For the inaugural issue of artcore journal ARIKA answered 5 questions that were posed prior to the launch of their first North American program, A survey is a process of listening for the 2012 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NY. ARIKA is a UK-based not-for-profit specializing in organizing experimental music, film, and art events, and is founded and managed by Barry Esson and Bryony MacIntyre. The following are five post-program questions that focus on ARIKA’s overall conclusions regarding the program, thoughts about the museum space as a place for sound investigations, and reflections on the duo’s newly opened space of “North American listening” into their continuous experimental sound and moving image platforms. Click here for the first 5 questions that artcore journal posed to ARIKA in the Northeast issue.
Erin Dziedzic: In our last interview ARIKA noted that the intentions of A survey is a process of listening were to explore the value of different modes of listening (imaginary, conceptual, political, organized, etc.) and would be structured, facilitated, and supported by specific ways of thinking that are organized around ARIKA’s preferred format, and situated within the institutional space and mission of The Whitney. Could you describe the iterations of these various structures and any new insights that emerged throughout this process of independent and international survey?
ARIKA: One of the most useful observations from the project came from Robert Sember of Ultra-red, who described their work in our project, (and I think the project as a whole) in relation to the Biennial, as a ‘clash of two protocols’. This is not necessarily a problem, but it was a very obvious hurdle in many cases. A Biennial by design (i.e. in general – this isn’t a specific criticism of the Whitney) normally sets up a proposition to the audience that they can wander as they choose through multiple artworks, spending as much time as they like with any, and kind of construct an experience for themselves; a notion of a very liberal, democratic experience for each person. We are wary of this, as a kind of falsely democratic premise. Performance on the other hand, asks you to engage with it over a period of time, and the best performance engages you in a way of thinking in modes of duration.
The Whitney Biennial made a big, positive move in this regard by situating performance so prominently in the show: which asks questions about how didactic art could or should be, to what extent we’re happy to be led by it, if even only for a period of time. What we experienced was the very real clash that many audience members felt between their normal idea of attending a biennial, and the demands on time made by performance or investigation to engage and even be led for a period. Politically, we very much like appropriate institutional structures, and this maybe is in opposition of the liberal notions of democracy around how visitors to a biennial construct their own experience. For example, for many people there was a palpable unease with walking into a main gallery and being asked to commit time to a performance. That’s not to say that many didn’t. Rather, it was the difficulty of getting people to devote their time to listening, which became a very interesting part of the project.
ED: What do you consider to be some examples of the successes and challenges of the survey in a biennial context?
ARIKA: The project with Ultra-red threw up many contradictions and problems in regard to trying to conduct a set of community investigations in the context/space of a museum. It appeared largely under the radar of the Biennial as a whole, and yielded modest but useful outcomes that will be carried over into future work and collaborations both for Ultra-red and ARIKA.
Andrea Geyer’s performance, Comrades of Time, was comprised of seven women from New York who recited monologues composed from speeches, letters, and essays written by Helene Stöcker, Rosa Luxemburg, Alfred Döblin, Elisabeth Sussmann, Walter Benjamin, Alice Salomon, Sigmund Freud, and George Grosz from 1916-1941. The performance was very successful, but we think that it also made some important statements about considering conceptual ‘listening.’ It was presented as a visual/performative art form rather than just music and was not only a performance for multiple voices (and so phenomenologically, obviously about listening), but more importantly, it set up a premise for a cultural echo; listening to the past as present.
Christopher DeLaurenti’s performance, Wallingford Food Bank, was very welcome and well received. DeLaurenti collected site recordings, interviews, and surreptitious microphone captures, to create a testimony to poverty from his personal experiences, and an invitation for participants to engage typical situations and contexts via a kind of imaginary listening. While so much of the genre of music known as ‘field recording’ strips sounds of their contexts (a very conservative, and in the end an empty aesthetic gesture), DeLaurenti’s work instead insists on exploring the contexts of sounds: how they were made, where, and by whom/what; his own responsibility to the original situation, and our context of mutual listening in the present. This made for a wonderfully engaging and discursive collective listening experience.
I could go on and say also how successful we found Vanessa Place, Yasunao Tone, Sean Meehan and others performance, but I feel I’m running out of space.
ED: Have your perceptions of North American sound and/or listening changed? If so, how?
ARIKA: I’m not sure that they have that much, though, we were greatly influenced by the work that Ultra-red did with ARIKA and the House|Ballroom community. We came away from that collaboration feeling inspired and deeply affected by the aesthetic practices (gestures, dances, performativity of gender, sexuality, and identity of other communities) as embodiments, contradictions, and conflicts of community politics.
ED: Is a “survey” a type of format you would revisit?
ARIKA: It was a response designed to highlight certain (implicit) claims made by any biennial, and to focus them on the process of ‘listening.’ Maybe it would be useful in a different context, but it really would depend on that context.
ED: Has the massive undertaking of creating a program for The Whitney Biennial changed, developed, solidified etc. your working structure in any way? And has it had an effect on your organization of future programs?
ARIKA: The program for the Whitney was similar in scope to our other projects (of which we’d produced three already in 2012). What was different was the means by which such projects could be funded, and subsequently the levels of staffing we could bring to the delivery of the project. Perhaps our UK projects are better resourced than at the Whitney, but we feel we made good use, and were extremely well supported by the Whitney staff.
We are working on projects now that have come directly from our having met members of the House|Ballroom community and Ultra-red: we hope to be of some modest use to them with work they are doing in New York; and we plan to invite key people from that scene to a future event in Glasgow that explores Queer aesthetic practices that develop counter-publics. It is very much a direct outcome of working with House|Ballroom, Ultra-red, and others who we met and worked with during the Whitney Biennial. We’ll also be collaborating more with Fred Moten on ideas of ‘freedom’ and the aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition.
Erin Dziedzic is Founder and Editor of artcore journal.