considered 20 Hz, or 20 cycles of a sound wave per second. Now just because one does not hear it does not mean one is not affected by it. I think that sound is felt more readily than that which is heard – there’s a different sensory response to it. There is quite a bit of literature around relating to the affects on the body – physiological and psychological – of infrasonic stimuli. Now this ranges from things that are conspiratorial in their tone to things 44

In conversation with Tony Nolan

that are more scientifically tested, including a whole range of research to do with wind turbines. If only it was always used for good. It’s the basis for sonic weapons, be it apocryphal or not, that take their cue from the walls of Jericho falling from the loud blasts of the trumpet back in whatever book of the Bible that was. Perhaps the most well-known paper, though perhaps not the most scientific, is Vic Tandy’s The Ghost in the Machine (1998).2 This case study involved a so-called ‘haunted’ laboratory and, being a skeptic, Tandy decided to run some tests on it. Eventually he found there was a standing wave in that room at precisely 18.93 Hz which can correspond to the appearance of hallucinations in the corner of an eye. Darragh and I used that particular frequency in the installation – not all the time, but at certain points throughout to suggest a sense of unease in the spectator. Quadrophonic sound is what is often called 4.0 sound. In APHASIA, rather than using quadrophonic, it was actually 5.1 surround sound. We had four speakers enveloping the space plus a subwoofer and another small speaker. The raw materials in the surround sound installation ranged from the building blocks of sound, pure sinewaves that had no overtones resonating in the space, to musical instruments manipulated beyond almost all recognition, piano being key among them. But the main sound was always Darragh’s voice – sometimes breathing, sometimes whispering, sometimes speaking, de-claiming whatever it might be. When you put the infrasonic and the surround sound together there is a sense of suggestibility because the infrasonic wave starts to act as a carrier for all of the other sounds. What ends up


The third voice: Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis

happening is a psycho-acoustic phenomenon where the sound actually seems to starts to emanate from within your own head. TN: Has the project been a cathartic or cleansing experience for the two of you? DOC: Not as much as works I’ve gone through before. With this, I didn’t want to impose too much of myself. Even although I’m there I wanted it to be very much about the use of that experience as opposed to being about the insular world I critique around myself. In the recording there were particular areas that I found emotionally difficult to process, and it was interesting to hear that back, to hear the areas that I found difficult to record. Within the end product, there was not so much [catharsis] for me. But with the exterior, to hear the installation of the antechamber, that opened up a few worms because, even although I sing all the time, I don’t pass any remarks. I think it’s like someone singing in the shower. It’s the subconscious finding its little way out. DS: It has been a very important experience, and I’m only speaking for myself here, but for me music composition or music performance is not a therapy session. You might tap into things but for me that’s it. And while we have subject matter and conceptual drivers here that are intensely personal – for Darragh because of the raw material but also for me in different contexts as well – those realities remain at the end of the project. So it doesn’t cleanse reality at all. At best it’s a momentary escape from something – it’s not a therapy session – and I draw the line very much at that point.


In conversation with Tony Nolan

DOC: I’ll actually draw the line at therapy session. Because something is cathartic doesn’t mean that it’s like a therapy session. You can experience something and go through it without actually having to, it’s like having this conversation within yourself that you’re having but you’re not. We did get a wee bit emotional I think, maybe because it’s a long road [Darragh laughs]. DS: We worked non-stop on it, nights and weekends, for six or eight months. TN: So it was an emotional reaction through exhaustion? DOC: It wasn’t just exhaustion. There’s something more than that. There was definitely more there. DS: Deeply emotional, deeply personal, but whatever issues I had walking in to the piece, I still had them walking out of the piece. No realities have been changed but it was fantastic. DOC: And also a sense of place. When I was leaving the piece I was leaving a part of me: the door, the sound, my voice, the video, the installation. I felt I didn’t want to leave. It was a child or something of mine that I was leaving behind which was a bit strange, but I quickly got over it. TN: On the collaborative experience, artists may choose to collaborate over many years or exist only once. Do you see yourselves working together in the future?


In conversation with Tony Nolan

DS: We have not spoken about this at all. For me, I would very much enjoy the opportunity to work with Darragh again. Not only has it changed the way I think about things, but it has extended some expertise in other areas and loosened up or lightened up things I now realise I didn’t need to hang on to with such intensity. DOC: It was a constant learning curve. There’s potential for both of us to learn more and develop a project down the line, but I found it difficult to be on the other side of the world. Although it’s great to have Skype, email and iPhones, down and doing it is so much better. Listening to some of the sound and having to email my response when I could have said it in three seconds – these are the barriers you sometimes have to jump. DS: Hurdles [Darragh laughs]. DOC: There is that finish line and when you see that finish line you don’t really see the hurdles any more. You get closer to the end. But I don’t think this is the end line. DS: I don’t think this is the end line either.

1. This interview was conducted over Skype between Sydney and Dublin on 14 February 2013, Australian Eastern Standard Time. 2. Vic Tandy and Tony R. Lawrence, ‘The ghost in the machine’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 62, no. 851, April 1998, pp. 360–4.



BIɩNɩG QɩAɩɩOH !Q S I ɩR S IɩEɩɩR Artist biographies

Darragh O’Callaghan is an Irish-based artist who employs the mediums of video, installation, performance, mixed media, photography and, more recently, sculpture. Exploring multifaceted subject matters that are inherently about personal experience, family, and the body, O’Callaghan turns the inside out to expose things that are not said and that lie beneath the surface. O’Callaghan studied at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dublin, the Royal College of Art, London, and the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, and holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Master of Arts. The recipient of a Culture Ireland Award, a Bank of Ireland Scholarship and an Aileen McKeogh Award, among other awards and grants, O’Callaghan has undertaken residencies in Bangkok, Bremen and, most recently, Bundanon, New South Wales. Her work has been exhibited throughout Europe, Asia and Australia.

David Sudmalis is an Australian composer–performer based in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. Working across a wide range of musical forms, Sudmalis has been commissioned by Symphony Australia for orchestral works (Cicada Dusk, Zillmanton Clarities), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for radiophonic works (including Townsville Snapshot), and has received international performances of his chamber music and solo instrument works (notably Domino Theory for solo clarinet, and ENKI for flute, digital audio and live electronics). He has also worked in the jazz and popular music sectors. Now working increasingly outside of the concert hall, Sudmalis’s 2011 work The Joy of Loss (for dancer, candle, multiple projections, eightchannel sound and live musicians) was presented in an extended season at The Block, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. His collaborations with visual artists – including Istvan Horkay, Xu Dawei and now Darragh O’Callaghan – have been presented around the world. Bridge at Aphasia, a new sound sculpture by Sudmalis, was recently presented in the wilderness of the Blue Mountains as part of ‘Sculpture at Scenic World’, where the intersection of naturally occurring realtime sound counterpointed recorded and processed sound, resulting in an ever-changing environmental discourse.



!CK DGE Acknowledgements MEê ɩɩɩɩɩɩɩɩêNV LE SR Darragh O’Callaghan would like to thank Kon Gouriotis for the invitation to exhibit at the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP); Tony Nolan for his openness, generosity and flexibility through the development of the project; Belinda Hungerford and Claire Monneraye for their hard work and kindness; Alice McCormick for her unmediated approach and response to Aphasia; Michael Fitzgerald and Dylan O’Connor for their intuitive approach to design and editing; Deborah Ely and Regina Heilmann of the Bundanon Trust for the gift of time to develop the work; J. J. Rolfe for his cinematography skills; Culture Ireland for their travel assistance; and the crowdfunding sponsors who helped realise the project. The artist’s special thanks go to David Sudmalis – for his patience, persistence, dedication to this project, openness to pathways for the work to develop, his constant pursuit of excellence, and his never-ending support.

David Sudmalis wishes to thank Kon Gouriotis for his commitment in bringing Aphasia to ACP, and his generosity of personal and professional support; Tony Nolan for sage advice and invaluable input through all stages of the project – always questioning, considering and collegial; Belinda Hungerford and Claire Monneraye whose great work is often invisible, but much appreciated; Alice McCormick for an incredibly insightful and poetic exploration of Aphasia; Michael Fitzgerald and Dylan O’Connor whose editing and design have produced extraordinary results; Deborah Ely and Regina Heilmann of the Bundanon Trust who welcomed the artists to Bundanon in 2012 with open arms and facilitated a brilliant working environment; and to all those with their generous crowdfunding support. The artist would like to specially thank Darragh O Callaghan – for her indefatigable commitment to collaboration, her pursuit of excellence, and her generosity, patience and candour through a long but illuminating and rejuvenating journey.




mediums, of APHASIA, 41 music therapy, 12

T Tandy, Vic, The Ghost in the Machine, 45

This is an index to the content of the essay and interview texts. References to notes are indicated with an ‘n’.

N new music, 32

A antechamber, 38, 41 aphasia, medical meaning of, 11

Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, 31 DV tape, 36–38

P performance, of Darragh O’Callaghan, 30 Philipsz, Susan, ‘The Internationale’, 12

W Wells, H. G., ‘The Door in the Wall’, 9 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 11

B Beckett, Samuel, 15 Bundanon, 29, 36

F fog, evocative qualities of, 10 frequencies, of sound, 44

Q quadrophonic sound, 45

C Carrickmacross lace, 35 Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 14 catharsis, in APHASIA, 46–47 ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’, 12, 39 circulation, of audience through APHASIA, 40–41, 43 collaboration, between artists, 30, 32–34, 39, 47–49 composition, of David Sudmalis, 13, 31–32

H hyperreality, 35 I immersiveness, of APHASIA, 41–43 infrasonic sound, 13, 44–45 interrogation, in the creative process, 29, 30 L letters, of Darragh O’Callaghan, 34–35 Lyotard, Jean-François, 14

D Doherty, Willie, Closure, 15 dreams, of Darragh O’Callaghan, 36

M ‘manipulation’, of audience, 40–41


R Ramsey, Frank P., 11 recording studio, at Bundanon, 36 Rilke, Rainer Maria, 11n Royal College of Art, 31 S Sacks, Oliver, 11 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 16 Satie, Erik, 12 singing, of Darragh O’Callaghan, 38–39 sound, in the work of Darragh O’Callaghan, 31 sound art, 32 Symphony Australia, 31


© 2013 Australian Centre for Photography, the artists and contributing writers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any other information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher, except as permitted under the Copyright Act (1968) and subsequent amendments.

Published following the exhibition of APHASIA by Darragh O’Callaghan and David Sudmalis, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, 1 December 2012 – 17 February 2013.

Published by the Australian Centre for Photography Edited by Michael Fitzgerald Designed by Dylan O’Connor Printed by Blurb

Board of Directors: The Hon Craig Knowles, Chair; Simon Curry; Michael Goss OAM; Gareth Jolly; Jonathan Macleod; Colin Rockliff; William Snell; Timothy M. Wilson

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Title:

ISBN: Subjects:

APHASIA : Darragh O'Callaghan and David Sudmalis / Kon Gouriotis, Tony Nolan, Alice McCormick ; editor, Michael Fitzgerald ; designer, Dylan O'Connor. 9781922091062 (hardback) O'Callaghan, Darragh. Sudmalis, David. Art, Modern--21st century--Exhibitions. Performance art--Exhibitions.

Other Authors/Contributors: Nolan, Tony, author. McCormick, Alice, author. Fitzgerald, Michael, editor. O'Connor, Dylan, designer Australian Centre for Photography, issuing body Dewey Number: 702.81

Australian Centre for Photography

ACP staff: Kon Gouriotis OAM, Director; Nikita Karvounis, General Manager; Tony Nolan, Curator; Belinda Hungerford, Assistant Curator; Claire Monneraye, Assistant Curator; Francesca D’Amico, Acting Courses Manager; Heather Rogers, Acting Venue Manager; Olivia Whiting, Marketing and Publications Manager; Michael Fitzgerald, Editor; Bailey-John Nicholson, Business Services; Hanne Miller, Accounts Clerk

The Australian Centre for Photography is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments, the NSW Government through Arts NSW and the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.


APHASIA monograph  
APHASIA monograph  

APHASIA is the new work by collaborating artists Darragh O Callaghan and David Sudmalis. It is an immersive installation bringing together o...