Oorwonde - a tactile experience (2011)

Laura Maes

About this exposition

The exposition focuses on Oorwonde, a specific practical experiment within the research project Sounding sound art. The work, which falls somewhere between a sound installation and an interactive performance, consists of specially constructed stainless steel operating table upon which visitors, or ‘patients’ are invited to undergo ‘aural surgery’. Next to the concept and construction of Oorwonde, related practices are discussed in terms of their use of subsonic sound in interactive works or installations. The exposition introduces contextual information in regard to the artist’s broader work on the question of what constitutes ‘sound art’, while it’s main purpose remains the description and analysis of this new sound work, as a piece of artistic research.
typeresearch exposition
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 4 (last entry by Florian Dombois - 21/11/2011 at 22:25)
anonymous 21/11/2011 at 16:55

The essay consists of an AV description of Oorwonde, an interactive sonic art installation developed by the author/artist. This description is preceded by an introduction, some general remarks about sound art and an enumeration of some works and artists dealing with the same kind of materials. The description is followed by a short conclusion.


I find Oorwonde as well as some other works by the author/artist absolutely interesting and definitely contributing to the corps of sonic art works. As far as the textual part of this exposition is concerned, I encountered some problems:


In the section titled Introduction the author/artist introduces the idea that sound art uses different presentation forms compared to traditional musical concerts. In Sounding Sound Art the author writes that it is her aim (at least in her research) to ‘define’ sound art, on the basis of 12 parameters, by attempting to differentiate it from other related art forms such as experimental instrument building and visual installations that produce sound. In Precursors she gives some examples of artists experimenting with infrasound or ultrasound.


So here we have three different contextualizations: presentation, definition, and ultra/infra-sound. It is not clear at all that she will link all three to Oorwonde; there is no clear relation between the Introduction, Sounding Sound Art, and Precursors, which makes it difficult to understand where the essay will go to/for. In addition, the description of Oorwonde starts out of the blue without even a sentence introducing this topic. In the section, Conclusion, all three elements (presentation, definition and ultrasound) come back, which is positive. However, the conclusion is too short without any critical reflection. Furthermore, she hardly mentions any sound art literature in which the relation between sound art and e.g. visual arts are discussed (see for example Brandon LaBelle and Seth Kim-Cohen, but there are many more).


In short, I see an artistic interest but no intellectual interest: there is no clear question; the 12 parameters mentioned in Sounding Sound Art are not developed or explained; the Introduction is not a real introduction to the essay; the emphasis on trying to define sound art in Sounding Sound Art is not developed in the rest of the essay; Oorwonde is not introduced; the fact that Oorwonde was somehow dealing with the ‘problems’ exposed before (presentation, definition, ultra/infra-sounds) is indeed mentioned in the Conclusion but not really elaborated.


The author claims that there is a direct relation between her research and her artistic practice: the one is influencing the other. In her artistic practice she is (implicitly) questioning the borders between sound art and other art forms, she is experimenting with alternative forms of presentation, and she’s working with the concepts ultra- and infrasound. A relation between her research and her practice is absolutely possible and it does exist, but it is not explained very well in this essay. There is no clear starting point (as there are in fact three different ones) and theoretical issues are hardly discussed, let alone critically reflected upon. In my opinion those omissions absolutely matter, as I don’t get any new knowledge from the essay.


Although I really like the design and navigation proper to both an online journal and more experimental art forms, I am less enthusiastic about navigating to the Oorwonde section/part. I encounter a blank screen and it needs scrolling from left to right as well as from up to down to find texts/images.


The author is an interesting artist making sonic art installations of high aesthetic standards, and has an interesting research topic and the input of artistic work absolutely increases the value of this research. However, there seems to be a gap between her research and what she presents in this exposition seems too much like a cut and paste result. A clear focus is missing, the link with the principle work Oorwonde is lacking and in the conclusion there is no critical reflection whatsoever. Furthermore almost logical references to books on sound art are missing.

anonymous 21/11/2011 at 17:00

The exposition is indeed of artistic and intellectual interest. It reflects the changing face of musical performance and/or performance art in the public sphere especially in terms of audience location and embodied involvement. The fixed boundaries become permeable, the workspaces, negotiable. This leads to a hybrid artwork having the potential to re-vivify views about the nature of performance.


The author calls this a ‘young trend’, but it arguably has antecedents in the experimental approaches of the 1950s and -60s, particularly in the United States. The attempt to address this in the section Sounding Sound Art needs more historical grounding; there was very little reference to secondary literature, both in this section and in the project as a whole, and this makes one uneasy about both historical grounding and aspects of the empirical research. (The final Reference section of the weave indeed shows very few secondary sources).


However, the detailed presentation of Oorwonde itself revealed much more clearly the creative and working processes of the artist-researcher. This section was very engaging. The weave was particularly effective here in helping the viewer to dissect aspects of the quasi-medical set up. The exploration of boundaries between ‘patient and environment’, power relations and objectification was noteworthy here (though not unprecedented, having models at least as far back as the eighteenth century [Rameau]).


The mapping of the creative process of the evolution of the structure, the employment of user feedback in its development, was significant in its additional challenging of the boundaries of artworks (i.e. in making us question who is actually creating the artwork at such points – artist or ‘patient’?).


The Introduction section of the exposition describes clearly the research scope of the work that is to follow, and this shows an approach that is clearly embedded in the artist’s practice. As stated above, the exposition would be stronger with a more rigorous historical apparatus and a more clearly articulated following up of statements concerning social relevance.


The short list of exemplary works that precedes the detailed study does not reveal clearly enough the relationship to specific data being collected, being descriptive rather than analytical. The mapping of the ’12 parameter analysis’ to specific works presented in Precursors was not transparent; though the text on Leitner was analytically sound, but presented more as a paraphrase than an original synthesis.


However, the detailed presentation of Oorwonde itself revealed much more clearly the creative and working processes of the artist-researcher and aspects of the quasi-medical set up, as mentioned before. This is not without precedent, but forms a potentially significant contribution. It might have been of interest and help to have a video in which the viewer could see a subject being ‘installed into’ the setup, in order to better understand how invasive the process might be, and how ‘free’ the ‘subject’ actually remains. For example, the use of the lamp in Oorwonde blinds the ‘patient’ which seems to bring the initial assertion within the exposition that subjects are ‘in full control’ into doubt. And the invasive aspect (e.g. the need to make a dental plate to conduct sound) would be helpful to observe, so that the viewer of the weave could develop a sense of physical empathy with the situatedness of the ‘patient’.


The navigation of the weave is reasonably straightforward, though as is often the case, one has to work out reading direction (whether to read rows or columns). It is a shame that the physically sensate sound/sensation world of this project cannot be exposed more overtly by the mode of presentation (see idea concerning use of video, above).


The referencing in the weave was correct, but the light use of secondary sources led to a sense of doubt about the way this exposition is situated in historical/social terms. The reliance on Leitner was too heavy, and the references to Pook and Staalplaat Sound systems led to some ethical questions that were not answered, or even raised, in the narrative. (This latter point may have been a deliberate strategy on the part of the artist-researcher).


Arguably, there are ethical questions within this work that would have been productively addressed by the artists-researcher as part of the whole rationale. The ‘intrusion’ of art-making into one’s personal space, the use of heavily-freighted terms such as ‘patient’ and ‘therapy’, call for clarification of ethical practice.



The detailed presentation of Oorwonde. The use of Oorwonde as a means of questioning aspects of boundary-making and dissolution.


Problems to address:

Sketchy explanation of historical and social situatedness of the artwork.

More transparent presentation of how the twelve parameter empirical analysis maps artworks.

Possible use of video to generate viewer empathy.

Closer editing of the English language to eliminate tautology and re-use of stock phrases.

Clarification concerning ethics (including whether an absence of such a clarification is part of the strategy of the work).


While this is already a project with important strengths, with some additional work, this could be made into a stronger exposition, particularly with regard to the critical apparatus.

Henrik Frisk 21/11/2011 at 22:18

The work at the core of the submission, the installation Oorwonde, makes inquiries into many important artistic, scientific and social areas but many of the topics could have been more fully discussed in the text. Some quite general assertions, though thought-provoking and interesting, are not fully developed. (E.g. ‘The creation and presentation of Oorwonde provided insight into the borders of sound art and its intersection with performance art.’ and ‘Oorwonde showed what parameters are substantial to distinguish art forms from one another and therefore contributed to the development of my analysis tool.’ - both in the Conclusion.) Concerning the analysis tool mentioned in the Conclusion, which was also brought up in the section Sounding Sound Art, I believe that the author’s argument would have been strengthened had the method been described in more detail. And I believe this discussion could be a valid contribution to the field of artistic research where there is a great need for novel and experimental research methods.


The submission does show practice as research but I believe that it would benefit from focusing its scope on one of the topics it brings up, rather than trying to encompass sound art in general. In its current form the exposition raises many important and potentially very interesting questions that are left un-discussed. One such example is the statement (again in the Conclusion) that ‘In contrast to most sound works there is a certain development of the musical and tactile material which the visitor is able to influence.’ What is the nature of this development and what is the artistic significance of this choice?


Although I like the exposition from a purely graphic point of view it is not clear to me how the exposition and layout is related to the subject matter. The references themselves are good but important recent literature on sound art, which could have strengthened and contextualized the submission, is lacking. However, I can see that the author has consciously tried to only reference art works rather than texts on artworks which is a fair choice.


In the introduction the author discusses the changing landscape for musical performance and music listening and the emerging intermediate art forms that arise as a result. If this topic (which is very relevant) would have been more thoroughly investigated through the installation Oorwonde, I believe the submission would have a stronger impact. Another choice would be to leave these more ontological questions aside and in their place the author could describe the artistic implications of Oorwonde — in relation to the work by other artists in the same field as well as other works by the author. In the latter case I would have preferred the exposition to be less traditional (despite the unusual and interesting layout of the text, it loosely follows the format of a traditional research paper) and the theory, practice, empiricism and related work could be more intertwined. At any rate, I believe the author’s related works and the cited works should be more explicitly used and discussed in relation to each other.


However, Laura Maes' exposition ‘Oorwonde a tactile experience’, is a valid contribution to an emerging field of artistic practice and to the development of artistic research. It introduces several interesting threads and I am looking forward to learning more about the art works and the artistic and research methods behind these.

Florian Dombois 21/11/2011 at 22:25

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.


Related practices:

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.

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