Allanah Stewart is an artist from Aotearoa/New Zealand, currently living in Melbourne, Australia. As well as her work in various experimental music projects, she is the presenter of a monthly podcast radio programme called Enquiring Minds, hosted by Noods radio, which explores old and new, lesser known and well known sounds that loosely fit under the banner of experimental music.
Jen Callaway is a Melbourne musician, sound and performance artist, photographer, and community services worker raised in various parts of Tasmania. Current projects include bands Is There a Hotline?, Propolis, Snacks and Hi God People; and upcoming film Here at the End, by Campbell Walker, as actor/co-writer.
Isha Ram Das is a composer and sound artist primarily concerned with ecologies of environment and culture. He works with experimental sound techniques to produce performances, installations and recordings. He was the 2019 recipient of the Lionel Gell Award for Composition, and has scored feature-length films and nationally-touring theatre installations. He has performed at institutions such as the Sydney Opera House; Black Dot Gallery, Melbourne; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Metro Arts, Brisbane; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; and Boxcopy, Brisbane.
Dylan Robinson is a xwélméxw (Stó:lō) writer, artist, scholar and curator, He is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts, and associate professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is author of Hungry Listening, Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, published by University of Minnesota Press.
Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman (North Stradbroke Island) in South East Queensland. Her site-specific sculptural installations, video work and paintings investigate issues relating to identity, the environment and mapping practices. Cope’s work often resists prescribed notions of Aboriginality and becomes psychogeographies across various material outcomes that challenge the grand narrative of ‘Australia’ as well as our sense of time and ownership in a settler colonial state.
Australian musician Sean Baxter died on 15 March 2020. Part of Melbourne's improv scene, he is described by musician Anthony Pateras as possessing “a unique aesthetic vision and intellectual depth, mixing highbrow philosophical concepts with punk sensibilities in how he lived, spoke and played. He was pure energy.”
Drumkit and percussionist, Sean was an Australian improviser who forged an international reputation as a bold explorer of percussive possibilities both as a soloist and through his work with the acclaimed avant-garde trio, Pateras/Baxter/Brown. Focusing on the use of extended techniques applied to the conventional drum kit, he utilised an arsenal of metallic junk and other percussive detritus to expand the sonic palette of the percussion tradition. In addition to Pateras/Baxter/Brown, he was involved in many collaborations and was drummer for groups The Throwaways, Bucketrider, Lazy, SxSxSx and Terminal Hz.
Thomas Ragnar is an artist based in Singapore. His work is often underpinned by collaborations, affinities and research with experiential methodologies.
Alessandro Bosetti is an Italian composer, performer and sound artist, currently based in Marseille. His work delves into the musicality of spoken language, utilising misunderstandings, translations and interviews as compositional tools. His works for voice and electronics blur the line between electro-acoustic composition, aural writing and performance.
Lin Chi-Wei is a legend of Taiwanese sonic art, whose practice incorporates folklore culture, noise, ritual, and audience participation.
Mat Dryhurst is an artist who releases music and artworks solo and in conjunction with Holly Herndon and the record label PAN. Dryhurst developed the decentralised publishing framework Saga, which enables creators to claim ownership of each space in which their work appears online, and a number of audio plays that derive their narrative from the personal information of listeners. He lectures on issues of music, technology, and ideology at NYU, and advises the blockchain-based platform co-operative Resonate.is.
Sean Dockray is an artist, writer, and programmer living in Melbourne whose work explores the politics of technology, with a particular emphasis on artificial intelligences and the algorithmic web. He is also the founding director of the Los Angeles non-profit Telic Arts Exchange, and initiator of knowledge-sharing platforms, The Public School and Aaaaarg.
Author of Hearing the Cloud (Zero Books), Emile Frankel is a writer and composer researching the changing conditions of online listening. In his spare time he runs the Sci-Fi and critical fantasy publisher Formling.
Bridget Chappell is a raver and theory bro currently living on the unceded nations of the Latji Latji and Nyeri Nyeri people. They make music as Hextape and organise parties in drains, observatories, and other natural amphitheatres. They founded and run Sound School, work with young musicians behind bars, and make experimental sound technologies to challenge police sirens.
Holly Herndon experiments at the outer reaches of dance music and pop. Born in Tennessee, Herndon spent her formative years in Berlin’s techno scene and repatriated to San Francisco, where she completed her PhD at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Her albums include Platform (2015) and Proto (2019).
Candice Hopkins is a curator, writer and researcher interested in history, art and indigeneity, and their intersections. Originally from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Hopkins is a citizen of Carcross/Tagish First Nation. She was senior curator for the 2019 Toronto Biennial of Art, and worked on the curatorial teams for the Canadian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, and documenta 14.
Raven Chacon is a composer, performer and artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation. His work ranges from chamber music to experimental noise, to large scale installations, produced solo and with the Indigenous art collective Postcommodity. At California Institute of the Arts, Chacon studied with James Tenney, Morton Subotnick, Michael Pisaro and Wadada Leo Smith developing a compositional language steeped in both the modernist avant-garde and Indigenous cosmologies and subjectivities. He has written for ensembles, musicians and non-musicians, and for social and educational situations, and toured the world as a noise artist.
Lisa Lerkenfeldt is a multi-disciplinary artist working in sound, gesture and performance. Central to her practice is languages of improvisation and intimacy with technology. Traces of a personal discipline and form of graphic notation are introduced in the online exhibition 14 Gestures. The associated recorded work Collagen (Shelter Press, 2020) disrupts the role of the common hair comb through gesture and sound.
Haroon Mirza is an artist who intertwines his practice with the role of composer. Mirza considers electricity his main medium and creates atmospheric environments through the linking together of light, sound, music, videos and elements of architecture. Regularly showing internationally in group and solo exhibitions, Mirza’s work has also been included in the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, China (2012) and the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy (2011), where he was awarded the Silver Lion.
Shanghai native 33EMYBW (Wu Shanmin) has been an active member in the Chinese music scene for over a decade. She has also performed at CTM and Sinotronics in Germany, China Drifting Festival in Switzerland, and SXSW. Her 2018 album Golem, released on SVBKVLT, was met with critical acclaim and voted one of the best electronic albums of 2018 by Bandcamp. In 2019 she released DONG2 EP under Merrie Records Beijing, and will premiere her sophomore album Arthropods (SVBKVLT) at Unsound 2019.
Alexander Garsden is a Melbourne-based composer, guitarist and electroacoustic musician, working across multiple exploratory musical disciplines. Recent work includes commissions from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Speak Percussion, Michael Kieran Harvey and Eugene Ughetti; alongside performances with artists including Tetuzi Akiyama (Japan), Oren Ambarchi, Radu Malfatti (Austria), Julia Reidy, David Stackenäs (Sweden), and with Erkki Veltheim and Rohan Drape. From 2014 to 2019 Garsden was Co-Director of the INLAND Concert Series. He has taught through RMIT University and the University of Melbourne.
Annika Kristensen is Senior Curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Arben Dzika is an artist whose practice involves working with various media including, but not limited to: sound, image, word, and performance. His work primarily seeks to reflect on, interrogate, and play with technologies, systems, and human senses. Within his practice, he works as a producer and DJ under the moniker, Dilae.
Audrey Schmidt is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. She is a regular contributor to Memo Review, co-editor the third issue of Dissect Journal, and has written for various publications including Art Monthly, Art + Australia and un Magazine. She co-founded Minority Report with Adam Hammad in 2018 and released one online issue that was available until the domain expired in 2019. Audrey sits on the FYTA (GR) Board of Advisors.
Autumn Royal is a poet, researcher, and educator based in Narrm/Melbourne. Autumn’s current research examines elegiac expression in contemporary poetry. Autumn is the interviews editor for Cordite Poetry Review, and author of the poetry collections She Woke & Rose (Cordite Books, 2016) and Liquidation (Incendium Radical Library, 2019).
Bianca Winataputri is a Melbourne-based independent curator and writer researching contemporary practice in Southeast Asia, and relationships between individuals and collectives in relation to history, globalisation, identity and community building. Currently working at Regional Arts Victoria, Bianca was previously Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the NGA. She holds a BA (University of Melbourne), and BA Honours from the ANU where she received the Janet Wilkie Prize for Art. In 2018 Bianca was selected for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art’s Curators’ Intensive.
Brian Hioe was one of the founding editors of New Bloom, an online magazine covering activism and youth politics in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific, founded in 2014 in the wake of the Sunflower Movement. Hioe is a freelance writer on social movements and politics, as well as an occasional translator.
Chi Tran is a writer, editor, and an artist who makes poems that may be text, video, object, sound, or drawing. Chi is primarily interested in working with language as a means of coming-to-terms. Their work has been published by Incendium Radical Library Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Australian Poetry and Liminal Magazine and exhibited at galleries including Firstdraft, Sydney; Punk Café, Melbourne; and ACCA, Melbourne. In 2019, as a recipient of The Ian Potter Cultural Trust Fund, Chi spent three months in New York developing their practice with renowned poets including Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Fred Moten, and Jackie Wang.
Chun Yin Rainbow Chan is a Hong Kong–Australian artist, living in Sydney. Working across music, performance and installation, Rainbow is interested in the copy and how the ways in which it can disrupt Western notions of ownership. Central to Rainbow's work is the circulation of knock-off objects, sounds and images in global media. Her work positions the counterfeit as a complex sign that shapes new myths, values and contemporary commodity production.
Dale Gorfinkel is a musician-artist whose stylefree improvisational approach informs his performances, instrument-building, and kinetic sound installations. Aiming to reflect an awareness of the dynamic nature of culture and the value of listening as a mode of knowing people and places, Dale is interested in bringing creative communities together and shifting perceived boundaries. Current projects include Prophets, Sounds Like Movement, and Music Yared as well as facilitating Art Day South, an inclusive arts studio with Arts Access Victoria.
Danni Zuvela is a curator and writer based in Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Her research is informed by interests in feminism, activism, ecology, language and performance. With Joel Stern, Danni has led Liquid Architecture as Artistic Director, and continues to develop curatorial projects for the organisation.
Eric Avery is a Ngiyampaa, Yuin, Bandjalang and Gumbangirr artist. As part of his practice Eric plays the violin, dances and composes music. Working with his family’s custodial songs he seeks to revive and continue on an age old legacy – continuing the tradition of singing in his tribe – utilising his talents to combine and create an experience of his peoples culture.
Fjorn Butler is an artist, researcher, and event organiser. As an artist, she works primarily in sound and performance under the name Papaphilia. As a researcher, she interrogates how biological discourses are used in neoliberal/colonial governance structures to shape the political. Fjorn's research informs her writing on sound-poetics and the challenges this framework poses to anglophone notions of property. She is also co-director of Future Tense and co-curator of Writing and Concepts.
Freya Schack-Arnott is an Australian/Danish cellist who enjoys a multi-faceted career as a soloist and ensemble performer of classical and contemporary repertoire, curator and improviser within experimental music, electronics, popular and cross-disciplinary art forms. Schack-Arnott regularly performs with Australia's leading new music ensembles, including ELISION Ensemble (as core member) and Ensemble Offspring. Her curatorial roles include co-curator/founder of the regular 'Opus Now' music series and previous curator of the NOW Now festival and Rosenberg Museum.
Gooooose (Han Han) is an electronic music producer, visual artist and software developer based in Shanghai, China. His current releases include They (D Force, 2017), Dong 1 (D Force, 2018), Pro Rata (ANTE-RASA, 2019). Gooooose's 2019 SVBKVLT–released RUSTED SILICON received positive reviews from media including boomkat, Resident Advisor, Dusted Magazine, and The Wire. Gooooose has performed live at CTM (Berlin, 2018), Nyege Nyege (Kampala, 2019), Soft Centre (Sydney, 2019), Unsound (Kraków, 2019) and Recombinant (San Francisco, 2019).
Harmony Holiday is a writer, dancer, archivist, director, and the author of four collections of poetry, Negro League Baseball, Go Find Your Father/A Famous Blues, Hollywood Forever, and A Jazz Funeral for Uncle Tom. She lives in New York and Los Angeles.
James Rushford is an Australian composer-performer who holds a doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts, and was a 2018 fellow at Academy Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. His work is drawn from a familiarity with specific concrète, improvised, avant-garde and collagist languages. Currently, his work deals with the aesthetic concept of musical shadow. James has been commissioned as a composer by ensembles including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Glasgow), and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and regularly performs in Australia and internationally.
Jessica Aszodi is an Australian-born, London-based vocalist who has premiered many new pieces, performed work that has lain dormant for centuries, and sung roles ranging from standard operatic repertoire to artistic collaborations. She has been a soloist with ensembles including ICE; the Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras; and San Diego and Chicago Symphony Orchestras’ chamber series. Aszodi can be heard on numerous recordings and has sung in festivals around the world. She holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Queensland Conservatorium, an MFA from the University of California, and is co-director of the Resonant Bodies Festival (Australia), and artistic associate of BIFEM.
Kt Spit (Katie Collins) is an artist and musician based in Narrm (Melbourne). Lyrically and visually her work explores subcultural narratives and challenges dominant representations of loss, grief, and true love. In 2015 Kt independently released her debut album, Combluotion, and in 2019 will release a visual album entitled Kill the King.
The Convoy conjure illustrious soundscapes from the abyss of chaos, revealing hidden worlds of the imagination as the performance takes form and infuses with subjective experience. Using instruments of sound, light and smell, The Convoy enchant space with themes of tension, evolution, entropy and regeneration. Sensorial immersion transports audiences through highly dynamic environments that shift and blend into one single, breathing moment. As entity, rather than singular, Immy Chuah is a guest within The Convoy on unceded land.
I’m interested in what can be done with one’s identity and the space around it. Both my body and mind, touching everyday feelings between the rational, the playful and the political. Of course, this is often to do with my disability and my sexuality. My work has been focused on access, and the lack of it — to places, people’s minds and opportunities. I find plasticine is a great subverter of space and potentially of people’s minds. And the continued flexibility of it is something I am really enjoying — covering or filling up gaps and playing with crevices. But I’m finding that my work is drawing more and more to spoken word as a powerful format.
Sarah McCauley is a Melbourne-based music producer, editor and writer.
Neil Morris is a Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung man. He is well known in Narrm/Birraranga for his musical project DRMNGNOW, a project built on subject matter tackling the colonial nature of the Australian construct and how that affects contemporary society upon this land. The work is unapologetic, clear, and deeply poetic. It hints toward Morris's extensive experience as a spoken word artist in Narrm since 2015. Morris's work is triumphant in the face of severe adversity often imbued in a quite fortified melancholy, a powerful marker of the survival of First Nations peoples in the now.
Natasha Tontey is an artist and graphic designer based in Yogyakarta. She is interested in exploring the concept of fiction as a method of speculative thinking. Through her artistic practice she investigates the idea of how fear, horror, and terror could be manifested in order to control the public and how fictional accounts of the history and myth surrounding ‘manufactured fear’ might operate as a method of speculative fiction that determines expectations for the future.
Mat Spisbah is a New Media curator with a unique portfolio of programming that seeks to integrate non-traditional artistic methods and emerging technologies. Having lived in Hong Kong for 14 years, he is connected to the region’s art and culture, and has created professional networks with artists, curators, galleries, promoters and industry professionals across Australasia. Portfolio highlights include the debut Australian performances of north Asian artists including: Howie Lee, Rui Ho, Meuko Meuko, Pan Daijing, Alex Zhang Hungtai, Tzusing, and Gabber Modus Operandi.
Mandy Nicholson is a Wurundjeri-willam (Wurundjeri-baluk patriline) artist and Traditional Custodian of Melbourne and surrounds. Mandy also has connections to the Dja Dja wurrung and Ngurai illam wurrung language groups of the Central/Eastern Kulin Nation. Mandy gained a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Aboriginal Archaeology in 2011, worked for the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages for six years and is now a PhD candidate studying how Aboriginal people connect to Country, Off Country.
Lucreccia Quintanilla is an artist, writer, DJ and PhD candidate researcher at Monash University. Her writing and art have been published and exhibited both within Australia and internationally. Quintanilla’s practice is a collaborative one that manifests into outcomes within galleries and also as events and performances outside of that context. She regularly speaks at panels and symposiums on themes within her research, has received grants for her projects and residencies, and has taught at university level.
Amanda Stewart is a poet, author, and vocal artist. She has created a diverse range of publications, performances, film and radio productions in Australia, Europe, Japan, and the USA, working in literature, new music, broadcasting, theatre, dance, and new media environments. Amanda collaborated with Chris Mann for many years in the Australian ensemble, Machine For Making Sense (with Jim Denley, Rik Rue, and Stevie Wishart), as well as in other contexts. Her poem ‘ta’ was written in honour of Chris Mann’s extraordinary vision and work.
Holly Childs is an artist and writer. Her research involves filtering stories of computation through frames of ecology, earth, memory, poetry, and light. She is the author of two books: No Limit (Hologram, Melbourne) and Danklands (Arcadia Missa, London), and she collaborates with Gediminas Žygus on ‘Hydrangea’. She is currently writing her third book, What Causes Flowers Not to Bloom?.
Ivy Alvarez’s poetry collections include The Everyday English Dictionary, Disturbance, and Mortal. Her latest is Diaspora: Volume L (Paloma Press, 2019). A Fellow of MacDowell Colony (US), and Hawthornden (UK), her work is widely published and anthologised (twice in Best Australian Poems), with poems translated into Russian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. Born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, she lived in Wales for almost a decade, before arriving in New Zealand in 2014.
Nick Ashwood is a guitarist, composer, improviser and performer from Nipaluna/Tasmania now residing in Sydney. His focuses have been exploring deep listening, harmonic space and the possibilities of the steel-string acoustic guitar by means of preparations, just intonation, objects and bowing.
Berlin-based composer-performer Johnny Chang engages in extended explorations surrounding the relationships of sound/listening and the in-between areas of improvisation, composition and performance. Johnny is part of the Wandelweiser composers collective and currently collaborates with: Catherine Lamb (Viola Torros project), Mike Majkowski (illogical harmonies), Phill Niblock, Samuel Dunscombe, Derek Shirley and others.
Megan Alice Clune shifts between musician, composer and artist. Primarily, her work explores both the concept and aesthetics of ambient music through sound installation, collaboration and performance. Megan is the founding member of the Alaska Orchestra, and has presented work and undertaken residencies across Australia, Asia, Europe and North America, including the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival (MA), Next Wave Festival, Underbelly Arts Festival, Performa 15 (NYC) and VividLIVE at the Sydney Opera House.
Andrew Fedorovitch is compos mentis. Andrew Fedorovitch embodies professionalism in every aspect of his life, including music.
Shota is an artist working in Australia. He makes sound-based works for varying contexts. He has had the opportunity to collaborate with a multitude of artists from varying disciplines. Shota is currently an honours student who is associated with the Plant ecophysiology and Ecosystem processes lab at the University of Sydney.
Sonya Holowell is a Dharawal woman, vocalist, composer and writer working across new and experimental genres. The contexts for her work, and the forms they take, are diverse and deeply questioning. Her practice comprises interdisciplinary collaboration, improvisation, multi-form writing and conceptual composition. She is also a workshop facilitator; a curator of the Now Now Festival; lecturer in experimental vocal practice; and a co-founder/editor of online arts publication ADSR Zine.
Alexandra Spence is an artist and musician living on Gadigal country in Sydney, Australia. She makes installations, compositions and performances based on (everyday) sound and listening. Through her practice she attempts to reimagine the intricate relationships between the listener, the object, and the surrounding environment as a kind of communion or conversation. She has a current, near-spiritual, obsession with the animation of material and object through sound. Alex has performed and presented work on radio, in concerts, festivals, symposiums and galleries worldwide, and has two releases: Waking, She Heard The Fluttering, with Room40, and Immaterial, with Longform Editions.
MP Hopkins is an artist based in Sydney, Australia, that is concerned with how to record voices that are not really there, and ways to make voices that are there not sound like voices. He makes audio recordings, performances, and texts.
Joel Stern is a curator, researcher, and artist living and working on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne, Australia. He has been Artistic Director of Liquid Architecture since 2013. In 2018, with critical legal scholar James Parker, Stern curated Eavesdropping, an expansive project addressing the ‘politics of listening’ through work by artists, researchers, writers, detainees and activists from Australia and around the world.
Georgia Hutchison is a cultural development practitioner and arts executive in Naarm/Melbourne, and Executive Director/CEO of Liquid Architecture. Her practice as an artist, educator, organiser and strategist crosses contemporary art, music, design and social justice.
Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu) is a new and original voice in the evolving journey of Taonga Puoro. His debut album Whāia te Māramatanga (Rattle Records) is a deeply felt and highly concentrated conversation between the past and the present—a musical passage of identity and connection. Using modern loop technology and traditional Māori flutes and horns made from stone, bone, shell and wood, Thorne creates a transcendent aural experience that touches the soul with timeless beauty. Every performance of Whāia te Māramatanga is a stunning and very personal exploration of the spiritual and healing qualities of an ancient practice.
Michiko Ogawa is a performer-composer specialising in the clarinet, born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. She performs not only classical repertoire but also contemporary and experimental music, including free improvisation and film soundtrack work. In 2019 she was awarded a doctorate (DMA) from the University of California San Diego, with a dissertation focusing on the film music of Teiji Ito. She is in the beginning stages of writing a biography of Ito’s life.
Curious about the tender intersections between art, life and friendships, Emma Nixon is an emerging curator and writer. In 2018 she completed a Bachelor of Art History and Curating at Monash University and co-founded Cathedral Cabinet ARI in the Nicholas Building. In Melbourne she has curated and written about exhibitions that investigate subjects such as abstraction, the domestic, care and collage within contemporary art.
Fayen d’Evie is an artist and writer, based in Muckleford, Australia. Her projects are often conversational and collaborative, and resist spectatorship by inviting audiences into sensorial readings of artworks. Fayen advocates the radical potential for blindness, arguing that blindness offers critical positions and methods attuned to sensory translations, ephemerality, the tangible and the intangible, concealment, uncertainty, the precarious, and the invisible. With artist Katie West, Fayen co-founded the Museum Incognita, which revisits neglected or obscured histories through scores that activate embodied readings. Fayen is also the founder of 3-ply, which investigates artist-led publishing as an experimental site for the creation, dispersal, translation, and archiving of texts.
Debris Facility Pty Ltd is a para-corporate entity who engages im/material contexts with the view to highlight and disrupt administrative forms and their embedded power relations. Deploying print, design, installation, and wearables as the most visible parts of operations, they also work in experimental pedagogy and perforated performance of labour. They are a white-settler parasite with theft and dispossession as the implicated ground from which they work. They currently hold contracts with Liquid Architecture, Victorian College of the Arts, Monash University and Debris Facility Pty Ltd.
Timmah Ball is a writer and urban researcher of Ballardong Noongar descent. She has written for The Griffith Review, Right Now, Meanjin, Overland, Westerly, Art Guide Australia, Assemble Papers, The Big Issue, The Lifted Brow, the Victorian Writer magazine and won the Westerly Patricia Hackett Prize for writing.
Jessie Scott is a practising video artist, writer, programmer and producer who works across the spectrum of screen culture in Melbourne. She is a founding member of audiovisual art collective Tape Projects, and co-directed and founded the inaugural Channels Video Art Festival in 2013.
Christopher L G Hill is an artist, poet, anarchist, collaborator, facilitator, lover, friend, DJ, performer, sound pervader, publisher of Endless Lonely Planet, co-label boss; Bunyip trax, traveller, homebody, dancer, considerate participator, dishwasher, writer, bencher, eater, exhibitor: Sydney, Physics Room, Westspace, TCB, BUS, Punk Cafe,100 Grand street, Lismore Regional Gallery, Good Press, Gambia Castle, Conical, GCAS, NGV, VCA, Mission Comics, Slopes, Art Beat, Papakura Gallery, Neon Parc, UQ Gallery, Tate Modern, Connors Connors, Glasgow International, Sandy Brown, OFLUXO, New Scenarios, Margaret Lawrence, Flake, Utopian Slumps, World Food Books, Sutton, Rearview, Joint Hassles, a basement, a tree, Innen publications, SAM, Chateau 2F, etc, and tweeter, twitcher, sleeper, Biennale director (‘Melbourne Artist initiated’ 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018-20), DJ, retired gallerist Y3K, conversationalist who represents them self and others, born Melbourne/Narrm 1980c.e, lives World.
Iliass Saoud was born in Halba, Lebanon in 1960 as the sixth of eight children of Wakim and Nadima Saoud. Escaping the Lebanese Civil War in 1977, Iliass migrated to Canada pursued a BA in Mathematics from Dalhouse University in 1982. In 1987 he married Janice Joseph (Fakhry) before settling in Australia to raise his family in 1997, owning a variety of small businesses including the Gaffney Street post office across from the Lincoln Mill’s Centre in Coburg from 2005-2011. Currently, Iliass works part time at a local newsagency and is an avid Bridge player and a dedicated grandfather of one.
Dimitri Troaditis works in the Greek-Australian media. As a poet he has been extensively published in Greece and in Australia in numerous literary journals, websites, blogs and anthologies. He has published six poetry collections and two social history books so far. He has organised poetry readings in Melbourne for years and translates others’ poetry. He runs poetry website To Koskino and was a resident of Coburg for 19 years.
Luisa Lana was born in Australia in 1953. Her mother Nannina had arrived in Australia in 1950 with a 3 month old son, and worked for many years on the sewing room floors and her father Angelo worked on the docks where he helped unionise the Italian workforce. Luisa and her brother were latchkey kids, as they looked after themselves in the morning and ran the ‘Continental’ deli in the evenings. Luisa attained a teaching degree, then a postgrad in Social Sciences, and twice studied Italian at The University for Foreigners in Perugia, Italy. Luisa married Luigino Lana, a Venetian migrant who operated a mechanic business in Brunswick for over 30 years. She devoted her life to being an educator and a mother, teaching Italian to English speakers and English to generations of migrants from around the world. Currently Luisa is translating her father's memoirs from Italian to English, and enjoying being a Nonna.
Anabelle Lacroix is a French-Australian curator, writer and radio contributor. Working independently in Paris, she is based at Fondation Fiminco for a year-long residency focused on the politics of sleeplessness (2020). She has a broad practice, and a current interest in experimental practice, working with performance, sound, discourse and publishing. She is a PhD candidate at UNSW Art & Design.
Geoff Robinson is a Melbourne-based artist working on Wurundjeri country. Robinson creates event-based artworks that utilise the temporal qualities of sound and performance and the spatial conditions of physical sites to unravel the durational layers of place. Robinson has presented projects with Titanik, Turku; Bus Projects, Melbourne; Liquid Architecture, Melbourne; and MoKS, Mooste, Estonia. He was awarded the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2014 and completed the PhD project Durational Situation at MADA, Monash University, Melbourne, 2018.
Mattin is a cross disciplinary artist working with noise, improvisation and dissonance. His work Social Dissonance was presented at documenta 14 in 2017 in Kassel and Athens.
Elena Biserna is a scholar and independent curator based in Marseille (France), working at the intersection of social, political and public spheres.
Tobi Maier is the director of Lisbon’s Municipal Galleries, and recently presented Mattin’s Expanding Concert (2019–2023) a four year long concert distributed in time and space through different media: 5 public interventions in 5 different galleries in Lisbon, and 5 texts published within the city.
Clare Milledge is an artist and academic, she lives and works between the lands of the Arakwal people in Bundjalung country (Broken Head, Northern NSW) and the lands of the Bidjigal and Gadigal people (Paddington, Sydney). She is a Senior Lecturer at UNSW Art & Design and is represented by STATION gallery.
Alexander Powers is a choreographer, performer and DJ from Naarm. In 2019 they premiered their first full length choreographic work Time Loop at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, receiving the Temperance Hall Award at the Fringe Awards. Under the moniker Female Wizard, they are known internationally for their forward-thinking DJ sets. They’ve performed at Golden Plains, Dark Mofo, Boiler Room, Hybrid Festival and Soft Centre and held a four year residency at Le Fag.
Zoe Scoglio’s (often collaborative) practice explores the space of art as a site of study and sociality to engage the radical imagination towards alternative ways of being, knowing and relating. Current research takes critical and collective somatic approaches towards response-ability in these times of ecological collapse, within settler colonial conditions. Past projects have taken place within varied contexts, on top of mountains and under full moons, as large collective choreographies and intimate encounters.
Tricky Walsh is a non-binary artist working in New Norfolk, Tasmania, who works both collaboratively and in a solo capacity. Their projects focus on both spatial and communication concerns in an increasingly speculative manner and while they use a diversity of media (architecture, painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, sound, film, comics, radio) it is foremost the concept at hand that determines which form of material experimentation occurs within these broader themes.
Kengné Téguia is a Black Deaf HIV+ cyborg artist, who works from sound deafinitely. #TheBLACKRevolutionwillbeDEAFinitelyLoud
Angela Goh is a dancer and choreographer. Her work poses possibilities for disruption and transformation inside the aesthetics and conditions of technocapitalism, planetarity, and the post-anthropocene. She lives and works in Sydney, and has toured her work across Australia, Europe, the UK, the USA and Asia. She received the 2020 Keir Choreographic Award and the inaugural Sydney Dance Company Beyond the Studio Fellowship 2020-21.
Jannah Quill’s deconstructive exploration of electronic instruments and technologies manifests in electronic music production and experimental audio-visual performance and installation. Jannah modifies existing technologies (such as solar panels) into innovative light-to-audio systems, used with software/hardware experimentation and modular synthesis to carve a distinct voice in electronic music and art.
Tom Smith is a Melbourne-based artist, musician and researcher whose work combines video assemblages, experimental performance, speculative fiction, electronic music, websites and critical writing. Tom’s work is concerned with the politics and poetics of computational systems, the contradictions of creative economies, generic digital aesthetics and music as a mode of critical inquiry. Tom is also one half of music production duo Utility, and runs an independent record label called Sumactrac with Jarred Beeler (DJ Plead) and Jon Watts.
Pris Roos grew up in Rhenen, the Netherlands. Her family migrated from Bogor, Indonesia, to start their own toko in the Netherlands. Toko is the Indonesian word for shop, and they sell non-Western food (products). Roos grew up in the toko, a space of being together, and full of colours, smells, food, stories and images of immigrants. The toko is a source of inspiration for her artistic practices. Stories that are normally not heard find their way in her works. Roos makes portraits of immigrants that she meets in the toko, on the streets or in her surroundings of the South of Rotterdam. She visits them at home or invites them to her atelier. The stories are translated into painted portraits, videos, installations and spoken word performances.
Winnie Dunn is a Tongan-Australian writer and arts worker from Mt Druitt. She is the general manager of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Sydney University. Winnie’s work has been published in the HuffPost Australia, The Saturday Paper, Griffith Review, Meanjin Quarterly, SBS Voices and Cordite. She is the editor of several anthologies including Sweatshop Women, The Big Black Thing and Bent Not Broken. Winnie is currently completing her debut novel as the recipient of a 2019 CAL Ignite Grant.
Jon Watts is a Melbourne/Naarm based musician, designer, 3D artist and animator. His music has been released through cult labels SUMAC and Butter Sessions, and he is currently Senior Multimedia Installer at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Pan-Pan Kolektiva was established in March 2020, as a research group on listening. Pan-Pan is a standard emergency call based on the acronym Pan which stands for Pay Attention Now.
Nathan Gray is an artist whose recent works use voice as their medium, taking form as lecture-performances, radio-plays and documentaries, DJ sets, narrative and rumour.
makik markie yammamoroto
Leighton Craig is an artist living in Meanjin/Brisbane. He has been in a number of bands (The Lost Domain, G55, The Deadnotes et al) and is currently a member of the duo Primitive Motion with Sandra Selig.
Anne Zeitz is associate professor at University Rennes 2. Her research focuses on aural attention, the inaudible, the unheard, and the polyphony in contemporary art. She directed the research project 'Sound Unheard' and she co-organised the eponymous exhibition at the Goethe-Institut Paris, Paris and exhibition 'Échos magnétiques” at the MBA Rennes, Rennes in 2019.
Melissa Johnson is Associate Professor of Art History & Visual Culture at Illinois State University (Normal, IL). Her scholarly research focuses on the histories of craft and its intersections with modern and contemporary art. She is currently working on a project that explores artists making work in response to the writings of Virginia Woolf. She’s deeply interested in situating her academic writing and her textile-based work as parallel practices, and is working on two writing and textile projects, “Woolf Words” and “Haptic Investigations,” and a project on mending and repair.
Diego Ramirez makes art, writes about culture, and labours in the arts. In 2018, he showed his video work in a solo screening by ACCA x ACMI and he performed in Lifenessless at West Space x Gertrude Contemporary in 2019. His work has been shown locally and internationally at MARS Gallery, ACMI, Westspace, Torrance Art Museum, Hong-Gah Museum, Careof Milan, Buxton Cotntemporary, WRO Media Art Biennale, Human Resources LA, Art Central HK, Sydney Contemporary, and Deslave. His words feature in Art and Australia, NECSUS, un Projects, Runway Journal, Art Collector, and Australian Book Review. He is represented by MARS Gallery, Editor-at-large at Running Dog and Gallery Manager at SEVENTH.
Noemie Cecilia Huttner-Koros is a queer Jewish performance-maker, writer, dramaturg, poet, teaching artist and community organiser living and working on Whadjuk Noongar country in Boorloo (Perth). Her practice is driven by a deep belief in the social, political and communal role of art and performance and in engaging with sites and histories where queer culture, composting and ecological crisis occur.
Josten Myburgh is a musician based on Whadjuk Noongar boodja country who plays with techniques from the worlds of electro-acoustic music, radio art, free improvisation, field recording and experimental composition. He co-directs exploratory music label Tone List and the Audible Edge festival. He has performed in South Africa, the United States, and throughout South East Asia, Europe and Australia. He is a Schenberg Fellow and a student of Antoine Beuger and Michael Pisaro.
Aisyah Aaqil Sumito is an artist and writer living near Derbarl Yerrigan on Whadjuk Noongar Bibbulmun lands. Their work reflects mostly on personal intersections of disability, queerness and diasporic ancestry in so-called 'australia'. They have recently made text-based contributions to Runway Journal and HERE&NOW20: Perfectly Queer, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.
Michael Terren is a musician and educator from Boorloo/Perth. Grounded in experimental studio-based practice, his work explores the social construction of the technologies of music’s creation and distribution. He is a sessional academic teaching music at two Boorloo universities, and in 2019 finished a PhD thesis entitled 'The grain of the digital audio workstation'.
Joee Mejias is a musician and video artist from Manila. She is co-producer of WSK, the first and only international festival of digital arts and new media in the Philippines and co-founder of HERESY, a new platform for women in sound and multimedia. She performs as Joee & I: her avant-pop electronica solo project.
Myriad Sun are an experimental audio/visual/rap trio from Walyalup (Fremantle), Australia, composed of electronic producer Ben Aguero, Mc POW! Negro, and Limit Bashr. Additional performers: Mali Jose, Billy Jack Narkle and Polly-Pearl Greenhalgh.
Jasmine Guffond is an artist and composer working at the interface of social, political, and technical infrastructures. Focused on electronic composition across music and art contexts her practice spans live performance, recording, installation and custom made browser add-ons. Through the sonification of data she addresses the potential of sound to engage with contemporary political questions and engages listening as a situated-knowledge practice.
Sounding Together comprise of the following performers: Rhys Butler (alto saxophone); Simon Charles (soprano saxophone, shakuhachi); Eduardo Cossio (electronics, writing); Luke Cuerel (alto saxophone); Jim Denley (flute, writing); Julia Drouhin (voice, electronics, objects, images); Jameson Feakes (mandolin); Be Gosper (voice, objects); Noemie Huttner-Koros (voice, writing); Lenny Jacobs (percussion); Annette Krebs (amplified string instrument); Annika Moses (voice, images); Josten Myburgh (clarinet, alto saxophone, editing); Dan O’Connor (mastering); Stuart Orchard (guitar, objects, editing); Daisy Sanders (voice, movement).
Yan Jun, a musician based in Beijing uses a wide range of materials such as field recording, body, noise and concept. Yan Jun: “I wish I was a piece of field recording.”
Katie West is a multi-disciplinary artist who lives on Noongar Ballardong boodja and belongs to the Yindjibarndi people of the Pilbara tablelands in Western Australia. The process and notion of naturally dyeing fabric underpin her practice – the rhythm of walking, gathering, bundling, boiling up water and infusing materials with plant matter. The objects, installations and happenings that Katie creates invite attention to the ways we weave our stories, places, histories, and futures.
Simon Charles is a composer and performer based in Noongar Ballardong Country (Western Australia). His practice reflects an interest in the instability of compositional structures; as friction between musical notation and perception and interactions with place. He has performed at Serralvés Festival (Porto), The Wulf (Los Angeles) Studio Rotor (Berlin), Vigeland Mausoleum (Oslo), Avantwhatever Festival (Melbourne), DATA (Marseille), ANAM Quarttethaus and the Melbourne Recital Centre.
Tiarney Miekus is a writer, editor and musician based in Naarm/Melbourne. Her writing has appeared in The Age, Meanjin, The Lifted Brow (Online), Overland, Memo Review, un Magazine, Art Guide Australia, Swampland and RealTime. She is currently editor and podcast producer at Art Guide Australia.
Liang Luscombe is a Naarm/Melbourne-based visual artist whose practice encompasses painting, sculpture and moving image that engage in a process of generative questioning of how media and film affect audiences.
Thembi Soddell is a sound artist best known for their powerful acousmatic performances and installations in darkness. In 2019 they were awarded a PhD from RMIT University for their practice-based research titled, A Dense Mass of Indecipherable Fear: The Experiential (Non)Narration of Trauma and Madness through Acousmatic Sound. This research developed a novel approach to understanding lived experiences of anxiety, depression and trauma using a medium (abstract sound) with the unique ability to reflect the intangible nature of the inner world.
James Parker is an academic at Melbourne Law School and long-time associate curator with Liquid Architecture. His work explores the many relations between law, sound and listening. He is currently working on machine listening with Joel Stern and Sean Dockray.
Eloise Sweetman loves art, misses her home in Western Australia, all the time loving Rotterdam where she became friends with Pris Roos whose artwork Sweetman speaks of. Sweetman is a curator, artist, writer and teacher working in intimacy, not knowing and material relation. She started Shimmer with Dutch-Australian artist Jason Hendrik Hansma in 2017.
Cecilia Vicuña's work dwells in the not yet, the future potential of the unformed, where sound, weaving, and language interact to create new meanings.
'In January 1966, I began creating precarios (precarious) installations and basuritas, objects composed of debris, structures that disappear, along with quipus and other weaving metaphors. I called these works 'Arte Precario', creating a new independent category, a non-colonized name for them. The precarios soon evolved into collective rituals and oral performances based on dissonant sound and the shamanic voice. The fluid, multi-dimensional quality of these works allowed them to exist in many media and languages at once. Created in and for the moment, they reflect ancient spiritual technologies—a knowledge of the power of individual and communal intention to heal us and the earth.'
Camila Marambio is a private investigator, amateur dancer, permaculture enthusiast, and sporadic writer, but first and foremost, she is a curator and the founder/director of Ensayos, a nomadic interdisciplinary research program in Tierra del Fuego.
Las Chinas is the cosmic coincidences led to the meeting of Chileans Sarita Gálvez and Camila Marambio in Melbourne. Their shared reverence for the ancestral flautón chino from the Andes Mountains lead to playful explorations of its unique dissonant sounds and thereafter to experimenting with atonal signing and other technologies of the spirit.
Influenced by Chilean feminist poet Cecilia Vicuña, the now deceased poet Fidel Sepúlveda, the musical ensemble La Chimuchina and the chino bands from the townships of La Canela and Andacollo, Las Chinas honours the ancestral tradition by enacting the principle of tearing each other apart.
Bryan Phillips A.K.A. Galambo is a Chilean/Australian artist working in community arts, music and performance, using sound as a means to facilitate engagement with others. His practice has mainly been developed in Chile, but after completing his Masters in Community Cultural Development (VCA-2013) he has become involved in projects with artists from Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Australia.
Douglas Kahn is an historian and theorist of energies in the arts, sound in the arts and sound studies, and media arts, from the late-nineteenth century to the present. His books include Energies in the Arts (MIT Press, 2019); Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts (University of California Press, 2013); Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (MIT Press, 1999); Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of Digital Arts, edited with Hannah Higgins (University of California Press, 2012); and Source: Music of the Avant-garde, edited with Larry Austin (University of California Press, 2011).
André Dao is a writer, editor, researcher, and artist. His debut novel, Anam, won the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. He is also the co-founder of Behind the Wire, an oral history project documenting people’s experience of immigration detention and a producer of the Walkley-award winning podcast, The Messenger. He is a member of the Manus Recording Project Collective.
Poppy de Souza is a Meanjin (Brisbane) based researcher affiliated with Griffith University and UNSW. Her work focuses on the politics of voice and listening—broadly defined—in conditions of inequality and injustice, including the relationship between sound, race, and conditions of (not) being heard. Poppy has previously worked in community arts and cultural development (CACD), and with the national Film and Sound Archive as a curator on australianscreen.
Andrew Brooks is an artist, writer, and teacher who lives on unceded Wangal land. He is a lecturer in media cultures at UNSW, one half of the critical art collective Snack Syndicate, and a member of the Rosa Press Collective. Homework, a book of essays co-written with Astrid Lorange, was recently published by Discipline.
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, journalist, scholar, cultural advocate and filmmaker. He was writer for the Kurdish language magazine Werya. He writes regularly for The Guardian and several other publications. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, and author of No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. He was held on Manus Island from 2013 until 2019.
Emma Russell is a critical carceral studies scholar and senior lecturer in crime, justice and legal studies at La Trobe University, Australia. She researches and writes on policing and criminalisation, prisons, detention, and activism. Emma is the author of Queer Histories and the Politics of Policing (2020) and co-author of Resisting Carceral Violence: Women’s Imprisonment and the Politics of Abolition (2018).
Jason De Santolo (Garrwa and Barunggam) is a researcher & creative producer based in the School of Design, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. He has worked with his own communities as an activist and advocate using film and performance, protest and education to bring attention to injustices and design solutions using Indigenous knowledge.
Kynan Tan is an artist interested in the relations and conditions of computational systems, with a focus on data, algorithm, networks, materiality, control, and affect. These areas are explored using computer-generated artworks that take the form of simulations, video, sound, 3d prints, text, code, and generative algorithms.
Snack Syndicate, two rats (Andrew Brooks and Astrid Lorange) living on unceded Wangal land; texts, objects, events, meals, and publics.
Spence Messih is an artist living and working on Gadigal land. Their practice speaks broadly to sites of pressure, power structures, materiality, and language, and more specifically about these things in relation to their own trans experience.
Tom Melick is the co-editor of Slug and part of the Rosa Press Collective and Stolon Press.
Trisha Low is a writer living in the East Bay. She is the author of The Compleat Purge (Kenning Editions, 2013) and Socialist Realism (Emily Books/Coffee House Press, 2019).
A border, like race, is a cruel fiction
Maintained by constant policing, violence
Always threatening a new map. It takes
Time, lots of people’s time, to organise
The world this way. & violence.
— Wendy Trevino, ‘Brazilian is Not a Race’
A ruined hull of a wooden boat, held upright by rust-coloured metal supports, lay on the edge of a Venetian canal. The vessel was nested among industrial shipping equipment and operational boats in the complex of former shipyards and armories known as the Venetian Arsenal, the largest industrial enterprise of pre-industrialised Europe and a site crucial to the economic and military power of the Venetian Republic until its fall in 1797. The wrecked hull didn’t seem out of place here – one might reasonably think that it was awaiting repair or perhaps was a forgotten relic of a bygone time. Only the presence of a temporary barrier erected around the boat marked it as something other than what it appeared to be, something other than a ruined ship sitting in a former shipyard.
The vessel in question was in Venice as part of the 58th Venice Biennale: May You Live in Interesting Times, a major event in the international contemporary art calendar. It was the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel’s contribution to the exhibition, a readymade object that he titled Barca Nostra (which translates as Our Boat) and which the accompanying text produced by the Biennale described as ‘a collective monument and memorial to contemporary migration’. This boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa on 18 April, 2015. Carrying migrants from Africa to Europe, most of whom were locked in the hold and machine room, the vessel collided with a Portuguese container ship and sank. Only twenty-eight people survived while an estimated 700 to 1100 died in what was one of deadliest shipwrecks in living memory.
As the exhibition unfolded, migrants continued to attempt perilous Mediterranean crossings in search of refuge. As the boat sat there, migrant death rates climbed in a political climate that saw the criminalisation of refugees and rescue crews by Italian border patrols, while rising anti-immigrant sentiment espoused by far-right and fascist political parties circulated, often reproduced in the mainstream media. As the Barca Nostra stood on the edges of the Venetian canals as a spectacle for contemporary art audiences and tourists to consume, the European Parliament established a commission originally titled ‘Protecting our European way of life’, before being euphemistically rebranded as ‘Promoting our European way of life’.1 The rhetoric of strong borders dominates the political and media landscapes.
Büchel’s work was the subject of intense scrutiny. Far-right politicians, such as Italy’s then-Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, dismissed the work as ‘political propaganda’. Some art critics lauded the work as a powerful monument to death and suffering, while others denounced it as a decontextualized spectacle. In response, Büchel and the team that worked with him to produce the exhibition made the following statement:
public response—including press articles, critical essays, and social media posts—is integral to the overall concept. Büchel’s work comprises process and unmediated interactions… Again, the fishing vessel is not the artwork; instead, the ongoing project and its journey are the artwork.2
This reframing of the work as the discursive material that surrounds its reception elides what the work does (or fails to do) in context of the exhibition, transferring ethical responsibility for the work from the artist to the public that encounters it. It is neither bold nor radical to claim the work of art produces meaning beyond that which the artist intends. But what are we to make of art that merely reproduces an object of trauma as critique? When does reproduction cease to function as critique and operate instead as a re-enforcement of that which it seeks to unsettle? Saidiya Hartman warns of this representational strategy when she refuses to reproduce the beating of Aunt Hester that Fredrick Douglass narrates in the opening chapter of his 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an account of the horror and trauma of slavery in the US. Hartman writes:
I have chosen not to reproduce Douglass’s account of the beating of Aunt Hester in order to call attention to the ease with which such scenes are usually reiterated, the casualness with which they are circulated, and the consequences of this routine display of the slave’s ravaged body. Rather than inciting indignation, too often they immure us to pain by virtue of their familiarity—the oft-repeated or restored character of these accounts and our distance from them are signaled by the theatrical language usually resorted to in describing these instances—and especially because they reinforce the spectacular character of black suffering.3
For Hartman, the endless reproduction of this scene wears away at the power of Douglass’s narrative. We are no longer shocked by the violence and brutality but rather have come to accept this spectacle as the only paradigm through which to understand Black experience. Something similar can be said for the representation of Büchel’s monument to contemporary refugee experience – a spectacle of suffering divorced not only from the institutional and political processes that have contributed to the life-threatening criminalisation of asylum-seeking but from the refugee experience itself. The reproduction of this site of trauma casts the refugee as a subject with no voice and no agency, permanently relegated to a spatial imaginary that Denise Ferreira da Silva names ‘the horizon of death’.4
How do we move beyond the spectacle of suffering? In part, this is a question of the right to representation, of who is and is not able to account for refugee experience. But it is more than this, too. At issue is the way representation does or does not enable the disruption of what we might think of as the border industrial complex and the state violence that refugees increasingly find themselves subjected to. This then is also a question of how the work of art is received and what is transmitted through representation. To consider what representation does is to call into question the status of the one who receives the work and to interrogate, borrowing Hartman’s phrasing, ‘the uncertain line between witness and spectator’.5
It’s 7am on a Sunday morning and I’m still in bed, half asleep. I instinctively reach for my phone and see that I have a text from an unknown number. The message reads: ‘Samad, waking up in his room on Gordon, Port Moresby’ and includes a link, which I click. The website asks to access my location data and when I accept, it takes me to a minimally designed page that features simple purple text on an off-white background. The text reads: ‘Samad, waking up in his room in Gordon, Port Moresby. You are 2748km away from Samad, who recorded this yesterday.’ Beneath these spare sentences is the word ‘play’ in parentheses. I click the play button and an audio recording begins. An ambient hum of an enclosed space – perhaps it is the noise of an air conditioner or a distant road. The chirp of a bird from outside punctuates the relatively stable soundscape. Samad begins speaking, a direct address to imagined listeners far away from where he is located:
Hello everyone, this is Samad from Manus Island Detention Centre, and ah, currently I am staying in Port Moresby. I’m so happy… for a long time, I’m getting a chance to talk to you people, to just let you know about my current situation, about my current life. And the most important thing is: how am I feeling today? … Um (sighs) I’m not really sure what to say here, because I think many and many people already know that we are staying in detention centre for a very very long time. It’s been years and years and years. We are just waiting for something that we really want, we deserve it – it’s our freedom.
The recording continues for exactly ten minutes, at which points it abruptly ends with a hard cut. We hear Samad talk about: the alienation and loneliness of his current detention in Port Moresby, juxtaposing his current situation with his experience of imprisonment on Manus Island (‘Sometimes I’m thinking: let’s compare Manus Island and Port Moresby. Of course, both are jails for us… But at least in Manus we were a group of friends.’); the feeling of hopelessness and the depression that indefinite detention induces (‘Sometimes I just feel so hopeless and helpless. I even cannot move myself.’; ‘It’s not easy to just stay positive all the time or just stay normal. There is not even a bit of happiness’); his attempt to construct some kind of routine for himself (‘I am still trying my best to wake up early in the morning to do some workout, to just maintain my physical and mental health.); and the temporality of indefiniteness (‘I am just confused and I don’t know what to do – just lying down all the time on my bed just listening to music or watching a movie.’).
European Parliament, ‘Legislative Train Schedule 2019-2024: Promoting Our European Way of Life,’ 2019, www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/ theme-promoting-our-european-way-of-life/fiche. ↩
Christina Ruiz, ‘Fierce debate over Christoph Büchel’s Venice Biennale display of boat that sank with hundreds locked in hull.’ The Art Newspaper, May 14, 2019, www.theartnewspaper.com/news/christoph-buechel. ↩
Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth-Century America, (Oxford Oxford: University Press, 1997), 3. ↩
Denise Ferreira da Silva, ‘No-Bodies: Law, Raciality and Violence’ Griffith Law Review 18/2 (2009), 234. ↩
da Silva, ‘No-Bodies: Law, Raciality and Violence,’ 4. ↩
What I’m listening to is the first of a series of recordings that will be delivered to me via text message everyday over the coming month as part of a project called where are you today. The recordings have been produced by the Manus Recording Project Collective, a group of men (Farhad Bandesh, Farhad Rahmati, Samad Abdul, Shamindan Kanapathi, Thanush Selvraj, Yasin Abdallah) currently held in involuntary and indefinite detention after seeking asylum in Australia, and their Melbourne-based collaborators.1 where are you today expands the collective’s 2018 project called how are you today, which was commissioned by Liquid Architecture curators Joel Stern and James Parker for the exhibition Eavesdropping at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. The first iteration of the project involved six men detained on Manus Island (Abdul Aziz Muhamat, Farhad Bandesh, Behrouz Boochani, Samad Abdul, Shamindan Kanapathi and Kazem Kazemi) and the same three collaborators located within the borders of the Australian nation state. Over the course of the fourteen-week exhibition, the men on Manus – who had each been supplied with a portable Zoom audio recorder – took it in turns to make ten-minute sound recordings that were sent onshore to their collaborators via WhatsApp or Telegram, who would then upload the recordings for broadcast in the gallery space with minimal editing. The result is a fourteen-hour archive of recordings that indexes indefinite detention on Manus Island. In an essay responding to the archive of recordings that arose from how are you today, I noted how varied the recording were:
Some take the form of a first-person address to an imagined audience, one that would attend an art exhibition in a capital city in Australia; some document daily interactions between refugees or between refugees and Manusians; some index the labour of political organising in its visible and less visible iterations – the work of collecting signatures for a petition or the work of addressing refugee forums and advocates ‘onshore’ in Australia; and some simply document daily life in detention – a walk into the town centre, the waves on the beach, the singing of songs, a soccer game… At times, the recordings are moving, at other times banal.
Part of what captured my attention about this collection of recordings is that they are decidedly unspectacular. The recordings refuse to cohere into a linear or stable narrative about what detention is or isn’t. Rather, they document the everydayness of detention and the suspension of time that accompanies indefinite imprisonment. And they allowed the men in detention the right to their own representation. Listening to these recordings as a whole – the patient documentation of the quotidian, the ambient environmental sounds, the testimonies, the fragments of social life, and so on – produces an intensification of affect that works against the logic of the border which, in part, is designed to ensure some subjects are kept apart from others. This intensification of affect undermines the border itself, momentarily collapsing the space between the listener and the one making the recording and enabling the intimate act of listening. where are you today has many resonances with the earlier project: the structure of the ten-minute audio recording is retained; the men in detention again have complete control over the content of the recordings; and the project responds directly to the indefinite detention of refugees by the Australian government. Much has also changed since the first collection of recordings was produced. On 2 March, 2019, the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018, more commonly known as the ‘Medevac Bill’, became law. The bill was designed to provide critically ill refugees held in offshore detention the right to be transferred onshore to Australia for urgent, life-saving treatment. The bill marked a crucial step for the rights of refugees, granting them access to medical care unavailable in the offshore locations. The bill faced strong opposition from the sitting Liberal Government who argued that bringing refugees onshore could lead to weakened borders and national security breaches. The re-election of the Liberal Government in May 2019 sparked a wave of suicide attempts and self-harm among those detained offshore in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In the wake of the election, Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish-Iranian journalist and refugee advocate who was detained on Manus from 2013 until November 2019, reported that refugees had ‘completely lost hope’.2
Between August and November 2019, the Federal Government transferred detainees formerly held on Manus and Nauru Islands to Port Moresby or onshore to various locations in Australia. Then, in December of the same year, a bill to repeal the Medevac legislation3 was passed by the federal government, removing vital access to medical care for those still detained in Port Moresby.4 Many refugees evacuated under the Medevac bill now found themselves indefinitely detained onshore in Immigration Transit Accommodation or in ‘temporary’ accommodation such as the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread through the world, more than 400 refugees remained in offshore detention and more than 200 remained in indefinite detention within Australia’s borders. Variously held in Port Moresby, Nauru, Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA), Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) and other federally managed detention centres, refugees now found themselves in cramped and crowded accommodation where the spread of the novel coronavirus was a very real possibility. The most recent chapter in the Federal Government’s attempt to isolate those in detention from the outside world was proposed legislation – Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 – that would ban mobile phones in immigration detention centres, a move that would both reproduce the logics of separation so central to offshore detention policy onshore, as well as remove access to a technology that allows refugees to engage in sousveillance practices that have the capacity to curtail violence against detainees. It now appears that this proposed legislation will not pass the senate and will not be carried into law.5 where are you today finds the six contributors currently held in detention spread across a number of different sites of detention: Shamindan Kanapth and Samad Adbul document their detention in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, while Farhad Bandesh, Farhad Rahmati, Thanush Selvraj, and Yasin Abdallah, having been relocated ‘onshore’ under the Medevac legislation, were variously imprisoned in Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation, and the Mantra Hotel in Preston, Victoria. Taken as an archive, the collection of recordings documents the migration of offshore detention onshore and the imposition of a border logic within the boundaries of the nation state.
On December 11, 2020, between the writing of this essay and its publication, Farhad Bandesh was granted a visa to remain in Australia and released from detention. His release came after eight years of detention both offshore and onshore. ↩
Holly Robertson, ‘Manus Island in ‘unprecedented crisis’ as refugee selfharm surges after Australian election’ ABC News, May 29, 2019, www.abc.net.au/ news/2019-05-29/growing-surge-in-refugee-self-harm-since-australianelection/11156064. ↩
Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019. ↩
Sarah Martin,‘Medevac repeal bill passes after Jacqui Lambie makes “secret deal” with Coalition’ The Guardian, December 4, 2019, www.theguardian.com/ australia-news/2019/dec/04/medevac-repeal-bill-passes-after-jacquilambie-makes-secret-deal-with-coalition. ↩
Paul Karp‘Jacqui Lambie sinks Coalition plan to ban mobile phone access in immigration detention’ The Guardian, October 2, 2020, www.theguardian.com/ australia-news/2020/oct/02/jacqui-lambie-sinks-coalition-plan-to-banmobile-phone-access-in-immigration-detention. ↩
where are you today responds to political and media contexts in which the figure of the refugee has been systematically demonised and dehumanised. A direct line from the present can be drawn to the 2001 Australian federal election, which marked a decisive turning point in refugee discourse and saw the amplification of an affective politics of fear and panic. In August of 2001, the sitting Liberal government refused permission for the MV Tampa, a Norwegian freighter carrying 433 rescued refugees, to enter Australian waters. Then, in October of the same year, a wooden vessel that came to be known as SIEV 4 (Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel) was intercepted 190km north of Christmas Island by the Australian naval frigate, the HMAS Adelaide, which attempted to turn the boat back to Indonesia. The wooden boat, which was carrying 233 asylum seekers, began to sink. In the days following the event, senior Liberal party ministers, including then-Immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, falsely accused passengers of the SIEV 4 of throwing their children overboard and abandoning them to the ocean in order to protect themselves and force the hands of officials. Photographs released to the media that supposedly provided evidence that children had been sacrificed to the ocean were later revealed to have been taken after the SIEV 4 sank and during a coordinated rescue. The incident came to be known as the ‘Children Overboard’ affair and even though a subsequent senate inquiry found that no children were thrown overboard, the portrayal of refugees as callous and morally bankrupt by both politicians and mainstream media endures to this day.1 These events showed us that an image, when framed by an interpretation, can become a durable and reproducible representation.
The 2001 federal election would be shaped by these events, which would culminate in the re-election of John Howard’s Liberal government and the subsequent implementation of the ‘Pacific Solution’, an alarmingly titled set of government policies that excised thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean from Australia’s migration zone and re-established mandatory and indefinite offshore detention. The political legacy of this moment was to conflate asylum seeking and forced migration with border security and sovereignty. This conflation, reproduced by successive governments and mainstream media outlets, has resulted in the calcification of representation of refugees as opportunistic queue jumpers, ‘illegals’ or proto-criminals. Reflecting on these recordings has me thinking about the role that sound plays in the (re)production of this representation. Specifically, I have been thinking about the relationship between sound and the structural violence of whiteness in the context of the settler state. The sonic plays a central role in processes of demarcation, such as the claiming of possession or the construction of subjectivity. Recall, for example, Frantz Fanon’s description of the racialising gaze of a white child on a train, who upon encountering Fanon speaks the words: ‘Look, a Negro!’, an utterance with a performative force that announces ‘the fact of Blackness’ as that which threatens whiteness. Or we might remember that Althusser’s famous account of interpellation into state ideology is a sonic act, a moment of literally being called into being. He writes:
I shall then suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: “Hey, you there!” Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn around. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognised that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him, and that ‘it was really him who was hailed’ (and not someone else).’2
We often focus our critical attention on the relationship between the image and representation – the way an image teaches us to see the world and be seen in the world. But what role does the sonic play in shaping representation and subjectivity? What role does the sonic play in the naturalisation of white possession and dehumanisation of the racialised, refugee other? The scene of interpellation or the construction of a shared national imaginary is not simply structured by sound but also mediated by it. Sound is a relational phenomenon that does not merely demarcate but shapes how we think and feel and relate to other bodies and ideas.
Put another way, the sonic has the capacity to position and reposition us within a social and political field; the settler-colonial context of Australia is a racially saturated sonic field. That is, the sonic field is structured by white perception which determines in advance what can and can’t be heard within the white imaginary. Here I am drawing on Judith Butler’s account of a visual field structured by racism, suggesting that a similar operation occurs in the realm of the sonic. Writing in the wake of the Rodney King case, Butler argues that ‘the visual field is not neutral to the question of race; it is itself a racial formation, an episteme, hegemonic and forceful’.3 As such, the act of seeing always involves an act of reading and interpretation, problematising the assumption that seeing is natural or neutral. Seeing, Butler observes, is not ‘an act of direct perception, but the racial production of the visible’.4 For Butler, racism structures white perception, producing a white paranoia that renders in advance the Black subject as containing an impending threat of violence. Intention is inscribed phantasmatically upon the Black subject, producing a justification for any pre-emptive action to which a Black person is subjected. ‘This is a seeing which is a reading’, writes Butler, ‘that is, a contestable construal, but one which nevertheless passes itself off as “seeing,” a reading which became for that white community [Simi Valley in LA], and for countless others, the same as seeing.’5
The sonic field is likewise a racial formation that passes itself off as neutral. Listening is often imagined as an act of direct perception rather than a contestable construal, that is, as an act that involves interpretation and criticality. The refrain of ‘stop the boats’, which has saturated our political and media discourse in relation to refugees for almost two decades, is not merely a conservative political slogan aimed at mobilising voters; it is a soundbite that works to produce and uphold a sonic field that structures white perception itself. ‘Stop the boats’ is an utterance that contains a performative force that works both to exclude the racialised other from the horizon of white perception and naturalise whiteness itself. It is a performative declaration of who has the right to speak and who should be listened to. The refrain can be understood as what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari referred to as ‘order-words’, a concept that describes the implicit presuppositions contained with language that carry an affective force and produce material and social relations.6 For Deleuze and Guattari, order-words do not simply refer to imperatives or communicate commands. They also produce, or uphold, an order. ‘Stop the Boats’ performs such an operation, reproducing and upholding a settler-colonial order. The utterance is an assertion of what Aileen Moreton-Robinson calls ‘the possessive logic of patriarchal white sovereignty’,7 but its power emerges from a cumulative and historic coding of the sonic field that both inscribes and erases – erasing individual subjectivity while projecting generic and racialised conceptions of identity onto certain non-white subjects such as First Nations people and refugees. Taken as a racial formation, this sonic field renders the racialised other as either silent or as producing a form of noise that threatens whiteness itself, providing the necessary basis for the state’s deployment of racial violence.
This is not to suggest that the sonic field or the border that circumscribes it are stable and fixed. In reality, the border is a porous and leaky infrastructure that is underpinned by shifting systems of classification. As Angela Mitropolos tells us, with the infrastructure of the border the ‘nation-state monopolized control over two things: the legitimate movements of people and money.’8 In the context of the Australian settler colony, the border regulates the flow of people and capital in ways that must always uphold the sovereignty of the illegitimate nation state that is imposed on top of unbroken First Nations sovereignty. This porosity enables special visas to be granted to foreign investors who bring fresh flows of capital into the national economy. It also explains the issuing of student visas to largely nonwhite international students that has led to a multi-billion-dollar higher education export industry. Importantly, that which is allowed to leak through the border must never trouble the logic of white possession that underpins the nation and its collective psyche.
The sonic field structures and mediates the way we hear the world and shapes what we hear in the first place. This formation is not merely structured by the racial relation but more precisely by the racial capital relation. Ownership of the means of production or proximity to capital can produce moments of leakage and legislated exceptions from the publicly stated ‘tough on borders’ rhetoric and its thinly veiled appeal to the preservation of the integrity of the white nation. Those that lack capital and/or enter the country in makeshift ways encounter a closed border that appears to be rigid and unmoveable. The closure of listening that accompanies this version of border can manifest as both explicit and implicit forms of racism, structuring the silencing of racialised voices by both those who want to eliminate refugees and non-white migrants altogether, as well as liberals who speak on behalf of such subjects, announcing their desire to celebrate diversity and difference at the same time that they set the the conditions of national participation. The possessive protection of the integrity of the white nation, Ghassan Hage tells us, is a defining feature of the ‘ritualistic “immigration debates” that White Australians enjoy having so much.’ He continues:
In those debates, the ‘migrants’ and the ‘ethnics’ are welcomed, abused, defended, made accountable, analysed and measured. Ultimately, the debates work to silence them and construct them into passive objects to be governed by those who have given themselves the national governmental right to ‘worry’ about the nation… Both the ‘racists’ and the ‘multiculturalists’ shared in the conviction that they were, in one way or another, masters of national space, and that it was up to them to decide who stayed in and who ought to be kept out of that space.9
The sonic field, which comprises both the sounds we hear and the forces that mediate our hearing, is crucial to the maintenance of whiteness in the settler state, structuring perception and naturalising settlement through the repetition of possessive speech acts and the selective silencing of non-white voices. But it should be noted that part of the power of the ‘Stop the Boats’ refrain has been its capacity to appeal to some non-white migrants who arrived by ‘official’ means. The reproduction of this refrain by non-white migrants might be taken as an expansion of the white sonic field or perhaps an expansion of the boundaries of whiteness itself (which we know to be a relational and socially determined status). But this belief in the multiculturalism of the national imaginary and the national sonic field is a fallacy that demands non-white migrants assimilate into white culture in ways that do not threaten whiteness itself. Here performative celebrations of ethnic culture such as food, dance, and other ‘superficial’ cultural markers stand in for a meaningful engagement with difference. Should the non-white migrant fail to maintain the fantasy of assimilation, they will find themselves again excluded from a national sonic field structured by ghosts of white settlement.
If we take the sonic field as a racially contested sphere then we must challenge the presumed neutrality of listening as an act, constructing instead a politics of listening that displaces the naturalisation of whiteness by attuning to those sonicities outside the horizon of white perception. A crucial first step might be to listen directly to those voices so often silenced within the white sonic field.
It’s a Wednesday morning at 9:48am and I half-register that I’ve received a text message. I’m reading student assessments for a course I’ve been teaching on the politics of data and drinking a big pot of black coffee. At some point, I look at my phone properly and see that the message that came through earlier was from the Manus Recording Project Collective. The matter of fact, descriptive text message style is by now familiar – I’ve been receiving these recordings every day for the past eighteen days. ‘Yasin, playing pool and listening to music’, the message reads. I click the link and am told that I am 698km away from Yasin, who, at the time, was being detained in the Mantra Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Preston, on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. I click the play button and immediately hear music: auto-tuned vocals bounce over the top of an upbeat afrobeat groove, layered synths, and nylon string guitar riffs. The song is ‘Yori Yori’ by the Nigerian duo Bracket. Muffled voices speak quietly over the top of the music in a language I do not recognise. The sound of billiard balls smashing together intermittently punctuates the track, as does the occasional eruption of laughter. ‘Yori Yori’ ends and an exaggerated voice announces the existence of Hungry Jacks burger featuring ‘flame grilled Aussie beef’. The game of pool continues as 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ starts playing.
Parliament of Australia, ‘A Certain Maritime Incident’, 2002, www. aph.gov.au/ParliamentaryBusiness/Committees/Senate/Former Committees/maritimeincident/report/index; Mary Macken-Horaick, ‘Working the borders in racist discourse: the challenge of the ‘Children Overboard Affair’ in news media texts,’ Social Semiotics, 13/3, 2003, 283-303. ↩
Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 174. ↩
Judith Butler, ‘Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,’ in Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising, ed. Robert Gooding-Williams, (New York: Routledge, 1993) 15-22. ↩
Butler, ‘Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,’ 16. ↩
Butler, ‘Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia,’ 16. ↩
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005) 75-85. ↩
Aileen Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty, (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2015) xi. ↩
Sean O’Brien ‘Border, Theory, Contract: An Interview with Angela Mitropoulos,’ Public, 28/55 (2017), 85. ↩
Ghassan Hage, White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, (New York: Routledge, 2000) 17. ↩
The scene I am listening to seems remarkably familiar, as if it could be a memory of my own. But it’s not my memory, and as I listen I remember the 698km between Yasin Abdallah and myself. I remember that Yasin, who is twenty-four years old, has spent over seven years in detention since arriving in Australia by boat from Darfur, Sudan. I try to imagine how the experience of indefinite detention shapes this game of pool, how imprisonment alters the experience of listening to 50 Cent’s party anthem. It’s impossible for me to comprehend but I’m not sure that the recording seeks to produce an empathetic identification. Indeed, the structure of empathy requires that one project oneself into the life of the other, unwittingly reducing the other to an object. While empathy purports to establish an emotional connection, the direction of this relation is unilateral and centres the transformative experience on the person empathising rather than on the experience of the other. As Saidiya Hartman puts it, ‘empathy fails to expand the space of the other but merely places the self in its stead.’1 This recording incites us to listen not for empathetic identification but to an experience of detention that is unknowable.
The recording of Yasin and his friends playing pool is powerful not because it reveals exceptional suffering but rather because, in many ways, it is so ordinary and unremarkable: a game of pool, the chatter of friends, music on the radio. But what we hear in this recording, and in the archive of recordings produced by the Manus Recording Project Collective, is a reclamation of the right to representation. This archive of recordings rejects the representational regime we find in Büchel’s Barca Nostra, one that mines trauma and suffering in order to produce a spectacle for consumption. These sonic portraits also refuse a representational paradigm that criminalises and demonises the refugee. Instead, we listen to portraits of quiet resistance, everyday acts of friendship and solidarity, expressions of grief and exhaustion, articulations of desire. We listen to Thanush give his friend Sinna a haircut, we listen to Farhad Bandesh listening to an old Kurdish folk song, we listen to Samad boxing in the gym, we listen to Farhad Rahmati listening to birdsong at dusk, we listen to Shamindan eating dinner alone as a radio plays Bryan Adams in the background. The sounds we hear are familiar and yet they remain beyond our grasp, made strange by a temporality that is beyond the grasp of anyone not subjected to indefinite detention. where are you today refuses to transform the listener into a sonic spectator, insisting instead that the listener bear witness to ongoing acts of state violence. More specifically, listening to this archive is to witness acts of witnessing; we listen to these men witnessing the violence of the state. That we remain witnesses rather than spectators in this listening event is, as Michael Richardson and Kerstin Schankweiler have noted, ‘to be brought within the intersection of the political and the ethical and in doing so to be affectively entangled in a complex web of relations.’2 Richardson and Schankweiler stress the affective dimension of witnessing, arguing that if witnessing is to become responsible to the event in question, then it is always an affective and affecting experience. When we listen to the recordings produced by the Manus Recording Project Collective we witness the affective forces and intensities as they register on the men making the recordings and, in turn, there is an affectivity to this act of sonic witnessing. Crucially, these affective experiences are not identical but they establish a relationality between the one who made the recording and one who listens at a distance.
It is in this relation that we might locate the genesis of meaningful solidarity. Richardson and Schankweiler are instructive again: ‘If we understand bearing witness as sharing ways of affecting and being affected, witnessing and testimony constitute a “we” that transforms a collective into a community, often against another community of “them” (for instance victims against perpetrators).’3 The sonic witness strains to attune to the affects that circulate in and through these recordings. The power of these recordings is their refusal to make the refugee experience into a spectacle for passive consumption, instead charging us to listen for the intensification of affect and to occupy the role of the witness and consider the responsibility this position entails.
The logic of the border is concerned with separation and control. The capacity to regulate the flows of both people and capital is central to maintenance and authority of nation states. In the case of the Australian nation state, the border is a juridico-political assemblage that has always functioned as a racialising technology, one that seeks to impose and maintain white supremacy. Listening to this archive is to listen beyond the white sonic field, which is, in part, maintained by the violence of the border. The recordings that make up where are you today produce relations and connections through the amplification of affect. ‘The issue with borders’, writes Angela Mitropoulos, ‘is that they are conducive to ensuring that people on either side of a border do not feel affection toward one another, or are repelled, distanced from being affected. Breaking through this division is crucial.’4 These recordings encourage us to break down the divisions given in and by the logic of the border. That they are transmitted to us directly, via text message, rather than broadcast in the gallery space is further evidence of this affective intensification. The event of witnessing intrudes on our daily life: one morning, having just gotten out of the shower, I listen to Farhad Rahmati and others watching Discovery Turbo channel and talking about the cars they dream of having when they’re out of detention; another day, I listen to Shamindan, in his room, doing nothing – the silence punctuated by occasional bodily noises. The recordings are quiet portraits of state-sanctioned violence that seek to silence and wear out a refugee population existing in a state of suspended animation. The recordings also puncture the white sonic field, asking us to attend to the intensification of affect and charging us to develop material responses to the inhumanity of mandatory detention.
The work of art that merely reproduces the object of trauma as critique transforms that object into a spectacle for passive consumption. This allows the audience to slip from the position of witness to spectator, a role that does not bear the same injunction to act. I do not mean to imply here that there is a direct correlation between the work of art and political action; the latter requires a commitment to organising a different world and a desire to produce material responses to specific ethical and political crises. But the work that demands we remain in the position of the witness rather than the spectator might lead to an intensification of affect in which the witness bears some kind of responsibility to act and respond. where are you today is an invitation to listen beyond the white sonic field to the sounds and voices that leak through the border and reveal its inherent fragility. One cannot unhear a recording once it has been listened to just as one cannot refuse the status of witness. To listen to these recordings is to be transformed into a witness and to confront the ethical and political responsibility of that position. This is not to suggest that any singular witness necessarily has the capacity to effect structural change but rather to stress that the project of dismantling modes of perception structured by whiteness and settler coloniality will be a collective endeavour, one that might bring about a change to material conditions. where are you today places a demand on the listener to attend to the ongoing violence perpetuated in the name of the sovereign border, calling on the listener to both listen beyond the border and, crucially, to join the struggle to end mandatory and indefinite detention.
Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, 20. ↩
Michael Richardson and Kerstin Schankweiler, ‘Affective Witnessing’ in Affective Societies: Key Concepts, eds. Jan Slaby and Christian von Scheve, (New York: Routledge, 2019) 166. ↩
Michael Richardson and Kerstin Schankweiler, ‘Affective Witnessing,’ 170. ↩
Sean O’Brien ‘Border, Theory, Contract: An Interview with Angela Mitropoulos,’ 86. ↩
Andrew Brooks is an artist, writer, and teacher who lives on unceded Wangal land. He is a lecturer in media cultures at UNSW, one half of the critical art collective Snack Syndicate, and a member of the Rosa Press Collective. Homework, a book of essays co-written with Astrid Lorange, was recently published by Discipline.
Thank you to the editors of this issue and to the peer reviewers who read this work and offered generous and generative feedback on this piece. Thank you also to Astrid Lorange and Tom Melick who read versions of this work with great care and attention and whose feedback pushed my thinking further (as it always does).
The writings included in Sitting by the Fence near the Jungle: Reflections on the Manus Recording Project Collective were originally published in Law Text Culture, as part of a larger peer reviewed collection on the ‘Acoustics of Justice: Law, Listening, Sound’, edited by James Parker, Sara Ramshaw and Mehera San Roque. The collection is generously reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence (non-commercial) with the permission of the journal. The original PDFs can be downloaded here, along with fifteen other pieces (some of which are forthcoming in August 2021). We ask that you cite to the originals. But we hope this version of the dossier, which places the writing in direct conversation with the Manus Recording Project Collective’s original audio recordings, offers readers a different reading experience, as well as opening the work up to new audiences.
The editor would like to thank Joel Stern as co-curator of how are you today and where are you today, Liang Luscombe and Monet Jones for their amazing editorial support and Public Office for the beautiful design. The works discussed in this dossier were originally commissioned as part of the Eavesdropping exhibition, staged at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne in 2018 and City Gallery, Wellington in 2019. We thank these institutions for their support in the public stagings of the project. Most of all, sincere thanks to every member of the Manus Recording Project Collective — Abdul Aziz Muhamat, Farhad Bandesh, Behrouz Boochani, Kazem Kazemi, Shamindan Kanapathi, Samad Abdul, Farhad Rahmati, Thanush Selvraj, Yasin Abdallah, Michael Green, André Dao and Jon Tjhia. In solidarity for their ongoing struggles for freedom and justice.
This dossier was produced online, and across multiple unceded Indigenous Lands in so-called ‘Australia’ and Aetearoa, New Zealand. We acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nation as the custodians of the lands on which we work. We pay our respects to Indigenous Elders, past and present.