Publication: Article, Koenig Books, London, artist(s)/author(s): Florian Dombois
, Claudia Mareis
, Michael Schwab
Artistic practices are manifold and highly diverse. In recent years, a claim towards research has become meaningful to many practitioners of art. Intellectual Birdhouse gives room to a number of acteurs to unfold their attitudes towards this claim. In this book, ‘artistic research’ is assumed as being independent of ‘discipline’, with the potential to occur in all contexts once epistemological expectations have shifted. This approach foregrounds questions concerning the type of models,
terms and concepts that elucidate the processes and outcomes of epistemic-artistic practices while recalling theoretical debates steeped in tradition. Artistic research often involves productive and refl ective work on and with material, and is frequently paired with testing of forms of representation other than texts that engage in open negotiations with knowledge. For this reason, artistic research may take an unexpected or even controversial course. As a consequence, most of the chapters discuss how borders need to be negotiated as part of the research process. This includes questions bearing on art and science, art and politics, art and history as well as art and philosophy. Many of the authors see themselves as artists, but one of the chief claims of this book is that a position is possible beyond the ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ labels. The chapters address this position and the difficulties negotiating it in the context of existing discourses and intellectual frameworks.
The project Oorwonde is an interactive audio-haptic artwork that simulates surgery by an 8-channel-interface. The exposition has a focus on the documentation of Oorwonde and its technical background and gives an introduction to the artistic context, especially the connecting PhD-project of the author. The themes that Oorwonde is addressing are of relevance to artists and scholars. Investigations into the transition zone between touch and hearing are of high interest for academics, technicians and artists from different areas and with specific focuses. The same goes for design of haptic interaction and interfaces, above all the question of surgery. I am sure, that artists experimenting with inducing vibrational signals to the body will read the exposition with interest. But nevertheless I have to confess that, personally, I am not very seduced by the work.
To be completely straight forward, I am longing for more aesthetic risks or surprises. (One example: I see a pretty face in the video ‘the mouth’, I see beautiful legs in black tights in the video ‘the knees’ and then three fingers for ‘the buttocks’?) What I experience in the pictures or videos and read in the description is somehow not really triggering my imagination. Maybe one reason, why it is not touching me, is that the idea of a sonic deck chair started in the 1970s (as the author rightly refers to) and has been varied since then in many forms? The author stresses the point of interactivity as new, but then I would like to have more details in the small section devoted to this topic. Even though it maybe forms an interesting experience, the actual audio-haptic material induced — from what I can judge from the little videos — seems quite hygienic.
My critique is surely influenced by the fact that I have not experienced the piece. But then, if we are not discussing the work, we have to focus on the exposition. If the interplay of sounds is relevant, it would be nice to experience them. If interactivity plays a major role, maybe it could be simulated or translated into the framework of the exposition? If surgery is an important topic, are there any specific operations simulated and have surgeons been consulted?
I have to confess, that I do not really getting a grip on the piece from the exposition, possibly because I am left wondering what the exposition is really focusing on. Certainly, Oorwonde has many aspects and perspectives, but which one is stressed within the exposition, which aspect is the focus? The aspect of audio-haptics? The interactivity and/or the human-machine-interaction? The simulation of a surgery? The set-up as self-experiment?
The exposition is clearly addressing different topics of research, like the questions ‘What is sound-art?’, ‘How do we overcome the borders between audio and haptics?’ etc., and the structure of the exposition follows the traditional academic rhetoric of a journal article, in the order of introduction, contextualisation, description of the experiment and a conclusion. The language is clear and details are given. Yet the author seems not (or maybe I am overlooking something) to play ‘artistic games’ in the exposition, and although, all in all, the methods seem to be sound and adequate, too frequently the author seems to be simply describing the facts.
Here some advice for each section:
The Dutch title could get some explanation or translation.
Intro / Sounding Sound art:
I find especially interesting the attempt to define sound-art from an artist’s perspective (interesting are the non-academic categories chosen, like loudness or frequency range, which are seen from a producer’s perspective), but sufficient examples are missing.
Apparently there exists a list of examples of art works classified by twelve parameters — this would be interesting to share. It would also be helpful to contextualize Oorwonde better, within the general investigation of the author.
The author should be careful with generalizations like for example ‘The term sound art often remains very vague, whereas Klangkunst is generally used more strictly’ - such statements need explanation, argumentation and references.
Audification is another way besides feeling and visualization of subsonic sound waves. In this chapter many examples are given, which is very nice. But the selection should be motivated. Why these examples? What are the categories of selection and are the chosen examples really the best of their class? All in all: the overview is nice, but should be more explicit about the point that is made, since now it appears as a list of precursors suggesting academic standards of selection, quoting and description, which are missing.
Depending on the main focus of the exposition, either the chapter on interaction, on technical description or on the sound material could be more detailed.
Concerning questions of mapping and generalized statements about who feels what better, serious user tests should be made. If these statements are not really the goal of the author, maybe leave them out or then really organize test persons, questionnaires etc.
If interaction makes Oorwonde explicitly different, then more description on this aspect should be given. If the focus of the exposition is clearer, the conclusion could be improved. Or if the exposition is not so much about a hypothesis to be answered, then the general structure of the exposition should be rethought.
The outline of the exposition is clear and in tune with academic traditions, but even though the design is very efficient, as an artist, I would enjoy a little more aesthetic sensation, or a more explicit use of form and format to produce understanding. Except for a few videos, the article could be published in a traditional journal.
The project Oorwonde is interesting and in my opinion worthwhile to be published. For JAR, I personally would expect more innovation or aesthetic sensation, either on the level of the project or in the way the exposition is presented. I think things could be more extreme and less well behaved. Within JAR there should be a claim that the author wants to make, which I did not really find. Also, as an artist, I would enjoy finding more examples of other relevant art works and historical positions, especially when the question is ‘what is sound art?’ The announced twelve-parameter-list sounds very interesting and could be a good way to enlarge the example list.