Category Archives: just a thought

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:


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?

post-perf reflection

“Reality is a collage composed of whatever grabs our attention. And the competition is limitless people want their distractions instantly and they use their ears and mouths as sockets.”

— Richard Flood

This was a quote I found way back in Feb and yet right now (post performance series) it seems to have a particular resonance. ‘Off the Route” forced participants to remain within a room and perform a somewhat boring and aimless task for one whole hour.

For many it was incredibly difficult. One participant even described it as a ‘special kind of pain’.

These comments make me wonder – is it staying with a task for a whole hour that is difficult? Is it the duration of the repetition that pushes people? Because in a world of distraction we don’t know how to (or don’t practice it often) stay with something?

Or is it simply the intensification of distraction that made this task so difficult?

By having everyone speak, type and repeat everything at one the situation exacerbated, but I would argue mirror, much of our reality in which various voices (images etc) claim for our attention. How do we then frame what is important? How do we take them in? How do we decide what to filter out?

next step?

So this recent exhibition I did created a lot of things to think about. A lot of stuff to process. Which is good – productive. Uncomfortable as well. Luckily I’ve been reading lots of John Dewey (Art as Experience) so I’m assured by the fact that all this achievement and struggle, doing and reflecting and so on is all part of the ‘experience’.

After the exhibition it felt like I had to very distinctive strains developing simultaneously but completely inderpendent of each other. Not that it is a problem to have different things on the go at once but I felt I needed to make a conscious decision – was I going to keep going with both, if so would I bring them together somehow and how would I do this, was I going to ditch one and so on. What follows is an excerpt from an email explaining the point I’m at and what direction I’m thinking of taking next…


I spent most of last week/the weekend trying to work out what I wanted to achieve with both the performance piece and the turmeric mapping. And if there were any intersections or places that might cross over.

All this stuff with the stats originally stemmed from last year’s grad show piece I guess – were the patterns and material was a way of evoking our (australia’s) relationship with the middle east. In this sense the physical push and pull of the aroma mirrored the socio-political relationship between ‘us’ and ‘them’. At the beginning of this year I was really interested in exploring that further. To me, and I’m generallising, it seemed that Australia isn’t comfortable with its ‘multi-cultural’ status creating tensions within our society between people. Sometimes these can more overt such as the Cronulla Riots, sometimes not.

I think I started working with the stats as a way to find ‘hard evidence’ for certain things I had a hunch on – like that John Howard’s citizenship test operates in a way to keep certain people out. The stats do reflect a ‘white australia’ policy – in that the total population of people born overseas drops drastically when you take those born in northern europe out of the figure. 

And then there was a point where exploring such a complex and huge political issue did my head in (so to speak) and I was slightly uncomfortable with it. Hence the push away from it with the performance experiment. But I 
think I’ve come back around to feeling comfortable exploring this complex issue. I don’t particularly want to take a hard line on it and ‘dictate’ that to my audience through my art – but rather explore the complexities and nuances within the issue which broadly covers things like nationality, racism, population debates, migration (including refugees) etc. I mean its massive. And its overwhelming trying to find a place to start. And there is heaps of material out there. 

But because it kind of stemmed from this idea of popular thought/feeling – what I thought I would do is take it back to the audience as the source. That is use material sourced from everyday audiences as the basis for the transcript used in the performance (probably mixed in with other material)

So what I thought I could do is create a series of posters/facebook event pages with simple statements such as ‘we grew here. You flew here’ accompanied with a direction such as ‘debate’ or ‘argue’ (I’m not sure if this will work – maybe it needs to be really provocative or have more direction?). These would then I guess be a form of research that maps current social feeling about the topics I want to explore. Then I can use this material as the basis for my script for the performance. I can use theoretical quotes and stats as well to give a more rounded basis. And its a way of tying the performance and installation together – as well as giving it a solid grounding in exploring an idea.

And also if I’m using poster in the local area, as well as facebook (largely my friends or locals as well) it brings it back to being a site-specific work which I quite like the idea of…


The Negotiations series is an ongoing body of work (developed as part of my honours practical) that examines the current relationship between Australia and ‘the Orient’. Edward Said, in his influential text Orientalism (1976), refers to the Orient as an ‘imagined geography’ constructed throughout history by the west through literature and visual imagery.

Notions of the exotic and mysterious ‘other’ blend with the dangerous barbaric. Such ideas and attitudes can be seen to permeate contemporary society in a post 9/11 world. While parts of the Middle East (considered part of the Orient) are seen as desirable and exotic tourist hotspots, other locations present a dangerous threat as the heart of terrorist territory. The Negotiations series explores the tensions between the perceived simultaneous desire and repulsion of the Orient, as manifested in contemporary Australian society.


“Without a copy, live performance plunges into visibility – in a manically charged present – and disappears into memory, into the realm of invisibility and the unconscious” – Peggy Phelan

It seems that performance’s strength lies in the ‘now’ of its presentation. Yet performance is often supplimented with photography, video, text, etc – allowing it to extend its life beyond the ‘here and now’ of the present. Is this documentation denying performance its being? Or is it a necessary component of such art practices?

This is essentially the underlying question of my honours degree and it is one that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. And a lot of time going around in circles. It seems there is no straight answer. There may be no straight solution (if solutions are what you’re after). But it’s an interesting discussion. And its a discussion that incorporates a wide range of art practices beyond ‘performance’ (a tricky thing to define anyway), such as conceptual art, performative art, live art and more – experiential art if you will.

The tension between experiential and its documentation perhaps emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s when artists began working with ephemeral modes. And yet its seems contemporary artists are still negotiating this tensions, and its this that I’m investigating – how these debates are still relevant, how attitudes have shifted, how artists approach them (and complicate them!), and importantly the various forms documentation can incorporate.

It seems to me that blogging is a highly appropriate mode of exploring these debates, and sharing them with others. It in itself is a performative form that relies on the exchange between author and reader and the interaction that can occur between them (leave me replies!… please!). Its one that operates in the ‘now’ – in my writing, in the publishing of content, and in your reading. But its one where documentation is inherent in its form – it leaves a trace behind. But perhaps this is not so much documentation, but part of a durational performance? what ever the case, this blog is a performative space for my ramblings and thoughts on these ideas, and hopefully a space for yours as well.

…and so ‘a manically charged present’ begins.