In 1984, Michel Foucault, philosopher and historian of ideas, forecast: “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects its own skein. One could perhaps say that certain ideological conflicts animating present-day polemics oppose the pious descendants of time and the determined inhabitants of space”2.
Physicist Frank Close points out, creating a void presents a paradox about the generative potential of empty space. Ancient Greek philosopher Thales thought that “something can not emerge from No-thing, nor can things disappear into No-thing”22. Wondering where everything came from, Thales posited ice, steam and liquid, the three states of water, as the “ur-matter”, the all-pervading essence of material things. Heraclitus argued it was fire. Anaximenes thought it was air. Empedocles determined that air was a substance, not empty space, via rudimentary hydrometer testing. Empedocles imagined the space around matter as pockets of ether, lighter than air, that both fill in the gaps of space and prevent the possibility of a void. Ether is everywhere, so vacuums cannot occur. Acting as small ubiquitous insular granules, ether transmits influence (or force) from one body to another. Close reveals the ease with which these notions fuelled an atomistic view of the world: “small basic individual seeds moving through the void of empty space”23.
“Sonic imagination is a deliberately synaesthetic neologism - it is about sound but occupies an ambiguous position between sound culture and a space of contemplation outside it. Sonic imaginations are necessarily plural, recursive, reflexive, driven to represent, refigure and redescribe… It may think sonically as it moves underwater, through the laboratory or into the halls of government; considers religion or nationalisms old and new; explores cities; tarries with the history of philosophy, literature or ideas; or critiques relations of power, property or intersubjectivity… Collectively we think about sound through reading about it, listening to it, contemplating it, writing and talking about it, and working with it… [Sound is] a problem that cuts across academic disciplines, methods and objects, though the field's institutional existence will vary as it moves across different national university cultures (and all disciplines begin as interdisciplines)”3.
Foley artists are nicknamed ‘footsteppers’ in the British industry18 because they are often asked to provide sound files of a character’s walk, use of props, or the rustle of clothing19. Many Foley artists defend the benefits of recording Foley sounds live: “[…] for them it is an artistic practice where they produce a bespoke sound that contributes to the narrative in a more subtle and responsive way than a library sound […] giving more depth and credibility”20.
Written as a piece of activist metapoetry, La Savon retraces the vicissitudes of the German Occupation of France, when drastic shortages of basic necessities such as soap affected the French population. With the same metaphoric material energies of soap, the poem seeks to erase, recount, cleanse, and exhaust collective memory of that spatial wartime wrinkle7. With Ponge’s help, one is led to the realities of the life of a material, akin to the political context of the time.
Galileo believed it was possible to create a vacuum. Torricelli’s experiment in 1634 confirmed it. And von Guericke demonstrated it in a 1654 public “vacuum show” that saw two teams of sixteen horses pull against each other in an attempt to break the bond of a bronze sphere relieved of all its internal air through a tiny valve. Thanks to further experiments by scientists such as Pascal, we now know that nature does not abhor a vacuum: “it is the weight of the air that causes all the phenomena that the philosophers have attributed to an ‘imaginary cause’”25.
Imagine a Foucault scholar, at this moment, leaping to their feet, running to the glass façade, fitting their mouth to the space between the two glass doors and shrieking that “we do not live in a homogeneous and empty space, but on the contrary in a space thoroughly imbued with qualities and perhaps fantasmatic as well. […] we do not live in a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things. We do not live inside a void”26.
“Sounds are like ghosts. They slink around the visual object, moving in on it from all directions, forming its contours and content in a formless breeze. The spectra of sound unsettles the idea of visual stability and involves us as listeners in the production of an invisible world. This sonic life-world might be silent but forceful, grasping us as we hear it, pulling us into an auditory imagination even if we mistake it for the seen thing”29.
Mitchell poses: “To conjure-up something unseen does more than allude to the fact that something is missing — it demonstrates it. That which appears to be invisible, or lurking in the shadows, announces itself as present through absence, yet not through representational means, but by presentation itself. That is, conjuring produces a material effect through a seemingly absent material”10. Mitchell employs principles and rituals from these areas with the intention of displacing our expectations of a world ordered by visible cause and effect. Through his practice, Mitchell tests how human beliefs and convictions find spaces between logic and perception11.
Scientists assert that glass is neither a slow moving nor a supercooled liquid; it does not sag, or better, get thicker at the bottom due to gravity. The only thing that travels through it are particles of light. Glass is not a liquid; it is merely a very disorganised crystalised solid12.
Feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray mounts an attack on Greco-Roman geometer Euclid’s efforts to appropriate, measure, or immobilise boundaries, to build walls, map out a grid, and ultimately tame chaotic flows. Speaking against women’s bodily space being viewed as a container or house that can be entered, penetrated, or broken into, Irigaray calls for multiplicity along with its characteristic qualities of liquidity, disorder, nonlinearity, unpredictability, and turbulence. As if caught behind or even within the glass façade, in its patriarchal framing power, a power that confines, excludes, being locked out or locked in13, she writes:
“Everywhere you shut me in. Always you assign a place to me. Even outside the frame that I form within you… You set the limits even to events that could happen with others… You mark out boundaries, draw lines, surround, enclose. Excising, cutting out. What is your fear? That you might lose your property. What remains is an empty frame. You cling to it dead”14.
Feminist philosopher Elisabeth Grosz explores the cultural origins of chora, a term attributed to Plato that bridges notions between the intelligible and the sensible, mind and body, linked to his ideas of the genesis of the universe. It further produced a series of binary opposites that define the difference between the perfect world of reason and the imperfect world of the material. Chora, according to Plato, has no attributes of its own, it is formless, invisible and all-embracing, possessed in intelligibility but difficult to grasp. Grosz highlights Plato’s inference that as space “[c]hora is the mother of all qualities without itself having any – except its capacity to take on, to nurture, to bring into existence any other kind of being… It primarily features as a receptacle, the storage point, the locus of nurturance in the transition for the emergence of matter, a kind of womb for material existence, a nurse of becoming, an incubator that ensures the copying of the Forms to produce matter that resembles them”34. Grosz invokes a link between chora and philosopher Luce Irigaray’s call to pay tribute to the maternal, the most primordial space of all, a feminine body, a womb that gives life and existence. For Grosz, chora is an emblem of phallocentric silencing, colonization and domination of the feminine that will only be righted when space is reconceived as a dwelling and as being lived in35.
Usurping the long-standing primacy of linguistics, which heavily privileges vision, philosopher Salomé Voegelin points to the inherent spatiality of sound and the effects this has on bearing witness within an event rather than reading it from a distance:
“Sound's ephemeral invisibility obstructs critical engagement, while the apparent stability of the image invites criticism. Vision, by its very nature assumes a distance from the object, which it receives in its monumentality. Seeing always happens in a meta-position, away from the seen, however close. And this distance enables a detachment and objectivity that presents itself as truth. Seeing is believing. The visual 'gap' nourishes the idea of structural certainty and the notion that we can truly understand things, give them names, and define ourselves in relation to those names as stable subjects, as identities. The score, the image track of the film, the stage set, the visual editing interface, and so on can make us believe in an objective hearing, but what we hear, guided by these images, is not sound but the realization of the visual. The sound itself is long gone, chased away by the certainty of the image.
By contrast, hearing is full of doubt: phenomenological doubt of the listener about the heard and himself hearing it. Hearing does not offer a meta-position; there is no place where I am not simultaneous with the heard. However far its source, the sound sits in my ear. I cannot hear it if I am not immersed in its auditory object, which is not its source but sound as sound itself. Consequently, a philosophy of sound art must have at its core the principle of sharing time and space with the object or event under consideration. It is a philosophical project that necessitates an involved participation, rather than enables a detached viewing position; and the object or event under consideration is by necessity considered not as an artefact but in its dynamic production. This is a continual production that involves the listener as intersubjectively constituted in perception, while producing the very thing he perceives, and both, the subject and the work, thus generated concomitantly, are as transitory as each other”4.
The spatial and generative potential of tools to live beyond their inert mass and functional mandate was outlined in 21st-century philosopher Martin Heidegger’s notion of the tool as ‘ready-at-hand’. Preceding theoretical and abstract speculation, this concept describes our practical relation to things that are concrete and useful. Such relations to tools are part and parcel of the web of relations that connect people with people and people to things15.
Heidegger also conceived of the ‘un-ready-at-hand’ – the state of a tool when it becomes unusable. In this case, unusable refers to the actions for which it was designed, made, or intended. There are three modes of ‘un-ready-at-hand’: 1. ‘Obstinacy’, a circumstance where things or events obstruct the beginning of an activity; 2. ‘Obtrusiveness’, an occurrence when one finds a tool to be missing; and 3. ‘Conspicuousness’, the event where the tool breaks down while in the midst of performing. When becoming unusable in its assumed function, the tool presents the capacity to perform in unexpected ways that recognize a circumspection, modification or deformation of the tool-hand relationship16.
A philosophy of the key principle of sound art is that of sharing time and space with the dynamic production of an object or event, a project that necessitates involved participation, rather than a detached viewing position. Such inquiry produces experiments rather than ideology, judgment, or truth. Its intention is to embrace the experience of its object in the practice of listening31.
The Schlieren Flow Visualization Method allows the invisible phenomenon of sound to be seen. ‘Schlieren’ is the German word for ‘to streak’. By bending and interrupting sound waves travelling at 761 miles per hour, this technique enables the travelling compression wave of sound changing the density of air27. The technique is based on understanding air and sound as non-homogenous fluids; with the aid of backlighting, it imagines vibrating matter that is invisible to the human eye.
“Soap has much to say. May it say it with volubility, enthusiasm. When it has finished saying it, it no longer is”8.
In the exhibition catalogue John Cage and Experimental Art: The Anarchy of Silence, John Prichett muses on the empty room as the perfect setting for an iconic work of silence where nothing was created. Cage came to find that time is structured by silence, not empty space filled with sound. Prichett reminds us of 4’33”’s normative misreading: firstly, to consider the ambient sound that rushed in to replace the absent sound composition, and second, to consider the meaning behind the piece, both of which turn it into an aesthetic object. For Prichett, the main critique rests in the way the piece displaces the experience of silence, which was so pivotal to Cage’s own engagement with it as a phenomenon. “4’33” functioned mainly as a kind of totem that provided a convenient material way to reference this experience […] a tribute to the experience of silence, a reminder of its existence and its importance for all of us. But the piece is flawed […] Ultimately, the experience of silence is not something that can be communicated from one person to another”30.
Sounding Out Vacancy: Performing (anything but)
set in motion
Sounding Out Vacancy happened as a 2014 performance in an urban retail shop as part of Urban Dream Brokerage’s public art program, which sought to increase community diversity, promote cultural industries, and revitalize under-utilized spaces in the city of Wellington, New Zealand. For seven days, this performance did what no ‘for-lease’ sign could do: sounds from the interior were continuously broadcast to the general public as an alternative advertisement of its availability. With the glass storefront obscured by a liberal amount of soap film, a traditional method of signalling an empty urban retail space, the performance directed attention away from visual perception and towards aural sensations generated by tactile interactions between construction hand tools typically used in interior renovations and the interior’s existing material surfaces. The sound emanating from the interior and aired at the doorway during the nine-to-five workday raised doubt about the shop’s vacancy. The sounds the space continued to produce throughout the night were subtle, almost imperceptible and yet present. Recordings of these two phases of live phenomena shaped a soundscape that was transmitted in the last twenty-four hours of the performance, including its ‘closing’ event when the doors were held open and the lights turned on – all efforts to dispel ‘emptiness’ as a spatial condition of interiors.
This exposition translates the intentions and experience of the performance as a piece of spatial writing. Four voices structure the writing. A matter-of-fact voice reports on the event from the perspective of the urban landscape, an exterior space populated with data prepared for a general audience’s consumption. This voice has a sense of assurance, and thus relies heavily on vision; it assumes it knows what a material is and what each tool is supposed to do. Another voice contributes the theory and philosophy associated with the subject of ‘emptiness’ and its sensorial apprehension. Its scholarly tone locates the performance’s intellectual provenance, and is therefore associated with the glass façade of the retail space, a toughened and transparent wall defining what is inside and what is outside, yet permeable and ambiguous all the same. The third voice, though not in a hierarchical sense, is one of interiority consisting of extracts from “Notes to Self”, a diary of personal reflections generated while the performance was in progress. It is a behind-the-scenes generator and a backstage interior to the publicly-aired sound cast. This voice explores what happens when a material surface and a tool touch. It ponders on the influence of works by other performing and sound artists as well as poets. The sounds gathered from hand tools interacting with interior surfaces make up the fourth voice. It is a voice meant to be listened to continuously while reading the text and taking in the images. Graphically distinct, these four voices ask the reader / listener to shuttle back and forth across the page in an attempt to realise the spatiality of the performance. As such, this exposition avoids simply reporting on and describing the original performance: it presents a new one.
On September 15th 2014, New Zealand art critic Mark Amery approached the soaped façade and, using the privilege of his curator’s key, entered the space through the glass doors, assuming that sounds would only be heard outside the doors if someone was inside making noise9.
A bold ‘for lease’ sign announcing the shop’s availability limits the view to the inside, just as much as the fog resulting from my warm breath; it all masks what to some is readily obvious, a vacant space.
1 Grey Street is located in the heart of downtown Wellington, New Zealand. Like that of most buildings in the area, its ground floor façade is fully glazed, a feature coveted by urban retailers for maximizing visibility and establishing a spatial brand to the consuming public. Given its prime location, it is surprising that this property has stood vacant for several months. This state is not exclusive to this property; the city is riddled with unoccupied retail spaces, a phenomenon which is a cause of on-going concern to urban developers, property owners and city leaders. The increase in vacant retail spaces in recent years is far from being due to the hyperactivity of quick turnover-related entrepreneurial innovation; it rather suggests that Wellington may not have averted the global economic crisis that so many other cities have succumbed to in recent years.
Such plights were a central concern for Urban Dream Brokerage (UDB), a local initiative, which sought to increase community diversity, promote cultural industries and revitalize under-utilized spaces in Wellington. Between 2010 and 2018 it was run by the Wellington independent arts trust project Letting Space: artists and managers or owners were matched to urban rental properties. This scheme operated on the premise that “[c]ities have changed… We empower artists to be courageous as agents of change, and work with commercial and property partners to create programmes that transform the way we treat urban spaces as living spaces”1. Creative responses to the UDB challenge were varied, and yet one significant characteristic binds them all: art and design, dubbed ‘the creative industries’ in the new cultural economy, are positioned as proactive agents to urban revitalization.
In 2012, a Dominion Post news article declared that Wellington retail vacancies had hit a record high of 11.3%5. Now, in 2019, following the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes, vacant space for lease in the city is rare and landlords are the drivers in a hard-pressed market, though stressed by the demand for seismic-strengthened premises6.
To the general public, the transformation from a vacant to a ready-to-be-occupied space is made visible by masking the storefront windowpane. Though widely recalled as an everyday occurrence in urban life, research and commentary on this custom are scant. Whitewash, soap, newspaper, baking paper, and linens crop up as the materials of choice, suitable to cover large areas of glass cheaply and quickly – so that during the renovation of a retail shop, visual access is obscured, natural lighting is maintained, property and tools are more secure, and an element of wonder and anticipation is created.
Numerous people aware of the performance through social media and invitation tried to gain entry.
On other tables, benches and floors, objects rest silently. They have been gathered (some describe it as “specialist hoarding”) not for what they are typically used for, but for what sounds they can produce that emulate other sounds. Their selection has been made not according to what the objects are named or appear to be, but instead according to what they can do audibly – individually and with one another. This is the art of Foley, named after Jack Foley, who was responsible for inventing the process of adding synchronized sound effects to radio and films. Images collected from his archive reveal a room of tools, props and various materials meticulously organized within an arm’s reach to enable performative action17. Foley is usually a post-production effort carried out for films and animations, where live sound effects are created in sync with the moving image to aid or supplement the sense of reality (or believability) through artificial means.
Sounding Out Vacancy builds upon a common practice in the leased commercial property market: to re-fit or fit out a property to meet a new occupant’s needs. The terms of such interior construction are negotiated between property owner and tenant, and typically range from the installation of partition walls to adding new surface treatments such as paint, signage, and carpet. Such renovations are considered part of ‘setting up shop’; the costs are factored into the capital investment and profit margins of assuming a new (better) location. With an expected life span of two to three years, retail sites have one of the highest turnover rates in real estate, which in turn contributes to economic growth. Such renovation registers as much the desire to ‘spruce’ up a shop, as that to rid the space of the former tenant’s aura.
Common Foley radio sound effects tricks:
Corn starch in a leather pouch > snow crunching.
A pair of gloves > bird wings flapping.
A metal rake > chain-link fence rattling.
Burning plastic garbage bags > candle or soft non-crackling fire.
Audio tape balled up > walking on grass or brush.
Frozen romaine lettuce > bone or head injury noises.
Coconut shells cut in half and stuffed with padding > horse hoof noises.
Cellophane > crackling fire effects28.
Cupping my hands around my face, pressing my nose against the glass. leaning into the glare
my reflection embedded in the scene of the surrounding cityscape to get a glimpse of the commercial retail space,
A tourist shop last inhabited this space. Souvenirs, memorabilia and trinkets adorned every available surface of the shop interior with a zealous commitment to propagate New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand. A cacophony of chimes resonates in my ear at the sight of their absence. Stripped of furnishings, the carpet bears traces of heavy cabinets amid well-worn circulation paths. A bit sad, the un-illuminated space says no one is at home. The interior has been emptied, abandoned.
Pausing one early morning, as the city was starting to stir on the other side of the glass. Such an air of fertile potential plays out as forever pregnant, contingent and responsive, as if Ballard’s sonovac had vacuumed time, space and sound into a dust of presence.
I foolishly thought that the performance was over when the soap film was removed, the microphone was turned off, the fluorescent lighting blinked on and the open doors ushered in a gust of urban air saturated with the fumes of petrol laced with the laughter of young women walking by.
To my chagrin, the performance was always happening, persistently resisting vacancy, emptiness, void and any other similar notions.
I ponder. Might this be a registration of hope? Does art have a future? Might its future be that of urban provocateur? How might the sound of a vacant retail space serve as a spatio-political agent?
1 Letting Space: http://www.lettingspace.org.nz/
2 M. Foucault and J. Mickowiec, “Of Other Spaces”. In Diacritics 16 (1) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, spring of 1986), pp. 22-27.
3 J. Sterne, “Sound Imaginations”. In Sound Studies Reader, edited by J. Sterne (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), pp. 2-6.
4 S. Voegelin, Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art (New York and London: Continuum, 2010), pp. xi-xii.
5 “Wellington retail sector vacancies hit 11%”. Dominion Post, October 30th 2012, http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/commercial-property/7879985/Wellington-retail-sector-vacancies-hit-11 (accessed April 10th, 2017).
6 J. Iles, “Wellington’s record low vacancy for office space driving development”. In Stuff, February 11th, 2019. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/property/110496200/wellingtons-record-low-vacancy-for-office-space-driving-development (accessed April 15th, 2019).
7 N. Rachlin and R. Scullion, “Francis Ponge, Le Savon, and the Occupation”. In SubStance, issue 3/87 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 83-85.
8 Ponge, 13
9 “Mark Amery at Sounding Out Vacancy 2014”, https://vimeo.com/114851882 (accessed April 10th, 2017).
10 “Dane Mitchell”. Indwelling, https://www.danemitchell.co.nz/indwelling (accessed April 15th, 2019).
11 “Dane Mitchell”, cit.
12 C. Curtin, “Fact or Fiction: Glass is a (Supercooled) Liquid”. In Scientific American, February 22, 2007. (accessed April 15th, 2019). https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-fiction-glass-liquid/?redirect=1
13 M. C. Gwin, The Woman in the Red Dress: Gender, Space and Reading. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), p. 20.
14 L. Irigaray, “The ‘Mechanics’ of Fluids”. In This Sex which is not One (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 49.
15 S. Critchley, “Being and Time, part 3: Being-in-the-world.”. The Guardian, June 22nd 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/jun/22/heidegger-religion-philosophy (accessed 15th April, 2019).
16 J. Hale, “Harman on Heidegger: ‘Buildings as Tool-Beings’ ”, http://bodyoftheory.com/2013/05/29/harman-on-heidegger-buildings-as-tool-beings/ (accessed April 10th 2017).
17 P. R. Singer, “Art of Foley.” (n.d.). http://www.marblehead.net/foley/index.html (accessed April 10th, 2017).
18 Bell 439
19 Ament, xiv
20 Bell, cit., p. 450
21 J. Higgie, “Tacita Dean”. In Frieze, https://frieze.com/article/tacita-dean-0. (accessed April 15th, 2019).
22 F. Close, The Void (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 5.
23 Close, cit., pp. 5-10
24 J.G. Ballard, “The Sound-Sweep.” In Chronopolis: The Science Fiction of J. G. Ballard, 128-171. (New York: G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1971), p. 6.
25 Close, cit., pp. 10-23
26 Foucault, cit., p. 23
27 A. Cole, “What does sound look like?” (NPR.org: April 9th, 2014), https://vimeo.com/91446499 (accessed April 10th, 2017).
28 Singer, cit.
29 Voegelin, cit., p.12
30 J. Prichett, “What Silence Taught John Cage: The Story of 4’33” ”, http://rosewhitemusic.com/piano/writings/silence-taught-john-cage (accessed April 10th, 2017).
31 Voegelin, cit., pp. 10-13
32 Sterne, J., “Sound Imaginations”. In Sound Studies Reader, edited by Jonathan Sterne (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), p. 9.
33 Sterne, cit., p. 9
34 E. Grosz, “Women, Chora, Dwelling”. In ANY: Architecture New York: Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-up Work, issue 4, p. 22.
35 Grosz, cit., pp. 23, 26
Ballard, J. G., “The Sound-Sweep” in Chronopolis: The Science Fiction of J. G. Ballard (New York: G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1971), pp. 128-171.
Biddle, Ian, “Quiet sounds and intimate listening: The politics of tiny seductions”, in Sound, music, affect: theorizing sonic experience, edited by Marie Thompson and Ian Biddle (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp. 205-221.
Blesser, Barry and Salter, Linda-Ruth, Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing Aural Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017).
Close, Frank, The Void (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Cole, Adam, “What does sound look like?” (NPR.org: April 9th, 2014), https://vimeo.com/91446499 (accessed April 10th, 2017).
Critchley, Simon, “Being and Time, part 3: Being-in-the-world”. The Guardian, June 22nd, 2009 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/jun/22/heidegger-religion-philosophy (accessed 15th April, 2019).
Curtin, Ciara, “Fact or Fiction? : Glass Is a (Supercooled) Liquid/ Are medieval windows melting?”. Scientific American, February 22nd, 2017 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-fiction-glass-liquid/?redirect=1 (accessed April 15th, 2019).
“Dane Mitchell”. Indwelling, https://www.danemitchell.co.nz/ (accessed April 15th, 2019).
Fowler, Michael, “Sound, aurality and critical listening: Disruptions at the boundaries of architecture”. In Architecture and Culture 1 (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 163-182.
Foucault, Michel, and Mickowiec, Jay, “Of Other Spaces”. In Diacritics 16 (1) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, spring of 1986), pp. 22-27.
Grosz, Elizabeth, “Women, Chora, Dwelling”. In ANY: Architecture New York: Architecture and the Feminine: Mop-up Work, issue 4, pp. 22-27.
Gwin, Minrose C., The Woman in the Red Dress: Gender, Space and Reading. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002).
Hale, Jonathan. 2013. “Harman on Heidegger: ‘Buildings as Tool-Beings’ ”, http://bodyoftheory.com/2013/05/29/harman-on-heidegger-buildings-as-tool-beings/ (accessed April 10th 2017).
Higgie, Jennifer, “Tacita Dean”. In Frieze, https://frieze.com/article/tacita-dean-0. (accessed April 15th 2019).
Iles, Julie, “Wellington’s record low vacancy for office space driving development”. In Stuff, February 11th, 2019 (accessed April 15th, 2019). https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/property/110496200/wellingtons-record-low-vacancy-for-office-space-driving-development
Irigaray, Luce, “The ‘Mechanics’ of Fluids”. In This Sex which is not One Translated by Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke) (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 106-118.
Irigaray, Luce, Elemental Passions (New York: Routledge, 1992).
“About Letting Space” (n.d.), http://www.lettingspace.org.nz/about-letting-space/ (accessed April 10th, 2017).
Manchester, Elizabeth, “Tacita Dean, Foley Artist, 1996.” (2009), https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dean-foley-artist-t07870. (accessed April 15th, 2019).
“Mark Amery at Sounding Out Vacancy 2014”, https://vimeo.com/114851882 (accessed April 10th, 2017).
Preston, Julieanna, Fatty Solids. In f generation: feminism, art, progressions. At George Paton Gallery (Melbourne, AUS, 2015).
Preston, Julieanna, Sounding Out Vacancy [performance installation]. 13 Grey Street, Wellington, New Zealand.
Prichett, James, “What Silence Taught John Cage: The Story of 4’33” ” (2009) http://rosewhitemusic.com/piano/writings/silence-taught-john-cage (accessed April 10th, 2017).
Rachlin, Nathalie and Scullion, Rosemarie, “Francis Ponge, Le Savon, and the Occupation”. In SubStance, pp. 85-106.
Singer, Philip Rodrigues. “Art of Foley” (n.d.). http://www.marblehead.net/foley/index.html (accessed April 10th, 2017).
Sterne, Jonathan, “Sound Imaginations”. In Sound Studies Reader, edited by Jonathan Sterne (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), pp. 1-17.
Voegelin, Salomé, Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art (New York and London: Continuum, 2010).
“Wellington retail sector vacancies hit 11%.”. Dominion Post, October 30th 2012, http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/commercial-property/7879985/Wellington-retail-sector-vacancies-hit-11 (accessed April 10th, 2017).
Soaping the glass, a very satisfying experience, sexual tension at the very surface where public and private space meet
closing my eyes to concentrate on the slippery enthusiasm, bathing glass to leave it dirty,
a modest bar leading a double-life of immodest proportions.
Soap migrating liberally across a hard, cold, viscous, crystalline body
A body without blemishes following the froth of the exponential generosity of soap
I saw people passing by avert their eyes away from the swirls of an erotic storm.
Just as it inspired my 2015 installation work Fatty Solids, which listened to the exaltation of bodies of soap, flesh and water mingling, it is no coincidence that Francis Ponge’s 1967 poem Le Savon (“Soap”) motivated me to temper the façade’s transparency with a liberal smear of this lubricant.
I know that I am misreading artist Dane Mitchell’s 2016 work Indwelling by focussing on the glass instead of the homeopathic remedy practices. And yet, approaching his installation (one that speaks to contagions and the potential for subatomic particles to pass through solid material substance such as glass) highlights that thinking the material is an absolute boundary is a pretence. Each day, the glass window in Mitchell’s exhibition was sprayed with a solution of homeopathic substances that lingered on the glass and in the air to make ephemeral vapourised sculptures. The art object had lost its solid and static material form.
Perhaps everything leaks spirits or thought-forms?
Note to Tacita Dean,
Your 1996 work Foley Artist at the Tate Modern in London floored me21. It is obviously a huge inspiration for this current performance installation called Sounding Out Vacancy. I feel the urge to credit you for prompting me to stage the performance so that Foley Art is the art. Even though the use of tools and objects happens behind the scene of soapy froth on glass (the picture plane, so to speak), the sounds produced are the work; they are not extra, they are primary. In Foley Artist, there is evidence that you also tried this inversion, especially by heralding the “mother of all Foley” Beryl Mortimer. I love the way the film throws light on the role of women in this field and the artifice and fiction of Foley as it adorns so-called factual events. In your case, such backstage inhabitation makes the art of Foley visibly present, together with its minor status in the film industry. Mortimer’s skill at the demands of deception and reception fused with appearance and sensation are remarkable. In my case, Foley affords the ability for a soundscape to refute space as an empty vessel or non-substance; dare I suggest, as a sonic sculpture. I could only hope that the sounds of my work are received as a vibrational register of the space in all its unseen fullness.
I wonder if such renovation constitutes some level of exorcism.
Vacating the premises.
Sucking out space.
Sucking space out as if it were material.
Creating a vacuum to make a void.
Where did I form the idea that space and sound were a materially bound thing? Was it you, Mr Ballard? In your short story The Sound Sweep, stray and excess sounds, deemed useless and obsolete, are vacuumed, stored and disposed of by a mute boy with hyperacute hearing who effectively cares for a waning and aging opera star. The music of the time is ultrasonic and experienced on a subliminal level, a precursor to Schafer’s project which tried to divide the world into good and bad sounds, nature sounds and noise pollution. In the fictional short story, good sense (and sensation) prevails as the sterile urban environment is switched back on, flooded with its own detritus, and returned to a saturated acoustic ecology. “It was only now, in this raucous light and noise, that the city was being its true self, only in this flood of cheap neon that it was really alive”24. So where can I buy a sonovac?
I am smirking as I sit here on the floor of the back room, out of earshot of the mic. Amusing, that my method of positioning this work might also emerge as swabs of information foraged liberally from many different knowledge domains, disciplines, and practices. Juxtaposition, near/far indeed. Such lateral thinking and associative intertextuality are germane to my practice, as if developing a creative work selectively opened out to a broad and diverse set of influences not staying in bounds. This skein, this way of thinking and making – I know it is not always easy to follow, to let flow; it perhaps asks the reader / listener to do more work.
I muse on how Ponge might have applied the soap film to the glass, what wisdom he may have imparted, what stories he might have told as the empty interior was edited from public view. Would he see the serious humour created in disrupting the power of vision and its allegiance to retail prosperity with the sounds gathered from a space seemingly removing itself from public view?
Try to. Something is happening in here.
There is no letting anyone in (well, almost no one).
The doors are locked.
A pair of speakers transmitting from one side of the glass to the other
keep watch on the threshold as sentry guard dogs.
A microphone and amplifier listen to vacancy for the entire week.
Just because the space is vacant (for lease), it is not empty (unoccupied).
Hard, smooth, and tough, the glass is totally there; and yet not.
Duplicitous, another double-faced material, soap, discloses its phenomenal virtualities.
Luce Irigaray, given your essay The Mechanics of Fluids, a feminist philosopher’s retort to an engineer’s principle of Fluid Mechanics, does this not make your fury overflow?
Stop yelling through the gap of the glass doors to be let in.
Bang on the glass all you like.
Providing an address to a durational performance must be setting up unfulfillable unfulfilled expectations to go inside. Does an interior exist only if it is accessible, occupied, and inhabited? Is that transgression of its envelope a hangover of an anthropocentric and patriarchal domination?
Given that this is a performance about vacancy, I suspect that when you peep through the soap film your desires will be fulfilled.
I am a woman, a feminist, an artist, an architectural designer, a builder and an academic. These creative practice modalities register a keen sense of potential whenever entering a space ripe for renovation. Tearing things up, repairing things, creating things by hand and with tools is thrilling. This experience brings with it trust in knowing what tools can do to transform an interior space. In fact, I bring a selection of tools with me: a hammer, a tape measure, a screw driver, a handsaw, a broom … all hand tools, emphasis on ‘hand’. We have a history together, having touched each other in the act of making, making often. They require energy but not electricity. These tools anticipate what it means to build, to refurbish, to carry out alterations and ‘to do work’.
Resting in isolation, suspense, capability.
Another taxonomy of interior renovation, of fixing things, mending, repairing, minding, caring, nurturing, maintaining.
Acutely aware of the functions the tools dutifully engender.
Sensing their force.
Anticipating their vibrations against, upon, or within another body, another material, another tool.
Laying there charged up with promises.
Applying each tool on the table to the material surfaces of the room.
Properly, as the tool is designed to be used.
My actions are tentative.
The sounds emitted are predictable.
Likely influenced by radio soundscapes, the sound is generating a visual image of its operation.
Shadowy figures huddled outside under the speakers. One exclaimed loudly, “Nothing to see in there! You call that art?” and they left before listening closely.
I am conflicted about the immateriality of Sounding Out Vacancy. I feel angst over wanting to share my experience in the interior with others and leave the technology of mics, amplifiers, mixers, and speakers behind. My own bodily presence in the performance was unequivocally that of a hand, direct handling. Over time, touching turned to sounding out and became ever so gratifying. It produced a positive sense of subservience that was ironically impenetrable, irreducible, un-representable.
How does a sound work such as Sounding Out Vacancy reflect my intellectual position, my “quality of mind”? I try on for size sound studies Jonathan Sterne’s audiovisual litany:
• hearing is spherical, vision is directional;
• hearing immerses its subject, vision offers a perspective;
• sounds come to us, but vision travels to its object;
• hearing is concerned with interiors, vision is concerned with surfaces;
• hearing involves physical contact with the outside world, vision requires distance
• hearing places you inside an event, seeing gives you a perspective on the event;
• hearing tends toward subjectivity, vision tends toward objectivity;
• hearing brings us into the living world, sight moves us toward atrophy and death;
• hearing is about affect, vision is about intellect;
• hearing is a sense that immerses us in the world, while vision removes us
Though troubled by the way it retreats into binary denotation, the list catalogues many characteristics of the performance installation. There is only one point I can not stomach: “hearing is a primarily temporal sense, vision is a primarily spatial sense”33. When it comes to sound, I resist the bifurcation of time and space.
Sounding Out Vacancy is a calling, a gentle persuasion for an interior’s perpetual state of fullness, like all the wombs in the world humming in various states of fullness, but never empty.
I don’t need to theorise a hammer to use it or to know it exists.
What can a hammer do when its hammer-ness is abandoned or made unready, on purpose? Without aiming to achieve anything specifically?
What is it to close one’s eyes and forget the well-worn sound of hammering?
What is usefulness when a hammer brushes, strokes or spoons rather than tap, bash or pry?
Opening the toolbox.
Laying each tool on the table, mute.
I am not interested in this translation as much as I am in the sounds themselves, sounds that evidence inhabitation of a space by space including her temporal dimensions.
Stay with the phenomena. Stay embedded. Stay with the live encounter.
Running the tools across the interior surface is not an attempt to clean, a futile task in this case, but an act of caressing. I boast that I have touched every millimetre of surface in the space, an impossible feat given the boundless nature of surface and space. The claim is more of a commitment to recognize the interior as another thing. A body of its own kind. To know it by touch, the most primitive mode of communication, by body-to-body contact, coming together, contiguous, pressing lightly, tapping, nudging, prodding, raking, poking, holding, partaking, affecting, involving, stirring, moving, impressing, impacting, glancing, flicking…
After only three hours, my patience is waning.
Boredom is dissipated by playing with the tools as if their formal intentions have taken flight.
Material bodies moving against and with one another, surface to surface.
Being irreverent to the surface and the tool without being violent.
Prompting them to speak louder, jostling the ether, the stuff that means they/we are already touching.
Tapping: sonic pulses revealing a change in substance, a stud, a channel, buried treasure.
The hammer bounces off the concrete wall when I hold it lightly, when I loosen my grip. The sound ricochets, repeating itself, talking back.
The saw is ripping a good snore, drawing a sweet song, circular breathing.
Tape smacking adhesive kisses.
A flock of high-pitched calls twitter from the warped edge of the spatula.
Finding this taxing, hard work.
Always on call, as if the state of being nearly silent is not entertainment or evidence enough.
A sense of duty to perform, to be always performing, making sounds.
I sometimes forget that the interior performs whether I am here or not.
I stop paying attention to whether or not anyone is at the window peering in. I lose myself in the moments of sounding out the interior surfaces, knowing when I have transcended a ‘sounds-like’ event. These moments are not easily repeatable. They seem to occur as an affective state when the listening is acutely attentive, as if hearing something for the first time, instead of trying to visually match it to what produced it.
There is little efficiency in this mode of experimenting. No rate of productivity; just raw output.
Those people that walked out of John Cage’s performance 4’33” in 1952 would also have walked by 1 Grey Street this week unpersuaded by the (nearly silent) sounds of a vacant shop.