Speaking at the Cornmill

About a month ago I was invited to speak at the Cornmill Arts Space in Ilkley as part of their Polikana evening events. It’s an idea based on the Petchakucha format whereby each speaker has the same format to talk about a theme, their work or something of interest. The format is 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide for approx 6 minutes. The original Petchakucha format is slides only yet at Polikana the boundaries are a little broader so that video and audio can be added to the presentation.

I was very nervous. Some of the people there were fully immersed in their practices and had been for several  years. It is curated by Gary Winters (Lone Twin Theatre Company) and Simon East (Sonolope) and a diverse and broad set of 6 speakers were asked to present including Joe who runs the Cornmill Arts Space, Lorna Jewitt, who has just completed this MA Creative Practice,  Alice Fox textile artist and Jez, local filmmaker.

Yet I thought it would be a good idea for my practice to test out some ideas, gain valuable feedback and introduce sound as a part of my practice. It was a great evening. After my talk I met with Tom Beardsley, sculptor and Simon East both who have recently heard Susan Philipz speak at Leeds University and it was great to share sound related ideas with both of them.

They both curate a new weekly night called the ‘All Ears Listening Club’ at a local venue in Ilkley and after the talk they invited me to submit some of my sound experiments to their  night. (very chuffed)….so all in all good to build confidence in speaking and good to network with like minded people.

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Performance & Uncertainty

Today I attended the Performance & Uncertainty Symposium held at The Tetley in Leeds which heralded the opening of the Dora Garcia exhibition, ‘These books were alive; they spoke to me!’.

The speakers/performers included photographer Casey Orr, performer/videographer Harold Offeh, film/installation artist Corin Sworn, visual & performance artist Rana Hamadeh, artist & researcher Dora Garcia and artist/writer/lecturer Kiff Bamford of Leeds Beckett University.

The day was a combination of performances and speaker events. I caught both Rana Hamadeh’s sound-play and heard Dora Garcia speak. So my reflections are on both of these events.

I knew nothing of Rana Hamadeh’s previous work until now so I entered this performance with no previous experience of her work or preconceptions. It was an interesting set up and predominantly a sound piece, although she was clear to state that she specifically referred to the work as a ‘sound-play’ as it was intended to be a promenade performance where the audience moved around the space and there were  no areas to sit or ‘view’.

The set up from an audio/sound perspective was interesting. I counted 7 large speakers on stands all connected to amps, two vocal mic’s in different positions, one mic near the floor with a stack of metal chains next to it, one speaker facing the wall for a separate vocal channel and a laptop running Logic Pro on a mixing desk.

To be honest I found the whole performance really quite disturbing. The initial soundscape was deep, intense and loud. (earplugs were given out and I wore mine). Then Rana came into one of the vocal mice and began speaking although there was such a big level of intentional reverb effect on her vocals that the words were difficult to define and the delivery was gloomy and foreboding.

Intermittently the vocals stopped and and another soundscape brought in, then Kiff Bamford spoke a part on a different vocal mic, then it flipped back to more from Rana. I moved around the room often to get a sense of what was playing out. I noticed they also had a Zoom H4 on one speaker at the back recording the whole thing.

It was 50 minutes long and deeply intense. What was more interesting was watching how the audience responded to the space and the sound. I sensed a great uncomfortableness, a dislocation, people didn’t know really where to put themselves. Some had faces of bewilderment, others of intense concentration, some of misunderstanding, some of intellectual enquiry. Some found a spot and stayed there, others moved around often. I found myself wishing it was finished sooner because it was so so intense and foreboding but was hoping I’d discover at the end more about the work.

There was a short discussion after where Rana explained that she was in part re-enacting a Shi’ite ritual of a ceremony, Ashura, from the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon which involved ritual chanting and self flagellation.

I took the opportunity afterwards to speak with her briefly. I asked her what it was like for her to perform such a piece and more about the rituals and how they take place in Lebanon. She said for her it wasn’t too much to perform such a big piece, she was so used to it and that she wanted it to feel uncomfortable and disorientating. It was. It was made so much more disorientating given the multi channel use of speakers. She mentioned that previous performances had been done in rooms of much smaller proportions than the larger room we were in. I can only imagine the intense immersive-ness of that experience.

Dora Garcia spoke next. She was really interesting and spoke a lot about her work with performance and literature. She spoke of her alternative practices of performance, of combining audiences who have ‘inside’ information of the performance coupled with those who are not privy to such information. She spoke of exploring Argentinian art ‘happenings’ which were reported in the press but which never actually ‘happened’. And she spoke of her recent work drawn from theories by psychoanalysts Freud and Lacan and the relationships between repetition and memory.

It was an incredibly diverse afternoon. My thoughts are quite dense about the whole experience. Initially I want to document that I feel I have an issue with ‘accessibility’ in relation to sound used in an art sense. What I refer to is that to receive as an audience something which is quite deeply intense and disturbing such as Rana’s work is more difficult to relate to. On further reading of her concepts and themes (which I have done subsequently through her work with the Liverpool Biennale) I can ‘understand’ the work and it has context, relevance and meaning. Yet it was a difficult piece.

Through Dora’s talk I really had my eyes opened to the divergent practice in the contemporary art world. How so many artists are working in ways way beyond the ‘traditional’ and conventional worlds of both visual and performance traditions. It was refreshing and intriguing. I need to research further.

Lightbulb Moment

It has just occurred to me that most of my interest does lie in VOICE. What it means to have one and how we use it or indeed how we don’t use it. What does it mean to ‘use one’s voice’?

I think most likely this lightbulb moment has manifested due to having watched (again) The Kings Speech. A brilliant film on the psychological elements constraining the voice of King George VI. It is such a brilliantly sensitive and painful look into his world of feeling and his inability to safely express himself.

There are parts of this film which resonate a lot. The work I am leaning towards in sound will I hope endeavour to capture the use of voice as well as found and recorded sounds and musical notes.

As an experiment I’m thinking to develop ‘secret’ mic spots whereby i invite passers by to speak into the mic anything they wish. They use their voice in whichever way they choose without feeling the presence of another person listening.

This lightbulb moment has filled me with ideas…but its midnight and I should sleep..