March 2019 PKU Spring Forum, third presentation

Transcript of my introduction to my presentation at Hønefoss 


Given all the things going on in my work, where do I go with this third and final presentation, and how do I choose to interpret what I’m doing. There’s no sense here of a neat resolution and narrowing down and in fact if anything, there’s a sense of opening up, creating a space for discussion and speculation and dialogue. The form and the content of today’s presentation reflects that opening up rather than narrowing down.


The presentation draws much of its material from a recent public event; a performative presentaion I made at the Natural History Museum in Bergen. This was an attempt to bring into the public realm, a lot of ideas that had been percolating in my head over the last six months, since I discovered the Museum site.


With most of my work, the catalyst for it is my encounter with one site or another, but the work can often then have quite a long gestation period before it becomes something I share with other people. The Museum event, was a first attempt to try to articulate the ideas I’ve been having in response to that site. They are very representative of where my work "is at".


When I play the video made at the Museum event, I’d like you to follow the instructions that the "me" in the video gives to the audience.




Excerpts from the Q&A following my presentation at Hønefoss 


Audience member: ‘In the first two clips (The Natural History Museum presentation and the Lausitzer Platz documentation), can you explain what it was I actually saw; what the work was ... ?


My reply: You raise a very good question. I don’t have anything approaching a straightforward answer to it. You’ve really hit on an important thing with what I’m doing which is that “what form does the work take; where are the boundaries of the work; what’s relationship between this thing called “A Work” and artistic research? I’m not even sure the work... “The Work”, even has any meaning for me, anymore.


I do work, I do artistic research, I use methods for investigating ideas and phenomena and problems which intrigue me, which arise out of practices of making and doing. Now whether there is some kind of definitive work which ultimately arises out of that, I don’t know.


I’m aware that there needs to be a form of public engagement with the ideas that I’m working with and that might be what we’re doing right now and that might be me in the museum in Bergen with one person or a group of people, experiencing certain phenomena and exploring certain ideas and narratives together, but I don’t necessarily think that what I’m doing has a definitive form. It simply takes different forms in different places at different times.


[...] I’m intrigued: this notion of the work.


Audience member: Well I think it’s because you want to have an audience and you have to think: how do I…    Whatever you are doing… how is that as you said mediated to the audience is an important aspect of whatever work you are doing: It sounds to me like you are in the midst of this really exciting process right now, where you basically discovered, I am working and I let people participate… And the question is you then have definite moments where you then say ok, "this something I have accomplished, I want to see people or hear people" … or whether you say "it’s an ongoing process and I just let everyone participate at any given moment." It’s a different way of working I guess…


Audience member: About the text: what you are reading as far as I can understand is from Murke’s diaries… I’m interested in whether it is documentary or fictional. Have you got some authorship in what you’re reading or is it journalism... you’ve picked it out and handed it over for us to wonder about these facts or are you constructing a narrative?


My reply: I’m constructing a narrative. Murke is a fictional character from a short story by Heinrich Böll, called Murke’s Collected Silences. He’s a character who keeps reappearing in my work. He’s very useful to me, interesting to me. In this short story he is a radio producer who is obsessed with collecting… cutting the pauses out from between the words of the radio programmes that he makes and then he collects and keeps them and plays back the collected silences to himself.


And when I found him I thought he was a really interesting figure for me at the time: this was about 12 months ago. He seemed like a very interesting character for me to work with because at the time, he was kind of an alter ego, because that notion of collecting these pauses or intervals was something that I felt like I was doing. He also became a very useful way for me to write about what I was doing by shifting myself slightly to one side of my own activity, giving my work to him and then being able to write about what I was doing as though I was trying to understand what he was doing, so the things I’ve attributed to Murke are things I've written about my own work.


I find it useful to be able to step slightly one side in thinking about my work and to be able to give the work to someone else. Often, I only half understand what I’m doing at the time, so it’s quite a useful way to be able to interpret what’s going on, but without an “I” or a “me” or a “my” and I find it a really useful way to be able to write about what I’m doing.


Audience member: Especially for the first work [the museum work in progress presentation]… [whether] you showed a work or not: I think you raised an interesting debate: What is documentation and how doesn’t it become an art object immediately and I think the way that its constructed here with black intervals and image intervals and so on [] is constituting a work in a sense or at least is an edited video which is chosen, but I was really intrigued by the performative situation of you giving us instructions for watching the video and I wanted to ask if that is something you have done before or if that isn’t something you’ve done before, how did that feel: is that something that could be useful in the way you’re saying is this a documentation rather than an artwork, because it is also happening as it's… you do the black-out for us. We don’t have to close our eyes [as instructed of the audience in the video] it was there on screen.  Can you elaborate on that?


My reply: I think that’s interesting. My request (here now), to comply with my request (there, then in the video) to the audience, to close their/your eyes was made for practical, aesthetic reasons, but you’re right it does create a connection between [then and] the space now and the time now


Audience member: “and the clock ticking” [in the seminar room at Hønefoss]


My reply: this is the thing, [making me think of the significance of us – as the infestation – in the space???] I did this fieldwork after I came back from Berlin and I mic’d up an apartment in Bergen and invited people individually to come and spend some time there. I thought that what they would experience would be all the incidental noises of the apartment, but of course the microphone doesn’t discriminate between those noises and the noises that the person [in the apartment] makes and so it became very quickly apparent that actually it “the work” very quickly became about the person’s embodied experience of being a body in the space and that totally shifted the work… and so, going back to that thing about facing a real dilemma about what sound there should be at the end of that [museum piece] it’s so tempting to leave all of the audio off there and have people [you the audience, now] just e listening to the ambient sound of the room they are in and we’re the infestation, we’re the bodies in the space pf course and again it comes back to that: “is that [the video I showed] a documentation of the work or is it a new performance taking place within this space and actually, I think I might have been wrong. I think it might have been better for us to listen to the clock and to ourselves and what we were actually listening to were beetles recorded by the NHM London (the same species of beetles that do infest that specimen in the museum), so in the that context, it made sense but now I think about it, I think I should have resisted the temptation to play you beetles I was so pleased with and we should have listened to the clock and the ambient sound of the room.


Audience member: I feel like your work is very literary. Delightful to hear that this is a character from literary fiction. It seems to me that your “work” might be various constructions of focusing attention on presence and absence in all different forms, whether we’re hearing audio and you are refusing us the visual or you’re asking us to participate in refusing the visual or you’re introducing us to a species that in fact is not there, although possibly it might be. That we’re listening to the room that we’re in possibly, and it feels very playful to me.

Maybe there could be some contextualising of what we’re looking at: whether it could be documentation or whether it isn’t, but then that’s also part of the play of it, possibly. I’m not suggesting to be irresponsible about it or not rigorous. I’m just wondering if there’s room for play amongst all of those, the forms and the delivery and it feels extremely performative all of it; it feels like it’s all your performance. And your writing… interesting tensions amongst those things.


My reply: You’ve hit on something I’m fascinated by at the minute: the writing seems to be coming to the fore as an activity. I’m really conscious of not wanting to lose the connection to the site, the space that gives rise to what I’m doing and so that notion of performance


Audience member: well you’re situating... [the writing?] 


Me …That seems really important to taking it forwards, I think if I were to break that link. If it [the writing] was no longer situated, a really important anchor or point of tension within my work could be gone...


Audience member: could you see the Böll story as a site as well?


me: anything is potentially a site. Absolutely.


Audience member: I enjoyed the video, I wish you hadn’t told me [Murke] was a fictional character [it alters the mythology][?]… Your whole work is based around the absence of bodies… the museum becomes this worthless shelter for nothing. It just craves such a human presence and contextualisation of collected goods made by humans and then this mythology, this character sees it and then it turns to you. You’re inserting yourself into this museum as you're basically the exhibition... Especially working with sound, you’re starting to control the output, of how you insert yourself into the images, by storytelling by contextualisation of most illusive, as you say, sound[s], sort of trying to control that environment and you’re also here now … [taking in] yourself [being inserted into your art]. How do you see that aspect of writing yourself into your work…? Do you want to be in your work, or do you want to have the fictional mythologic aspect of yourself in your work?


Me: I think the fact that I’m still using a figure like Murke [means] I’m still trying to find a cipher who takes my place and yet the paradox is that I am standing there or standing here delivering the material and so at one and the same time, I am here, but I am trying to be someone else being here. There’s an uncomfortableness being here doing this, being in the museum doing that and I think a lot of the techniques are about somehow trying to evade that centrality of me being there.


Audience member: I was reminded of the field of acoustic ecology in the first video. I was really drawn into the narrative that you created. And you’re saying that site is really important to you, but how much is the story of natural history and the history of natural history, like the organisms: is that important to you?


me: Hugely, but I wouldn’t go away and write an essay about those subjects, but because I was working in that site, those issues, because they relate to what was going on at that site become hugely important to what was going on and when I was writing that, it all just started flowing – an exaggeration: it flowed and then there were hundreds of edits and revisions, but it came quite naturally…


and also there were other things that fed into the process, like a workshop where I ended up digging up Sitka Spruce trees, trying to get them into the museum and getting an email back from the museum that said “we cannot allow any living matter into the museum" and that was really pivotal in developing this idea of the "right bodies" and the "wrong bodies" and the way in which bodies are policed by institutions. But all of these revelations and discoveries come back to the experience of being in and working at a particular site and I think if I encountered them as abstractions, I wouldn’t know what to do with them.


[… ]


Audience member: It struck me, just seeing the video now that you are playing with some emotional content of absence, like how different kind of absence creates a different kind of emotional response… It seems now that there are different kinds of absences that create different kinds of emotional responses [and] you play with that more than I have seen you doing before. There is not one kind of absence here, they are different and they are layered; that [the museum] is a very whole piece of work for me. You move into it and move out of it as a spectator, so that was very whole for me as a piece of work.


Audience member: I think you’re talking about different kinds of absences but you are also adding a presence an invisible presence with the animals [the beetles] within the [whale] skeleton [at the Bergen Natural History Museum], which is present but still absent, and it shouldn’t be there but it is there, so I think there is a contradiction between the absence and the presence and also you as an artist within this empty museum is also some kind of bringing the opposite of absence into the work.


Me: I suppose my thesis is that absence is a construct: it is an anthropocentric construct, it is about what we choose to overlook and what we choose to deny and inevitably there are power structures that are related to that, you know. And it becomes differently manifest at different sites, but certainly institutions form a very interesting set of spaces in which to let those ideas play out.


Audience member: Also i was thinking if there is a relationship between technology and this question of absence and presence. As far as I know, you come from a photography background and now you’re working with a lot of listening in your projects and I think when listening, particular when trying to mediate this listening to somebody else, you have to… erase yourself as the field recordist because otherwise they will be listening to you rather than listening to what you are listening to. And I think this is very much the same as with a camera as well: the person behind the camera is the one you never see in the shot, but still is there invisibly and might have or might not have a more or less hidden agenda or agency with it all.


me: one of the very first realisations when I started this process, when I first came to Bergen, I started thinking about the aftermath of things that I was looking at in spaces, in terms of the aftermath of performances that had preceded my presence and then I suddenly realised that I couldn’t then (as the photographer) exempt myself from that position: I was there, what I was doing was also a performance, but it was a performance that was unseen. So there’s a direct connection between that practice, back then and the problematics of my own position right now: I’m talking about the bodies of spectators and participants in the work and how they become a part of the work.


Audience member: one of the thoughts I had was with you stepping aside, but you are present, but it is in a way coy, that you are stepping aside and there’s this other voice that you know your interpreting…  What would it mean for you to actually step into it and to implicate yourself further. I mean I’m thinking a lot about photography: I didn’t know you were a photographer but that makes sense because the eye behind the camera is a selective one and that’s true of the recordist to some extent although that’s more slippery… so I was just curious that what would happen if you implicated yourself and maybe that fictional guy wrote a text about you.


me: I’ve often thought as we were saying earlier that notion of the site is very fluid. I love that idea of the novel itself becoming a site but specifically in the context of the work now it opens up all kinds of opportunities… I love the idea of instead of bringing the character into my world, I transgress into there’s.


Audience member: implicating yourself as a presence or an absence.





This, my third and final presentation to the PKU annual research forum drew heavily on the performative presentation I made at the Bergen Natural History Museum, in February 2019.


The conversation after the presentation ranged widely and I have reproduced excerpts from it below, along with my brief introduction to the presentation.