Mar 2018 PKU Spring Forum, second presentation


 

The notion of “collecting” had attended my work since the summer of 2017, when a someone had said that they regarded me as a collector; my work as an act of collecting. At the time I was rather dismissive of the idea, but it stayed with me and I began to recognise that the idea of collecting did indeed speak to my practice at a fundamental level. It was I think, precisely what my then exclusively image-making practice did. But this raised a further question: what precisely was I collecting; empty rooms, hiatuses, absences, presences, proxies for human bodies, pauses, intervals, Cagean-silences? How could I begin to understand this collecting I was engaged in through my image-making.


In December 2017, I stumbled across a work which offered me a starting-point for engaging creatively with the notion of collecting: it was a satirical short story, written in the mid 1950s by Heinrich Böll, entitled Murke’s Collected Silences, in which the eponymous protagonist – a radio producer in post-war Berlin – collects the pauses and hesitations edited out from the speech of radio broadcasts, before splicing them together and playing them back to himself. It wasn’t onlythe proposition that I, like Murke, might be engaged in collecting silences that intrigued me, but the notion that I could begin to use the character of Murke himself as means of creatively exploring my practice’s preoccupations. The presentation I made about my work, at the 2018 PKU Spring forum was my first public opportunity to explore what the fictive Murke’s preoccupation with collecting silences, could help me to reveal about my own research practice. This presentation was developed to become a paper delivered at the 2018 SAR conference, Artistic Research Will Eat Itself.


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The Interval

 

[Set Kunstgarasjen compilation of videos playing (running time ???)]

 

 

(chairs in gymnasium, video recorded at Cultural Centre Sofia, nr Helsinki)

 

 

(coats on hangers, video recorded at Cultural Centre Sofia, nr Helsinki)

 

 

(rolled bedding, temporary staff accommodation, University of Bergen)

 

 

After a series of significant shifts in both its terms and my methodology, over the past eighteen months one particular facet of time has gradually emerged as a means of articulating the underlying object of my research: namely, “the pause” or perhaps more specifically, “the hiatus”: that singular interval or “gap” between articulation, between action, between the occupation of a room or space, which might in each case be characterised by the idea of an absence, whether it be of sound or of the human body. More specifically, I’m interested both in the properties of and the phenomena that surround such intervals.

 

Working with audio and video, and latterly with performance and installation and in response to archive images and specific physical sites, I’m currently exploring these phenomena with a particular interest in the way in which they become manifest in terms of the human occupancy of… and absence from typically anonymous institutional interiors. Far from representing “parenthetic” non-spaces, these sites typically bear some trace or intimation of individual presence or collective interaction and that “trace or intimation of presence” is central to my work. The spatial contexts, physical objects and even the sounds and prevailing light which give form to absence in these spaces are as much the materials with which I work as the absences or non-presences they frame and define or the media I ultimately use to record the circumstantial evidence with which my work concerns itself.

 

Colloquially, it could be said I’ve become interested in the “private lives of buildings”, but attending to the hiatus and the pause through the apparently mundane objects of curiosity which occupy my work has allowed me to begin to uncover and address an interrelated complex of phenomena, which emerge when attending to the hiatus, in this particular context. These include, but are not limited to the quotidian act or ritual; the properties of silence; embodiment and displacement as these relate to human occupancy, my own role and the significance of anthropomorphic proxies – chairs, coats, bedding - which remain in a space in the absence of its occupants and also haunting, becoming[1], potential and “the event” as these relate to the time-based works I’ve been creating in response to sites in which I’ve been working, examples of which you are currently watching. Abstracted from my work I’m aware this can sound like a grocery-list, however I believe my work suggests that there exists a complex of meaningful relationships between these terms.

 

*

 

Over the past eighteen months, I’ve encountered a number of practitioners (some historical, some fictional) whose work offers optics through which I can begin to understand and situate my own research. In particular today, I want to address the objects and themes of my research through an optic offered by the fictive work of a literary character whose own pursuit of the complex phenomena contained within the pause, the interval or hiatus[2] is described by the author Heinrich Böll. The character in question is known simply as Murke. He features in a 1958 short story (with which some of you may well be familiar), in which he is introduced as a “collector of silences”. This description refers to Murke’s practice of using his job as a radio producer to collect the “silent” pauses he edits out of the recordings he makes, splicing them together to form loops, which he then plays-back to himself. At the same time, we are told, Murke “collects” silences by making recordings solely for that purpose: recordings of people present and yet not speaking.

 

I’m drawn to Murke not only on account of the striking parallels between his preoccupations and my own, but also because the uncertain significance of his recordings of the pause and the hiatus, echoes the ambiguity which for me, surrounds the status of the video works I’ve been creating myself over the past eight months; characterised by a fixed camera and a single take, recording whatever may happen within the frame and whatever can be heard within the space, over the duration of the recording, in a manner that allows the unanticipated to unfold performatively before the camera and the microphone.

 

In my imagination, my own video recordings become – for a while - a part of Murke’s archive of recordings. Considering these works as an entirety, I begin to construe them as collectively, a collection of absences, but also an archive of intervals, pauses, “potentials”, “becomings” or “unfoldings”.

 

As a thought exercise, I find myself exploring a world in which Murke, compelled to leave his post as a radio producer, perhaps on account of his unconventional activities, secured a succession of roles not in the media, but as a caretaker or maintenance operative at a range of institutions. I imagine that in this capacity he continued to develop his preoccupation with the unoccupied interval, the pause between… and the hiatus; working not just with sound, but with the visual image; making recordings identical to those I have been making; I imagine that he was able to discover in the role of janitor, care-taker or “custodian”, the quintessence of the opportunity to explore and record the “secret” or “private” lives of buildings during the pauses and hiatuses created by the absence of their erstwhile occupants. These pauses or hiatuses between activity and occupation, echoing the pauses between the speech acts which Murke recorded as a radio producer, not least on account of the sense in which the “pauses” or absences in both cases are far from “empty” and are instead, fully freighted with what remains; recalling for example, the status of “silence” in John Cage’s seminal 4’33”, with whose work Murke’s has (in actuality) previously been associated.[3]

 

If Cage’s work provides one reference point for thinking about the pause or hiatus in my own (or Murke’s) work, another is offered – in cinematic terms - by the lingering shots of unoccupied rooms in the films of Yasujiro Ozu, which in turn recall the singularly Japanese concept of Ma: broadly, the gap, the space, the pause or the interval in space or time[4]

 

  (images subject to copyright)

 

Rooms after the departure of the bride, Yasujiro Ozu, 1949, Late Spring, [show Ozu clip?]

 

If absent anthropomorphic presences haunt both Ozu’s rooms and the recordings I make, in my work as on occasion in Ozu’s the human body is almost invariably replaced by some proxy which makes embodiment (always here tied to its antithesis), a recurrent issue central to reading the hiatus in my work; also bringing into play the as yet unresolved significance of my own embodied, but always unseen presence: an echo in turn of Murke’s unseen presence and that of his temporarily silent subjects before the microphone.

 

The significance of the role and agency of the proxies for the human form, which populate my work are further complicated by a recent written fragment in which my writing re-addresses the relationships between absence, embodiment, object and performance from a novel perspective: the fragment reads simply “the objects perform themselves”.

 

*

 

The various relationships within my work, between the interval or hiatus, the performance, embodiment, objects, absence and representation become explicitly entangled in the making of one particular work I want to discuss, today. This was a piece made recently at KMD in Bergen. It was created “in communion” with the fictive Murke and framed as a recreation of a necessarily fictional original Murke work, lending to Murke, some of my own past experiences of spaces and earlier responses in my practice to the pause and the hiatus, which re-emerge in synthesised form as elements in this work.

 

The work begins with this image from the University of Bergen archive and with my stating:

 

 “It is not clear whether this archive image, made in September, 1961, which shows students carrying chairs into a newly opened building was the inspiration for Murke’s work or in fact marks a documentation of the work itself. Either way, it seems that Murke was responsible for staging an action or intervention involving staff and students at the institution where he was then working, which ultimately gave rise to the placing of these chairs we see in the image or others very much like them, in rows, in an empty void within a university building, where they remained for some unspecified time and where their siting was later recorded on film by Murke. I recently staged a reconstruction of Murke’s original performance and installation, working with university staff and students at KMD in Bergen.

 

(reconstruction of the Murke performance,

Andy Lock, KMD 2018 (photo Richard Launder)

 

   installation created by KMD performance “after Murke”: [show video here with beeps]

 

“As in Murke’s work, the performance culminated in the placing of the chairs, which had been processed through the building, in a void at its base, where they were left to stand, in keeping with Murke’s original work. The resulting scene was filmed and is to my mind, in retrospect, surprisingly reminiscent of a church or chapel or some other such place of worship, recalling for example the Rothko chapel, which I find interesting as a good deal of my own previous work has been preoccupied with such sites.

 

Despite the explicitly central role for human agency in creating this work, looking at the video recording which resulted from the aftermath of the performance [which we see here], I’m prompted once again to recall the fragmentary phrase that I mentioned earlier: “the objects perform themselves”. The phrase seems here (and indeed in the other videos of furniture and bedding I’ve shown today) to acquire at least a double meaning: namely, the objects themselves are “performing” and the objects perform being themselves.”

 

*

 

My “recreation” of the Murke performance and its subsequent documentation, contained a sound component, audible in this video recording, which was based on my own experience and which once again I transposed onto Murke’s biography, only for it to re-emerge in his/my performance. This element also resonates with the notion of “the objects performing themselves”. In my fictional account, it’s role runs thus: 

 

“From his notes and from fragmentary audio recordings, we know that it was Murke’s habit to record not just the pauses between articulations in speech, but also overt and identifiable sounds, which themselves, for Murke, seem to have signified absences in space and time. For example, sent on an assignment to a high-rise tower-block whose occupants had been abruptly evacuated before its demolition, we know he found himself moving through the building, recording the irregular chorus of electronic chirrups and beeps created by hundreds of failing smoke alarms, whose batteries were running down. It seems that Murke understood these disembodied calls and responses to act as proxies for the building’s displaced residents.

 

“These disembodied sounds make a reappearance in the performance and installation work devised in response to the image of the students carrying chairs, forming the basis of an acoustic trail which led the “chair carriers” to their ultimate objective.

 

(reconstruction of the Murke performance,

Andy Lock, KMD 2018 (photo Richard Launder)

 

I’ve charted this brief and highly selective course through the recent development of my research and finished by describing this specific piece of work because – although it is very recent and I’ve had only a limited time to reflect on it – I believe it constitutes and makes manifest a further but once again essential shift in my research practice. As with some of my earlier works, some of which we saw at the outset, this work again features a video recording of a - here staged - interval of “unoccupancy” in an architectural interior, which unfolds before the camera, but that video is here only one facet of a more complex work that encompasses performance, writing and installation and which indeed extends into this presentation.

 

This latest work lacks a definitive form. Each facet exists in communion with the others and with such material as the archive photograph I showed earlier and the work of the fictive Murke. Each of these facets is held by their relationships to one another, in a constellation, which in its entirety forms a response to the constellation of themes (the “grocery list”) emergent in my research, around the point of ordonnance offered by the hiatus or pause, as it is manifest in “the unoccupied room”.

 

I feel that my previous work, has tended to create objects that could be theorised retrospectively whereas this latest iteration of my practice seems to constitute an instance of inquiry (of knowing) through making (to make a reference to the work of Tim Ingold); with my research an immanent feature of both processes and outcomes. The combination of complexity and immanence which characterises this iteration of practice is I believe, significant in looking ahead, both to the development and exposition of my research. 

 

***



[1] my entry point here is Alfred North Whitehead and the notion of “process”; process philosophy and the material as process:  Interest also in the work of Nietzsche.

[2] hiatus: a pause or break in continuity in a sequence or activity.

[3] (Dieter Daniels, Inke Arns eds., 2012, Sounds Like Silence: John Cage 4'33" Silence Today 1912, 1952, 2012, Spector Books) see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRYOeOKXnm0

[4] Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven Heine eds. 1995, Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives, State Uni of NY Press, p.57

Introduction

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Oct-Dec 2016, rolled bedding, recently vacated apartment room, Nygardsgaten, Bergen. Photograph 

 

Oct-Dec 2016, unoccupied rooms, forensic investigation training house, Nottingham. Photographs

 

Oct-Dec 2016, unoccupied room, forensic investigation training house. Video

 

Apr 2017 recently vacated room, asylum hostel, Voss. Photograph

 

Apr 2017 recently vacated room, asylum hostel, Voss. Video work

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Feb 2017, 'Birdsong'.

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Mar 2017 material from PKU Spring Forum, first presentation

 

Mar 2018 PKU Spring Forum, second presentation

 

Apr 2018 paper delivered to 2018 SAR conference, Plymouth

 

Mar 2019 PKU Spring Forum, third and final presentation

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May 2017 'A performance after a performance', Voksenåsen, Video work

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Aug - Oct 2017 video work: coats in corridor, chairs in gymnasium, nr. Helsinki; rolled-bedding, recently vacated apartment, Bergen

 

Nov 2017 the empty walls of DH's studio

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Oct 2017 'Between, Before, After, Elsewhere'. Exhibition at Kunstgarasjen, Bergen

 

Jan 2018 KMD, image and situatedness

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Feb 2018 'The objects perform themselves', Bergen. Photo & Video documentation of performance

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Mar 2018 CCFT fieldwork, Agios Sozomenos, Cyprus

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June 2018 initial tests with hospital ventilators. Video documentation

 

Apr-May 2019 'It's only when I rest that I sense your presence', installation, HKS, Bergen

 

Apr-May 2019 It's only when I rest that I sense your presence, text work, HKS, Bergen

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July 2018 'In silence', performance, Berlin. Audio realisation of performance and photo documentation

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Nov 2018 A Foreign Body: Absence, a denial of presence. Transplanting a Sitka spruce tree. Tælavåg. Video work

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Feb 2019 'Foreign Bodies, Empty Rooms', Bergen Natural History Museum. Audio-visual realisation of performance

 

Aug - Oct 2019 'The Wrong Bodies', installation, Bergen Natural History Museum

 

Aug - Oct 2019 'The Wrong Bodies', text work, Bergen Natural History Museum

 

Oct 2019 The Museum's Wrong Bodies, presentation at Bergen Natural History Museum

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July 2019 'Between our words, I will trace your presence' (1st iteration) performed at Cracking the Established order

 

Oct 2019 Between our Words... (2nd iteration), performed in UN Buffer Zone, Nicosia, Cyprus

 

Feb 2020 'Between our words, I will trace your presence' (3rd iteration) performance at Borealis Festival. Audio documentation

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Feb - Mar 2020 abortive (pre-Covid) plans for final artistic result at Bergen Natural History Museum.

 

May 2020 Lecture on revised work in progress toward final artistic result, to staff and students at KMD

 

October 2020 Artist's book, The Wrong Bodies, based on work on the body and institutional silence, at Bergen Natural History Museum

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Artistic Result

 

Reflection


The German edition of Murke's Collected Silences