Thursday, August 6, 2009


A lot of hot air about 'sound art' circulating currently in my spheres, most of it from funding humpers who're after the cold ka-ching of the arts funding body register. And I guess that's fine, really: I like the idea of people being given money to create art that pre-exists the funding application. It's when the shoe's on the other foot, and you have career fartists on the make, that things get ugly.

But 'sound art' is a complex beast that will not be tamed. I was recently invited to be part of this forum, which was an interesting experience to say the least. Plenty of good audience discussion which I thought became most interesting when it started to revolve around ideas of 'pleasure' in music - thanks to American artist (and all round swell guy) Loren Chasse being present in the room. I found it telling that the most immediately interesting aspects of Liquid Architecture were to do with its fringe programming, not immediately index-linked to the LA behemoth. It was also telling that I wasn't drawn to any of the LA events themselves (I mean, who really needs Perlonex or Thomas Koner in this day and age? Maybe if Jurgen Reble was out and about...)

Jim Knox wrote a particularly good piece on the Anglocentric, Western vision of sound art espoused by 21:100:100, an exhibition I visited late last year at Gertrude Contemporary Arts Space. Co-curated (there's another sick-making word, 'curation' - please bring your white cubes to bear on our DIY forms, our back passages are well-oiled) by Alexie Glass, Emily Cormack, Oren Ambarchi and Marco Fusinato, its sterility and tastefulness killed any anti-consensus thought inherent in the music selected, sterilised by the 'discourse of validation' that white cube contextualisation can't help but force onto the music in question.

Now, I don't think the art space a priori kills DIY/punk aesthetics in (what others call) 'experimental' or 'avant-garde' practice. There are framing devices that work, modes of presentation that upset or de-centre traditional practice. Sly subversion can work, even if it often ends up being temporally fixed, which means that last year's sly subversion ends up looking like today's unintended hilarity (the Philip Brophy/Asphixiation/tsk tsk tsk films that have been screening as part of MIFF's Post-Punk programme are salutary in this respect, though they are still quite appealing in their 'android'-ness, their lite-Brechtianism).

There was something in 21:100:100 that felt neutered, dead, soulless - which perhaps chimes in with Jim Knox's argument about the presumptions curators (I suspect unintentionally/subconsciously) make about sites of progressive culture (the assumption that progressive culture is "the exclusive province of white capitalists and the Japanese"). The validity of the project also lies in question - if its intent was to introduce new listeners to different music (an admirable pursuit) I'm not sure how welcoming it was, how its discursive framing ultimately helped - beyond appealing to a very particular demographic of poseurly art crowds and record collectors (umm, mea culpa) - and for anyone 'in the know', for want of a better term, well, it was all a bit ex post facto...

But then the struggle is - and to my mind will always be - how to present new and different forms of art outside of traditional spaces and discourses, so as to not neuter their power/impact, but still to offer both a space for engagement and a mode of remuneration for the artists involved? Answers on a coaster, please...