VIBRATIONS Art Journal for Creative Writing
VIBRATIONS Issue II: GESTURES VIBRATIONS is an open-access art journal for creative writing. In the second issue six artists and musicians whose practice involves communicating through the written word, share their fascinations, thinking and processes in a virtual context. The piece of writing are published under the terms of the Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0. Image credits: © Six images scanned from notebooks by Jo Thomas, 2014; © Performance still from CONVERSATION (with Interventions from Ivor Cutler and the Tao Te Ching, Bruno Guastalla, 2014 taken from the Meeting Points and © Selfie by Veronica Cordova de la Rosa.
CO N T E N T S
The role of writing in practice and artist based research: a guide for pale green caterpillars and others………………………………………………………………………………...…..JO THOMAS
Selected poems........................................................................................ROBERT RIDLEY SHACKLETON
Cage is dead…....................................................................................................................MALCOLM ATKINS
Soundtracking: Oxford.......................................................................................................................LEE RILEY
Beyond the modes of the representation of violence……………………………………………………..VERONICA CORDOVA DE LA ROSA
Conversation (with interventions from Ivor Cutler and the Tao Te Ching)................................................................................................................................BRUNO GUASTALLA
‘Microscripts’ – From Sensed Experience to Experimental Writing…………………....HELENA FOX
Evoking Belonging - the creative act is an evocation of belonging…………………………………………………………………..…DIANNE REGISFORD
JO THOMAS Bio
Jo Thomas is an artist, researcher and teacher. The quality of our being in the world is central to her work. She completed a practice based PhD in Social Sculpture and Contemporary Art Practice in 2013 entitled Presencing Place: an enquiry into the knowing and shaping of place through expanded art practises at Oxford Brookes University. The research comprised of 45 Gestures in place.
*** THE ROLE OF WRITING IN PRACTICE AND ARTIST BASED RESEARCH: A GUIDE FOR PALE GREEN CATERPILLARS AND OTHERS
I can smell the honeysuckle in the white jug on the window sill full of these beautiful strong smelling flowers. Beneath them I found a small caterpillar carried in from the garden, circled into itself, green and pale amongst my papers. For much of the last few years I was the pale green caterpillar when it came to academic writing. In the following text I will reflect on my changing relationships with writing as experienced during my practice based research. It may be of benefit to artists reflecting on the role of writing in practice and artist based research. The text will describe the spectrum of possibility with regards to writing and practice based research. Secondly, the role of writing in my practice and the value of individual words in understanding and analysing work. Thirdly, the process of articulating practice and finally a return to writing and reengagement with creativity with an enhanced clarity in my practice. Before starting my research like most prospective students I visited different universities and attended conferences seeking artists/academics with similar interests. I quickly realised I was not only looking for an appropriate research community but I was also working out what is meant by practice based art research. The balance of art practice and a written element varies considerably, the written element can be 20,000 or 60,000 words (more in a few cases). For some universities the thesis is the art practice and is accompanied by a written commentary, for others the written element is the thesis. Some researchers consider that a publication can be an exhibition, art event or written text, for others it needs to be a published paper. The field is inconsistent. In selecting a place of research researchers are choosing what they consider practice based or practice led research to be. Oddly to those who want to put the art at the forefront of practice based research most internet searches including Ethos (British Library) do not currently differentiate between practice based and other doctoral work. Whichever way you look at it writing is an important element in art based or led research. After putting in my initial research proposal I discussed it with artist and scientist Ingrid Jensen who had completed a PhD in Biology. We talked about the spaces in between things, the interstitial spaces, a repeating concern in her practice and something I treasure in writing. The unsaid that finds a voice.
The inferred in between the lines of text, the thoughts that hover between words that lean on each other. It is found in the writing of many artists who write alongside their art practice and those that incorporate text into their work. The thoughts that hover between words and lines. It is the kind of writing that allows me to make unexpected connections. It might illuminate or progress ideas. It can disregard grammar and precise meaning. We discussed if it would be possible to keep the spaces in between amongst the careful writing of research. Through out the research I kept, as I always do, notebooks, mainly words, catching ideas and thoughts that might be useful. They contain odd reflections, lists of questions I carry and sometimes struggle with. For example: a newspaper print of the holy trinity by Andre Rublev, a leaf carved with precise curves by a wasp and familiar poems that inspire long train journeys. T S Elliot’s Little Gidding or Mary Oliver’s poem a Summers Day that ends with the words ‘Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.’. This phrase took me out walking to places to write and reflect on practice. Site based writing became a means of connecting with the practice. However these ways were leading to new work. I had to find a new way of entering the work to embody it with out taking it into the realms of poetry but towards a new form that would analyse and comment usefully on the practice. Walter Benjamin describes finding words when translating as standing at ‘The edge of the wooded ridge calling to it with out entering and aiming for the single spot where the echo is able to give in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one’1 My methods evolved through creating lists and asking the same questions of each individual gesture. Key individual words or actions became signposts in the analysis of gestures. Each list and act of questioning separated me further from the subjective experience of practice whilst bringing a new clarity particularly in the overview of the practice. The realisation that I was unable to find ways of being in the work at the same time as writing about it with an academic stance was disconcerting. The academic text rarely seeks a note of resonance with an original subject in its’ sceptical gaze. This scepticism separates analytical thought from practical importance and from trust, magic and the moist stuff of soul. There is a need to understand the role of intuitive workings in the academic world and being able to write clearly about them. Plato originally advocated scepticism in a garden with olive groves and gymnasia that was called Academia. There are two processes taking place: first the process of analysis and comprehension in relation to the research question and secondly the process of writing the commentary or thesis alongside the arts practice. I developed a skills deficit mentality about the process of writing. ”Writing becomes an antihuman activity. We are trained to self doubt, to self-scrutiny in the place of self expression.”2 The writing that emerges alongside the actions of developing the work is counter theory, I am in a subject relation to the work and trusting the process. Later when holding the work in imaginary and documented forms alongside the emergent texts I can ask questions of it. May be the same questions I started with and some new ones. Once the work has become still I can question the remains and careful
Benjamin, W. (1992) Illuminations. Fontana Press, London. p.77 Cameron, J. (2000) The right to write: an invitation and initiation into the life of writing. Pan Books. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. p. 3 2
not to damage the moist working of the soul. The magic, that stuff that is found in belief. Yes, there is scepticism that comes in. Can there be sceptical understanding of the workings of the soul? My attempts to write academically were influenced by a skills deficit mentality that was partially rescued by reading a description of the different ways people approach academic writing3. I noticed that I tend to write generally then shape and hone the text rather than writing one sentence perfectly before moving on to the next as I initially started out trying to do. The insistent practice of this writing did attack the spaces in between the words. Each sentence was tested for purpose; learning to find words to say precisely what is meant. This pinning down, analysis, practical utilitarian manner became monolithic unmovable. Now, having reached the other side I notice how separated from the joy and fun of creating ideas and play though writing I had become. Even though, during the process I had not written academically by some standards, I have learnt to articulate more clearly. I am enjoying writing again, everyday letting ideas flow, catching some. Letting most go by, generating the moist soul where growth can happen free from the external questionning. The questions are embodied in the work and that work as it comes back again will be in Platoâ€™s Garden in the honeysuckle reminding the academic to be still and breath deeply the world is here.
Thomson, P., & Kamler, B. (2006).Helping Doctoral Students Write: Pedagogies for Supervision. Taylor & Francis.
Six images scanned from note books produced during my Practice Based Research entitled Presencing Place: an enquiry into the knowing and shaping of place through expanded art practices (2008 - 13). Jo Thomas
ROBERT RIDLEY-SHACKLETON Bio I am an artist struggling to define a sensation where my reality is affected by a different reality from an alien world. I try to illustrate worlds parallel to the one that is already explained in the concrete: the world that we all know so well. I like to approach art and music making in both a direct and mystical way. Litter in the street can also provide a window into a fragile universe. SELECTED POEMS
I was having trouble thinking of something to write about as I had been on the go creating music for quite a while and have been in no state to sit back and contemplate my process. So I decided to publish something that was in the archives. I have made poetry since I was a ‘wee nipper’ before I made music or knew how to at least. I made poetry as the next best thing. I would write poetry all day every day. This soon became a thing of the past when I bought my first keyboard. I then decided to revisit poetry and have another shot at it years later. I find it hard to write these days, at least in a creative way. So I will cut to the chase and tell you that these two poems are from a series about an old house I lived in as a child. Thank you… Enjoy
Zebra A hook digs up the green With a clean swipe, Underneath is only core. A dog in my mind Goes hunting for bones, But comes out with Only pieces of broken plate. The hook takes another swipe And reveals A spinal column, That has been twisted into a circle. Inside the circle was once laughter, Now there is only rotting. I am a hungry dog , I only have dinner plates So the hook takes the final swipe And reveals the final treasure. A zebra. It can fit in the palm of my hand, It cries, but its tears only hiss. I am so hungry That I eat him whole, Now all I hear is hissing When I go upstairs.
Landing Every curve Of every moon Shines through my square. I lay like metal Next to my scaffolding brother With a sheet over us both. Steps like bullets Shake the landing, Only frames with trains To focus on. I dream of a karate guardian, A heard of cows, A leaving day for the steps. We will celebrate with loud music And no more hissing.
MALCOM ATKINS Bio
I am a composer and performer. I also teach music and the arts for the Open University as an associate lecturer. I like flowers and nature and stuff. If there is room you could add: When I am composing I mainly eat hummus and rice cakes. I practice singing on walks but this is often impeded by my irrational sympathy for snails as I spend much time rescuing them from roads and public paths.
CAGE IS DEAD
Cage is dead (and Schoenberg is dead although Boulez is still alive). The problems with the canonisation of the work of an experimentalist. Abstract The paper questions why we have made Cage such an authoritative figure about sound and music when his definition of music does not correspond in any way to any accepted definition. I use his statement that in terms of constructing music ‘a structure based on durations…is correct…whereas harmonic structure is incorrect’ as a basis for debate. I first contextualise Cage’s ideas by suggesting their source in Contemporary ideas of the post war avant-garde His interest in Eastern philosophy - music is ‘to sober and quiet the mind’ His engagement with other art forms I argue that all he espoused was of his time but his conflation of different ideas was unique to any musician of his time. I question his statement that music is only meaningful in the contrast of sound and silence as follows: This just doesn’t equate to what we mean by silence Cage over privileges silence to ignore other aspects of the sonic environment (such as timbre) Is Cage an apologist for an unjust capitalist world? Even people Cage admired in using silence (such as Morton Feldman) use it as part of an unfolding sonic construction Cage did not really embrace all sounds in the way he often advocated for others. He was selective on what he would allow. I conclude by emphasising the importance of Cage and the questions he raised but suggest that if we uncritically accept his ideas we devalue his artistic and philosophical contribution.
Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would quietly raise one finger into the air. A boy in the village began to imitate this behavior. Whenever he heard people talking about Gutei's teachings, he would interrupt the discussion and raise his finger. Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. When he saw him in the street, he seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried
and began to run off, but Gutei called out to him. When the boy turned to look, Gutei raised his finger into the air. At that moment the boy became enlightened. (Suler, 1997) People ask what the avant-garde is and whether it is finished. It isn’t. There will always be one. The avant-garde is flexibility of mind. And it follows like day, the night from not falling prey to government and education. Without the avant-garde nothing would get invented. If your head is in the clouds keep your feet on the ground. If your feet are in the ground keep your head in the clouds. (Montague,1985, p.210) Introduction I will talk about Cage because he is more than any other composer associated with the notion of silence – albeit his own continually revised definition of this term and because the legacy of his work has contributed to the argument that erupted in 2012 in the centenary of his birth when ‘250 composers, performers, administrators and supporters of contemporary music, headed by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ criticised Sound and Music the newly consolidated funding body for contemporary music for failing to support traditional composition and giving ‘a bland and unfocused endorsement of ‘sound art’’ (The Holst Foundation). I will start from a statement of John Cage apparently made in 1961 and assess its relevance to the structuring of sound in our time. This was quoted by Pauline Oliveros as the basis for her piece ‘From Unknown Silences’ (1996). I can’t find the source in the work credited although there are a number of similar statements by Cage dotted through his works so I believe it is accurate – even if it may be a paraphrase of Cage : “Sound has four characteristics: pitch, timbre, loudness, and duration. The opposite and necessary coexistent of sound is silence. Therefore, a structure based on durations (rhythmic: phrase and time lengths) is correct (corresponds with the nature of the material), whereas harmonic structure is incorrect (derived from pitch, which has no being in silence).” Cage 1961 – quoted in Oliveros 4
A longer quote from Fetterman (1996,p. 19) gives more context: Silence to my mind is as much a part of music as sound. Now, starting with the concept, we go to the accepted qualities of music – pitch, timbre, volume and duration. Which of these partakes of both silence and sound? Only duration. But silence and sound have duration. Therefore I take my sounds when I have decided what they are going to be and place them in this background of silence. This reduces the structure of the composition to pure rhythm, nothing else. Also, I make no attempt to ‘say’ anything. Beethoven wrote from a subjective emotion, which he objectified in his work. It, and the sounds I use, exist solely for their own sake unrelated to anything else (“Silence, Sound in Composition Are Stressed” 1951) There is also a similar quote in Silence in the Lecture on Satie (Cage, 2004, p. 80: . 'If you consider that sound is characterized by its pitch, its loudness, its timbre, and its duration, and that silence that is the opposite and, therefore, the necessary partner of sound, is characterized only by its duration, you will be drawn to the conclusion that, of the four characteristics of the material of music, duration, that is, time length, is the most fundamental. Silence cannot be heard in terms of pitch or harmony: it is heard in terms of time length'
This is a radical reappraisal of the function of sound in relation to its structuring in music, it is about the physics of sound as opposed to a more traditional Western view of music as an agreed method of communication where harmony, melody and rhythm comprise communicative conventions within a genre. I will argue that like much of Cage’s work this is an invaluable prompt to reconsider how we think of music but that it is inherently problematic because it just doesn’t correspond to what people mean by music. It is a personal opinion which is supported by no real evidence or logical argument. It works as part of a poetical vision of the role of music which supports a personal philosophy that combines Eastern philosophy with liberal economics. For this reason the uncritical canonisation of Cage’s work and statements can be problematic. A statement made by a unique outsider at a particular time in response to particular concerns of that time which was designed to question established beliefs is not a valid recourse to replace those beliefs. Because Cage’s work and philosophy were so linked it is dangerous to canonise his work and replicate it through institutionally funded cover bands because his work carries philosophical ideas which need to be questioned. Where cover bands replicate popular music of the 50s and 60s this is (fortunately) not accompanied with inane philosophical pronouncements of Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney or Pete Townshend. When people cover Cardew his Maoist rantings are politely forgotten. Cage’s ideas are more enigmatic and often charmingly expressed and they have to be engaged with by anyone who performs his music. But they do deserve serious questioning because they are explicit in all he does. This situation is itself exacerbated by the commodification of learning where different institutions support different brand names and approaches. Musical institutions have always been liable to fanatical codification of practice – as the relentless application of total serialism in musical institutions of the 1960s demonstrated. This is partly due to the hierarchical nature of music making in the West which Cage did challenge. But it is also due to the collaborative nature of music making which leads to groups of musicians adopting mutually beneficial approaches which create their particular bases of power – something that happens far less in the visual arts where collaboration is more problematic. Ironically, Cage and the experimentalists who followed him were generally barred from musical institutions until their eventual canonisation when their work would be grant funded for performance 5. Why did Cage develop his particular ideas on sound and silence? I would identify three key areas of influence on Cage: contemporary concerns of the avant-garde; his personal philosophy; his particular interest in other art forms (most notably visual art and dance). I am taking the avant-garde as including Cage in his early career but following Nyman in seeing him as part of an experimental music movement from the 1950s. 01 Cage and trends within the avant-garde The modernist challenge to the legacy of Romanticism in music had led to the following techniques. All present in Cage: I will summarise these by list but talk about them in more depth if anyone is interested. Challenging diatonic organisation 5
Nyman,1999 (p. XV ‘in 1972.. ‘experimental music;’ was a minority sport, played in generally nonmusical spaces in front of disciples drawn more likely from fine art, dance o film worlds than from music; was despised, ignored or cavalierly used as raw material by the then-dominant avant-garde, and the cultural institutions who supported it…
Challenging teleological development Use of any noise. Use of parallel sound worlds Use of extended techniques and modification of instruments Challenging repetition or undermining it by excess Use of processes to structure sound – including chance techniques Challenging personal expression and the emotive power of music Challenging diatonic organisation Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School had effectively ‘turned out the lights’ as Webern declared when they created music without tonal centre. Schoenberg created serialism to replace diatonic organisation of sound and later taught Cage whose early works were influenced by Schoenberg. The idea of using a defined process to create a work – rather than intuitively working within boundaries was a post-war extension of Schoenberg’s ideas as he saw himself as an artist who composed intuitively even within the strictures of serialism. Total serialism was the depersonalised result of this. Feldman summaries the result of this as follows: ‘What music rhapsodizes in today’s ‘cool’ language, is its own construction. The fact that Boulez and Cage represent opposite extremes of modern methodology is not what is interesting. What is interesting is their similarity. In the music of both men, things are exactly what they are – no more, no less. In the music of both men, what is heard is indistinguishable from its process… The duality of precise means creating indeterminate emotions is now associated only with the past (quoted in Nyman,1999, p. 2) Challenging teleological development Satie (who Cage frequently promoted) had challenged the idea of music building to an inevitable climax and of unfolding a narrative. He created small pieces that go nowhere (deliberately). Webern also created miniatures The Bagatelles for string quartet many of which are less than a minute long. Use of any noise. The use of a wider palette of sounds which included ‘noise’ was initiated by the futurists. There had been some experimentation around this by Mahler who incorporated a range of sounds in his symphonies as well as Ives Satie had used real world sounds (a revolver for instance in Relache) Use of parallel sound worlds Ives had explored running different musics in parallel in the same piece. Use of extended techniques and modification of instruments Cowell (who taught Cage) had experimented with using the inside of the piano. Russolo had explored creating new instruments Challenging repetition or undermining it by excess Webern and Schoenberg had explored stating ideas with no repetition – hence the brevity of some of Webern’s atonal pre-serial works. Satie created works such as Vexations which were designed for endless repetition.
Use of process to structure sound including chance techniques As often pointed out there are examples of use of chance music in Mozart’s dice piece. Contemporaries of Cage also used chance which was a natural choice for those seeking to avoid egotistical expression. Challenging personal expression and the emotive power of music Webern created beautiful detached and self-contained sound worlds carefully constructed and using traditional canonic processes with serialism in works such as Symphony. The post-war avant-garde took Webern’s ideas further – surely as part of a rejection of all that had led to the second world war. They were creating a new scientifically beautified world which eschewed Romantic lyricism and Romantic egotism - although ironically one of the most popular works from the 1940s is a series of songs by a German who had worked under the Nazis – Strauss’ Four Last Songs of 1948 – perhaps indicating the way Romanticism could not be eradicated by the new composers Cage quoted Satie (2004, p.82) on simplicity in expression as follows: It (L’Esprit Nouveau) teaches us to tend towards an absence (simplicite) of emotion and an inactivity (fermete) in the way of prescribing sonorities and rhythms which lets them affirm themselves clearly, in a straight line from their plan and pitch, conceived in a spirit of humility and renunciation. 02 Cage, mysticism and eastern philosophy In general the avant-garde (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern before the second world war Boulez and Stockhausen as Cage’s contemporaries) have tended to continue the role of the composer as Romantic artist. The composer was still communicating a personal vision to an audience even if that was mediated through the use of process in some way. . Cage became aware of and staunchly opposed to this in his work. For Cage this was part of a philosophical shift from using the organisation of sound to communicate to one of using music to ‘sober and quiet the mind thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences’. Please play ‘Extract 01 purpose of music’ (extract from Cott,1963) Whether this philosophical shift in his approach to music was responsible for his interest in silence or vice-versa the move from intention determined Cage’s compositional approach from 1951 and the works such as ‘the silence piece’ of 1952 which he is most famous for 6. In fact his definition of silence went through a series of stages which culminated in this term bearing little relation to its meaning in general parlance, ultimately equating silence to sounds which lacked intentionality. As with Cage’s use of the term music there seems to be a consistent revision of terms to meet an ulterior spiritual purpose. Rather than just saying, as Wittgenstein would have, that language is not sufficient for our needs, or that language is about agreed uses for terms he attempts to promote a spiritual agenda through an alternative use of terms. 6
His ideas that music was not to express meaning or intention is also an extension of ideas expressed in the 19th century in the dispute between followers of Brahms (who felt that music could not express anything other than its own meaning – i.e. no meaning that could be translated into words) and followers of Wagner who saw music as supporting and enhancing linguistic or narrative meaning (as in Strauss’s interminable tone poems).
03 Cage and other art forms Cage was continually engaged with other art forms alongside music. Much of his music was created in collaboration with dance but he was also influenced by approaches in visual art which enabled him and his circle to adopt new approaches to traditional compositional role of pulling strings at a distance, he was also aware of the importance if theatrical presentation. For his circle the interest in visual art (and Feldman testifies to this in all his essays and comments – quoted Nyman,1999, p. 51) led to different approaches to organising sound through imitation of mobiles; graphic scores; documenting of equipment rather than traditional notation etc His creation of the silent piece could be seen as following the example of Rauschenberg. In his article on Rauschenberg (2004, p.98) he says: ’To Whom it May Concern: The white paintings came first; my silent piece came later’. Satie declared ‘it was painters who taught me the most about music’ (Volta,1994, p. 8) All the components of Cage’s aesthetic attitude and all the compositional techniques he used were rooted in his time and traditions around him – including the American adoption of oriental philosophy as well as traditions of mysticism expressed by Thoreau. What was unique about Cage was simply the configuration of them in one individual and the radical philosophy that he discovered from these diverse influences. Clearly his projection of personality in supporting his work was important. He was always available to discuss his work and ironically became one of the only composers of his time who could survive through the sales of his work. Also, as documented in Ross The Rest is Noise cold war politics in America in the 1950s led to a serious propagation of new music and art. The freer and more iconoclastic the more it contrasted with the constraints of Soviet realism. Cage was operating at a fortunate time for the avant-garde. Is this statement valid in any way? Because Cage has had so much of an influence on all the arts and because he is such an engaging and charismatic anti-establishment figure we tend to sympathise with him in the attacks that have been made on him. Perhaps in this he fulfils the Hollywood promoted archetype of the individual triumphing against the establishment. I will attempt to focus on his arguments about sound and the problems with it. Criticism 01 The main criticism of this statement (and of Cage’s approach to music) must be that it is essentially meaningless as an approach to composition as generally understood. In general understanding music communicates from musician to audience through agreed conventions of the organisation of sound which can include silence but tends to privilege the units of communication – whether pitch or timbre or dynamics or silence between sounds In a sense it redefines what music is and if the definition of a word is in accepted use then Cage is not referring to music when he says its purpose it to quiet the mind rather than to express an artistic vision or to give any implicit or explicit message. The following explains his position further:
Please play ‘Extract 02 the basic musical experience is the absence of music’
(extract from Cott,1963)
But is Cage talking about music or a new discipline? If his musical world is for a purpose that was not shared by more than a few other composers and listeners was it just a form of sound art ? It could still be more artistically valid than traditional composition of his time but is it possible to talk about music outside of communication and does Cage’s work communicate effectively anyway because his spiritual agenda is implicit in what he does (and was frequently proclaimed to his audience)? A more conventional approach to music is that genres of music use agreed methods and conventions of communication and these tend to involve pitch and harmonic rhythm. Silence is important in phrasing pitch and harmonic development. But to define sound and hence musical construction in terms of silence is as meaningless as saying that movement is defined by stillness and that as a result choreography should be structured entirely by the contrast of stasis and motion; or that image is entirely dependant in the contrast of light and dark and that therefore construction of a painting should be based entirely on this. Clearly stasis, darkness and silence are important in all these arts but the method of communication of the arts is based on agreed conventions which incorporate this. The following statement by MacGilchrist in The Master and his Emissary reflects the way Cage’s ideas have been incorporated into contemporary thought but the definition still retains what is seen as traditional in music and emphasises a specific role for silence in music rather than the significant role that Cage espouses: ‘Music consists entirely of relations, ‘betweenness’. The notes mean nothing in themselves: the tensions between the notes, and between notes and the silence with which they live in reciprocal indebtedness, are everything. Melody, harmony and rhythm each lie in the gaps, and yet betweenness is only what it is because of the notes themselves. Actually the music is not just in the gaps any more than it is just in the notes: it is in the whole that the notes and the silence make together. (Macgilchrist, 2010, p. 72) Criticism 02 Another problem is that if the West has over-privileged pitch Cage could be over-privileging silence. Some music –Buddhist chant perhaps or Shakuhachi music does use timbre extensively to maintain variety over stretches of sound. We could argue that purity of sound is a particularly Western art music approach and that Cage has fallen for that in failing to recognise the significance of timbre Dynamics have also been of importance in the past. Structural dynamics are key to the works of the First Viennese School – think of any Mozart symphony or piano concerto and of the invention o the pianoforte which parallels this interest. Some works – Tenney’s ‘On Never Having Written a Note for Percussion’ – use dynamics on continuous sound – this is also a technique in some minimalist works – such as the way Glass adds in extra instruments to vary the sound of a line where the notes are constant. Would Cage have been more accurate if he had said that any of the components of sound can be used to structure sound and that in different genres different aspects have come to be recognised as significant to structuring and communicating between musician and audience ? Cage could argue that all the music I have discussed above is still about communication and intention to communicate. If so we still have to be convinced of the argument that music is not about communication. The problem here is that Cage was communicating. He was communicating a spiritual vision which may have been delivered indirectly but was still delivered through performance or even recording. He
was employing an intentional lack of intention by the act of creating sound for dissemination. He was also proselytising his beliefs to support that dissemination. If a composer such as Pärt or Messiaen attempts to draw a composer to spiritual reflection through their intentional construction of a sound world is that ultimately different to what Cage is trying to achieve through indirect means? Cage would distinguish what he creates from the work of Messiaen and Pärt by saying they create objects whereas he is demonstrating process. But isn’t the performance as framed by applause in a concert hall a discrete object? Zappa once declared (in relation to Cage) that what makes a work of art is the act of putting a frame around it. It is objectified by the social convention of the artist declaring it to be art by framing it as art. Whatever that object demonstrates it is still an object. Cage would counter by saying that in his work he usually refers to what he was doing for his own purpose. The music was ‘to quiet his mind’. Others could subscribe to this but his starting point was himself. But if this is the case isn’t he continuing the legacy of the Romantic artist in pursuing a solitary path of expression – even if the method he uses are radical? Besides which he performed his music to a paying public – was this opportunism or did he believe he had something to share? Criticism 03 In the ‘Lecture on Something’ Cage expands his concept of silence to compare the way sound is immanent in silence (and vice versa) in the same way that life is immanent in death. ‘The acceptance of death is the source of all life. So that listening to this music (Feldman’s) one takes as a springboard the first sound that comes along; the first something springs into nothing and out of that nothing arises the next something; etc. like an alternating current. Not one sound fears the silence that extinguishes it. And no silence exists that is not pregnant with sound' (Cage,2004, 128 ff) In ‘Experimental Music’(ibid. p. 12) he declares that the purpose of writing music is ‘a purposeful purposelessness of a purposeless play. This play, however is an affirmation of life –not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation… This spiritual acceptance of silence and all sound as part of life (which is ‘so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord’ (ibid. ) is at the same time accompanied by an acceptance of human misery. In ‘Four Statements on the Dance’ (ibid. p 93) Cage reports his discussion with another composer as follows: ..I enjoyed the music, but I didn’t agree with that program note about there being too much pain in the world’…’I think there’s just the right amount’. On the one hand we could see Cage as a benign acceptor of human frailty in the tradition of an artist such as Mozart but on the other we could see him as an apologist for the inequalities of the free market system from which he as an able self-publicist was able to benefit. Cardew in Stockhausen serves Imperialism criticises Cage for his refusal to see art in Marxist terms and engage with social problems and class issues. Although Cardew’s Maoist phase is generally ignored for its embarrassing references to the disgraced leader there is something odd in Cage’s attempt to link his music to the world but his refusal to deal with the problems of the world although his position is consistent with a Zen view
Cardew discusses Cage’s reception in 1972 as follows: ‘What happens nowadays is that revolutionary students boycott Cage’s concerts at American universities, informing those entering the concert hall of the complete irrelevance of the music to the various liberation struggles raging in the world Criticism 04 In the ‘Lecture on Something’ Cage examples Feldman’s use of silence in his work. However, Feldman’s work does tend to follow an intuitive path where his intention is apparent in the structuring. His use of silence is part of the full tapestry of construction that involves all elements of sound. Feldman’s work seems to constitute discrete and self-contained objects within the aesthetic traditions of Western art that Cage was rejecting ( as also do Webern’s works which he admired so much and even the works of Satie). I can’t think of anyone Cage admired who followed the same path as himself in music – although we may be able to find parallels in other art forms. Criticism 05 A further criticism of Cage’s development of his notions of silence is of the limits he imposed to the sounds that were admissable. Kahn in ‘Silence and Silencing’ argues that ‘while venturing to the sounds outside music, his ideas did not adequately make the trip; the world he wanted for music was a select one, where most of the social and ecological nose was muted and where other more proximal noises were suppressed (1997 , p.556). Khan argues(p. 558) that Cage ultimately declared silence to be ‘all the sound we don’t intend. There is no such thing as absolute silence. Therefore silence may very well include sounds and more and more in he twentieth century does, The sound of jet planes, of sirens etc However Kahn goes on to point out the problems Cage had in being ‘disinterested’ enough to open his mind to all sound: his dislike of The German Romantic tradition and much in the whole Western art tradition; his dislike of jazz for ego-driven improvisation, measured time, orature an collectivism; his dislike of commercial music and muzak. He was not showing an openness to all sound but making value judgements as to what was acceptable. These value judgements were linked to his ideas that music was about bettering oneself and were linked to an anti-commercialist spiritual outlook ‘ Halfintellectually and half-sentimentally, when the war came along, I decided to use only quiet sounds. There seemed to be no truth, no good,in anything big in society. But quieter sounds were like loneliness, or love or friendship. Pemanent, I thought, values, independent at least from Life, Time and Coca-Cola’ (Kahn, 1997, p. 577) Cage’s rejection of jazz has been taken up by George Lewis who argues that Cage was reflecting a white ‘Eurological’ perspective on ‘Afrological’ music through a failure within white culture to understand black music (Lewis has also commented on how well acquainted African Americans are with the concept of silence). He asserts that Cage misunderstood improvisation and collective working in African American music because he interpreted it through comparison to European improvisation in art music of the nineteenth century – such as of Liszt, Chopin or Paganini. Lewis argues that from the 1950s ‘composers began to experiment with open forms and with more personally expressive systems of
notation’ (Lewis, 2004A, p 131 ff )and how this corresponds to the recognition of jazz as a valid art form. Lewis sees improvisation within an ‘Afrological’ perspective as involving collaboration to resolve agreed problems as well as group communication. The heuristic element is in his view what experimental composers have attempted to achieve in creating process based music which the performer explores. He examples Alvin Lucier. In an Afterword to Improvised Music after 1950 he argues that contrary to the composer’s protestations Lucier’s piece Vespers with its ‘emphasis on analysis, exploration, discovery and response to conditions… becomes the purest, most utterly human form of improvisation, expressive of its fundamental nature as a human birthright’ (Lewis, 2004B, p 170). If we accept Lewis’ view then the African traditions of music making are closer in ideology to the philosophy that Cage espoused of removing the ego from performance because of their basis in collective working. Perhaps Cage was far more constrained by the legacy of European Romanticism than he was aware. Conclusions I have looked at a particular statement of Cage and explained its context and its obvious failings. This is not to denigrate the performance of his work but it is to take up the questions he raised in his work in his time and assess their relevance to ours. The legacy of Cage is evident in so much work that continues to explore the questions he raised about how we should structure sound, how far we should include everyday sound in constructed sound, what is the purpose of music. I have the following reservations about that legacy. Cage was promoting a particular philosophical world view in all his work from 1952 onwards. At its worst when I experience this as spiritual pretension in sound art (especially covers of work by Cage or imitations) I feel patronised and bored. I can go for a walk and experience real sounds and the real world. Why does someone need to show me how to do this? The indirect nature of what can appear to be smug superiority can be much more irritating than the direct spiritual message of composers such as Tavener and Pärt who could argue that they work in traditions that remove the ego anyway (Pärt ‘s refusal to write anything different seems to confirm this) The rejection of the legacy of Romanticism by Cage was a personal choice that reflected attitudes of his time. The rejection of emotive qualities in music was significant in the avant-garde and in experimental music for a long time. However I do not think we need to continue this any further. In improvised music I still feel the presence of the non-idiomatic police – those who seek a tough modernist sound world with no unnecessary frills. However, to my mind, to deny the lyrical in musical expression is to lessen its scope. Further to this point, the composers who I would choose to listen to who come from the experimental tradition are Feldman and Skempton (who I would see as the most important composer in Britain today). Both of these composers can engage with the unfolding of line and the careful structuring of their work for its emotive effect (without prescribing a particular emotion). I would describe their work as beautiful. In this sense their aesthetic has gone far beyond the limitations that Cage set himself. The rejection of improvisation and of African American traditions seems to be a serious failing in Cage. Would it not have helped him sober his mind to try and understand the approaches to music of
different cultures? An interesting example would be the Indonesian idea that a musical performance should be busy – rame. It allows no time for calm reflection but fulfils a significant social purpose. Finally there is a danger in totally underestimating what is needed to create a musical work if Cage’s ideas are followed without the discipline he showed. Cage followed a particular path but did it with total dedication and concentration over a prolonged period of time. His engagement with sound was considered and justified in endless debate and was reached from an understanding of a broader musical culture (even if he rejected much of that). His debate and argument has helped set up a framework for unthinking replication of his ideas (just as previously there has been unthinking repetition of classical, Romantic and avant-garde ideas). However the danger with following Cage is that musicians lessen their allowed vocabulary before they start creating music and have not the skill set that enabled Cage to make the choices that he did. Bibliography Cage, J. (2004) Silence, London, Calder and Boyars. Cott, J. (1963) John Cage Interviewed by Jonathan Cott [online] at http://ubumexico.centro.org.mx/sound/cage_john/var/Cage-John_Interview_JonathanCott_1963.mp3 (Accessed Sept 2013) Fetterman, W. (1996) John Cage’s Theatre Pieces, London, Harwood. The Holst Foundation ‘An Open Letter to Sound and Music and Arts Council England’[online] at http://www.holstfoundation.org/index.php?pr=Open_Letter_to_SAM_and_ACE (Accessed Sept 2013) Kahn, D. (1997). John Cage: Silence and silencing. The Musical Quarterly, 81(4), 556-598. Lewis, G. (2004a) ‘Improvised music after 1950:Afrological and Eurological Perspectives’, in Fischlin, D. and Heble, A., eds. The other side of nowhere: jazz, improvisation, and communities in dialogue, United States, Wesleyan University Press, pp. 131-162. Lewis, G. (2004b) ‘Afterword to “Improvised music after 1950”:The Changing Same’, in Fischlin, D. and Heble, A., eds. The other side of nowhere: jazz, improvisation, and communities in dialogue, United States, Wesleyan University Press, pp. 163-172. MacGilchrist, I. (2010) The Master and his Emissary, New Haven, Yale University Press. Montague, S. (1985) ‘John Cage at Seventy-Five: An Interview’, American Music Vol. 3, no. 2 (Summer). 205-216. Nyman, M. (1999) Experimental Music Cage and Beyond, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Oliveros, P. (1996) Four Meditations for Orchestra, Deep Listening Publications Ross, A.(2008) The Rest is Noise, London, Fourth Estate
http://users.rider.edu/~suler/zenstory/gutei.html (Accessed Sept 2013) Volta, O. (1994) Satie Seen Through His Letters , London, Marion Boyars
Lee Riley Bio Lee Riley is a sound artist based in Oxford (UK). His work explores ways of not just hearing sound but seeing it from unique perspectives formed in installation, performance and improvisation. Sound has a strong visual presence throughout his work. This text takes a new role in his work, using words to explore the sounds heard instructed by Charlotte's 'Soundtracking' piece.
S O U N D T R A C K I N G: O X F O R D A sound-walk from The Glass Tank Gallery, Oxford Brookes University, to Oxford City Centre
Explore the audible landscape of Oxford through the following trail of listening locations. The trail will take you from The Glass Tank Gallery at Oxford Brookes University to the City Centre. As you reach each location, take time to stop and listen to the sounds of your surroundings; the sounds of the everyday places we inhabit and travel through, but that often we do not hear. Allow an hour for the walk to Oxford and more if continuing with the City Centre locations. Directions can be found overleaf. Alternatively select one or more of the listening locations, and use these as a starting point in discovering your own sound map of Oxford [underlined locations can be found on Google Maps]. Listening Locations 1. Headington Road [underside of bridge between Oxford Brookes Gipsy Lane & Headington Hill sites] 2. Headington Hill Park [blue cedars adjacent to main tarmac path] 3. Mesopotamia Walk [first bridge from Marston Rd direction] 4. Marston Cycle-path [South Parks Road end] 5. Holywell Street [intersection with Mansfield Rd] 6. Queenâ€™s Lane 7. Antiques on High [Printed Music Section in shop on High Street, opposite Queenâ€™s Lane] 8. Radcliffe Square [Brasenose Lane corner] 9. Brasenose Lane [near Turl Street] 10. Cornmarket Street [intersection Market Road]
 Exit The Glass Tank Gallery and University Building onto Headington road and turn left towards the city centre. Follow the road down the hill, passing the first listening location as you go under the bridge.  Continue down the hill, then turn right through the blue gates into Headington Hill Park. Follow the tarmac path straight-ahead, after a few hundred yards passing through a group of blue cedars on either side of the path.  A little further on, turn left onto a gravel path and follow this to exit the park onto Marston Road. Cross the road and follow Kings Mill Lane down the right-hand side of the mosque (signposted Footpath to University Parks). Follow the path down to the river and through the gate. Continue on (Mesopotamia Walk) for a few minutes until you reach a small bridge. Follow the path until eventually you reach a larger footbridge to your left over the river. Crossing this, turn right through the wooden gate, and then left through the kissing gate onto Marston Cyclepath. Continue to the end of the cycle path, where you will reach South Parks Road. Continue straightahead and then turn left onto Mansfield Road. At the end of this street you will reach Holywell Street. Turn right into Holywell Street and then left down Bath Place, a small cobblestone alleyway. Follow this around, past the Turf Tavern, and then to the right and up onto New College Lane. Turn left and follow the road around, as it becomes Queen’s Lane. Exit Queen’s Lane onto the High Street. On the opposite side of the road you will see ‘Antiques on High’. Entering the shop, follow the counter round to the right and then through the archway, head to the back of the shop where you will find the printed music section. Exit Antiques on High, turning left into the High Street, then cross the road and take a right turn along Catte Street into Radcliffe Square. Walk left around the Bodleian library until you reach Brasenose Lane. Turn left into Brasenose Lane, and continue to the end of the lane. Exiting Brasenose Lane, cross Turl Street and continue straight, past The Covered Market on your left, until you reach Cornmarket Street. Soundtracking: Oxford (Saturday 16/03/14) Traffic meeting Passing footsteps Low ringing hum/pulse Leaves moving in the wind Birds singing Whistle blowing Clapping Distant sirens Traffic humming Dog barking Louder sirens passing Quiet Branches swaying Duck quacking Birds chattering Helicopter in the distance Water flowing Low hum People passing Water flowing People passing quietly Children crying
Ducks quacking Cogs clicking Cyclist passing Footsteps Talking Breaks hooting Car passing Lady on the phone More footsteps Bicycle bell Foot steps Chatter Bike wheel clicking People walking Car horn tooting Keys rattling Trolley moving Laughing Light humming Quiet footsteps scrapping Pages turning Imagining sound of instruments in the picture Tourists and people Talking about tripods And a weekend in Winchester Pushchair wheels scrapping Man shouting James How are you Children talking Suitcase dragging Bag rustling Footsteps People in numbers Talking loud Whistles Clicks Hums Beats Dancing A written response to Charlotte Heffernan’s piece ‘Soundtracking: Oxford’ part of Audiograft 2014 Words – Lee Riley
Veronica Cordova De La Rosa BIO Veronica is a visual artist, publisher and researcher. Her recent work explores the strands of value/valuing, beauty, the legibility of the image, looking and not looking, symbolic objects and actions. For Veronica art produces meaning and knowledge, thus her work is very prolific and it is presented in different platforms (real or virtual). She is interested in exploring art documentation and its preservation.
BEYOND THE MODES OF THE REPRESENTATION OF VIOLENCE
Introduction I am a Mexican artist based in Oxford in the UK, undertaking an art practice-based PhD. My artistic practice research is currently dealing with symbolic gestures and actions that intersect with different western notions of the abject, the grotesque and the spectacular. My work aims to contribute to socially engaged artistic practices that help to raise awareness of the undervaluing of human life. I have been exploring different projects in order to create a methodology that transforms violent images from the drug war in Mexico into objects that encapsulate the issue. I use these objects such as brooms made from flowers in symbolic actions that communicate the undervaluing of human life. My research is influenced by these actions as I reflect on my interaction with these objects. I use the Internet as a source of information; I work with images of executions that drug dealers or anonymous people upload in the Internet and I use images of missing people from the border between the United States and Mexico. There is an inevitable relationship between aesthetics and ethics in my work that had lead me to gradually delete images of graphic violence or to take other decisions. My art practice research raises difficult issues around ethics – representation, prurience, spectacularisation – and I will be reflecting on unethical representations, mourning and post-traumatic reactions, violence and consent. Brief context of the victims of the war of drugs In my practice research, I work with a series of photos of missing person flyers that were taken on the border between Mexico and the United States of America, in Ciudad Juarez, and with missing people families’ testimonies that were covered in the media. Most of these missing women have not appeared yet and some others have been found dead in abandoned urban spaces. By the time these women disappeared, there was a dramatic militarization in Ciudad Juarez. In 2006, former president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa declared war against drug cartels. As a consequence, the Mexican army occupied the city of Ciudad Juarez and other Northern cities. The lives of these abducted women, prior to the disappearance, would have been like many others: mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. But they live in a certain geopolitical context, which holds specific importance. According to the researcher Melissa W. Wright: “In 1965, Ciudad Juarez was the official birthplace of the export-processing industries, known as the ‘maquiladoras’. Over the next four decades, Ciudad Juarez became an internationally recognized leader in low-cost, high-quality, labor-intense manufacturing processes. Its adjacency to the United States and
the constant inflow of migrants from Mexican interior contributed to this city’s popularity among corporate executives seeking to cut factory costs while maintaining quality standards and easy access to the U.S. market.”7 The artistic appropriation of images from the border and from the digital media The author Roland Barthes states in his book, Camera Lucida, that there are essentially two ways in which we are grasped by photos: studium, and punctum. Studium pertains to a concrete matter of historical existence and thus is traceable to logic. Punctum, on the other hand, pertains to personal matters, where we see some details that affect us emotionally, which can ultimately teach us something about ourselves. When working with photos of the missing person flyers, as an urge to repair the depicted decaying of the flyers, I gilded them with gold leaf. This technique was an application of the Japanese art conservation technique, Kintsugi, the art of fixing broken pottery with a mix of powered gold, silver or platinum. One of the photos that I have worked with concerns the missing person flyer of a student called Monica Janeth Alanis Esparza. She was 18 years old when she disappeared on the 26th of March 2009, she was last seen at the National Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez. I juxtaposed our faces. The moments when our pictures were taken were totally different in time and space, but in Oxford I overlaid them in order to obscure the image and make it unintelligible. Recently, the independent newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, ‘Juarez Dialoga’, informed that Monica Janeth’s remains were found in 2012 and her parents were notified almost two years after the discovery. The parents demanded two DNA tests to confirm it was her daughter. Her father had refused to accept the remains as her daughter, due to the uneasiness of burying a leg, a bone, something that is not even a body.8 In my art practice research I photocopied my image and I overlaid with hers, so no one can recognize us. The posters of missing people are printed to be part of the public domain. But what are the effects of becoming a bodiless and speechless object in the public realm? The way Janeth’s father describes her daughter’s remains, reminds me of what Elain Scarry writes in the book ‘the body in pain’ regarding the structure of torture. ‘Brutal, savage and barbaric torture… (Even if unconsciously) self- consciously and explicitly announces its own nature as an undoing of civilization, acts out the uncreating of the created contents of consciousness. 9 Scarry states that in both war and torture, there is a destruction of ‘civilization’. Silvia is Grisel Paola Ventura Rosas’s mother, who disappeared when she was 16 years old in 2011. I photocopied their image and juxtaposed it with flowers in order to imprint an external object to the photo. It transformed the image into something different from the original, which in the context of Ciudad Juarez may appear ordinary and in the context of United Kingdom may appear alienating. By
W.WRIGHT, Melissa. (2006). Disposable Women and Other Myths if Global Capitalism. New York: Routledge, 7. 8 Sociedad Civil Organizada (2014) Pronunciamiento por el asesinato de Monica Janeth Alanis Esparza. Juarez dialoga Revista seminal [Online] Available at: http://juarezdialoga.org/boletininformativo/pronunciamiento-por-el-asesinato-de-monica-janeth-alanis-esparza/ (Accessed: 14 April 2014) 9 SCARRY, Elaine. (1985). The body in pain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 38.
adding a foreign element to the primary photo, I intended to transform it into an image that is not frightening, repulsive or stigmatized. Within the modality of selfies, I took a picture of myself, objectifying myself in an image. I use a veil with dry roses as a mask. This act followed after the struggle in creating images that may propagate the notion of Mexican women as cultural victims of machismo combined with third world female sexual drives and rural migrant naïveté.10 As a response to the continuous reduction of people into images, I consciously created portraits of myself and in consequence I needed to reflect on different aspects of self-representations. In a time where the culture of selfies is proliferating all around the world, I need to reflect on my actions and its documentation. Performances reflecting on the inevitable relation between ethics and aesthetics Performances acted by women regarding violence often include inflictions of violence upon the performer themselves. In the performance ‘Confesion’, Contemporary Guatemalan artist Regina Jose Galindo artist uses her body to exemplify the torture practice: ‘waterboarding’, she is repeatable dunked and held down in a barrel of water by a large muscular man. However, I do not assume my artistic research as a transgressed practice, I feel the need to be cautious with part of the material I work with – my body. Furthermore, Scarry mentions that the prisoner’s physical world is limited to the room and its contents, no other concrete embodiments of civilization pass through the doors. I have no means to convey the people’s pain, since pain is a non-transferable feeling, and the victim is the only who can feels it. My work differs from Galindo in two different aspects: Instead of harming myself or others by using someone else, I use prompts as extensions of my body that potentially can be destroyed during a performance and I symbolize the structure of war instead of exemplifying it. My body becomes an extension of a domestic object, as an arm is an extension of a body. The aim of a soldier movement is to wound the enemy; my aim is to destroy the possibility of creating art from dead people as one person of the audience suggested about my work. As an artist I re-appropriate images of violence that this war produces, I struggle in deciding to exhibit graphic violent images in my performances, but by acting on them I integrate it as part of my artistic process. For me these images are not only virtual remains of violence; they are valuable documents of media terror strategies that portray human suffering and the world’s current geopolitical catastrophe. In the action titled ‘Silent witness’ presented in an art space in Oxford, I walk around an image printed in tissue paper; I guard it and observe it. I take a broom with my hands and sweep the floor with care. I clean the entire floor around the image; bring all the room’s dirt into the image. For eleven minutes I carry on sweeping the floor until the roses are partially destroyed. I use an image that has been recognized as part of a drug dealer’s video of four women being decapitated. This image has been appropriated by a website and also labeled as gore film.11 The men in the video identify themselves as Zetas, a group of drug dealers and the women are supposedly being part of the drug cartel known as Cartel del Golfo. Philosopher Sayak Valencia theorizes on what she calls gore consumerism: drugs, prostitution, body organs are part of the gore market. 12 I printed this particular image, and other violent images, and delete their content by photocopying them several times until the machine withdraws all the toner on the paper, rendering the image unrecognizable. I symbolically obliterate the idea that extreme violence is a tool for legitimacy.
W. Wright, 77 EL JACAGUERO (2013) Video fuerte en donde los Zetas desmiembran a cuatro mujeres del Cartel del Golfo [On line] Available from: http://eljacaguero.com/video-fuerte-en-donde-los-zetasdesmiembran-cuatros-mujeres-del-cartel-del-golfo/ (Accessed: 13 December 2013) 12 SAYAK, Valencia. (2010). Capitalismo Gore. Spain: Melussina, 61. 11
During an unnamed performance that I organize in my studio space in Oxford Brookes University. I warn the audience that they are going to see very violent graphic images. I display the images printed in colour and black and white on the walls and I open a Vick VapoRub jar so my studio is impregnated with a mentholated smell. I cover my face with a silk scarf stitched with dry white roses and I bandage my hand. I rub my head on each image until all the roses fall down. I do this action because I want to highlight the physical proximity of my body to the images of murdered Mexican people. I experience a lack of vitality when meeting these images. So far, the only private space to juxtapose the structure of my body in response to these images of mutilated bodies is the studio space. Curator Cuauhtemoc Medina quotes in his paper ‘Seeing red’, the theorist Sayak Valencia: “As Tijuana feminist theorist Sayak Valencia has rightly argued in her book Capitalismo Gore, we must leave behind the idealised notion of the Third World masses of peasants as a necessary force of resistance. On the contrary, the sudden economic changes in the countryside have converted this force into the cradle of a new peasant culture in which misery and humiliation transform traditional machismo into a kind of consumerist violence. This leads to a situation where individuals who have been stripped of their ways of life and their dignity join the mafia as a way to restore a threatened masculinity, ‘turning the position of parodic subalternity historically assigned to them’. As a consequence, Valencia concludes, ‘they search for their dignity and identity affirmation… through a kamikaze logic. Those subjects will no longer die or kill for a religion or for a political statement but for power and money.’ As Valencia rightly suggests, we ought to consider the extreme violence of gore capitalism as an attempt to achieve immediate consumerist satisfaction by means of extermination. This happens within a new subjectivity that understands murder ‘as an exchange, extreme violence as a tool for legitimacy, and the torture of bodies as sport and as a very profitable display of power’.13 Reflections of the limits of empathy through performances What if the perpetuators or the victims of this war were members of my family? In 1965, Peter Watkins released a documentary-style drama depicting the effects of nuclear war on Britain. In this film, called, ‘The War game’, British people living in London are depicted as victims of nuclear war. Watkins linked the horror of a nuclear war to a different time and different place from the original context of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the performance titled ‘the artist’s studio’ I display missing women’s flyers on a black plastic bag, I bandage my hand and use white roses instead of brushes to sequentially cover the images of flyers with white paint. After they have been covered with white paint, I also cover my face with it. I attempt to embody the impossibility of empathy towards war victims. It is generally known that empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives and using that understanding to guide your actions.14 In my performances I do not talk or tell a victim’s particularly story and even though I use images of victims I expose them for very short period of times, emphasizing the little attention people give to them. Conclusions Through these simple performances such as: printing, photocopying, gilding, sweeping, deleting, juxtaposing, covering and rubbing, I attempt to embody and symbolize through images complex 13
PAPASTERGIADIS, N., RAUNING, G., ORTA, L., MCQUIRE, S., BURGESS, J., LOVINK, G., HANRU, H., MEDINA, C., POSTCOMMODITY., MORTON, C., STRATOU, D., HOSKOTE, R., VERWOERT, J., WALKER, M., CREED, B and CARTER, P. (2014) Art in the Global Present. Australia: UTSePress, 142. 14 KRZZNARIC, R. (2014). Empathy A handbook for Revolution. Croydon: The Random House Group, X.
processes such as: mourning, copying with trauma, deconstructing and reconstructing my immediate notion of civilization. The material such as photocopies, flowers, brooms, white paint, bandages, gold leaf, cloths, are instruments that I use to act on the images. The remains of a performance are usually recycled in subsequent actions and they share some similarities and differences to the previous ones. On hand, the graphic violent images and the missing person flyers represent peopleâ€™s bodies or part of the bodies that were created to be seen, and on the other hand, my actions avoid the simplicity of presenting this material without reflecting on the inevitable relationship between ethics and aesthetics in the global present. In my experience, art changes its ethical codes depending on where and when the performance takes place; the performance is subjected to the space of exhibition. For some people the infliction of pain or the uses of bodies during a performance may be seen as not ethical but for others may be the only possible way to make present the undervalue of human lives in wars. In this research the ethical approach to the horror of this war on drugs is in constant transformation it depends on the effect caused in the audience, that I scope by listening to audienceâ€™s feedback. For some people the use of graphic violent images enlarges the effect of these images and its use enforces the unethical representations of human remains. In the context of England these material of research are transformed into something else than evidences of what western media recognize as terror strategies. The images are being transformed into ethical aesthetic experiences that symbolize the utilitarian use of bodies in wars. Furthermore, my practice research avoids wounding myself or others since it could mythicize or glamorize gore consumerism in the context of the United Kingdom.
CONVERSATION (with interventions from Ivor Cutler and the Tao Te Ching)
table pour quatuor 2013
1/ Yes, 'one', it may be foetal plenitude perhaps, at one with a crayon stroke, Meccano or with a bedtime story of loss, followed by more attempts to foil chaos with visions of coherence. Of which this is one. As a young child in Montferrier, I rocked my head on the pillow until for some reason my eyes started to hurt, then following the patches of light with rounded ends moving slowly, morning sunlight projected on the walls through old pale blue shutters. I have a bit of fever today when I am writing this, memories of early loneliness are sweet. Systems are good. 2/ Are they? 1/ The passage of 1/ to 2/ is not the same as the passage from 2/ to 1/, after all, my predicament (and I don't seem to be alone in this), is to be bound by sequence and language: In the 1-2-1 (ABA) form, the return passage from 2/ to 1/ is poignant with uncertainty: rather than a confirming and affirming of symmetry, it talks of the impossibility of plenitude: the first 1/ is long gone, and anyway all it was then was a sensory projection, patch of light on the mind, a construction perhaps, now sort of reaffirmed, it is the ghost of a construction. In CĂŠzanne's lifelong play with shapes and memory, a small by-product can be seen: the lack of continuity of the background when it is interrupted by a foreground object: reading him from left to right, the passage from background to foreground has been charged with an awareness of the fact of space, of the infinity of space, which is so shattering of certainties that when the journey 'back' to background needs to start (the object is now foreshortened to the end of its being) , one finds oneself in a changed world, where alignments, shapes and hues have irremediably transformed. Systems are good, especially for talking about their demise. So much for 1/,2/,1/. Now to: 3/
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnameable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.
2/ Bringing in great old texts to rescue your dubious arguments is really not to your credit. There is a sort of pessimistic strand in the opening of the Tao Te Ching. It seems to me that the 'nameable' is our main place of residence, with no escape as such, even improvising music or sitting on a cushion. Nothing wrong with either by the way, but the hint of salvation around the corner in the dwelling in the 'darkness within darkness' looks a bit too much like a 'Free Pint Tomorrow' sign on a pub window. Ideas indeed do shape the world. 1/ You are the one talking about escape. The formal games (of which you are a part of I 'll remind you), are just there, inherent, shaping and shaped by the whatever. 1213212312 then 4312 etc... Out of N discrete types of events or categories, if one applies the same method as before, the shortest string containing all permutations includes repeats and palindromes, so, in order to best not repeat, one needs to repeat. An other interesting fact: in all this symmetry there is an essential asymmetry, like a sort of big bang, something having to do with origin. This is plain maths stemming from the first act of division, discontinuity, separation, language, like in the beginning of the Torah. And I don't believe it to be culturally biased: birth is separation. For exploration to take place away from the rocking on the pillow, or even within the rocking on the pillow, permutations happen, and you will find these palindromes, substitutions and symmetries are all over the place, in music, nature, the lot. 2/ In your obsession with coherence and systems, you miss essential ambiguous facts: let's take sound: where is it? In your mind? In your ears? At the source of the sound? Can you answer with certainty without superimposing ideas on what's going on? So to observe things for what they are in their minutiae seems worthwhile and essential. And this has to include observing the observing. With a bit of luck it also might cure you from your desire for salvation-by-way-ofsystem. And I warn you: aleatory systems are still systems: Un coup de dĂŠs jamais n'abolira le hasard. 3/
Ivor Cutler - LARGE et Puffy - Arc publications 1984
1/ I will ignore your misplaced humour. In your so called observation, what will you do? Listen to the fridge? Will you eventually find the fridge interesting? The fridge noise is just a fridge noise, no devoted observation however detailed will hide the fact of its boring boring noise-of-thefridge-ness. No phenomenological categorisation in the manner of Pierre Schaeffer, however penetrating, justified and fascinating, will give meaning to the layers of your listenings beyond that of the categorisation itself. It's just a fridge. Neither will Cage-ian equanimity cut through its tedious murmur. Representation takes place right at the level of perception, it is itself action, choice, conditioned perhaps but choice all the same, so in this brief time I have, why listen to fridges when I can create? Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés . 2/ Fridge on its own: no. but what about fridge plus washing machine? 4/ (long silence) 3/
123456123451623451263451236451234651234156234152634152364152346 152341652341256341253641253461253416253412653412356412354612354 162354126354123654123145623145263145236145231645231465231425631 425361425316425314625314265314235614235164235146235142635142365 142315642315462315426315423615423165423124563124536124531624531 264531246531243561243516243512643512463512436512431562431526431 524631524361524316524312564312546312543612543162543126543121345 621345261345216345213645213465213425613425163425136425134625134 265134215634215364215346215342615342165342135642135462135426135 421635421365421324561324516324513624513264513246513241563241536 241532641532461532416532413562413526413524613524163524136524132 564132546132541632541362541326541321456321453621453261453216453 214653214356214352614352164352146352143652143256143251643251463 251436251432651432156432154632154362154326154321654321 1/ My god these numbers, they keep growing. What about the body in this incessant chatter? Can we chat about body? There are shifts in types of attention which I can actively and deliberately operate and practice, this is body. Or types of listening: long listening to silence, where the body seems to literally resonate in a quiver with the slightest sound, even before the sound, actually moving, shaking, with the quietest of signal. This is articulation, discontinuity at work, the passage from one state of hearing to another. But what sort of mappings and distinctions can be deduced? And is mapping what is needed? Perhaps. In Buddhist teachings, (talking from the little I know) the maps are networks of varied 'skilful means' showing a path which cannot-but include the map itself, and is and isn't the goal. A guided walk on a sort of Möbius strip compassionately and systematically offering mind to mind. 2/it seems like we might have switched roles. Doesn't this screw up your sequence? Time to stop for a while? 3/ 4/ etc.
Bio: I was born in France in 1957, and I have lived in the UK since 1979. My working life has been spent repairing and making violins and cellos. I also play and write music in various settings including:
Oxford Improvisers, Set Ensemble, Cold Harbour Trio, Ensemble AZUT, MUE I occasionally make paintings, photographs and field recordings, and I have written articles and reviews mostly on violin-restoration. Website: www.brunoguastalla.net
Some projects: Based on a score, an artist's book, 'QUATUOR' is in preparation, produced and illustrated by the artist and printmaker Matthew Tyson at Imprints (Crest- Drome- France).
Set Ensemble is publishing in the autumn 2014 a set of scores in BORE edition #3 Ensemble Azut is releasing a CD of French Chanson revisited , available now from their website. www.brunoguastalla.net
Misc. notes and links: The mathematical objects I mention and find obsessively interesting are called superpermutations; to me they have an elegance similar to that of the physics of a soap bubble, obeying several conflicting imperatives. On the maths of super-permutations: http://www.njohnston.ca/publications/non-uniqueness-of-minimal-superpermutations/ Tom Johnson, a composer who has thoroughly explored permutations and plenty more. Quotes from Stephane MallarmĂŠ: complete text of Un coup de dĂŠs here. A selection of recent attempts which this text might relate to can be found here. With thanks to Dominic Lash, for the many conversations.
Helena Fox Bio
Helena Fox is a Consultant Psychiatrist in London and a PhD student in Social Sculpture (a contemporary art form) at Oxford Brookes University. Her work spans both disciplines and she is concerned with using a variety of aesthetic processes to promote reflection on deeper humane understanding and to facilitate the delivery of more compassionate healthcare.
‘MICROSCRIPTS’ – FROM SENSED EXPERIENCE TO EXPERIMENTAL WRITING.
Abstract Three pieces of experimental writings are presented here. These ‘microscripts’ are one of the methods explored in a larger body of work15 that aims to raise attention to sensing the world in a deep aesthetic way, particularly in healthcare. Here, the pieces are presented as they standalone with reflections on the emergent process and how this may ultimately relate to medical practice. Introduction I write pieces of experimental prose based on thoughts, images, inner dialogues and events that emerge from experiences of everyday life, medicine and art (my fields). The arising words are sometimes poetic, sometimes mystical, sometimes ‘as if’ fictional, sometimes seemingly obscure and sometimes in the third person, at a reflective distance from immediate immersion in the experience. They do not fit into any existing category of writing and they may unfurl into prose, prose-poems, haiku, short stories, or simply exist as snippets and threads of units of thought as they come into the stream of consciousness. I have called these short pieces of free writing ‘microscripts.’ Here are three samples: Three pieces and an emergent process My aim is to write direct from sensed experience including the heart, with immediacy, in an aesthetic mode. I pay deep attention, noticing closely the first hand experiences that seize my attention, and the
www.social-sculpture.org Current doctoral projects
associated worlds that open up as a result of this. This is my material. Sometimes the meaning may seem obscure but I wait for this to appear and for my mind and body to pull the threads together. The first piece reveals some of this process. Words may arise as, or follow a pre-reflective sensed bodily experience even before meaning making occurs. Often, I re-enter the idea through both thinking and bodying forth, and the microscript evolves over time:
Rolling Microscript I They started with chilled manzanilla in small clear glasses with frosted pink stems. By the side, bowls of anchovies in oil, green olives and manchego speared with cocktail sticks. The salt, the cold, the sharp raisin taut on the palate has no other taste quite like it, the yield of the cheese... The micro-scripts are not narratives. Life is not lived in narrative form – is it? They are snippets, glimpses, moving, weaving in and out of consciousness. They come and go, surfacing and receding, moving in and out of focus and may or may not find form. II The micro-scripts were pinned up all around her now. Several each day. Building up in amount and cascading into a shower of papers all over the floor. Soon they would fill the room. Soon she would be submerged. She had scrabbled around on her knees in front of him picking them up, reading them out. Past, present and future. All fragments from within. Not knowing how they would come together, she continued. Whatever was going to happen, she sensed a huge force behind it. For days on end she couldn’t stop. It was more than just a commentary on her actions alone. But conversations she had with herself, reflections, journeys into her mind.
III The micro-scripts were flying through her brain now. Glimpses of things, threads and fragments of thought. Snatches of sentences, phrases and words. It was hard to stop them. She wasn’t going mad - was she? She felt quite well yet her mind reeled out a running commentary on almost everything she did, as she did it. Live. Was this part of schizophrenia, or mania? Or synaesthesia? Images sparked off words, words and more words. What brain pathways were firing up here? She’d seen people write in this way when troubled. Mountains of scrawlings
everywhere, sideways, upside down, on the backs of things, on newspapers, with frantic diagrams like force fields. Often, it took a lot of searching to find the underlying theme. No, this was all quite coherent, linked and ordered once out on the page. She had learned to harness this rushing wind. Like the trains that woke her one night entangled in her hair and dreams. The thoughts and images would come, nearer and nearer to the surface, effervescent and bursting. That night, she had woken at the zenith, sitting upright, the images fully blown in her mind and the idea formed. She had felt alert, poised, clear-headed, energized, decisive, ready to act. She needed space alone to give into this. To attend deeply, let it come, meditatively and capture it all before it vanished. The second piece is an example of how one sensory experience may trigger a whole world in a rich and textured way and this is written about here: Synaesthesia. The music started – more as a single note at first – circling round the room above her head. She chose to lie on the floor and shut her eyes. She was always surprised by the vivid imagery. She was not disappointed. As the sounds became louder and more complex, she was transported on a journey. Round the world. Into the depths of the ocean, rushing across wide canyons, to the tops of mountains into bustling markets in Marrakesh, into crowds of people in foreign lands. Places she had been to and also places she had never seen. All thrown up in front of her eyes in startling detail, technicolour and immediacy. As the music became more intricate, so did this cinema of imagination behind her eyelids. All she had to do was to lie back. Dizzy now, she closed her eyes again and watched. As the music untangled itself, slowed down to its original single note then faded away, she felt herself being set down on a long runway. The third piece of writing arises from my experience in medical practice. The ‘taking of the pulse’ is a phenomenon filled with wonder and far more than just a number or character of wave-form. As above, one small act can open whole worlds - here, not only a deeper connection with self but also of one’s interconnection with others: The Attending Physician – Four Meditations on the Pulse As a young medical student, I approach my patient to take their pulse for the first time. I touch hesitantly in what I feel is a polite and ‘clinical’ way. In these moments of sensing, I am blown
away with wonder at the life force that I am to experience throughout my career. For this small act of connection goes far deeper than the skin and artery palpated beneath my fingers. It has far more dimensionality than a counted number. Now, having been a doctor for many years, I continue to reflect on how the immanence of such a brief encounter never ceases to amaze me. Each time, during this small ritual in the physical examination, I am called to be fully present and pay deep attention to our shared humanity that is the heart of compassion and kindness. I With my fingertips, I feel the expansion of your pulse. Its shape, its wave of pressure. In fifteen seconds, its immanence insists. A quiet persistent force. A whole life paced out through the chambers of your heart. We avoid each other’s gaze but you beat into my imagination. In this mortifying place, where souls are stripped, this beat resonates and catches up threads in my own life and loves and entwines me for a moment with you. Strange souls may touch tangentially in this way. Both hearts a driving force and a consequence. II I conjure up all the pulses I have felt. Ten a day, three hundred and forty days a year. For thirty years, a hundred thousand pulses, nearly two million beats. Still, now, I’m blown away by the beating of each heart. What if I hear them all at once, in the space of my imagination, all collected and beating? How would I be moved? The earth could move. What if all else were silent but for the beating of all hearts? Just for fifteen seconds. Our life-force. Would we feel our bodies as shared flesh of the earth and whispering souls of ether? III I think of my sons’ bodies, how every single beat counts. Tender. Thus, can I attend to others. IV I was left alone in the room with her, to take blood. I was twenty-one. Suddenly, I knew she was about to die. Almost imperceptibly something was slipping away from her face. Her breathing changed, her pulse, a thin thread. I ran into the corridor to find her husband. “I think you should come, now. And hold her hand.’ He did. She breathed a last sound. Blood welled up from her mouth and over her chest. Her pulse, gone. Discussion and theoretical links These microscripts are one experimental component within a larger exploration of an emergent methodology of connective aesthetics in medicine. Here, the attempt is to capture sensed experience,
including both pre-reflective and reflective awareness, of whole body-including-mind16 sensing, and the interconnection between inner and outer worlds17, self and other. Medical training may lead to a detached clinical gaze18 that focuses on objective data, evidence, rules and pre-existing concepts. This can be at the expense of individual human sentience and cut short our wonder at phenomena. These microscripts are part of an exploration into a variety of methods for raising awareness to the richness of sensed (aesthetic) experience, thus extending knowledge beyond the objective evidence-base. For instance, the last piece is for sharing with others working in healthcare to see if it resonates for them too. By vibrating with their own experience and imagination, beyond factual knowledge alone, it may act as a starting point for discussion about empathy and the human encounter in the clinic. This work is part of an arts-led practical exploration between connective aesthetics and healthcare. I work in an experiential aesthetic mode. I find myself connecting disciplines, drawing on experience from various fields such as my clinical work, principles from phenomenology,19 the psychotherapies20 – including mindfulness-based21 work, contemplative meditation22 and Social Sculpture23 (a contemporary art form). Helena Fox August 2014 http://www.social-sculpture.org/helena-fox/
Not a dichotomy of body or mind Described in a further paper – in preparation, “Microsripts – Outside In and Inside Out” 18 Foucault 19 The writings of Merleau-Ponty in particular 20 The Post Jungian, James Hillman 21 As discussed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams 22 Contemplative Enquiry – Arthur Zajonc 23 Professor Shelley Sacks, the Social Sculpture Research Unit at Oxford Brookes www.socialsculpture.org 17
VIBRATIONS is an open-access art journal for creative writing. In the second issue eight artists and musicians whose practice involves commu...
Published on Aug 12, 2014
VIBRATIONS is an open-access art journal for creative writing. In the second issue eight artists and musicians whose practice involves commu...