Preface to Urban Praxis: Spoken Word in situ
The term ‘urban exploration’ (‘urbex’, for short) denotes a growing phenomenon, witnessed across the industrialised world. It involves seeking out, gaining access to, and exploring in a respectful and responsible manner abandoned and/or forgotten sites, such as power stations, factories, and apartment blocks, as well as a range of infrastructural features, including sewers, tunnels, and stormwater drains. While the objects encountered by urban explorers comprise diverse locations and a wide variety of features, urbex is motivated by an interest in structures that are human-made and that exist predominantly beyond the range of experience or thought associated with normative social practice. In this sense, urbex can be investigative, experimental, and analytical, with the scope to enrich reflexive, cultural awareness.
Our late modern living arrangements rely upon infrastructure that includes sophisticated urban drainage systems. Artificial pipes and cavities are needed to direct sewer waste from homes, schools, and businesses, and so on, as well as stormwater run-off from roads, roofs, pathways, and other impervious or hard surfaces. Unlike older drains in the UK and Europe, which are combined systems servicing stormwater and sewerage, Melbourne possesses a vast network of drains dedicated to stormwater run-off. Situated on a vast plain of solidified basaltic lava, Melbourne has always relied upon a complex network of underground drains for collecting and directing stormwater run-off away from urban areas into bays or beach outlets. Many of these ‘disciplinary architectures’ possess unique acoustic properties and are large enough to walk through, reaching out for kilometres underneath the busy streets of the metropolis; as an urban explorer, I have a particular interest in these drains. My drain walks belong to a constellation of contemporary practices that turn walking into art (the exhibition Walk On, held last year at the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, demonstrates the relevance of this diverse field – from Bruce Nauman to Janet Cardiff).
This audio recording provides an overview of the research project, addressing some of the artistic precedents for walking-as-art, and elucidating their relationship to my creative cultural praxis. In this respect it is the documentation and exposition of a research process. But by virtue of its production in subterranean situ (that space into which the listener is invited), the recording is also a transgressive and imaginative act; it simultaneously presents as creative output – which problematises the distinctions between process, product, artwork, and research – and blurs the boundaries between practice-led and practice-based research (likewise, the listener is implicitly invited into these contestations).
A referenced distinction between practice-led research (PLR) and practice-based research (PBR) may start with the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s 2003 definition of PLR:
Practice-led research is a distinctive feature of the research activity in the creative and performing arts. As with other research conducted by arts and humanities researchers, it involves the identification of research questions and problems, but the research methods, contexts and outputs then involve a significant focus on creative practice. This type of research thus aims, through creativity and practice, to illuminate or bring about new knowledge and understanding, and it results in outputs that may not be text-based, but rather a performance (music, dance, drama), design, film, or exhibition. (Quoted in Sullivan 2009: 47)
PLR is a method for investigating creative practice in a sustained and critical way. It entails making an artefact and reflecting on the historical nuances and contemporary socio-cultural implications of that artistic activity in order to develop a conceptual framework – a framework expected to inform and maybe transform our understanding of practice. We can see that PLR is not limited to scholarly research; it can extend to non-conventionally defined fields of engagement. This has led to PLR’s popularity as a methodology for bringing creative activity into an academic environment – a popularity evident also in the Australian context. As Andrew McNamara (2012: 3) points out, PLR addresses the institutional pressure for researcher-practitioners to accommodate ‘a de facto process of institutional and educational homogenization.’ McNamara sees the ‘classical-modern university’ as narrowly following the traditional lack of recognition of the capacity of artistic works or design production, therefore believing such works ‘simply incapable “of justifying their contribution to the field of knowledge”’ and unreliable when it came time ‘“to communicate the meaning of its existence” – not unless they were aided in the process by developing a different set of research tools to assist their accommodation into the research framework’ (McNamara 2012: 2–3, in part quoting de Freitas).
According to McNamara, PLR envisages and formulates its place within the Australian academic system – one that has faced an intense focus on ‘accountability, “partnerships with industry” and “investing in the future” at the expense of exploring its shared interest in “navigating the uncharted waters of creativity”’ and which dates back to the agenda outlined in the 1987 Green Paper ‘Higher Education: A Policy Discussion Paper’, presented by Minister for Employment, Education, and Training, John Dawkins (McNamara 2012: 3, in part quoting Buckley and Conomos). As an Australian resident with an Australian higher degree arts-research qualification, I recognise the cultural and scholarly importance of pursuing a research trajectory that shows the art practitioner as subjecting the creative process and its artefacts to critical processes recognised by an interpretive community. As Graeme Sullivan (2009: 47–48) explains, ‘the locus of inquiry can begin at any of these three points. What is critical, however, is the interdependence of these domains and the central role that making plays in the creation of knowledge.’ This creative research proceeds to expose a complex dynamism between creative practice and its theoretical articulation, with the outcome being insight into ‘the nature of practice’ leading ‘to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice. The main focus of the research is to advance knowledge about practice, or to advance knowledge within practice’ (Creativity and Cognition Studios 2015).
The Creativity and Cognition Studios (CCS), located within the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, also offers a definition for practice-based research – PBR entails an original investigation undertaken wherein:
Claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes which may include artefacts such as images, music, designs, models, digital media or other outcomes such as performances and exhibitions. Whilst the significance and context of the claims are described in words, a full understanding can only be obtained with direct reference to those outcomes. (Creativity and Cognition Studios 2015)
Through this lens, the distinction between PLR and PBR may seem unclear. Scope for confusion is symptomatic of the fact that, despite widespread usage in vocational contexts such as nursing and the broader health sector, PBR has not yet been ‘characterised in a way that has become agreed across the various fields of research where it is in use. To complicate matters further, the terms “practice-based” and “practice-led” are often used interchangeably’ (Creativity and Cognition Studios 2015). We may, however, recognise a difference in the perceived location of a knowledge contribution. In the case of PBR, it is distinguishable from conventional research because claims ‘for an original contribution to the field are held to be demonstrated through the original creative work’ (ibid.). Here, we can see that PBR upholds the creative artefact as forming the basis of a claim to a knowledge contribution. Offering some contrast to this, good PLR will ‘freely acknowledge other research paradigms’, recognising that ‘the greatest challenges – and potentially greatest innovations – that PLR can offer, spring from the discrepancy between the needs of the practice and the research question, rather than a pre-supposition of their harmonious correspondence’ (McNamara 2012: 9, 11). This research project demonstrates an openness to exploring theoretical contexts that may transform the function of the practice being articulated, a willingness to disrupt and disturb it, even when the transformative potential of theory is not necessary for the practice to continue.
This research presents some blurring of the boundaries between PLR and PBR particularly in the case of the in situ audio recording; it is a creative artefact that is mobilised by its evident willingness to problematise its own existence, looking continuously beyond the practice to illuminate incrementally its broader cultural implications. The blur presents itself when the practice at hand is characterised precisely by such an outward gaze. In addition, there are characteristics of this sound art that resist adequate determination, such as timbre, the acoustic resonance of underground spaces possessing unusual dimensions, changes in volume that are discernible in the ambient soundscape, and musical instrumentation.
What is clear is my motivation – to embark upon sub-suburban activities with a view to negotiating creatively and critically the rigid structures of the city that shape our cultural identities and, in turn, inform how we communicate with one another. My negotiation lends itself to Robert E. Franken’s (1993: 396) definition of creativity as ‘the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.’ As tangible sites of critical distance from the quotidian, sub-suburban spaces such as stormwater drains function to defamiliarise walking: when walking takes places within infrastructural/drain spaces, it transforms from its status as mere habituated locomotion into a transgressive gesture that mobilises socio-political comment. Here, walking elicits a creative transgressive activity and, in turn, inaugurates critical reflection on the ontological, phenomenological, and existential boundaries of everyday life. This creative research project raises questions relating to the human condition as an urbanised experience and is implicit in proposing urban exploration as a predominantly transgressive activity that may be pursued for the purpose of reflexive cultural critique.
This project exposes my creative research activity conducted in the physical space of the stormwater drain, despite that I have not been given permission to be there by any statutory body that has authority over the drains. However convincingly I might argue my absolute lack of interest in damaging or altering property in any way, this might not be enough to reassure the reader that my drain conduct is respectful. A need remains, therefore, for me to provide clarity around the notion of transgression, and around why I have deemed it important to overstep legal boundaries by entering the drain space and subsequently communicate aspects of this activity to a public audience. Any response to this question will in some way inform the knowledge to which my creative research draws attention.
A clarification of the term ‘transgression’ is appropriate given that some of the sociological and geological nuances of transgression bare relevance to this project. Sociologically speaking, transgression entails the contravention of limits prescribed by ‘a law or command; trespass, offend’ (Brown 1993: 3369). The transgressive act of border crossing is broadly understood as an offence to legal and/or moral norms. The word ‘transgression’ carries a tone of moralistic judgement, stemming from the Judeo-Christian account of Adam and Eve and the acquisition of forbidden knowledge – that is, the metaphorical forbidden fruit associated with sexual awareness. There is a wealth of literature traversing the multifarious landscapes of sexual transgression: from George Bataille’s Story of the Eye, to the Marquis de Sade’s entire oeuvre (The 120 Days of Sodom, Philosophy in the Bedroom, etc.), to other notables such as Anaïs Nin’s Incest: From ‘A Journal of Love’, extensive attention has been given to the narration of bodily entanglements and the cultural politics of raw pleasure.
This research is not concerned with erotic transgression. Instead, it is concerned with accessing cultural insight through its practice-led and sound-based negotiation of underground space made possible by perambulatory border crossing. An appeal to democratic access is evident; history tells us that the public’s presence in underground space is negotiable. For example, although it is presently prohibited for the general public to wander around the Paris sewers, in the late nineteenth century public tours of the sewers were regularly conducted by ‘an underground trolley ride from Place du Châtelet to Place de la Concorde’, before a boat ride to the Asnières effluence collector (Gaffard 2007: 142). Today, visitors to the Paris sewer museum are able to visit controlled parts of the sewer system, and sewer tours are still conducted elsewhere throughout the industrialised world. These alternative tourist opportunities recognise human investment in heritage infrastructure.
Human effluence and rainwater are very different things (Australia has dedicated systems for each, unlike the combined systems in the UK and Europe). Nevertheless, an attempt to draw people into Melbourne’s water system is not being made, and focusing on this risks us remaining at the figurative and literal surface of what is at stake. The focus here is on supporting democratic thought around underground spaces such as stormwater drains – a communicable, intellectual access – even when physical access to them is itself prohibited. On this point, it is important to consider part of why, today, the word ‘drain’ overflows with negative meanings. Larry Cohen’s film It’s Alive (1974), Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1980), and the opening titles for Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992), which depict the Penguin’s first days of parental abandonment, belong to a long list of successful popular films in which the sub-suburban is represented as a sub-moral, subhuman zone of inhabitancy. Popular cinema consistently constructs drain space in the context of humanitarian and ethical transgression and yet this is still the most pervasive mediator of public awareness on this area of urban interest. Popular film enjoys a position of authority in the public’s historical interest in the material conditions that facilitate and delimit its own living arrangements.
The term ‘transgression’ also has a geological context in which it can denote the sea spreading over land, which can be extended to include the overlapping of other stratum (Brown 1993: 3369). An overlapping takes place between the sub-suburban water pathways and the pedestrian pathways on the surface of the city; I am using this crossing of human locomotion metaphorically and literally to advance understanding around cultural identity. Transgression carries a visceral attraction that can be exciting as well as disconcerting and uncomfortable – derived from jumping fences, climbing up or down railings, or stepping carefully across wet or poorly lit spaces. Although located in space that is legally partitioned off from everyday life, this project marks an attempt to elucidate a range of connections that exist between the body and sub-suburban space and that feed back into the visually dominant city surface.
However prolonged an interest in the imaginations of individual members of the public may be, the practice of visiting sub-suburban space is fleeting. A person’s cognisance of his or her physical contact with the drain is aptly impressionistic. My investment in conducting a sustained analysis of subterranean space seeks to add balance to popular, truncated representations informing its own material identity. Televisual media holds an intrinsic place in the city space; it is a seemingly ever-present feature of the city structures that directly and attractively inform interpersonal communication. Transgression of the kind that is at play in this research is positioned to challenge common-sense ideological thinking around sub-suburban space in a way that feeds back in other everyday experiences; questioning the solidity of what is above ground contributes an aesthetic and intellectual challenge to the consumerist surface of our built environment.
By venturing into off-limit and hidden spaces, urban exploration groups are in part united by their shared exploration of a sequestered experience. Sociologist Anthony Giddens (1991: 244) defines the sequestration of experience as ‘the separation of day-to-day life from contact with experiences which raise potentially disturbing existential questions – particularly experiences to do with sickness, madness, criminality, sexuality and death’. Giddens remarks that scope for such experiences is hidden away, placed behind the scenes: ‘The sequestration of experience means that, for many people, direct contact with events and situations which link the individual lifespan to broad issues of morality and finitude are rare and fleeting’ (ibid.: 8). A conceptual link exists between Giddens’s insight and the temporality of transgression – incremental human contact with the systems of its own cultivation. How can such systems be felt by the body? Giddens cites reproductive technologies and genetic engineering ‘as parts of more general processes of the transmutation of nature into a field of human action’ (ibid.). Urbex entails small demographics of people engaging an intellectual curiosity as to the complex fields of their own life narratives, with one modality of engagement being the practice and process of walking in drains. My practice entails transmuting contexts of urban exploration into sound, attempting to slow the ‘fleeting’ down and, thereby, making its human-centred insight more shareable.
This said, I recognise that my activity in the stormwater drains raises ethical concerns pertaining to my safety and the safety of any others who might participate in similar activity. This concern extends to include anyone who might find an injured or deceased explorer. Accidental injury can occur in any private or public space. But, although responding to accidents that take place in underground spaces carries an additional degree of difficulty for emergency personnel, the reputation for danger should not be allowed to obscure the extreme rarity of such events when compared with road deaths and other preventable fatalities.
The most common concern pertains to the stormwater drain’s proper function of directing large amounts of water away from residential and business areas and into the rivers and ocean. But, just as Melbourne is known for its rainfall, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) is known for its state-of-the-art satellite technology and its publicly accessible website showing updates.
The Bureau of Meteorology is Australia’s national weather, climate and water agency. Its expertise and services assist Australians in dealing with the harsh realities of their natural environment, including drought, floods, fires, storms, tsunami and tropical cyclones. Through regular forecasts, warnings, monitoring and advice spanning the Australian region and Antarctic territory, the Bureau provides one of the most fundamental and widely used services of government. (Bureau of Meteorology 2015)
Given that staying up to date is key, it should be remembered that sophisticated scientific technology has obviated Melbourne’s pre-internet reputation as a city susceptible to surprise elemental transgressions known as ‘flash flooding’. Winter is no surprise; during wet weather months, my interest in drain exploration becomes decidedly theoretical, making this modality of transgressive practice a seasonal affair. In the dry weather months, I routinely consult the BoM website’s 64-km to 512-km composite radar loops, which are updated every six minutes. Here, we find a meteorological system empowering personal choice.
This detail addresses individual activity, though it is also applicable to group conduct. In doing so, I wish to bring clarity to the issue of democratic access to underground space. Urban exploration groups across the United States, throughout the United Kingdom, and in Europe, as well as in Australia, share collective and participatory characteristics, supporting practices of sociality and solidarity, including basic-trust building and establishing a sense of community and belonging that cannot be purchased; this requires little to no financial investment on the part of the urban explorer. Urban exploration is a growing group activity comprising participants from all walks of life, regardless of socio-economic status, educational experience, sexuality, gender, or ethnicity. The urbex community’s widespread use of pseudonyms speaks directly to the democratic principle of social equality that is intolerant of claims to special rank or privilege; pseudonyms disengage the official identities that facilitate our movement in and around consumption spaces – presenting a credit card in a retail context, or showing personal identification in the form of a driver’s license or passport. Urban exploration proposes counter-class-based processes of industrial participation; explorers share an interest in urban infrastructure, decay, and in the photographic documentation of rarely seen and fleeting structures that have played a role in human lives present and past.
The personal choices steering this practice connect it to the collective in another way. At this first audio recording, I plan to sit down at some stage and speak freely about what is happening and try to draw from historical sources that might maximise the use-value of the monologue. I don’t know who will want to listen to it. However, no matter how many people go into a drain at any given time, the fact remains that the drains exist for the service of all members of the public. For me to experience sub-suburbia but not share it in a way that protects listener safety and integrity seemed selfish. While I may be invested in this project emotionally, intellectually, and creatively, I recognise fully that sub-suburban space is a shared social concern. Of course, the recording can be transported into permissible space for discussion by people who may not have the time or even the physical capacity to experience it first-hand. The audio format puts into practice the project’s interest in supporting democratic access to underground space. The listener may walk above ground while listening to the drips and thumps of the sub-suburban soundscape, thereby further appealing to the geological context of transgression as an overlapping of bodies in space, in theory and maybe also in practice, depending on where the listener decides to press the ‘play’ button.
As Steven Connor (2011: 129) says, ‘Sound art responds to two contrary tractions in the practices of making and displaying art. One is the desire to burst boundaries, to tear down the walls, to break out of the confined space of the gallery. Sound is ideal for this because of its well-known expansiveness and leakiness’. Sound moves in ways that the image never can. It can transgress the rigid structures of the built environment that include, but are not limited to, gallery spaces. Sound reaches around corners, clears fences, and fills spaces with a deftness unattainable by human bodies or visual images. This is all a part of the transgressive dimension of this project; in many ways, it plays with the extent to which the listener may become implicated in his or her own materiality. ‘As Foucault writes in his “Preface to Transgression”, the limit is annihilated by transgression, but remains to heighten the sense of transgression’ (Connor 2011: 95). Through this research, transgression is mobilised in the imagination through sound.
As a final preface point, I recognise that the spoken word recording offers the listener an in situ drain monologue that has invariably been recorded after transgression has been activated. For this reason, I should like to offer insight into my preparations and the point at which the threshold is crossed. A pair of old sneakers fulfilled the role of drain-walking shoes. I wore a black T-shirt and three-quarter-length shorts. It was necessary for me to take a backpack containing a head torch and a hand-held torch as a backup. I took my mobile phone, my sound recording device, a digital camera, and my wallet, which holds my personal identification. On this occasion I took nothing more, although the other parts of this exposition make it clear that musical instruments have at times featured in this explorer’s ‘toolkit’. My activity is premeditated – for safety’s sake, necessarily so. I caught public transport to near the drain entrance, checked the weather report, looked around to see whether anyone was watching, and proceeded to slip through a hole in a wire fence. A wayward wire-end belonging to this already compromised/questioned border snagged my T-shirt, tearing a small hole in the process (the transgressive act leaves a trace on my clothing). I climbed down the metal rungs embedded in the drainage canal’s concrete wall. At this point, I felt the visceral attraction of transgression. My heart rate increased, and yet I was mostly looking forward to a non-conventional, peaceful walk; this began properly after the first fifty metres or so and beyond where the last piece of graffiti could be seen.
Footnotes to Urban Praxis: Spoken Word in situ
NB: To align footnotes with the audio recording, times have been used in lieu of footnote numbers – documented in minutes and seconds. The footnotes compliment the audio content; the reader/listener is not obliged to engage with both formats simultaneously.
What you can hear is the sound of vehicles driving over a manhole at the edge of the road. The cavity to the manhole is located approximately thirty metres away from where I am sitting. The thumping sounds of tyres running over steel reverberate through the drain in an arrhythmic manner.
‘One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll’ (Debord 2006b: 62).
This is a misattribution; it is not the work of Tim Brennan but that of Tim Knowles to which I am referring. Knowles’s From Windwalk – Seven Walks from Seven Dials (2009) is described in this way: ‘The wind takes him on a meandering route, at times blown directly down a street, at others caught in eddies repeatedly circling on street corners or joining the city’s other debris down some cul de sac. His meandering path collides with the rigid structure of the city; his route tracing out buildings, railings, ventilation shafts, parked vehicles and other boundaries. Knowles devises a new method of exploring the city and reveals how the wind moves through and is shaped by its structure’ (Collier and Morrison-Bell 2013: 86).
Craig Raine’s A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979).
This principal is central to the field of neuroplasticity. For further information, see Garcia-Segura (2009).
‘[Antonio] Gramsci’s theory consequently also expanded the first sense of ideology to include both formal ideas and “common sense”, the latter operating at the level of habitual and unexamined attitudes, and itself comprised of both assimilated ruling-class ideas and a progressive practical consciousness. Thus ideology is seen to “naturalize” an existing social order at a very deep level of everyday thoughts and action, but as being neither simply imposed nor irresistible. These ideas have had a profound influence within Cultural Studies, especially in the study of popular and subcultures’ (Brooker 2003: 134).
‘Jealousy is both good and bad: it is either a formidable condition of morally necessary solicitude or a dissatisfied state of venomous craving, akin to envy. Among the Greeks, the concept of jealousy (ζηλος, from which our word is derived) was overwhelmingly positive, more closely approximating zeal than jealousy as understood today, for which there was another word (φθονος) meaning envious jealousy. In relatively few texts are these concepts associated’ (Nelson 2009: 16).
David Prescott-Steed's The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture (2013).
Melbourne Water Corporation (2013: 16) states: ‘Entry to the closed water supply catchments has been prohibited for over 100 years. We regularly patrol the catchments and can issue on-the-spot fines to anyone caught trespassing or causing damaging to fences or signs.’ Here, I feel it is incumbent upon me to reiterate, and build upon, Steve Duncan’s sentiment that there is nothing suspicious about appreciating the city (Wonder 2010: 09:23). My interest in stormwater drains is unwaveringly respectful and responsible; it stems from a desire to further critical awareness of my constructed habitat and, in turn, to advance cognisance of the material circumstances that describe the human condition in the late modern age. To this humanitarian end, I regard urban exploration as the basic cultural right of a community that, to the extent that it does not infringe upon another human right, is in keeping with Part 1, Article 1.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights as recognised by the Australian Human Rights Commission (2012): ‘All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’
‘Sequestration of experience: the separation of day-to-day life from contact with experiences which raise potentially disturbing existential questions – particularly experiences to do with sickness, madness, criminality, sexuality and death’ (Giddens 1991: 244).
Melbourne Water Corporation (2013: 4).
For more information on these concepts, see Ingold (2010).
Détournement is ‘the reuse of pre-existing artistic elements in a new ensemble. […] Détournement is thus first of all a negation of the value of the previous organization of expression’ (Debord 2006a: 67). There are ‘two main categories of detourned elements. […] These are minor détournements and deceptive détournements. Minor détournement is the détournement of an element which has no importance in itself and which thus draws all its meaning from the new context in which it has been placed. For example, a press clipping, a neutral phrase, a commonplace photograph’ (Debord and Wolman 2006: 19). This terminology befits an exposition about urban exploration; through practical and improvisational investigation, sub-suburban architectures are subject to critical and creative reinterpretation. The result is a negotiated, and counter-bureaucratic, awareness of infrastructure as an existential context.
This exhibition, actually titled Walk On: From Richard Long to Janet Cardiff – 40 Years of Art Walking, was held at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland, UK, between 1 June and 31 August 2013.
Bruce Nauman, Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square (16 mm film on video, black and white, silent, 10 mins; 1967–68).
Hamish Fulton quoted in Collier and Morrison-Bell (2013: 61).
Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking (photograph; 1967).
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Alter Bahnhof Video Walk (2012).
Donald W. Winnicott (1971) defines ‘transitional objects’ as toys that are either found or created, such as a doll or a teddy bear, or a stick that a child pretends is a pirate’s sword, or a cardboard box that, with circles drawn on opposing sides, is now a car. Transitional objects ‘belong to the realm of illusion’ (14). They occupy the ‘playground [that] is a potential space’ between mother and infant (47).
Bruce Nauman, Playing a Note on the Violin While I Walk Around the Studio (16 mm film, black and white, sound, approx. 10 mins; 1967–68); Violin Tuned D.E.A.D (videotape, black and white, sound, 60 mins; 1969).
For more information, see Geiger (2003).
Peggy Guggenheim’s visions were not limited to films of her childhood: ‘She’s the only person Gysin knew who had all the visions appear like films: “Madame would say, ‘Oh, yes, I had a boat trip. Oh yes, I’m in a speedboat between Venice and the airport. Oh, I’m taking the train in Venice. Ooh, I’m on a …’”’ (quoted in Geiger 2003: 64). It is not unfounded to describe sub-suburban infrastructure as the site of extreme experience, for it reaches beyond the limits of quotidian life.
‘To many, ineptness is very directly noise: the playing of incorrect notes, or the wrong kind of playing maybe even offending the delicate sensibilities of the elite listener/performer. The inept player will make many mistakes, or what are perceived as such. He or she will make choices and create combinations that are “wrong”, and this is what has led to the belief in the creativity that comes from a lack or preconceptions and a willingness to try out anything, even if badly. The results can be taken […] as more authentic, the lack of preconceptions allowing a greater creativity and personal expression to emerge’ (Hegarty 2007: 89–90).
‘Dubuffet targets the “classically trained” musician thirty years before punk, describing the conservatoire trained musician as a “chien savant” (a dog that has been trained to perform tricks and gives the appearance of intelligence in so doing), and an “ass” (faithfully and ploddingly following its instruction)’ (Hegarty 2007: 92).
‘The inept becomes a more interesting term, as once it is allowed (or sought, perhaps), then the importance of skill is diminished, but also, ineptitude of any sort undermines the notion of skill itself. Skill becomes a judgement, not a craft. Lack of skill is the judging of that judgement, and the ending of that judgement (as it loses relevance)’ (Hegarty 2007: 99). Deferral from technical skill draws the listeners’ attention to alternative concerns that are pertinent to the creative act.
The notion that creative activity is fundamentally investigative has been expressed by Joan Didion: ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear’ (quoted in Sternburg 2000: xxv).