THE ELEPHANT IN
ANOTHER ROOM Notes on the Disembodied Voice
THE ELEPHANT IN ANOTHER ROOM Notes on the Disembodied Voice
SAN FRANCISCO ART INSTITUTE SPRING 2015
SUSAN SILTON SABINE RUSS CHRIS KUBICK SHARON GRACE ROSE AGUILAR SHAUN LEONARDO TARAVAT TALEPASAND DESIRÉE HOLMAN GUILLERMO GÓMEZ-PEÑA JILL MAGID RICHARD IRWIN
TABLE OF CONTENTS
70: THE ARCHIVE
10: THE PHONE CALL
72: Richard Irwin: Researched by Lisa
12: Susan Silton: Interview by Christopher
78: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH THE
20: Sabine Russ: Interview by Libby
ARCHIVE: Harper Brokaw-Falbo, Liz Smith
and Christopher Squier
26: Chris Kubick: Interview by Danna
84: Séance and Spiritualism: Hadar
30: Sharon Grace: Interview by Gözde Efe
34: Rose Aguilar: Interview by Liz Smith
92: Speaking in Tongues: Lisa Boling
38: HOTEL THEORY
98: Modernity and the Phonograph:
40: Shaun Leonardo: Coordinated by
104: Benshi and Neo-Benshi: Guusje
46: Taravat Talepasand: Coordinated by
Chia Ling Yu
108: Can They Hear Us Too?: Gözde Efe
50: Desirée Holman: Coordinated by
112: Mae West’s Smoldering Voice:
Censorship in Radio’s Golden Age:
58: Guillermo Gómez-Peña: Coordinated
118: The President in the Living Room:
by Harper Brokaw-Falbo
FDR’s Fireside Chats: Harper Brokaw-
66: Jill Magid: Researched By Guusje
124: Radio Towers and Telephone Constructions: Bauhaus and Modern Technology: Christopher Squier 132: Angela Davis in the Archive: Liz Smith 138: Podcasts and Satellite Radio: Danna Bialik 144: Connect and Disconnect: Chia Ling Yu 148: THE EXHIBITION 160: THE TOWER 162: Curator Bios 164: Acknowledgements
The Elephant in Another Room, or Notes
make a claim on the listener’s life, and often
on Disembodied Voices
on the “real world” itself. Our research also considered Futurist claims for radio and artist-
Taking up the life cycle of a key modern
based stations like Clocktower Radio, Close
technology—radio—this exhibition in time and
Radio, Performa Radio, and Transmission
space and now text considers the way cultural
Arts. Again, we found ourselves compelled
voices have freed themselves from the physical
by artist’s voices across talks, discussions,
proximities necessary for human speech. With
and even radio plays; we found ourselves less
a nod to the pre-history of radio in Victorian
interested in experimental sound or concert-
séances, the phonograph, and the telephone,
like broadcasts. We wanted a human voice to
the exhibition documents and imagines how
speak to us.
disembodied voices create language and dialogue from afar. What does it mean to
The overall project sought these voices via
transmit that most intimate & daily
archival investigation and new commissions.
of human exchanges—the speech act—across
Looking to the past, some curators turned
a distance, where bodies are no longer present
to the SFAI archive, where they mined that
in the same space, even if those voices occur
field for real lectures by Angela Davis and the
in the same time? What if time collapses
legacies of both speaking & performing artists
too, and we’re listening to voices caught
like Richard Irwin. Other curators looked
yesterday, last year, or before we were born?
beyond the SFAI archive to extant audio and
While we treasure photographs of lost loved
visual work that resonated with our
ones, what do we make of their remaining
investigation. Jill Magid’s 2004 video Trust
voicemails? Images stabilize history—here
enters a new gallery environment, while
is her graduation in 1966, or her wedding in
Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s 2006 Mexican Bus
1968. Voices collapse that history, because
tour of the Mission, El Corazón de la Missión,
even captured in 1999, or 2010, her recorded
is covered, via his audio recordings, as a
voice speaks to you now. She’s present-tense
new performance in the Mission and on the
Mexican Bus once again.
Our research twinned Orson Welles’ infamous
Two other curatorial groups complemented
“The War of the Worlds” 1938 broadcast with
these historical voices with contemporary
Sarah Koenig’s famous Serial 2014 podcast,
projects that imagine artists’ voices in the
and we weighed the way that broadcast
present. Via “The Phone Call,” curators
voices—whether fictional or journalistic—
interviewed artists Sharon Grace, Chris 8
Kubick, and Susan Silton, and also journalists
“visual art” piece in the overall gallery. Its
Rose Aguilar and Sabine Russ, about their
aural commands to the artist, from an unseen
art or activist practices, their thoughts on
security official watching her on CCTV, moved
voice, and their sense of locality and distance.
through the Diego too, perhaps commanding
In “Hotel Theory,” with a nod to Wayne
viewers to take the requested steps asked of
Koestenbaum’s great book-length meditation
on “hotel” as a state of being (and hearing), curators invited artists Desirée Holman, Shaun
This catalogue documents how a graduate
Leonardo, and Taravat Telepasand to spend a
class, “Collaborative Projects: The Grain
single night in a San Francisco hotel, recording
of the Voice,” could grow into a multi-
their thoughts and the sounds they can hear
form exhibition across many platforms. As
all around them, in that most oddly hybrid of
you move forward here through archives,
public and private spaces.
installations, new commissions, performances, and podcasts, you’ll encounter some of our
The archival investigations and the audio
key questions: Does anyone listen to the radio
records from the new commissions live now
anymore? What do collective experiences
on The Tower, SFAI’s online radio station, via
of displaced voice mean for us today,
podcasts. They can be heard from anywhere
outside of our individual and self-curated
with an internet connection.
playlists? Would you listen to someone else’s desire, and story, and with other people? And
During the week of April 19, the exhibition
individually, what does one do with all those
project inhabited the Diego Rivera Gallery at
voices one can capture now, out there,
SFAI’s main Chestnut Street campus. A large
waiting, without bodies, and on their own? A
white cube/white box provided a listening
series of encounters with those voices follows.
station in the gallery’s center, where recorded voices from the project could be experienced
in one place, at one time. We wondered: what would it mean to listen, together, in public—and without your headphones, or your playlist, or an image to see? Listening stations around the room permitted viewers a more contemporary, “self-d.j.-ing” experience of pre-recorded music or interviews. Magid’s Trust, on the far wall, stood out as the only 9
THE PHONE CALL 10
In â€œThe Phone Call,â€? we consider telecommunication and its effect on the voice in the receiver. A series of phone interviews and conversations with artists and journalists serves to explore the potential of the voice across distance and locally. Through the media of both calls and call-ins, we look to the telephone and the radio to question our ability to convey personal intimacy in what might otherwise seem a depersonalizing and disembodying technology. Conversation and dialogue in the interviews highlight the potential of the radio and other disappearing platforms as spaces for everyday and othered voices, from convicts to the poor to artists who have committed suicide, that often vanish in more far-reaching or popular platforms.
S U S A N S I LT O N
INTERVIEW BY CHRISTOPHER SQUIER 13
Susan Silton is a Los Angeles-based artist whose projects investigate the various media of communication, from antiquated means like typewriters and billboards to the contemporary forms of social media. For the piece In everything there is the trace, she organizes a collective rewriting of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to consider questions of communal labor and cultural memory. The catch—the typewriters are all missing ribbons. The use of the heavy typewriter keys producing blank pages of text focuses the work on the personal experience of reading rather than the production of the physical book. In a more current medium, her project By the Crowd They Have Been Broken, By the Crowd They Shall Be Healed repurposes the corporatized confessional
space of Facebook to create digital avatars of shamed public figures—including Bill Clinton, Chris Brown and Mel Gibson. The avatars apologize for their public scandals with Silton’s voice displaced onto their digital personas. As in By the Crowd, Silton’s work shifts between public and private modes of announcement in relation to identity. Her project Who’s In A Name, for instance, utilized the format of John Baldessari’s project Your Name in Lights—a project which repurposed a public advertising sign to broadcast crowdsourced names, giving each viewer their own brief blaze of fame. Instead of broadcasting the present, Silton submitted the names of artists who had committed suicide, turning 14
Baldessari’s Warholian fifteen-seconds of fame into a more solemn acknowledgement of fleeting identity. In reference to the piece, Silton told Natilee Harren of Artforum, “The effect of looking at a sequence of letters flashing from however many miles away, as one would have in Baldessari’s work, is in a sense quite othering. It is a completely disembodied experience to see one’s name in that distanced context and think that is me. I look at suicide similarly, as an othering.” In the similar public project How Many Billboards, Silton tackles the high velocity of the information age with billboards that create the need and the desire for decelerating and stasis. By crafting layered images of brightly colored stripes, these billboards conceal the covert words “If I Say So,” taken from a historic Robert Rauschenberg telegram. Like the manual re-typing of The Grapes of Wrath, the billboards create the desire to slow down. They serve as an enforced obstacle that stands against the continuous influx of visual and textual information to reflect on the actual nature of language and the written word in our daily lives. Last year, Silton delivered a performative keynote lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute titled “She Had A Laugh Like a Beefsteak,” during the curatorial weekend “Engendering Performances.” Following on the heels of this earlier engagement, we arranged a long-distance interview for The Elephant in Another Room.
lo-fi recording techniques, we recorded a telephone conversation. Like the names of artists who committed suicide that were visible from a great distance, or the billboards that abstracted Rauschenberg’s telegram text, our conversation took advantage of telephone technology to focus on our voices outside of their relationship to our physical appearances, optical environments or other visual cues. Considering the topics of radio, the disembodied voice, and what the impact has been of current and past technology, we recorded a one-hour conversation, which has been edited to a shorter audio podcast for this project. As with How Many Billboards, how are we digesting text more and more quickly? Where are we headed with text messages garnering preference over immediate conversations on phone calls? With visuals taking precedence over aural experiences? What are the politics that divert us as we encounter one another’s voices across distance? As Silton’s statement enunciates, how can we “consider subjectivity(ies)—shaped and distorted by spin, consumerism, the weight of history, identity, and information overload”—when dissecting embodiment and the modulation of the voice through various forms of technology, both obsolete and emergent? Ultimately, where do voices, text and the telephone fit into our lives, when we decelerate and take the time for an hour phone call? Photographs and project images courtesy of Susan Silton
By dialing each other across the roughly 380 miles between my home in San Francisco and hers in Los Angeles, and by using intentionally 17
SABINE RUSS INTERVIEW BY LIBBY NICHOLAOU 21
Sabine Russ is a managing editor at BOMB magazine, a print and online publication primarily featuring interviews with artists. She’s been with BOMB for the past five years and has had the opportunity to interview a range of unique artists such as Agnieszka Kurant, Neo Rauch, Margarethe von Trotta and Barbara Sukowa. In each of her interviews, she records a spoken conversation between her and an interviewee, and then uses the audio recording to transfer the interview words over to the written page. The recorded interview provides a fluidity to the conversation that a written interview or Q&A does not allow. The process of transferring the verbal conversation to the written page enables Sabine to ensure that the reader receives quality content. In effect, the written version of the interview becomes twice removed from the original conversation. My interest in interviewing Russ was to learn more about whether she sees a difference between the form of the audio recording and the written conversation. Russ, as an interviewer, is interested in the overall message conveyed by her interviewees through their words, tone of voice and body language. Her verbal interviews are conducted in person yet when she is transferring them to the written page she is listening to only the audio recording. This method of editing exposes Russ’ senses to several aspects of the interviewee’s responses. Most importantly, it calls upon her visual memory when listening to only the audio recording.
role in producing BOMB’s written archive from recorded audio clips. BOMB’s use of the recorded voice is intended to be straightforward and to create a written twin on the page. A certain amount of reading between the sound bites has to occur in order to properly edit the interview. Because Russ is using both the interviewee’s recorded words and her personal memory of being with the interviewee, a question can be raised about what type of archival material she is creating. A traditional archive contains material that is considered factual and true, thus being considered part of the category of history. Today there are many conversations occurring around the conjunction of history and memory. According to contemporary theorists memory is seen in contrast to history. 1 When people are left with only history, a fair amount of the actual account of people’s lives who are among the less powerful are not documented. The type of interviews Russ and other editors at BOMB are conducting seek to reveal personal stories from artists. 2 They interact with not only the full person but also the person’s voice in isolation. Their process is an indication of how the voice can function as an appropriate stand-in when only part of the person can be present. Yet in the end BOMB only allows the person to come through on the written page. Moving the interviewee from an audio recording to text reduces their presence.
The presence of history needs to be addressed, when considering memory’s 23
As theorist Pierre Nora writes, “Memory and
history, far from being synonymous appear now to be in fundamental opposition.... History, on the other hand, is the reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete, of what is not longer” (8), from “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire,” Representations, no. 26, “Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory” (Spring 1989), pp7-24. University of California Press, accessed 8/17/2012. 2
In my interview with Russ, she stated that BOMB
was established before podcasting and other audio formats were affordable/accessible. Images courtesy of Sabine Russ and BOMB Magazine
CHRIS KUBICK INTERVIEW BY DANNA BIALIK 27
Chris Kubick is a sound artist and professor based in Oakland, CA. He often works with collaborator Anne Walsh under the name ARCHIVE. Their project Art After Death ran from 2001-2005 and was featured in the Whitney Biennial amongst other prestigious exhibitions. This project deals with art history in reference to the supernatural. The piece involves bringing well-renowned psychic mediums to do a reading of an art work in which they attempt to communicate with the metaphysical energy of the piece or to communicate with the voice of the artist. Art After Death worked to channel Joseph Cornell, Yves Klein, and the Countess of Castiglione. The many mediums recruited for these readings included Adam Bernstein, Valerie Windbourne, Clyde Derrick, Paula
Roberts, Kxarl Ptery, Karen Lundegaard, Line Crawford, and Robert Grey. I felt like Kubickâ€™s work, specifically Art After Death, was ideal for The Elephant in Another Room as it touched on many topics that inspired the exhibition. As a collaborative team, we began our conversation around sound, radio, and transmission, which led to a conversation about sĂŠances and the occult. Once this conversation turned in this direction, I immediately thought of Art After Death. Before conversing with Kubick, I thought his project was specifically trying to communicate with the deceased artist under consideration. After hearing further explanations in our phone call, I was intrigued at the explorative intentions and vague 28
implications of his intent. The mediums read the vibrations and spiritual energy emanating around the work. In an interview with Gwynneth Porter, Kubick stated that Yves Klien enjoyed “flirting with Anne [my collaborator]. Valerie, the medium, said that [Klein] was so ready to do the interview that he was trying to come through while she was still on the subway on her way over.” 1 Whether or not the information read was true is not essential to the piece, but the element of belief is part of the conversation.
“When and How Did This Interest in Interviewing the
Dead Develop,” Log Illustrated 14: “The Life and Death Issue: A Publication from the Physics Room,” 2001, web, accessed 05/07/2015. Still from ARCHIVE’s piece Study for the Triumph of Light courtesy of Chris Kubick
Kubick stated this work came to mind while working at a company that produced audio tours. The process of producing these audio tours was at times exciting but sometimes banal. The audio tours Kubick particularly enjoyed producing involved interviewing participants in the Whitney Biennial. In this assignment, he travelled all over America and interviewed the artists in person. He went into the artists’ studios and asked them about their relationship to the work. For other tours, he was asked to produce audio for more traditional and even ancient art with clearly deceased artists. He felt much more intrigued by the content when he was able to communicate in person with the artist and see their intentions. The content of the more traditional tours focused around curators talking about the historical significance of the work. This led to a discussion with Anne Walsh, during which Kubick wondered: “What if we could talk to Rembrandt about this painting?” Art After Death instigates the conversation of why we aren’t able to communicate with the artist and what would happen if someone tried. 29
SHARON GRACE INTERVIEW BY GÖZDE EFE 31
Sharon Grace and I met at the San Francisco Art Institute. While my relation with the school began almost two years ago, Grace has been with SFAI for more than 35 years. I had heard of her when I first enrolled in school in 2013 and was told that she was definitely someone I should get a class with during my time. When I looked her up, I was honestly intimidated by the idea of working with an artist as prominent as Grace during my first term; however, after a year later, having had the pleasure of working with Grace, I am honored to offer Sharon and my phone conversation on the disembodied voice. As a San Francisco-based artist, Grace’s working philosophy has been informed by her concept of “content flying on the wings of form.” Her landmark works have been realized in various media, including
telecommunications, video installation, interactive digital systems, and sculpture in stone and steel. Grace began her early work apprenticed to video- and installation-artist Nam June Paik and video engineer Shuya Abe. At NASA, in 1977, Grace was the West Coast artist and project leader for Send/Receive, the first interactive, coast-to-coast, satellite artist network. She began teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute in the late 1970s for the Performance and Video Department, currently known as the New Genres Department. Images courtesy of Sharon Grace
ROSE AGUILAR INTERVIEW BY LIZ SMITH 35
Rose Aguilar talks to people for a living. As the host of KALW’s “Your Call,” an hourlong call-in program that addresses the cultural and political issues of the day, Aguilar interviews experts, converses with listeners and mediates the sometimes heated discussion. The program covers topics ranging from Iran’s nuclear deal to Sea World; from Wall Street and pensions to the drought in California; from sexual assault on college campuses to gender discrimination in Silicon Valley. Her work seeks to drive a progressive political agenda and to uncover links the mainstream media fail to see. A former “metalhead,” Aguilar got her start on the radio thanks to a bad case of carpaltunnel that prevented her from physically rewriting wire copy stories for her news outlet at the time. Since then, she has worked in both print and radio journalism, beginning
at KALW, the local NPR affiliate, in 2001 and running her own online newsletter on women’s issues called “News You Can Use” before the popularity of blogs. Her propensity for talking to people was exercised in an ambitious road trip she took in 2005. Baffled by the reelection of George W. Bush, Aguilar wanted to get outside of her liberal Bay Area bubble and figure out why people, specifically conservative people, voted the way they did. She wrote a book, Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland, about her experience driving through the notorious red states of Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Montana. She spoke to farmers and hotel workers, Baptist ministers and church-goers, local journalists and women’s health clinicians, all in an attempt to “find out if we’re as divided as we’re led to believe.” 1 In the end, she 36
discovered that given the time, space and opportunity for face-to-face conversations, she could find common ground with almost any person she encountered. I spoke to Aguilar via a platform she was familiar with—the phone call. But rather than moderating an interview or debate among guests, Aguilar herself was the subject of my call: something that may have been new to her. Our conversation revolved primarily around journalism, listening and what has happened to the way we consume information. She commented on the diversification of media sources but the singularity of material immediately available. For example, a story about Ted Cruz declaring his candidacy for president may appear numerous times from several different sources in a social media feed, while an investigative, in-depth report on the conditions of agricultural laborers will go completely unnoticed. This illustrates the way access to media has expanded but the content has become more narrowly focused. Her frustration with this narrowing, as well the media’s increasing tendency for sensational and polarizing political stories motivated her cross-country road trip and informs the work she does with KALW. Moving from a discussion about the general direction of journalism, the end of our conversation focused on radio itself and the potential it has to tell unheard stories. Television, cable news specifically, is by nature rapid and sensational: the point of the medium is to create a good drama to engage viewers. It is not a stage known for conversation so much as the soundbite. This
soundbite is then recycled by online forums like Buzzfeed, which create and capitalize on viral sensations by turning them into lists users can mindlessly click through. These forms exist in contrast with the radio, which requires people to listen (it’s no coincidence that users of radio are called ‘listeners’). With an information landscape that resembles an ocean of noise, Aguilar expressed nostalgia for the days when everyone still watched Dateline. She commented on the lack of empathy present in social media and talked about the way online forums bring out the worst in our society. She remains hopeful, however, about the opportunity present in radio to bring back the human side of news media. Our talk made me think about my own bubble and how easy it is to surround oneself with people who hold similar ideologies. The political and economic landscape of the US seems to grow more polarized every day; the right moves farther from the left and the rich move farther from the poor. In a society reliant on the speed technology provides, it seems no one has time for the conversations Aguilar conducted during her six months of wandering America’s heartland. I, like her, am hopeful that someday soon we might turn the dial back to a position that allows us to see our common ground. 1
Rose Aguilar, Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into
the Heartland (8). Image courtesy of Rose Aguilar
HOTEL THEORY 38
The space of the hotel room, a box within a box, offers an anonymity and freedom removed from our everyday routines. In Hotel Theory, Wayne Koestenbaum equates a hotel to a hospital and a prison. The regularized series of rooms, or cells, creates a unique space that has the power to disembody temporary residents. We commissioned a diverse group of contemporary artists to each spend a night in a hotel in San Francisco. The project offers each arist a private place to reflect on what happens to the voice in this space. Their voices are left for us, communicating with the present room, as well as with our own past and possible futures.
SHAUN LEONARDO C O O R D I N AT E D B Y K AT H R Y N B A R U L I C H 41
Shaun Leonardo, Self-portrait campeon (drawing 1) pencil on paper, 40 x 32 in. , 2008
Shaun Leonardo fights bulls, wrestles with professionals and defends football tackles. His artistic practice explores the cultural construct of machismo, as he slows down and manipulates the rituals defining sport and gender. Through performance, video, painting and drawing, Leonardoâ€™s body remains the center, subject and focus of his extremely physical and violent work. In Battle Royale, Leonardo enters into a blindfolded wrestling match, fighting three professionals in a caged ring at once. The men fight until they cannot go on; the last blind man standing wins. He pushes the body to its limits, incapacitating a real and performed violent masculinity. After this performance and many others like it, Leonardo needed to spend days recovering in a hotel room. As his body is physically deteriorating, Leonardo removes it from the spotlight in his recent work. He shifts his focus to champions and their symbols. The quiet moments of a championâ€™s vulnerability are a
means to destabilize cultural constructions of greatness. I commissioned Leonardo to spend the night in a hotel room, record his voice, and leave it behind. I had not yet met him, only communicating via email and phone the day before. Leonardo arrived in San Francisco at 3 am on Friday, March 6th. Exhausted from a long journey filled with delays, he is greeted at the Reception Desk of the Hotel Rex with a recording device and this prompt: Dear Shaun Leonardo, In a hotel, one is displaced from culture, though a hotel tries to create a semblance of culture. What happens to the body when it is in the environment of the hotel room? Does your body feel dislocated in the anonymous hotel room? I ask you to disembody yourself, leaving only your voice behind in the nonspecific place of the hotel. What voices speak to you in a hotel room? 1 How does your voice move in this space? What does a 42
night alone in a hotel allow you to do? Have you escaped or are you trapped in a box, within a box, within a box? I have left Wayne Koestenbaum’s Hotel Theory. 2 Use it for inspiration as you like. This prompt is very open. Please feel free to take it where you like. As the project continues, we will archive the voices of the artists who spend a night in a hotel room. We are working with SFAI’s Tower Radio as a permanent home for these voices. We will also develop a program and play them in an
night. Thank you for participating. I look forward to meeting you tomorrow. Please do not hesitate to call or email me with any issues that come up. I will try to stay up to respond, but everything should run smoothly.
enclosed listening station in the Diego Rivera Gallery during the week of April 19th.
other nights spent in hotel rooms: nights of pain and love. As a siren passes, his sleepdeprived message to unknown receiver jumps between observations and recalls personal memories. He conducts a séance with his past and present. The body is referenced, but he moves away from physicality; all we hear is his voice.
Specifications: Minimum amount of recorded time is twenty minutes (but there is no maximum time limit). The project is more about you talking, though a narrative is not necessary. Please record your voice on the Zoom Recorder we have left for you.
I hope you enjoy your stay, Kathryn Leonardo reads most of Koestenbaum’s book, meditating on how his body feels in the hotel room. The hotel room brings up memories of
Recalling the Victorian séance here, I am referring
to the occult practice of calling on the voices of the dead to
Instructions: Pull the hold switch down, so that the screen lights up. Press the red dot to record. Press it again to pause the recording. You can adjust the microphone volume on the right side. Pull the hold switch down again to turn the device off. There are more detailed instructions in the box if necessary. If you are not able to operate the recorder, a voice note on your cell phone will suffice. I can collect the book and the recorder
speak to the living. A particular environment is necessary for
from you tomorrow when we meet, so please do bring them with you when you check out tomorrow (before 12 pm). You are welcome to have breakfast and charge it to your room, since you were not able to have dinner last
investigation of hotel rooms as blank slates, prison cells, and
this kind of communication. A hotel room that strangers have temporarily inhabited before may be this kind of space. Leonardo could communicate with the past experiences of those who occupied the same, intimate space 2
Hotel Theory is a meditation on the meaning of
hotels combined with nonfiction ruminations on hotels. The theoretical texts and personal accounts appear concurrently in separate columns on the same page. Accounts of Oscar Wilde and Marilyn Monroe converse with a theoretical
spaces for ghostly encounters. Images courtesy of Shaun Leonardo
Shaun Leonardo, Battle Royale, 2011
TARAVAT TALEPASAND C O O R D I N AT E D B Y C H I A L I N G Y U 47
Taravat Talepasand, born in 1979 in the United States, stayed close to her family relationships and artistic ties to the Iranian city of Esfahan. She finished her MFA at SFAI and is an active contemporary artist in the Bay Area. Her work pays attention to cultural taboos, including progressive ideas about gender,
race, and political issues in Iran, and she also questions how we understand our own self-identifications. Talepasandâ€™s egg tempera painting and drawings on paper often combine surreal elements with realistic figures, communicating our modern circumstances through classical Persian traditions. Her artwork channels the past to the present, using traditional techniques and
beautifully bold colors to express forbidden topics of the present. Although many subjects of her art are related to Iranian culture, they are still easily understood internationally. Her work not only discusses the question of culture awareness in a conservative society, but it also prompts every viewer to question his or her role in the world; she asks: what would it mean to critique reality in a different way? Through a critical look at her own identity, the alienated figures in her work speak for those who are struggling and craving for a societal breakthrough. In this project about disembodied voices, she leads the audience through an exploration of the Queen Anne, a supposedly haunted hotel. She encounters
the spirits there via her voice, connecting the present with past memories, and she tries to break the boundary between the two worlds. As youâ€™ll hear, Talepasand imagines what it feel like to be an invisible spirit, existing within and among the world of the living, and perhaps lost and confused. Your weak, disembodied, and spiritual voice might be the only connection between you and the world. Would you scream for help or stay silent? Now, follow her guide, and together letâ€™s probe the haunted truth. Listen to her experience in this mysterious and haunted suite to find out what the spirits want to say. Photographs courtesy of Taravat Talepasand
C O O R D I N AT E D B Y H A D A R K L E I M A N 51
Bay Area artist Desirée Holman pursues various media. She works in sculpture, video, performance, and drawing to explore social activity, kinds of “otherness” (as she puts it), and different identities. In her piece from 2012, Heterotopias, she deals with online avatars in fantasy narratives. In another project, Troglodyte, Holman inspects human behavior by having a group of people roleplay chimpanzees. Her exploration of the other expands to different realms beyond the human when she incorporates alien masks as video props or in her pencil drawings. I invited Holman to participate in our “Hotel Theory” project, where she would spend an evening at The Hotel Rex in San Francisco and create an audio piece. At the time, Holman was doing an artist’s residency at The Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, and she had been away from her family for
several weeks. She agreed to take part in the project if she could have her family join her for the night stay. I agreed and met up with her to discuss the prompt for the project. In her work, Holman often explores the family cell and interactions between people in a social group. I suggested that she continue this path in the audio segment and have her family become a central part of it too. I asked her to think about the dynamic inside that hotel room: of a family dislocated from its home and surrounded by other hotel guests and placed right above the hectic sounds of the citywv. The audio turns out to be an intimate family portrait, which somewhat voyeuristically allows the listener a very honest look into the artist’s private life and all of the painful, happy, sad, amused, and loving moments that occur during their stay at the hotel. 52
Holman reveals her basic unit of mother, father and child in this self-made document. When I talked to Holman after the night of the recording, she defined the outcome as a collaboration: she had worked with her husband David before, but mostly as a director. Having the experience of creating something the three of them could share was a first for her. Holman told me that she mostly keeps her work and family life apart, but the dynamic among the three was at the center of the recordings. It started with a “how-was-your-day?” conversation between David and Desirée, then a profound question coming from their four-year old son, Ozem: “do you know how to get home from this place?” Ozem may have feared that the family lost their way home and might get trapped in this hotel room forever—a troubling thought for both children and adults.
The night before the planned hotel stay, Ozem was not feeling well. A sick child in a hotel room changes the atmosphere of a vacation, but it also shines a bright light on the inevitabilities of life: the responsibility of being parents, the mutual care for the family unit, and the continuity of this cell. The relative anonymity of a sound recording versus a video recording perhaps enables a more sheltered exposure, if such a thing exists. It allows listeners a presence in the hotel with Holman’s family yet ensures that we stay outside. We witness a fraction of a moment in this family’s life, as it happened in a hotel room in downtown San Francisco one April night.
Images courtesy of Desirée Hollman
We live in the world of our own curated playlists. Technology like iPods, iPhones, podcasts, and music-sharing sites have given us the power to pick and choose, and to stop and play at our own leisure. In our cars, strolling down the sidewalk, and even in taxis, we constantly determine what we hear. For “Mobilities,” we wanted to get to the heart of what happens when you give up that power—when someone else controls the dial.
COORDINATED BY HARPER BROKAW-FALBO 59
“The first paradox we encounter in Planet Mission is a border conflict between the socalled ‘locals’ and the ‘art hipsters.’” These words from Guillermo Gómez-Peña rang out through the speakers of the Mexican Bus as it departed from experimental art space The Lab for the first part of Mexican Bus 2.0 on the night of April 24, 2015. Everyone on board seemed to have come under different pretenses, finding out about the event through a variety of online and direct social channels. Some had come because the names “La Pocha Nostra” and “Guillermo Gómez-Peña” had been in the description of the event. It was hard for one woman to hide her disappointment when I responded, “no, the artist will not be present, only his voice.” Others thought they were going on some sort of party bus, likely enticed by the events free price tag and our promise of Mezcal. The idea for the project was inspired by a performance from 2007 entitled El Corazón
de la Missión (The Heart of the Mission), for which Guillermo Gómez-Peña, along with members of La Pocha Nostra as well as Violeta Luna, created a docent tour of the Mission that was something along the lines of a performance–spoken-word–cultural spectacle. The Mexican Bus, itself a moving art piece, was originally created by visual artists Toni Hafter and Lalo Obregon as a means to create a fun and inviting way to experience Mexican culture for those entrapped by negative stereotypes of it. Now it persists as a party bus rental, used by anyone from school groups to 30th birthday parties. Perhaps even more so than his body, GómezPeña uses his voice as a penetrating weapon that challenges post-colonial complexities of race, identity and gender, often through the lens of his what he terms his Post-Mexican, Chicano identity. By playing seven Audio Postcards from the Mission, part of the La 60
Pocha Nostra audio archive, “Radio Free Pocha,” we hoped to draw out what happens when you trap 30-50 people in a moving vehicle and make them listen together while physically contextualizing Gómez-Peña’s words. The first tour departed The Lab at 7 pm. At the very back of the bus, a group talking in Spanish seemed detached from what was happening and caught up in their own conversation, but every now and then would then cheer in reaction to something said over the speakers, Spanish or otherwise. Perhaps the rest of us, sitting with our hands clasped and listening piously, should have taken a hint from the back of the bus and taken off our art-viewing (in this case listening) faces. After all, we were on a bus that still had a banner from a previous group that read “30 and Dirty!” On our way down Mission towards 25th Street, we encountered a march for Alex Nieto, 1 moving down the opposite side of the street. It was so perfectly timed with what was happening inside the bus and with Gómez-Peña’s words that one person even asked, “Did you guys plan this?” Then, in the midst of the worst drought in California’s history, Gómez-Peña’s shamanistic powers seemed to actualize with the parting of the clouds, bringing rain which mingled with the light pink halo of dusk. Despite the unexpected shower, everyone was happy to stretch their legs for a few minutes in order take a mural walk down Balmy Alley as our driver, Tino Sanchez, slowly followed us in the lumbering school bus, practically knocking off the doorknobs of the houses as it went past.
The second tour held a much more rowdy group comprised of mainly artists in graduate school and a few others whose faces were lost amidst the student’s more familiar looks. As artists and graduate students, we’re used to questioning others, the merit of our work, the ethics of one another’s practice or writing, but we never question our right to be in the city. We glom onto what little artistic culture still clings to the fringes of the Mission, trying to make it ours, but many of us already are making plans for new cities after school. I couldn’t help but hear Gómez-Peña’s voice echo in my own thoughts as I looked around and thought, “Are we the hipster tourists and is San Francisco just a stop on the way to somewhere else?” The purpose of the tour was to deal with the disembodied voice, but Guillermo was present. He was present in the way the landscape outside changed as it reflected his questions and words, and the way he made us rethink our own position and relationship to the Mission. Most of all, he was present because, without his words, we would have just been a bunch of drunks on a bus doing another Mission bar crawl. In the words of Gómez-Peña, “Am I a hipster or a local? Can I be both… please?” 1
While the march highlighted the death of Mission
local Alex Nieto, protesters were also marching against the deaths of black and brown men who were killed by police such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant and too many others to name. They were also marching in solidarity with protesters in Baltimore over the recent death of Freddie Gray. Photographs courtesy of Alice Combs
JILL MAGID C O O R D I N AT E D B Y G U U S J E S A N D E R S 67
The interconnectivity of hidden life and present art is at the center of Jill Magidâ€™s performative practice. Magid often immerses herself into live-based projects, taking up authoritative organizations in specific locales. These organizations claim to look after the safety of their communities and exist as ever present yet unseen. Magid explores the inner workings of these guardians by finding loopholes that permit her to become intimate with their mechanisms and their people. In Evidence Locker, 2004, Magid developed a close connection with the Citywatch in Liverpool, England. Citywatch surveilles the entire city. The footage that the organization captures is kept for 31 days and then erased. Communicating via letters and in person, Magid established a collaboration where the organizationâ€™s employees would find her in the crowded city and then film her performing particular acts, such as smoking on a public bench or walking around the city. Always highlighting bureaucracy, Magid then filled out 31 forms for the 31 days she was in Liverpool to obtain the recorded footage. These mandatory forms read like love letters to the Citywatch. Part of Evidence Locker is Trust, video footage that shows Magid with her eyes closed, in a red trench coat, being guided through the city by the voice of a Citywatch agent. She wears a little earpiece through which she can hear and communicate with the Citywatch. In the video, you never hear Magid speak. The only voice that is heard is that of the agent guiding her. Her red coat stands out in a landscape of other neutral jackets. The distance at which the camera operates creates anonymity for all of the
people in the shot, though the voice that leads Magid through the city becomes the most real presence to the viewer. The disembodied voice of the agent becomes embodied through Magidâ€™s real actions. Although surveillance is often implicitly understood but ignored, Magid exposes its presence through Trust. In the video, you hear the caring voice of the agent ensuring that Magid crosses safely to the other side of the market place or street; in this way, Magid humanizes surveillance. The surveillance camera is no longer a piece of creepy technology that follows you around. Magid is breaking from the societal view of the surveillance camera and turns it into someone who lovingly watches over you, someone you can trust to guide you through a crowded city. The disembodied voice becomes a like a loved one on the other side of the telephone line. The voice may be in another room, yet it becomes a part of your experience. Still courtesy of LABOR Gallery (Mexico City)
THE ARCHIVE 70
The SFAI archive, housed in the Anne Bremer Memorial Library at its Chestnut Street campus, is a collection of hundreds of audio archives dating back to the 1940s. Most of the archive is preserved in the form of cassette tapes, though a small portion has been digitized. Included in the archive are lectures from notable Bay Area speakers, alumni and former SFAI professors. We examine the San Francisco Art Instituteâ€™s archive in three original accounts and resurrect Richard Irwin with his 1980 experimental piece of music No On Yes/Yes On No, which was created following his time at SFAI.
RESEARCHED BY LISA BOLING 73
I first came to know of Richard Irwin (19491988, also known as Irwin Irwin) from an anecdote told to me by San Francisco Art Institute research librarian Jeff Gunderson. According to Gunderson, it was on a school day in 1979 when Irwin caught wind that Soviet dignitaries accompanied by KGB operatives were visiting SFAI’s Chestnut campus. Inspired to arrange something for the occasion, he gathered a few props: an American flag, a toy gun, a Polaroid selfportrait of himself, a deck of cards, red paint, Mao’s Little Red Book, and a tape-recording describing various criminal activities and their associations with the “art world.” He staged a scene positioning himself at the bottom of a concrete ramp that leads down into the sculpture area and painting studios. The American flag cloaked Irwin’s body, which lay on the ground as if fallen. The toy gun rested in his hand, seemingly discharged as evidenced by the red paint spattered and pooled near his head. His apparent suicide was accompanied by a tape recording playing beside his body, as well as by the remaining articles noted above. Once the KGB operatives spotted Irwin in this state, they quickly became unsettled and whisked the Soviet dignitaries away, the tour suddenly canceled. Irwin was known for these radical performances, bordering somewhere between performance art, pranks, and dare-devil antics. He was connected to the local punk rock scene, indicative of the spirit guiding his ideas. Many of his performances resulted in physical injury, including his final master’s thesis project at SFAI, where he lit himself
and his skateboard on fire and raced through a stunned assembly of faculty and students. Irwin held performances all over the SFAI campus and in the larger San Francisco community. In a video piece titled “Ghost Tower” from 1978, he transmitted a live stream video of himself to Studio 10 from within the SFAI bell tower. In this performance, Irwin attempted to make contact with the spirit world using a Ouija board, finishing the piece by shattering a pane of glass over his head. He also performed at Theatre Rhinoceros, The Lab, Intersection for the Arts, and regularly at the Hotel Utah. Irwin was an undeniable talent and embodied the SFAI heritage of pushing boundaries and working against the grain of contemporary society. His work has been described as theatrical acts or skits, a great departure from the performance art made by older contemporaries like Tom Marioni or Terry Fox. Irwin considered punk rock to be the ultimate form of American performance art, fast paced and instantaneous—the opposite of Marioni or Fox’s work, which were often steeped in ritual and spanned great lengths of time. Inspired by Dada performances and Surrealist techniques, he followed an immediacy and hard theatricality in his work. Spectacle and anarchy were his media. Truly a multidisciplinary artist, Irwin was also a painter, video and tape recording artist, poet, and writer. His personal letters and prose in the SFAI archive often feel like long-hand poems, moving seamlessly in and out of rhythms and rhymes. The work 75
being re-presented here was made in 1980. Digitalized from the tape archives at SFAI, No On Yes/Yes On No is an experimental piece of music made from the sampling and manipulation of children’s voices. Irwin himself introduces the piece: “Somehow every child in the world learns to speak a language. Not only do children learn individual words and their meaning, they also master the art of constructing and recognizing grammatical sentences. Language development proceeds by stages. What you will hear are samples of children’s language at various stages of development.” Archival photograph courtesy of Ginny Lloyd, Irwin tape photograph courtesy of Lisa Boling.
WITH THE ARCHIVE H A R P E R B R O K AW- FA L B O , L I Z S M I T H , A N D C H R I S T O P H E R S Q U I E R 79
This podcast exists in three parts. The first segment features Harper Brokaw-Falbo and her quest for a missing Guillermo Gómez-Peña tape. This journey forces BrokawFalbo to encounter the archive as a physical space; she digs through decades of history in search of what’s lost. The second installment is a conversation between Liz Smith and SFAI’s librarian Jeff Gunderson about access to the archive in the digital age. They discuss some of the hidden gems from the SFAI audio collection and the reason these gems tend to stay hidden. Christopher Squier completes the final piece of the podcast, which explores the phenomenon of “archive fever.” Featuring archaic audio, inaccessible technologies, and duplicated materials, Squier describes the way we’ve become a “society of collectors without a focus.”
Top 10 from the SFAI’s audio archive Judy Chicago, discussion of her project “The Dinner Party” (1978) Angela Davis, lecture on the economics of racism (1977) John Discoll, “Space as Instruments” (1982) Guillermo Gómez-Peña, discussion of his work (1991) David Hockney, informal classroom discussion (1978) Suzanne Lacy, “Transforming the Obvious: Sculptural Performance in Public Places,” (1982) Lucy Lippard, lecture (2000) Pomo Afro Homo, discussion of their work (1993) Susan Sontag, “Politics of Aesthetics” (1978) James Turrell, “Light & Space” (1984)
In addition to completing individual artist projects, whether archival, covered, extant, or new, each curator also considered a historical moment in the life of radio. Some essays seek out pre-radio histories in the occult or religious contexts, where voices appear from the beyond. Some investigate allied technologies, from phonographs to the first phone call to an artist dialing up industrialmade paintings. Others look at key moments in radio itself, from the censorship of “lewd” broadcasts to the boosterism and intimacy of FDR’s “fireside” chats. The essays conclude with recent meditations on disembodied voices, mostly outside of radio’s reach. What’s next for voices bouncing around us? Can we still engage with voices lacking bodies or perhaps, worse yet, with voices disconnected from an image? It’s perhaps FaceTime only from now on.
SÉANCE AND SPIRITUALISM HADAR KLEIMAN
Originating from the French word for sitting, or session, “séance” refers to the act of summoning spirits. 1 The popular way to conduct a séance finds a number of people gathering around a table and posing questions for the dead. Sometimes there would be a “spirit medium” present in the session and that individual would be responsible for channeling the spirits’ responses: disembodied voices, music from an unknown source, or ghostly body parts that take sudden shape. As it was not common for one to study to become a medium, these channelers were usually believed to be individuals with gifted powers. Spiritualists of the 19th century believed that the spirits of the dead want to communicate with the living and to give advice and guidance. Those spirits were considered to be actively aware in their afterlife, and they thus had a greater interest in essential matters of life on Earth. The earliest knowledge of the séance goes back to England in 1760. 2 It only gained popularity towards the mid-19th century as a result of the blossoming of Spiritualism as a kind of religion. Spiritualism started to gain momentum in the first decades after the Civil War in America and proceeded to England and France as believers carried the news of a new channel to lost family, lovers and friends. People sought out their departed to settle questions that the living could not. By 1897, historians believe more than eight million people had faith in the practice. The method of communication via séance can be accomplished either by receiving messages from the Beyond in ways such as
the ringing of a bell, or by using accessories like a Ouija board—an instrument that moves across a game board and stalls on certain letters and numbers to spell out a message. In other cases, the medium conducting the séance may use her or his body as a vessel for channeling the spirits. In this process, the medium will enable the spirit she or he summons to take over the inviting body and to talk with the present audience. While the spirit takes over the medium’s body, the medium’s voice and demeanor may appear to be different than normal. Spiritualism began in America on March 31, 1848, when two sisters claimed they had communicated with the ghost of a murdered peddler. 3 The Fox sisters, Kate and Maggie, were 11 and 15 years old at the time. They lived in a house in Hydesville, New York. One night they noticed strange banging sounds coming from their house, with no apparent reason. They decided to bang back in an attempt to find the source of the noise. Little Kate asked a question and in response she requested a specific number of bangs to indicate a “yes” or “no” answer. The communication led the family to believe that the daughters were talking to the ghost of the peddler who disappeared on their road. The girls’ parents brought in the neighbors to observe the strange phenomenon. Soon after, the rumor traveled and brought larger crowds to the family residence. Visitors came from remote places to see with their own eyes how the two sisters could summon this ghost from beyond. Some believed it was a fraudulent act, but a committee set to detect deception could not come up with any findings. 4 87
The girls continued to conduct séances for visitors who wished to communicate with passed away loved ones, and Spiritualism began spreading to other counties and countries. New mediums began to conduct séance sessions and these new episodes included the appearance of levitating objects and channeled spirits, creating physical traces known as ectoplasm.
he “woke up,” he would not recall any of the things he said during the time he was in the state of hypnosis. Cayce’s advice was mostly regarding matters of physical and mental health but also questions about professional calling and any other insights the individuals inquired about. He related his sleeping knowledge to an outside source of consciousness, such as a higher being.
Maggie Fox admitted in 1888 that the entire thing was a hoax and that the two girls made it up as part of a prank that spun out of control. 5 They created the illusion of communication by using elaborate and creative ways to make sounds in response to their questions—such as strings that were connected to a tree outside and her own finger cracking. Later, Maggie recanted her statement and some believe she was tricked into giving that admission by a manipulative reporter.
In today’s world, technology and globalism make it easier to disprove acts of deceit or fraud, and perhaps that is why the séance’s popularity has dwindled, or maybe the idea has been exhausted. Either way, the notion of listening to disembodied voices plays out in new ways, like listening to a recording of a loved one who has passed away or talking with a computer generated voice. The illusion of communicating with another human through different channels is still prominent— it only takes different forms today. We tend to dismiss those who claim to speak to the dead, treating them like they are insane or fake, but the popularity of shows and movies like Supernatural, Ghost Adventures or Paranormal Activity are a clear sign that we as a logical, modern society still have a strong desire to belive some of us are able to “see dead people.”
Edgar Cayce, born in Kentucky in 1877, is an example of a different kind of spirit communicator. 6 As opposed to the Fox sisters, some of his prophecies were interpreted as actually happening, such as his prediction of the stock market crash in 1929, the rise of Hitler and WWII, and his own death. He was known as the “sleeping prophet,” a nickname he was given because his first clairvoyant experience occurred after he took a nap, and because while in a hypnotic state he appeared to be sleeping. 7 He would lay down and enter a state where his unconscious mind would take over. Then he would answer questions asked by an individual prior to the session. When
“Séance Occultism,” Encyclopedia Britannica
(8), Jan. 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/ topic/530953/seance, accessed 04/20/2015. 2
George Lyttelton, Dialogues of the Dead, London:
Printed for W. Sandby, 1760, Print. 3
“Séance,” New World Encyclopedia, http://www.
newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Séance, accessed 04/20/2015. 4
Ectoplasm is a supernatural viscous substance
supposed to exude from the body of a medium during a spiritualistic trance and form the material for the manifestation of spirits. 5 “Séance,” New World Encyclopedia. 6
Patrick Keller, “Edgar Cayce and Spirit
Communication...” The Big Séance, 05/23/2012, http:// bigseance.com/2012/05/23/edgar-cayce-and-spiritcommunication/, accessed 04/21/2015. 7
“The Sleeping Psychic,” History.com, A&E
Television Networks, 04/20/2015, http://www.history.com/ videos/the-sleeping-psychic#the-sleeping-psychic. Images courtesy of Wikicommons
SPEAKING IN TONGUES LISA BOLING
Young pentecostals praying with their hands up and speaking in tongues in a meeting at the Center of Faith Emmanual of Assemblies of God in Cancun, Mexico.
Speech is both a physical and a mental act. Together with the lungs, vocal chords, and articulators (lips, teeth, tongue, and palate), speech is made. Prior to this action, the brain formulates an idea, and it associates the right words to convey those thoughts. It then assembles the proper combination of sounds that then produce our words. It is speculated that some 40,000 neuromuscular events happen per second of speech. Respiration, the utterance of sound, and precise articulation are the unconscious elements that occur in a speech act, and when they are coordinated through the body we produce speech, language, fluency, and communication.
The disembodiment of voice takes place when the physical phenomena required to make speech is stripped away; speech exists without the body. We encounter this regularly through the radio and telephone, as well as through other devices like overhead speakers and walkie-talkies. Hearing a recording of one’s own voice can be a jarring experience for some: “I hate the sound of my voice!” or, “Is that what I really sound like?” When we talk, sound waves from our vocal chords resonate in our skulls differently than when they reach the eardrums of others. We are hearing ourselves from within, but this is also a combination of the way we hear ourselves in our thoughts—the way we think we sound. 94
Speaking in tongues, stemming from the supernatural or spiritual, results from a sort of hijacking of the physical voice. One person’s body is merely a vessel for the voice, language, or words of another. So while sound is being produced from a single body, somehow the connection between sound and body has been interfered with, resulting in an altogether new kind of disembodiment. Speaking in tongues is primarily associated with religion, particularly the Pentecostal movement in Christianity, but it is also found in Hinduism, Haitian Voodoo, Shamanism, Spiritism, Paganism, and mediumistic practices. 1 In the Bible, there are two instances, both in the New Testament, when the act of speaking in tongues is addressed: in the book of Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians. The book of Acts relates the founding of the Christian Church, particularly its assent into the Roman Empire. In the second chapter, “The Coming of the Spirit,” the text relates an instance of speaking in tongues. A large sound, like a huge gust of wind, comes from the sky and fills the house; the wind acts as a symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit. This force of nature is a dramatic prelude to what happens—each of the twelve Apostles are visited with “tongues as of fire,” as a symbol for the presence of the third part of a trinitarian God—made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It is said that on the day of Pentecost the “Spirit enabled them to proclaim” to the Jews the testament of Jesus Christ. The gathering of Jews that were listening, all coming from many different parts of the world and speaking different languages, each heard and understood the Apostles. In this instance,
the Spirit seems to have seized the voice of each Apostle, using each one as a vessel for communication with the Divine. Speaking in tongues can also manifest itself unintelligibly. This happens in a moment of heightened spirituality or excitement. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes a letter to the church offering very specific guidelines as to how speaking in tongues should occur within the Church. 2 In this writing he is referring to the kind of unintelligible speaking in tongues that can occur. Gibberish, aphasia, glossolalia, xenoglossia, logorrhea, or the written version of these things (asemic writing), amusingly seem to be onomatopoeias (yet another gibberish sounding word) for what they’re describing. Depending on the level of intensity, witnessing someone speaking in tongues can be alarming and can seem unnatural. In the early days of the Christian Church, speaking in tongues was evidently a hot issue. Paul set guidelines in order to limit this mania but also to ensure that potential converts to Christianity would not be scared away. One of Paul’s main concerns was that speaking in tongues was inherently a selfish act because it was a direct mainline between the speaker and the Spirit; it served only one person, versus creating a connection with the Spirit that could benefit an entire community. It was nobler to practice interpreting tongues, translating into common language what a speaker of tongues is saying, or to prophesize the word of God, because this practice was something everyone in church could participate in and learn from. Paul felt so strongly about this issue that he suggests 95
only someone with the gift of interpretation should speak in tongues, and that only one person per service should practice tongues. However, his precepts suggest that there is a level of self-control when speaking in tongues; surely we should not presume to enforce restraint on the Holy Ghost, also known as the Holy Spirit. Faith is the currency of religion. Charismatic gifts like glossolalia, interpretation, and prophecy are the results of this faith and connection to the divine. However, speaking in tongues evolved to a practice in its own right from a sudden outburst during a heightened state of religious excitement. This practice is more than just a display of enthusiasm or passion for Christianity; it is a meditative or trancelike state. The practice of speaking in tongues is an attempt to break the connection between voice and mind. This is less a disembodiment of the voice and more of a disassociation with the voice. This practice is voluntary, possibly closer to the kind of glossolalia Paul referred to, and is thought to help the practitioner meditate on his or her union with and also separation from the Holy Spirit. The transitional nature of glossolalia mirrors the contradictory relationship with the divine. The practice of glossolalia is not limited to faith; it has proven to be a useful tool in contemporary dance. San Francisco-based choreographer Alex Ketley has been known to instruct dancers to speak in their own made up languages. It is an exercise intended to shed inhibitions and vulnerability to promote creativity in both mind and body, readying the dancer for improvisational movement.
Loosen the tongue, loosen the body. In jazz music, this manifests itself in a singing style known as “scatting.” Louis Armstrong was the first to record music using the technique, and Ella Fitzgerald is considered to be one of the greatest scat singers in jazz history. Scat singing is a vocal improvisation that uses a random variation of nonsense syllables and sounds. Rather than singing lyrics, the voice is used to make sounds for music, comparable to how instruments disconnected from the body are utilized. A vocabulary of descriptive terms for sounds in language is used to investigate these musical improvisations. Soft-tongued sounds, liquids, pitch articulation, coloration, resonance, fricatives, plosives, and open vowels are all words used to describe the quality and nature of “louie-ooie’s” and “shoo-bee-doo-bee’s.” Speaking in tongues is the most immediate shape of the disembodied voice, whether it is preceded by a biblical gust of wind, exhibited as a spiritual outburst at church, exercising on a religious meditation, or simply readying the body for improvisational movement. It is something that should not seem plausible: the use of one’s voice to displace his or her own voice. Overthrowing language and producing improvisational sound instead, whatever the underlying agenda, disconnecting mind from voice is the means by which one can disembody their own voice. Does this bring us closer, or further away from our own voice? Which one is more true: the language we speak in or the tongues we use?
Speaking in tongues also has a more sinister
side. Some believe that depending on the nature of the tongues it is evidence of an evil spirit or demon taking possession—a much less fun version of the disembodied voice. For tips on judging whether tongues be true or false, visit: http://www.danielrjennings.org/ TheFalseGiftOfTonguesCases.html#HowToTell 2
The Pentecostal movement adheres to these
guidelines. However, it should also be noted that together with Paul’s advice on speaking in tongues he also states that women have no rights or voice in the church, “but should be subordinate.” Should they endeavor to learn more on the matter they are to seek counsel from their husbands, but under no circumstances is it ever prudent for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor. 14:34-36) This portion of his advice is customarily omitted in practice. Image courtesy of Library of Congress
MODERNITY AND THE PHONOGRAPH LIBBY NICHOLAOU
As humans, our relationships with our bodies are in continual evolution. We are constantly adapting to the use of new technological devices that function in a parallel with our anatomical capabilities. In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, a machine that enabled people to hear recorded sound for the first time. This was not the first device that reproduced the human presence. Prior to the phonograph was the camera, which preserved an image in time. Ten years later, the movie camera followed the phonograph. Along with these two other devices, the phonograph created a potentially destructive relationship between the sensory capacity of the human body and the output of the machine. It left us with a machine—and future iterations of it—that mimics an aspect of the human body. The dangerous and also fascinating aspect of these devices is how they have become synonymous with the human body. With the phonograph, people found value in the recorded voice. Prior to its invention, the human voice was only heard the moment it was spoken. The phonograph’s ability to record and play back the voice was beneficial in everyday tasks such as the dictation of letters, the instruction of elocution, or the creation of family records. Its functionality was easily integrated into people’s lives and it quickly became a necessary tool in the office or home. Through these interactions with the phonograph, people came to rely upon it as if it were an extension of their bodies.
self. The phonograph separated the voice (or a version of it) from the body. Because the voice comes from inside the body, the phonograph replaced the source of the voice, enabling it to come out of a device external to the body. Bennett Hogg discusses this point in relation to Marxism and modernism in his dissertation. He writes, “There is an implicit violation of the boundaries of the self and the body that also, by virtue of being ‘internalized,’ threatens the very sense of interiority and mind.” 1 This extraction of the voice removed its intimacy and allowed people to think of the voice as a tool rather than only a form of expression. The functionality of the phonograph is similar to a prosthetic mouth in its ability to supplement the presence of the voice without the presence of the mouth. Many theorists dating back to Marshall McLuhan have identified the prosthetic relationship technology has with the human body. 2 Similar to their theories on the effects of general technology, the phonograph not only adds to what the voice can do, but also takes away from it. In its ability to take away lies the danger of its use. The phonograph allowed people to use a technological device in place of their own capabilities. Rather than remembering a person’s voice in one’s head, the phonograph could preserve the voice, allowing it to be listened to at a later time. This replacement of technology for human memory, could be
Observing the way the phonograph persisted, one can see it slowly altering people’s relationship with their voice and internal 100
Thomas Edison with Phonograph
listened to at a later time. This replacement of human memory by technology could be seen as relieving a person from obligations. Yet in relieving them, they become dependent on the same technology in the future. To Hogg’s previous point, the dependency on technology changes the interiority of a person. They become extended into physical space, providing an expansion of their points of vulnerability. As an invention, people were excited for the phonograph, yet its inverse influence on modern human times is important to note. Hogg identifies this effect in the writings of Marshall Berman, Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin. Not only did the phonograph add a layer of complexity to human life but it also enabled people to live in denial of death. As noted in historical documentation, the phonograph became available for general use around the beginning of World War I. This was a time when many people were dying for the sake of their countries. The phonograph and other recording devices, like the camera and video camera, allowed the human image and voice to be immortalized. The immortalization of human existence flattens the passage of time by keeping traces of the dead alive in the present. Prior to the existence of the phonograph, the sounds and voices people heard were always happening in real time. Today we hear all kinds of facsimiles of original sounds and the human voice, which disconnect us from the original source. Through the technology of the phonograph, we have created another layer on top of our naturally existing reality, a layer where we are guiding our own life experience, rather than letting nature dictate and control the speed and way we encounter our being.
Bennett Hogg, “The Cultural Imagination of the
Phonographic Voice, 1877-1940” (19), http://www.academia. edu/9432098/The_Cultural_Imagination_of_the_Phonographic_Voice_1877-1940. 2
“The blurred line between men and the materialism
of the commodity sets up a prosthetic system in which social relations are determined by the material relations between commodities, ultimately alienating men from one another and from themselves” (Coffey). 3
Sarah Coffey, “Prosthesis,” The Chicago School of
Media Theory, https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/prosthesis/, accessed on 04/18/2015. Images courtesy of Wikicommons
BENSHI AND NEO-BENSHI GUUSJE SANDERS
In the last decade, a contemporary resurgence of benshi, called Neo-Benshi, has taken San Francisco by storm. Benshi is the art of Japanese silent film narrators of the early-20th century, but artists throughout San Francisco are now putting their own spins on the benshi tradition. Neo-Benshi pops up in venues such as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where whole nights are dedicated to the celebration of the spontaneity that is Neo-Benshi.
part of the performance being the way the benshi interacted with the audience and the movie. 3 Through this encounter, the benshi served as an intermediary between the physical presence in the room and the presence of the screen. Each benshi had their own identifiable performance based on their poses and their costumes. Through these unique stylings, they became known individually as celebrities and crowds would flock to their performances. 4
Neo-Benshi is inspired by the later role of benshi, where the benshi took on the role of narrator for an entire feature length production. Benshi was enacted from the beginning of the silent film era until the advent of sound in film (1896-1939). 1 Benshi narrated Japanese and Western movies. For the Japanese community, early silent films often lacked a narrative; the benshi gave an introduction to the movie, explaining the circumstances from which the action of the film arose. 2 The benshi not only performed vocally but also physically, with an important
In 2005, Konrad Steiner and Roxi Hamilton invited a group of Bay Area writers and performers to join in a Neo-Benshi evening at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Each invitee was asked to pick a clip from their movie of choice, mute the sound and insert their alternative narrative. The movies ranged from traditional Japanese silent film to mainstream Sci Fi. The narration extended from sentimental and sincere storytelling and poetry to humorous reinterpretations. Some of the works created a parody of the films themselves, questioning the bureaucracy 106
of movies-makers. Yet others were early renditions of the current “bad lip reading” trends in YouTube viral videos, in which voice actors try to read the lips of the actors and create new dialogue that is completely out of context. The coexistence between physical and vocal performance gave the benshi a name in their community, often landing them on the cover of advertisements, movie promotions or even magazines. The growing production and popularity of movies ensured that the benshi continued to interpret new storylines and characters. It is this popularity of the live performer over the film that attracts NeoBenshi to its cause. As silent films developed more narrative plots, the role of the benshi also became more elaborate. Benshi went from solemnly introducing the movie and its history to taking on the role of narrator for the entire movie, explaining the plotline and subplots while also inventing intermissions as the film was playing. Through their own accents and mannerisms, benshi embellished and transformed the personalities of the characters on screen.
Neo-Benshi makes use of this absurdity to comment on modern and contemporary filmmaking. Neo-Benshi is about reinterpreting films that are familiar to many people. This style of reinterpretation includes poetry, music, performance and visual art. Neo-Benshi blatantly takes over the narrative of the film and turns it into a parody of itself. Through humorous interpretation and improvised interaction with the narrative of the film, Neo-Benshi breathes new life into each film screening. While traditional benshi were viewed as educators, Neo-Benshi uses the strategy of paradox between a silent or silenced movie and the presence of a live performer to reclaim the live theater of moving pictures. Neo-Benshi is simultaneously a celebration and critique of the film industry at large. By reincorporating live, vocal performances into film, Neo-Benshi reconciles the art of filmmaking and the vocal arts. Neo-Benshi allows for the live performer to reenter the room.
Narrators),” in About Japan (Japan Society), January 2008. 2
The disconnect that later benshi vocal performance had with the original movie is reminiscent of the dubbing that happens nowadays when a movie is translated into a different language. The absurdity of the two contradicting cultures and of live performance and film created the ability for benshi to take liberties with storylines. It is in this contradiction that we see NeoBenshi resemble its Japanese predecessor.
Jeffery Dym, “A Brief History of Benshi (Silent Film
Ibid. Hideaki Fujiki, “Benshi as Stars: The Irony of
the Popularity and Respectability of Voice Performers in Japanese Cinema,” in Cinema Journal, 45, 2 (University of Texas Press, 2006): 68-84. 4
Image courtesy of The Grey Auto Archive, Japanese Benshi style
CAN THEY HEAR US TOO? GÖZDE EFE
Your voice can do more now! It can travel, it can be recorded. It can be heard and sent more. Your travelling voice has made its first trip from the top of the Franklin School at 13th and K Street in Washington, D.C., in 1880, to a laboratory where Alexander Graham Bell waits to hear from his colleague, Charles Tianter. “Mr. Bell, Mr. Bell! If you hear me, come to the window and wave your hat!” said Tianter. Bell comes to the window and
waves his hat to him. This starts a neverending journey of your voice. The travelling voice didn’t start with the invention of the telephone. Your voice has always travelled around. From your house to the next house, from your door to the next door, from your garden to the next garden, or to the end of the street; however, this new trip proves to be different. At this time, your voice has arrived at the place that your body hasn’t. Your voice seperates from your body for the first time. It has gone a long way since that day. 110
From 1880 on, your voice has travelled to distant places. You heard others’ voices, and you sent yours through the phone. Although the phone was a way for your voice to travel across distances, it was not the only way. In 1960, a new way of disembodying voices was invented. One would speak, and the voice would be heard by mass populations. Experiments in wireless telegraphy via inductive and capacitive induction and transmission through the ground, water, and even train tracks led to the invention of radio. In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, sent and received the first radio signal from Italy.
other inventions focused on the voice alone. The latest technologies have brought our travelling voices and bodies back together. How we perceive, react, and make use of disembodied voices has dramatically changed over a short period of time. Finally, to point out how we would react to our old world of hearing without seeing, I offer an anecdote. Listening to the radio with my four year old nephew, he asked about the people speaking on the radio: “Can they hear us, too?” I answered, “No. Not unless we call them.” But why not one day?
In 1899, he flashed the first wireless signal across the English Channel, but it wasn’t until two years later that he received the letter S, the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message. Through this new invention, your disembodied voice travels along expanded paths. Today, travelling voices occupy larger amounts of your life. Calls through different media including radio, internet radio, audio messages, voicemail, and conference calls surround us all the time and everywhere. Nowadays, however, technology rewrites this expansion. With Skype and video messaging, we return to the past, to a time when hearing and seeing weren’t separated as they are with the telephone and radio. After a long period of time of hearing without seeing, we are about to leave that isolated voice behind. We have abandoned the telegraph, the phonograph, call stations, and many 111
MAE WEST’S SMOLDERING VOICE: CENSORSHIP IN RADIO’S GOLDEN AGE K AT H R Y N B A R U L I C H
Mae West, 1927, LA Times
The 1930s ushered in the golden age of radio. As cheaper and smaller radios were being produced, the radio became the central piece of furniture in the average family’s living room; the family huddled around the radio together entertained, informed, and united, if only virtually, by the first collectively-experienced mass medium. 1 Some worried about the anesthetizing effects of the radio and the propriety and taste of the radio programming that penetrated America’s domestic safe-haven from popular culture. 2 The radio brought the public sphere into the private realm, bringing the outside world into the most personal of spaces: the home. A constant free stream of entertainment included live musical programs, drama, talk, and comedy acts. The radio broadcast also had the power to dislocate the listener by transporting her or him to an imagined place, stimulated by the aural codes of the radio.
did not actively vie for censorship, for the emphasis it placed on a woman’s desire for carnal experiences in this appropriation of a biblical story. 5 After a musical interlude, the second skit was set up as a battle of love between West and the dummy Charlie McCarthy. West seduced McCarthy, a popular personality in 1930’s America, figured as a suave, but inexperienced adolescent. This skit, particularly West’s role as seducer, broke social taboos about intergenerational intimacy. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which produced the show, put all the blame of the scandal on West, banning the mention of her name and forbidding other comedians to refer to the outrageous incident.
On December 12, 1937, American actress, singer, and comedian, Mae West, appeared as a celebrity guest on The Chase & Sandborn Hour, a Sunday evening variety show hosted by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. This 30-minute segment aroused the most public criticism radio had yet encountered. 3 Her appearance was described as “profane,” “filthy,” obscene,” “horrible blasphemy,” and “vomitous.” 4
However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guaranteed that NBC could preview the script before the live performance. This script was approved by the show’s producers at the final readthrough, and West recited the same lines on the live broadcast. The issue lies in the specific voice of Mae West, her intonations, and sultry air. Mae West was a big star, and her exaggerated screen and stage persona as a “tough girl” with a questionable ethical history positioned her as an icon of sexual deviance. 6 Viewers clearly linked West’s signature husky voice with her notorious image.
West performed in two skits. First she played Eve, seducing the serpent in the Garden of Eden to procure the fruit to give to Adam, played by Don Ameche. This skit was criticized by religious and reformist groups, as well as many Americans who
The Mae West scandal brought the issue of the dual meaning of words to the forefront of debates on permissible limits on radio broadcasting. Since the scripts that were performed on the radio needed to be preapproved by the show’s producers, each 115
word was carefully scrutinized. Verbal punning was the primary source of antagonism for reformers and religious groups, as the popular “verbal slapstick” comedic style allowed for a single word to have dual meaning. This was a way for comedians to get around the FCC’s strict standard of moral, sexual, and religious purity and still be funny. Puns made the radio safe for children, and funny for their parents, as certain jokes would wash over a child’s head with no harm done. Those who defended West argued that her material was no worse than that of popular male comedians, such as Fred Allen and George Jessel. 7 West is not only punning, but acting, changing the words with her vocal inflection. West always delivered her lines in a way that could not be separated from her vocal style and unique presence, arguably the sign of a talented comedian. She drew her audiences in with an overtly sexual self-presentation, whether they were seeing her body or listening to her voice. In the West-McCarthy skit, West propositions the ventriloquist doll, “Come on home with me honey. I’ll let you play in my woodpile.” These words were signed off on by the network, all in accordance with FCC regulation. But when they came out of Mae West’s mouth, they caused an uproar. After the radio broadcast, West’s intonations became the focus of complaint, her added “mm’s” and strategic pauses and emphases supposedly dirtied the previously approved words. The moral argument was that the secondary meaning of her innuendoes were completely explicit, that the duality was
usurped by West’s blaring signal of carnal lust and desire. The scandal that ensued seemed to be particularly sensitive because the sexual under/over-tones of West’s voice invaded public and personal, domestic space. One editorial noted: “The home is our last bulwark against the modern over-emphasis on sensuality, and we cannot see why Miss West and others of her ilk should be permitted to pollute its precincts with shady stories, foul obscenity, smutty suggestiveness, and horrible blasphemy.” 8 It is this infiltration of the immorality of Hollywood into the domestic sphere—the sphere of the heteronormative, middle-class family—that was especially threatening. West was too explicit, causing dormant sexual desires and impure thoughts of listeners to surface. The method of delivery can transform seemingly innocent words into impure blasphemies: a husky voice can indicate lust in the same way that Bergen made his voice nasal and high to speak through his dummy, McCarthy. On the radio, we hear only these voices, as they need to be exaggerated to color the stories being told. Without visuals, the voices indicate the bodies they come from, and the imagined movements those bodies would be making. This is where the “danger” lies, in the imagination of the listener. The voice is something that can slip past the FCC (and the individual broadcast companies) and burst onto the airwaves with a sexual tone powerful enough to cause a national uproar. This 116
moment publicized the moral and institutional tensions concerning censorship in the 1930s.
This same skit was performed by an all black cast
only three months earlier with no controversy, as black men and women were already positioned as over-sexualized.
Roland Barthes defines the “grain of the voice” as a dual production of language and music. 9 The voice of Mae West most definitely has a grain, a unique presence that moves beyond the linguistic sphere. Her scandalous voice reveals the material makeup of language, as the approved words change in the delivery that her voice allows. When listening to Mae West’s voice, one cannot easily ignore its origin, her specific body that has the power to scandalize even the most mundane words. 1
At the start of the decade, 12 million American
households owned a radio, and by 1939 this total had
West’s cinematic notoriety and race allowed the issues surrounding this piece to be magnified. The previous program lacked the pre-publicity and public notoriety of the West-Ameche-McCarthy effort, as well as West’s suggestive vocal inflections, central to the Chase & Sanborn Hour controversy (Evans Plummer, “Hollywood Showdown,” Radio Guide Jan. 15, 1938: 12). My estimation that black performers were deemed “naturally” oversexualized is based upon an interpretation of dominant racist discourses of the time and not empirical evidence, as especially discussed by Murray in relation to this scandal. 6
Matthew Murray, “Mae West and the Limits of Radio
Censorship in the 1930s”, Colby Quarterly 36:4, December 2000.
exploded to more than 28 million. (“Radio in the 1930s,” History Detectives, PBS, http://www.pbs.org/opb/
of the public undertaken by the fan magazine Radio Guide
A telephone survey of randomly selected members
produced the following results: 59% of interviewees who 2
In 1932, journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote a
had heard the December 12 episode approved of West’s
series of reports for The New York Times, analyzing radio as
performance, while 60% responded that they would like to
a “great unknown force.” She observed that radio listening
hear more sophisticated programming over the radio than
was a passive, vicarious experience with a “dazing, almost
currently existed. (Evans Plummer, “Hollywood Showdown,”
anesthetic effect upon the mind.” (Stephen Smith, “Radio:
Radio Guide March 5, 1938: 10; see also Louis E. Bisch,
The Internet of the 30’s,” American Radio Works, Nov. 10,
M.D., “Does Radio Need Sex Appeal?” Radioland Dec. 1933:
the-internet-of-the-1930s/) 8 3
“Mae West Review,” Variety Dec. 15, 1937: 32;
Quoted by Arthur Frank Wertheim in Radio Comedy
(New York: Oxford UP, 1979), 364-65.
“Questionable Airings May Bring New Decency Legion,” Hollywood Reporter Dec. 15, 1937: 4.
Roland Barthes, and Stephen Heath. Image, Music,
Text, “The Grain of the Voice”. New York: Hill and Wang, 4
Jill Watts, Mae West: An Icon in Black and White,
Oxford University Press, 2001, 231.
THE PRESIDENT IN THE LIVING ROOM: FDR’S FIRESIDE CHATS HARPER BROKAW-FALBO
FDR courtesy of Wikicommons
On December 6, 1923, Calvin Coolidge’s speech to the United States Congress became the first official presidential State of the Union Address to air over the relatively new technological medium of radio. The New York Times estimated that some 2.5 million Americans had tuned in, signaling the beginning of a long relationship between politics and broadcasting. Later, Herbert Hoover would deliver 24 radio addresses to the nation, but it would take another decade for the radio to show its true colors as a major presidential political tool when Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to broadcast his regular “fireside chats.”
Seeing the potential of radio to gain the support of the masses and to unite a broken and distraught nation, 1 FDR relied on his own voice as a powerful tool for political manipulation. At the time of the first broadcast on March 12, 1933 nearly 90% of American homes had a radio. 2 In a world with no internet or television, radio gave Roosevelt an unprecedented monopoly of the country’s attention, and monopolize it he did. Immediately after assuming office, FDR aired his first fireside chat, which garnered an estimated audience of 60 million listeners. 3 The name itself, coined by Harry Butcher of 120
the Columbia Broadcasting Station (today’s CBS) and adapted by FDR’s office, connoted a level of intimacy between the average American tuning in and his or her president. 4 By using the idiom of “chat,” there was an implication of the broadcasts as being no more than a casual interaction between the public and the country’s highest elected official. However, the fact that the public wasn’t actually present while the chats were recorded gave the president a huge political advantage: FDR and his team pursued a level of autonomy and control over what was said that had not been possible before. Prior to radio broadcasts, politicians generally relied on face-to-face interactions in the form of town-hall meetings and public forums. Up until the 1930s, American politics had been rooted in the public space of the social networks, family, friends and community. However, the radio allowed the president to bypass such networks and speak directly to the individual within the space of their most private domain, their home. 5 In order to gain the trust of his listeners who could not physically see him, FDR built upon the idea that radio was a domestic technology used within the home. A family tuning in over supper was essentially inviting the president into their private sphere for the evening, as if he were a close friend or relative. Such an idea was built upon by using the historical image of the hearth’s centrality to the home, and as a place for intimate conversation. However, the actual chats took place in the White House Diplomatic Room, which didn’t have a working fireplace. 6 More than
anecdotal, such a fact helps to uncover the reality that the chats were part of a well-oiled media machine meant to gain the confidence of listeners in order to pass a political agenda. Like the presidential speeches of today, FDR’s chats were heavily scripted and researched before they aired. In a sophisticated media campaign, a team of analysts and writers regularly met to formulate how to approach different topics that ranged from drought conditions to the war in Europe. Historians note that the straightforward language of the chats and FDR’s own verbal intonations were structured in order to create a connection with his listeners in a way that felt warm and familiar. 7 Referring to the public as “my friends” and using pronouns like “our” and “we,” he sought to overcome the average American’s distrust in government by making their problems and concerns seem like his own. As a side note, it should be pointed out that although he used idioms of mass culture in order to connect with the average citizen, he spoke using near college-level English as opposed to the eighth-grade level of speech used by presidents today. 8 Radio would continue to play a crucial role in politics up until the late 20th century. In a similar fashion to the fireside chats, Bill Clinton broadcasted his “Saturday conversations” once a week up until his final days is office. However, there has been no other point in history when the radio held so much power as it did during FDR’s administration, with some going so far as to say that the fireside chats were Roosevelt’s principle means of political authority. 9 121
Perhaps the greatest public relations platform in history, the radio, which sat in most American living rooms as a form of entertainment, became the medium through which FDR was able to create an intimate connection with the average citizen, allowing him to build his legacy as the most one of the well-liked presidents in history. 1
David Michael Ryfe, “Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats”
(89), Journal of Communications, Autumn 1999. 2
Andrew Glass, “Franklin D. Roosevelt Delivers First
Fireside Chat, March 12, 1933,” Politico, 04/12/2012. 3
Jennifer Latson, “How FDR’S Radio Voice Solved a
Banking Crisis,” TIME, 03/12/2015. 4
Elvin Lim, “The Lion and the Lamb: De-Mythologizing
Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats” (437), Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Volume 6, Number 3, 2003. 5
Latson, “How FDR’s Radio Voice Solved a Banking
RADIO TOWERS AND TELEPHONE CONSTRUCTIONS: BAUHAUS AND MODERN TECHNOLOGY
CHRISTOPHER SQUIER 125
In 1919, when Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in Weimar and produced their brief, four-paragraph manifesto, he called for a return to the workshop as artisans rather than artists: “So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting.” 1 These aspirations for unity between art and architecture lay at the foundations of design-oriented artists like László MoholyNagy, a Hungarian professor at the Bauhaus School. From the climate of Italian Futurism in the early 1910s and the Soviet Revolution of 1917, Bauhaus artists were able to embrace the thrill of new technology and the promise of utopian tech machines. MoholyNagy, himself, was greatly influenced by Constructivism. Unlike later formalist art movements, these early schools of art and design were freighted with ideology. Moholy-Nagy looked to Soviet artists who triumphantly proclaimed revolutionary mantras, like painter and architect Vladimir Tatlin who declared, “Art into Life!” and, “Art into Technology!” 2 Tatlin himself is now remembered for his 1920 blueprints of a towering Monument to the Third International. Even asymmetrically offkilter as he designed it, Tatlin’s Tower would have stood at 400 meters of iron and glass. Spiraling upward toward the Soviet’s visions
of a Communist utopia, the tower’s dynamic design symbolized the ambitious aims of the Comintern, an organization advocating worldwide Communism. Had it not stalled in the planning stages, those Comintern headquarters were set to be taller than the Eiffel Tower by nearly 100 meters, ridiculing Western Europe and their paltry political structures. The tower was even envisioned as transmitting radio waves from its open pinnacle, ascending beyond the physical bounds of its construction and reaching out to embrace the estranged workers of the world. It was an architecture for a future that never arrived. These reveries of scraping the clouds were left unrealized by Tatlin; however, another Eiffel-contender erected his own visionary architecture on Moscow’s Shabolovka Street in 1922. Originally planned to outpace Paris’ megalith by 60 meters, Vladimir Shukhov’s radio tower plans were decapitated by half their height when reality set in and a supply shortage during the Russian Civil War prevented full construction. Even limited as it was, Shukhov’s Tower managed a half-throttle skyrocket to 180 meters. From afar, the Shukhov Tower’s open-cage hyperboloid structure fades into a triangular latticework. It encloses a circular pyramid of air, quivering with the radio waves broadcast from its apex—Lord Foster’s recent architectural pickle of London, nicknamed “the Gherkin,” was influenced by Shukhov’s earlier iteration. Up close, Shukhov’s Tower was something else. Seven years after its construction, 127
Aleksandr Rodchenko gawked from below at the concentric iron rings receding into the sky. He captured the tower in detail in his photographs Guard at the Shukhov Radio Tower, Moscow 3 and Shukhov Tower, 4 formal prints which abstract the tower into dizzying black-and-white mandalas. They show an architecture made, just as Soviet literary critic Viktor Shklovsky had written of Tatlin’s Tower, from “iron, glass and revolution.” 5 In highcontrast gelatin silver prints, the guard almost becomes a part of the architecture, one with the revolution. All the same, the tower looms precariously. The photographs lend the tower an instability and errant bent, foreshadowing its current struggle to hold itself together. A corroding scaffolding and costly, 635-million ruble plan for restoration have transformed the former communications tower into a shell of the Soviet past that has both fallen under neglect and fallen silent. The stagnant relic had not been maintained after the Soviet Union’s dissolution until it was recently granted protected status in 2014, after threats of demolition. 6 No longer transmitting, the Shukhov Tower now stands as an abandoned Tower of Babel. It is a visionary architecture embodying the failure of perfect communication. In 1922, Moholy-Nagy made his own attempt at uniting technology and the arts after the Dada Almanac’s taunt that a modern painter could order pictures by telephone and have them made by a cabinetmaker. Moholy-Nagy, so the story goes, picked up a receiver and phoned a sign-factory to order five paintings in porcelain enamel. The Constructions in
Enamel were born, all identical except for changes in scale. 7 The story may be more myth than history as a clamor of accounts contradicts whether Moholy-Nagy actually went through the motions of ordering the paintings over the phone. 8 Nevertheless, his subsequent claims to have made the call speak to the importance of technology in art at the time, as well as to a change in the essence of what constituted a work of art. His paintings were so simply designed, so pared down, and so based on geometric data that they could be perfectly produced over the telephone. As a result, a painting became a series of instructions that shuttled through the telephone wires, rather than emotive, individualized brushstrokes. In retrospect, these Telephone Paintings, as they are also known, have been seen as early prototypes for Conceptual Art. Much like Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, László Moholy-Nagy can be credited with reenacting everyday industrial moments over the telephone in the name of art. Louis Kaplan, for instance, writes that the paintings were striding toward the impersonal and anonymous subject. MoholyNagy renounced his own authorship by leaving the paintings unsigned, becoming a mere “unsigning ‘I’.” For Kaplan, “with the dispensing of the author, the romantic conception of the artist has been put at risk.” 9 But to what end? If the author exits, who is waiting in the wings? For Kaplan, the artist is depersonalized and disappearing. 129
Artist recreation by Christopher Squier of László Moholy-Nagy’s Construction in Enamel 2 from 1923 housed in the collection of MoMA, 2015
The individual voice is lost to the hiss of the receiver, an unspeaking “I.” An empty tower stands in the middle of Moscow.
but a human on the other end, something Moholy-Nagy characterized as an exchange, “like playing chess by correspondence.”
Looking to the omnipresence of the modernday telephone system, however, we can restage Moholy-Nagy’s experiment. The vast network of interconnecting phone cables, the increasingly micro and technologicallyadvanced telecommunication system populates every household and every pocket. We are completely connected, and completely linked in with one another.
The role of the telephone in linking us across distance and through the city, therefore, can be seen as quite different than the architecture of radio and the particular utopian plans Tatlin and Shukhov made for it. In planning a “new building of the future,” as the Bauhaus artists did, don’t forget to bring along your telephone.
To order a painting over the phone today, then, would hardly be unusual. Ed Ruscha did it with his New Painting of Common Objects poster, and Donald Judd’s sculptures were industrially produced by Bernstein Brothers from simple drawings and instructions. What Moholy-Nagy did in 1922 has become common practice today. Whereas Tatlin and Shukhov dreamt of perfect communication through always-visible, omnipresent radio towers, Moholy-Nagy ordered paintings made for the incomplete, voice-based experience of the telephone, engaging the person on the other end of the receiver. The Telephone Paintings have not dissipated communication as much as moved from monologue into dialogue. Kaplan’s “unsigning ‘I’” opened itself to conversation. Rather than depersonalizing the experience, MoholyNagy’s enamel paintings recognize the multiple individuals at the different levels of production. The answering voice of the attendant at the sign-painting factory is not the cold, stainless-steel voice of a machine,
1 “Manifesto of the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar,” Bauhaus Online, Weimar Classics Foundation, http://bauhaus-online.de/en/ atlas/das-bauhaus/idee/manifest. 2 Much of my understanding of Tatlin’s Tower, its architectural design, and ideological aims is borrowed from Svetlana Boym in her article “Tatlin, or, Ruinophilia” in Cabinet Magazine’s 28th Issue, Winter 2007/2008, http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/28/ boym2.php 3 Guard is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art through a gift of the Rodchenko family, viewable online at http:// www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=56403. 4 I found an image of Rodchenko’s Shukhov Tower on the website Art Blart in a collection of Rodchenko photographs posted through permission from the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Zurich, http://artblart.com/tag/alexander-rodchenko-%E2%80%A8shukhovtower/. 5 Catherine Merridale gives a brief account of the plans for the intended movement for Tatlin’s Tower in “All Wood and Dreams” in the Literary Review, http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/ merridale_07_09.html. 6 “Moscow’s historic Shukhov Tower gets reprieve from circling developers,” Alec Luhn, The Guardian, 08/19/2014, http:// www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/19/shukhov-tower-moscowprotected-status-russia, and “S.O.S. Shukhov: Moscow Icon Set to Be Dismantled,” Ross Wolfe, Metropolis, 04/17/2014, http://www. metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/March-2014/SOS-Shukhov/. 7 Eduardo Kac, “Aspects of the Aesthetics of Telecommunications,” Accessed on Leonardo Online, http://www. olats.org/pionniers/pp/moholy/telephone_pictures.php. 8 “Rethinking Telephony from Moholy-Nagy, or RTFM,” Greg Allen, Greg.org, http://greg.org/archive/2012/06/20/rethinking_ telephony_from_moholy-nagy_or_rtfm.html. 9 Louis Kaplan’s article titled “The Telephone Paintings: Hanging up Moholy” (165-168) was published by the MIT Press in Leonardo’s, Vol. 26, No. 2 in 1993, http://www.jstor.org/ stable/1575903. Images courtesy of Wikicommons
ANGELA DAVIS IN THE ARCHIVE LIZ SMITH
Angela Davis is a key figure advancing the racial, political and economic justice battles of the Black Liberation Movement. Forty years later, her work continues as an activist working to dismantle the prison-industrialcomplex. For more than a decade, beginning in 1976, Davis was a part-time faculty member at SFAI, teaching courses about race, aesthetics, philosophy, and women’s studies. Very little has been written about Davis’ time at SFAI, so for our project, which circles around the voice and messages that may not be immediately visible, I thought it made sense to unearth some of this buried history. Several of her class lectures from that time have been recorded and are preserved in the audio archives at the Anne Bremer Memorial Library here. In total, the recordings from her classes clock in at 12 hours and 57 minutes across 11 lectures. I made listening to this audio archive part of my daily routine: walking to the store, cleaning my apartment and cooking dinner all were accompanied by her slow, elegant speech echoing over the crack and pop on the recorded cassette tape. I found myself laughing along with the class at things she would say and captivated by the way she delivered information. I enjoyed so much that I listened to twice. In these recordings, she is graceful, intelligent, thought provoking, engaged, and accommodating—remembering points that students had raised in previous class meetings and connecting them back to the material of that day. The content she discusses is deeply rooted in the late seventies timeframe; she references popular television programs of the day (The
Jeffersons and All in the Family), headlines from articles in The New York Times, and the lingering effects of the Watergate scandal. She lectures on the black family, black women writers, the economics of racism, and racism and the media, among other topics. When asked why she became a professor at SFAI, she replied, “I was offered a job,” and in a newspaper article from the time, she spoke about how difficult it had been for her to find teaching jobs (during this same time period Davis was also a part-time instructor at San Francisco State University). She continues explaining to the class, “and I like teaching too, and I think the Art Institute is a very interesting place.” She goes on to explain how she followed some of the struggles students, faculty and staff at SFAI had in 1975 over then-president Arnold Herstand, who had proposed extreme changes to the institution against the wishes of students and faculty. His proposal was to introduce a School of Design that would take SFAI away from its avant-garde roots and move it closer to a commercial school. Students and faculty organized themselves against this proposal and by vote, effectively removed Herstrand from the position of president. Davis came to SFAI in the middle of a decade mired in personal and professional controversies. A stint teaching in the philosophy department at UCLA was interrupted by then-governor Ronald Reagan’s assertion that Davis be terminated because of her alignment with the Communist Party. In 1970, she would be charged with aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder; the charges linked weapons purchased in her name to four deaths resulting from an 134
Angela Davis At Home, Oakland, California 1983 photo by Suzun Lamaina
ambushed Marin County courtroom break. Davis fled and was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Later that year she was captured and incarcerated for 16 months while she awaited trial, where she was found “not guilty” and cleared of all charges. Davis references these experiences freely with her students, explaining that she is not naive in the ways of the world and the systems that unfairly target African Americans. In these recordings, you can almost hear the quiet student reverence for her remarks. One student asks what artists can do in these fights for social justice. Davis quotes Vladimir Lenin, the Russian communist revolutionary, who said that an image could lead to a revolution. Davis goes on to describe the unique position artists have to change politics, not by following the paths created by social organizers—handing out
fliers on street corners or organizing rallies— but through their practices as artists. In a student newspaper article from the time, Davis emphasizes the importance of artists staying aware of the political situations around them. She asserts: “[C]ertainly to be a good artist I think it’s necessary to have some grasp of what’s happing in the world. Artists are supposed to be in a possession of a particular kind of vision. Well, I think in order for that vision to be a profound vision of what’s happening in the world it’s necessary to be informed.” In one of her lectures from 1977, Davis states: “the struggle for democracy is unfinished.” This struggle continues today. It is incredible listening to these recordings from almost forty years ago and then realizing how many of the issues Davis considers remain problems today. She discusses the 135
disproportionate rates of black incarceration and unemployment, the way television is run by corporations, and the policies that support racist ideologies. She cautions students against putting unthinking support into the systems of authority that govern. After the Watergate scandal exposed President Richard Nixon, she explains, people assumed that the corruption ended, but in reality “it became much less blatant—more refined and sophisticated.” This message from the past could not be more relevant to the present, where black men are six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated and where police continue to kill unarmed black males through proclamations of “self-defense.” In
1981, Angela Davis told a student reporter at SFAI that she would “be involved in those struggles as long as it is necessary,” and her work as an advocate continues today in the struggle for Black Lives Matter. Quoted in 2015 in an essay for Essence magazine entitled “Where Do We Go from Here?” Davis writes, “[W]e are saying that Black bodies do matter. And our work must be to continue taking to the streets and standing together against the routine actions of police DAs who collude with them; and continue saying, ‘No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police,’ until there is real change on the agenda for us.”
The Angela Davis lectures available in the archive are as follows: #201, #202, #203, #204, #205, #207, #208, #209, #302, #304, #594,
The Black family (1977) Alex Haleyâ€™s Roots: A critical evaluation (1977) Black literature and the struggle for liberation (1977) Black women writers (1977) Economics of racism (1977) Racism and Male Supremacy (1977) The myth of the black rapist: its origin and evolution (1977) Racism and the media (1977) Class lecture [on Frantz Fanonâ€™s Wretched of the Earth] (1977) Hegel and Marx (1977) The Invasion of Grenada (1984)
PODCASTS AND SATELLITE RADIO DANNA BIALIK
Howard Stern courtesy of Wikicommons
In the year 2010, The New York Times published, “Will the Internet Kill Traditional Car Radio?” 1 The article discussed contemporary mediums that users decided to listen to instead of radio. Internet radio services like “Pandora, Slacker, and Last. fm” were listed as competitors and since then only more options have been added including Spotify and Rdio; these services all allow you to listen to music on demand. Car stereos and Internet providers only have made it easier to incorporate these services through car speakers with blue-tooth and voice commands. With the incredible influx of content being provided for listening pleasure, the radio has become an afterthought and a last resort for background noise. Self-proclaimed “King of All Media” and the most famous contemporary radio personality, Howard Stern, had a syndicated talk radio show from 1986-2005. Stern holds the most fines from the FCC of any radio host, cumulating in a total of 2.5 million dollars of fines between 1990-2004. The topics discussed on Howard Stern’s show are known to be provocative and controversial. Callers and guests would at times respond, spouting profanity that could not be edited, which would result in intervention from the FCC. Stern moved his show to exclusively appear on Sirius XM starting in 2006. In 2004, Washington Post Business released the article “Sirius Lands a Big Dog: Howard Stern.” 2 In this piece, Stern describes his conflicts with the FCC: “It has been one big nightmare the last couple of years, really the last 10 years… I lost my joy for radio.” As for his new home, he said, “I believe this is the future. This satellite radio will overtake
terrestrial radio. When Stern was about to switch from terrestrial radio to Sirius XM, he made the constant point that he wouldn’t overcompensate with his cursing just because he could, but after the switch Stern reported that within minutes he was “cursing like a sailor.” Along with satellite radio stations, another incredibly popular broadcasting tool is the podcast. This medium only came into the picture in 2004. On December 14th, 2014, Slate Magazine published an article discussing why podcasts are so pleasurable. In “The Voices: Toward a Critical Theory of Podcasting,” Jonah Weiner proposed: “Podcasts embody what is arguably the essential promise of the Internet: a means for surprising, revealing, and above all ennobling encounters with people, things, and ideas we didn’t know.” 3 It is relatively simple to create a podcast. They exist on subjects varying from interviews to language tutorials. It has become a major platform for launching and rejuvenating careers in the entertainment industry. One comedian whose career was revitalized due to podcasting is Marc Maron, who produces the WTF podcast. Before he launched this program, his stand-up career was unsustainable. Since its launch in 2008, Maron has rapidly increased his fan base and even received the opportunity to write and star in his own reality-based television program on IFC. The podcast generated a larger audience than he was ever able to reach through stand-up alone, and the prestigious guests he was able to interview encouraged their fans to become 141
Marc Maron on live WTF podcast, courtesy of Wikicommons
loyal listeners. This podcast is a long form interview show, similar to Howard Stern’s interview portion on his program. In an NPR interview with Marc Maron “A Life Fueled by ‘Panic And Dread,’” 4 Maron discussed the effect his podcast had on his life: “The podcast was really a way of me reconnecting with like-minded people—with people I’d known for years—and learning how to talk about problems and issues with friends and peers. And because of that, my joy came back.” The long-program format airing twice a week allows for listeners to develop a relationship with Maron and his guests. These interviews are so in-depth that it feels like Maron and his guests are sitting with you. Podcasts are the perfect addition to our hightech culture that demands something to ease the pain of loneliness. The podcasts can be
accessed at any time, unlike the ephemeral nature of terrestrial radio. The listener never has to miss a program and can enjoy them over and over again. Maron’s interviews are antithetical to traditional talk show interview formats in which everything is quick and premeditated. The format is uncensored and the guest converses with Maron for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Without pressure from the FCC to censor swearwords, guests are allowed to say anything and speak with their own cadence and tone. Each podcast is incredibly personal and induces a sense of cathartic release for the guest and the listener. The interview is a deep, all-encompassing conversation where the listener can learn about the guest’s upbringing, development, 142
and how it led them to where they are today. It serves as a better tool for promotional use because it engages the interest of the audience by letting them really get to know the interview subject. Slate voted Maron’s interview with Louis CK as the #1 podcast of all time. This episode focuses on Maron and CK’s friendship. The conversation starts with a discussion of their early 20s, when they were both starting up their stand up careers at the Comedy Store in NYC. The two failed to keep in touch, and their friendship fell apart as a result. Marc explained the cause of tension with Terri Gross: “Because of the immediacy of the culture we live in, when you put a text out there or you shoot an email, if you don’t hear back from someone in a day you’re like, ‘Well, that’s it.’” Maron and CK discussed their pasts, the way they wove in and out of each other’s worlds, and how they watched each other evolve as comedians and human beings. The conversation served as a healing mechanism for their friendship. Another pivotal WTF episode was an in-depth, honest interview of Robin Williams. After Williams’ death, this episode was re-released as a tribute, adding to a sense of the immortality of the guest. Other stars whose podcasts have been replayed posthumously include Sam Simon, Patrice O’Niel, Jonathan Winters, and Harris Wittels. Another alternative approach to a popular podcast is Serial, an epic drama based on true events. The podcast follows the conviction of Adnan Syed, who is currently serving life in prison after he was accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
The podcast’s host, Sarah Koenig, reinvestigates the story with all of its plot twists and turns. KQED wrote an article about the popularity of Serial and other podcasts within high school curricula. 5 One teacher who boasted about his use of Serial is Michael Godsey, who teaches English at Morro Bay High School in California. Godsey stated, “Improving students’ listening skills is one of the essential components of the new education mandates, and using audio in the classroom can be an effective way to promote listening.” Podcasts are used to promote education and incorporate uniquely engaging content in the classroom. This practice benefits students with poor reading comprehension; they are able to pay close attention to the story without slipping up in frustration. Teenagers feel like they can relate to Serial more than traditional literature because it focuses on the lives of other teens in a contemporary time. Constantly, students are given mindless busy work and wonder, “How am I going to use this?” The Serial podcast incorporates important life skills about trust, consequence and betrayal along with deductive reasoning skills incorporated in investigative reporting. 1 John R. Quain, “Will the Internet Kill Traditional Car Radio?” The New York Times, 05/08/2010, accessed 04/05/2015. 2
The Washington Post, 05/07/2015.
3 Jonah Weiner, “Why Those Podcasts Waiting for You Feel Like a Pleasure, Not an Obligation,” Slate, accessed 04/05/2015. 4 “Marc Maron: A Life Fueled By ‘Panic And Dread’” NPR, accessed 04/05/2015. 5
“What Teens Are Learning From ‘Serial’ and Other
Podcasts,” MindShift, accessed 04/05/2015. Images courtesy of Wikicommons
CONNECT AND DISCONNECT CHIA LING YU
Ever since Alexander Graham Bell accidentally spilled some chemical liquid on his unfinished invention—the telephone—mopped it up, and finally had his invention working by 1876, the world has been different. The first wellknown sentence that came through this new technology was “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” The sentence describes the purpose of the telephone perfectly. 1 We can convey our emotions and thoughts faster, instead of waiting for a letter in an anxious state of uncertainty; the telephone, and by extension, our new smart- and cellphones, have become part of our lives and minds at an incredible speed.
Soon after the invention of the cellphone in 1973, our communication habits shifted. Current estimates of cellphone use list almost 51% of the world’s population using cellphones now. 2 This means that more people have cellphones than toilets. As we seem to connect with others through our phones, it is interesting that we are actually disconnecting with the present moment at the same time. According to a survey by the Pew Research Institute, about 13% of cellphone users in the US admitted that they pretend to be busy on their phones to avoid interacting with others. 3 Some people even suffer from “phantom vibrations,” a symptom that 146
describes those who constantly check their phones even when their phone is not ringing or vibrating. This invention indeed makes our lives more convenient, and it also makes the world more globalized. Traveling abroad doesn’t mean lost connections with your loved ones; instead, thanks to the invention of video phone calls, you can always see each other on shared screens. Your relationships remain, and you can still communicate your emotions in real time. The only change is the form of your body, from flesh into digital data and pixels.
so he can’t answer my call,” or, “I’m going to tell her that I was driving, so I couldn’t return her call.” The original idea—an ease of communication—may have become its opposite. The telephone makes our lives easier and more difficult simultaneously. As long as you have a signal, you’re not alone. Beware, before you turn on your phone again. Will you ever turn it off? 1
Telephone,” Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1910, print. 2
Although Bell’s invention provides numerous benefits for us, it also has side effects. When turning on the cellphone, we are basically haunted by the world. You might receive weird commercial messages, find that strangers have called the wrong number, or field an annoying sale’s call. Moreover, even when you try to start a new life, you’ll often find yourself haunted by those old relationships. Instead of building new ones, it’s sometimes easier to maintain a previous relationship. This distraction from the past may make it harder to move on and step out of your comfort zone.
Herbert Newton Casson, “The History of the
Simon Kemp, "Digital, Social & Mobile in 2015," We
Are Social Singapore RSS, accessed 04/22/2015. 3
Aaron Smith, "Americans and Their Cell Phones,"
Pew Research Centers Internet American Life Project RSS, 08/14/2011, accessed 04/22/2015.
Today, the telephone compounds its historical stresses: the anxiety of waiting for others to respond to your messages or phone calls, and the stress of making responses. These situations can be serious enough to keep you from enjoying the present moment while you constantly check your phone for a response. You formulate a reasonable excuse, such as, “He is probably driving now, 147
Considering the traditional exhibition display, The Elephant in Another Room, or Notes on the Disembodied Voice presents a difficulty: how can one create an exhibition focused on sound, specifically the voice, despite artwork’s long reliance on the visual? Apart from Jill Magid’s video piece, Trust, the artworks collected in this exhibition are completely sound-based. Where does the voice fit within a white-cube gallery space? Our exhibition design creates a variety of listening experiences while exposing the inherent challenges in visualizing the aural. The Elephant in Another Room contemplates the experience of the voice through alternative modes such as radio, the podcast, the telephone, and surveillance. In the center of the Diego Rivera Gallery lies an independent structure for communal listening. The viewer enters this listening room through a parted curtain that leads them into the past. It is a space aligned with the 1930s “golden age” of radio, when people would gather around the transmitter, listening together. The program is scheduled and displayed on the exterior of the structure. Every day, the diverse recordings of hotel stays, telephone interviews, and reflections on our own SFAI archive cycle through their program from 9 am to 7 pm. The Plexiglas corner of the structure reveals gray carpet, felt walls, and a ceiling covered in egg cartons to reference a recording studio: a space constructed solely for sound. For inspiration, we turned to the San Francisco Art Institute’s own Tower Radio recording studio. Minimal furniture and lighting allowed for viewers to focus on the voices broadcast within this space.
Circling around the box, following the sound of a man’s voice, the visitor comes across the sole visual artwork in the exhibition. Jill Magid’s Trust is displayed on a large square television monitor reminiscent of traditional surveillance monitors. The pixilation and crackle of the screen transport the viewer to the room where the security man is located. We listen to him guide Magid through a crowded city while watching her progress on the screen. Today, with the invention of Internet radio archives as well as radio stations that exist entirely on the web, we usually listen to specific radio programs on our own schedules. Typically, we hear the millions of audio files available for instant download through our individual headphones. A radio is no longer a central figure in most homes. To reflect the contemporary listening experience, MP3 players allow each gallery visitor to select a specific recording to be played on individual headphones. These stations, as well as the Magid piece, were all visually connected to the communal listening station through a floor design that references the cords and networks of electrical conductivity necessary for this technology to function. Re-imagining the possible use of the Diego Rivera Gallery, the San Francisco Art Institute’s Elephant in Another Room constructs niche architectures for sound works and the conceptual contemplation of the voice, considering radio’s former presence, current resonances, and future possibilities. Photographs courtesy of Gözde Efe
PODCAST LINKS http://thetower.sfai.edu/?page_id=23
Introduction by Frank Smigiel 2:10 Rose Aguilar 20:24 Chris Kubick 23:16 Susan Silton 18:52 DesirĂŠe Holman 54:30 Shaun Leonardo 20:33 Sharon Grace 10:18 Taravat Talepasand 20:35 Close Encounters with the Archive 22:31 Sabine Russ 10:03 Richard Irwin 18:03 161
CURATOR BIOS Kathryn Barulich Kathryn Barulich received a BA in Art History and French Language and Literature from Fordham University. Graduating with a Masters degree in History and Theory of Contemporary Art from San Francisco Art Institute in 2015, her research interests include linguistic constructions of nationalism and dada. Danna Bialik Danna Bialik is graduating with an MFA from SFAI with an emphasis in film. She has an undergraduate degree from UCLA where she studied Design: Media Arts. She has a background in Modern Dance and Expressionist Painting. Her interests include voyeurism, psychosis, and abstraction. Lisa Boling Born in El Paso, Texas, Lisa received her BFA in Studio Art with an emphasis in printmaking in 2012 from Dominican University of California in San Rafael, California. She will receive her
MA in Exhibition and Museum Studies from SFAI in May 2015. Her research interests are on the ethics of display in outsider art, specifically issues concerning artists with developmental disabilities. Harper Brokaw-Falbo A native to Portland, Oregon, Harper attended the University of Oregon where she received a BA in Art History. A current MA student studying the History and Theory of Contemporary Art at SFAI, her upcoming thesis will address the ways in which artists oppose gentrification and create alternative sociopolitical spaces through their art. Gรถzde Efe Gรถzde Efe received a BA in Film at Anadolu University, Turkey. She is a current MFA candidate at San Francisco Art Institute. Her works include conceptual photography, video installations and handmade books.
Hadar Kleiman Hadar Kleiman received a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, in Jerusalem, Israel. She is graduating in May 2015 with an MFA in Sculpture from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her interest is with cultural iconic symbols and how they are perceived and re-represented in interiors and architectural context. Libby Nicholaou Libby studied the work of Kara Walker for her masters degree at SFAI and will be graduating in May 2015. She is the Creative Community Liaison at Adobe and resides in San Francisco. Guusje Sanders Originally from the Netherlands, Guusje moved to the Wisconsin at the age of 15. She received a BA in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently working towards her MA in Exhibitions and Museum Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute. She is interested in curatorial practice at the intersection of social change.
Studies with SFAI in May of 2015. Her research deals with tactical urbanism, government, and questions of access in citizen-led city-making efforts. Christopher Squier Christopher Squier received his BA from Grinnell College, IA in both Studio Art and Russian Language. Completing his MFA in Sculpture at SFAI this May, his current artwork addresses crime and violence within an urban infrastructure, cemetery aesthetics, the decorative arts, and zones of international contention including the moon and international waters Chia Ling Yu Chia Ling Yu received her BA in Creative Writing in Taiwan. She will complete her Post-Baccalaureate at SFAI this May. Her artwork questions the reality and the meaning of human existence.
Frank Smigiel is the Faculty Advisor to the 2015 Collaborative Project. He is the Associate Curator of Performance and Film at SFMOMA. With Betti-Sue Hertz Liz Smith and Dominic Willsdon, he recently Hailing from rural Iowa, Liz curated Public Intimacy: Art & completed a BA in Art and Political Science at Luther College Other Ordinary Acts at the Yerba Center for the Arts. in the lovely Decorah, IA. She will complete her MA in Urban 163
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Elephant in Another Room, or Notes on the Disembodied Voice would not have been possible without the collaboration of our commissioned “Hotel Theory” and “The Phone Call” artists and journalists: Rose Aguilar, Sharon Grace, Desirée Holman, Chris Kubick, Shaun Leonardo, Sabine Russ, Susan Silton, and Taravat Talepasand. The “Mobilities” experience was realized thanks to the interest and assistance of artist Jill Magid and LABOR Gallery Director Pamela Echeverria in Mexico City. We are indebted, also, to artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra Project Coordinator Emma Tramposch for our installment of Mexican Bus Tour 2.0 on April 24, 2015. We also have to thank Richard Talavera from The Mexican Bus, as well as Juventino Sanchez, our driver for the evening. “The Archive” section exists with cooperation from SFAI Librarian Jeff Gunderson and Media Assistant Becky Alexander. We thank Jeff for his guidance in helping us to access Richard Irwin’s sound work, No On Yes/Yes On No and Becky for her work in rapidly digitizing the available Angela Davis recordings.
We would like to thank Evan Brownstein (MFA) for the design and construction of the communal listening station that served as the centerpiece of the Diego Rivera Gallery exhibition. Without his conceptual vision and skill, the sound box and listening experience would not have come together. Evan worked with the class to design a space that not only fit our needs, but took the conceptual spatial design beyond expectations. We would also like to thank Santiago Insignares (MFA), who graciously assisted in the construction and assembly of the structure. In addition, we would like to thank the following individuals for their aid, expertise and services in helping us to put on this exhibition: Zeina Barakeh, Alice Combs, Rachel Goldman, Milton Freitas Gouveia, Galen Huntsman, Andrew Mikhail, and Rachel Rutter. Lastly, our sincerest thanks to our charming mentor, Frank Smigiel. Without his unerring patience, supportive guidance and late-night email barrages throughout the process, this project would have never been possible.
Catalog Design and Graphic Illustration: Danna Bialik Coordination and Hand-drawn Illustration: Lisa Boling Editors: Liz Smith and Christopher Squier 165
Taking up the life cycle of a key modern technology—radio—this exhibition in time and space takes up the way cultural voices have freed them...
Published on May 22, 2015
Taking up the life cycle of a key modern technology—radio—this exhibition in time and space takes up the way cultural voices have freed them...