Max Neuhaus: thoughts on the spoken and written word

Over the last week or so I’ve been working with the audio documentation I have of the Off the route series. So far I have 3x 1hr long tracks to worth with – and I’m compiling these into a sound installation that will be presented in my dialogues exhibition (on next week at Gallery 5: Crown Lane… eep! Pre-exhibition jitters are setting in).

As part of this exhibition I plan to have daily ‘performative workshops’ – so its an open invite, anyone can come in and be part of the ongoing series. My plan is to record each new performance and each afternoon and add in the new audio to the existing sound installation. So just as the performative series itself grows and develops. So too does the sound installation. So this component of the series is kind of like an audio palimpsest.

Now this is a great word – it refers to something ‘reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form’. I think originally it has a reference to a manuscript or a piece of writing where through the editing process pieces have been changed to make room for new writing.

Anyway, along with working with my own audio this week – I’ve also been looking at the work and writings of various people – in particular Max Neuhaus, John Cage, William Raban and The Wooster Group (which is a pretty diverse mixture…). Anyway tonight I was listening to some of Max Neuhaus’ early audio pieces such as Public Supply I from 1965 (you can find this by following this link:, and when I came across his artist statement about this piece I found some lovely musings on the relationship between reading and hearing language. Seemingly the symbols of language written on a page almost involuntarily provoke aural memories…

Here is a snippet from Neuhaus – ‘Right now I’m talking to all of you, but few of you realize you’re actually hearing. You don’t hear what I’m saying as sound; you are able to understand this small group of phoneme sounds directly as the English language. Your aural mind takes care of all the intricate steps in between, without distracting you from thinking about the meaning of the words.

I guess it is kind of like sounding things out in your mind without even realizing you’re doing it. The sounds are so ingrained its almost ‘unconscious’.

This reminds me of dance – the movements are so ingrained in your mind as is the music – that even after years when you hear that clip of music again you can feel the movement from long ago. I guess in a way the sound is a spur to recalling these movements long lost… (this was something that I started investigating in my practice in second year – the body, movement, trace – and was carried through into my third year body of work – with some 35mm photos. I had forgotten about this until the other day when Agnieszka Golda
– who was my practical teacher throughout undergrad reminded me).

But back to Neuahus. I found his assertion interesting in light of my off the route performances because really they are all about the relationship between the written and spoken word – about language. And one of the difficulties in the tasks is focusing in on translating language from one form to another (text to spoken word to text) with so much going on around you. I guess in a way what off the route does is create so much distraction that it you become very aware of this translation (from my own personal experiences there comes a point where you ask ‘how do I spell that?’, or you think ‘geez am I even saying this word right?’, and when you’re typing it becomes so overwhelming when there are so many people talking)… actually I’m not even sure if translation is the right word. Perhaps its more that it is making the arbitrary relationship between the symbols of language and the sounds of language more obvious – making it more difficult to understand the sounds and symbols…

Neuhaus also mentions radio as ‘The radio on the other hand can give us a live ear view into a space which can be anywhere or nowhere’. I find this particularly interesting when looking at the relationship between the ‘live’ and the ‘recorded’. Realistically the ‘recorded’ can be broadcast ‘live’ – and can be experienced live  – directly. The same thing essentially can be happening in my sound installation. These recorded sounds – of an event past – can be experienced live within the gallery space by the viewer. But in a way they also present an event that only exists within the recording itself. That is the compilation of the different audio documentations together into the one track creates a new ‘live’ experience…

anyway check out Max Neuhaus:


– so I made my own exhibition catalogues by hand using photocopies, scrap paper, sticky tape and hand-typed titles. It has my artist essay, details of the development process and excerpts of the documentation –

on the other hand

Documentation from the other project I’ve been working on this year. For consistency this won’t be shown in my exhibition next week but it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed working on and plan to continue with. Its possible that eventually the strains of practice will come together in a future exhibition.

– hand drawn maps. Australia and Sydney detailing census statistical divisions –

– nothing like some spare art mags to prop up the projector! –

– transferring maps into slides –

– projected maps! Love that the grain from the pencil shows through –

invitation to participate…


in (one or more)

daily performative workshops

1-2pm each day:


FRI 11th NOV

SAT 12th NOV

SUN 13th NOV


5 crown lane, wollongong.

as part of DIALOGUES: an exhibition by boni cairncross

Logistics in conversation…

 I have decided to drop the turmeric – 1. because this is fresh and exciting for me personally 2. I was already struggling with the idea that turmeric was ‘old’ – something I’d done before, 4. logistically its a nightmare with install time 5. it would be too much to do both:
– the daily ‘performances/activities/situation/task/workshop’ (can’t work out what to call them) – between 1-2 on all four days. Oliver  has agreed to film on fri, sat and sun. And I’ll doing audio recordings on all four days.
– i thought with the paper documentation I could either do a wall installation where the originals get pinned up so you can see them all- see if there is a rhythm/pattern that emerges, or if it deteriorates etc. I had a good squiz at some Fluxus things as well and its seems publications, programs and paper traces were pretty important and thats something possibly to consider. I thought I should do up a little program flyer anyway, but this wall installation could be structured a little like that as well ie day 1: …. day 2:…. etc. Alternatively I thought it would be cool to compile each days paper documents into like a hand made ‘zine’…
– audio documentation (once I master audacity…) – part of this idea was influenced by Wooster Group, with their production ‘Brace Up!’ they filmed rehearsals, and all the performances (sometimes 10yrs apart) – with their video production all this footage is compiled together which I guess (apart from making it really hard to tell whats going on live and recorded, and whats going on in general) compresses the time/space frames  – transposes each experience on top of each other. It was kind of what gave me the idea of to have everyone performing tasks at the same time. But I thought the audio – sound installation – could operate in a similar way. At the end of each day I could add in the new audio to the existing track. That way the repeated audience of (like that of the repeated participant) would also experience the accumulation and growth that this situations produces (which in a way also masks out other things causes a loss…).
– the final thing that I though might be cool to do as well – is after the last ‘performance’ on the sunday – to hold a post-performance de-brief. It worked really well last time – and the other participants always bring new questions and considerations to the floor. It would in a way be a group artist talk.
oh! I thought it would also be a good idea to have an ‘instruction’ panel – so if people walk in late they can just join in the performance without me having to stop and explain what to do.

Dilemmas and endless questions.

For a significant chunk of the year I’ve been working on what feels like 3 individual projects simultaneously – the thesis (which a fellow honours kid likened to ‘that friend whose been crashing on your couch for too long’… it’s a apt analogy really – you like having them around to begin, then you just get darn sick of them and can’t wait for them to get out of your life… and then when that time approaches you get all fond of them again) and the two strands of my art practice – turmeric mapping and experimental performative situations.

Now the thesis is done and dusted – I’ve said goodbye to that little baby. But you know it made me really question a lot of things about ephemeral art practices. And in many ways the experimental performative situations (not really sure what to call them…) are a bit of an exploration of some of the ideas that have emerged from my thesis research. In fact I had a great little chat with my supervisor – Lucas Ihlein – yesterday and he raised so many questions as a direct result from the rich material that these ‘experimental performative situations’ produce (I think he may have even referred to it as a bit of an ‘art machine’)… its quite clear that despite spending a year investigating the relationship between the ‘live’ and the ‘recorded’ that there is no solution to the ‘problem’. One doesn’t have to pick one thing over another to say ‘this is better’. In fact, when directly asked if I had a criteria to judge one performative situation over the other, I said I didn’t have one.

And I don’t. It isn’t relevant.

These ‘experimental performative situations’ (I really need to work out what to call them…) are each ‘original’, direct and experiences and at the same time are repeats, and ‘indirect’ experiences. But for me to say that one is better than another is to misunderstand the situation. Same to any participant who takes the same stance. The question then isn’t ‘what is art?’ (because really we’ve moved beyond the debate of whether everyday actions, everyday objects, relational and social exchanges constitute and artworks. What is art? Its anything you want it to be. You frame and bracket as art. They are art.) … it becomes ‘where is art?’ (between the artist and participant, between the participant and their task, between all participants, between participants and onlookers, in the relation to the documentation – online, in the flesh….??? Is just keeps going), but it also asks ‘when it art?’ – (is it in the direct experience, in the recall, in the description, one which day of the performance or all days?).

Certainly this strand of my art practice will keep me busy for a long time – so many questions and probably not any really solid answers but that’s ok. It would be boring if I could answer these (it would be boring if my participants and audiences outright agreed with me too).

But it also leaves me with a dilemma. What the hell am I going to show in my honours exhibition? Because you know I’ve been working consistently on my turmeric mapping as well.

My issue with the turmeric mapping is that it feels old. Not just in the sense that I’ve been working with turmeric as a material for the best part of 2 years (don’t laugh that’s a long time when you’ve only got a 3year art practice to draw on). And already I’ve been labelled ‘turmeric girl’. This is an issue because really my practice is much broader than an investigation into one material. But there is a lot more to it than just ‘turmeric’. Its about mapping and exploring shifting ideas and attitudes (if I had to find buzz words to describe my own practice – movement, repetition and duration would get a special mention… ). But the mapping itself feels like a tried and tested technique. Not to say that this makes it obsolete… after all mapping is just a different word for documenting, which I’ve spent a fair amount of time investigating… clearly still relevant. But my ‘art machine’ maps traces – it documents experiences as part of its process. The mapping is part of its internal logic rather than as strategy as a means to an end. And perhaps that’s more interesting than a pretty picture that hides this process instead. Well perhaps more interesting at this point where I’ve just spent a good year or so exploring art practices that actively engage with the blurry relationship between the live and the recorded.

There are of course crossovers between the two strands of my practice. The turmeric mapping explores social interactions within Australia – our underlying fear of ‘the other’. The performative situations documents social interactions in real time – the dynamics that evolve throughout the durational situation. The turmeric is ephemeral – fragile, fleeting (it literally falls off the wall in situ). The performative situations are ephemeral in nature – spoken word – but extends this into a cyclical situation in which it is constantly evolving into something new (not sure if that is the right word…’new’ maybe just ‘in flux’). And then there is the intensity that both bodies of work generate – one with overwhelming smell, the other with overwhelming noise. Oh and then there is the more deliberate crossover –  the text used as the basis for the spoken words relates directly to the ideas being explored more abstractly in the turmeric installation. And then there is the inherent crossover between ‘text’ and ‘textiles’. Both words are taken from the latin ‘texere’ – which means to fabricate, to weave. Both situations weave together impressions – asking the audience to create their own fleeting stories from the experience.

And then I come back to my dilemma – to include one or the other or both?