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 teacher 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). Her third collection of poetry is forthcoming with Giramondo Publishing in 2021.
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.
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.
The ideas and positions presented in this coda have been forged in relation to Bridget Chappell’s practice and my experience of it, specifically regarding their postponed exhibition No Comment. My writing, however, should not be understood as analogous to the exhibition, but rather as a refraction, or extension, of some of its concerns. This approach coheres with No Comment’s way of working and how I would like to characterise its effects. Further, there are good reasons not to write about No Comment at all. First, while the exhibition in its original form did not take place, it will be mounted at a later and yet-to-be-determined date. I wouldn’t want this writing, in its evaluations, to compromise No Comment’s autonomy to change between now and then. Secondly, I’m writing without some of the essential techniques of art criticism available. Namely: visual analysis, encountering audience reception, even the possibility of direct sensorial experience has been removed — so the ‘how’ of criticism is intrinsically challenged. Thirdly, as the name of the project suggests, No Comment’s aesthetic and political principles are largely oriented around gestures of refusal.
No Comment was to be exhibited between 18 March and 4 April 2020 at Blindside Gallery in Melbourne, commissioned by Liquid Architecture as part of their annual Sound Series program. The work comprises DIY sound systems, schematics, technologies, and research materials developed by Bridget through various studio experiments focused on abolitionist sound technologies. Most central to the work is its investigation of the acoustic science of phase cancellation, as underpinned by its imagined application of muting police sirens, or what Bridget has elsewhere called ‘phase cancelling the cops’. The exhibition was to be a collection of speaker systems that implemented and demonstrated these techniques of phase cancellation, both sensorially and pedagogically. Bridget first explored the concept in an(other) unrealised sound work commissioned for the Federation Bells by Melbourne Knowledge Week. It was further developed in their essay, To (Phase) Cancel the Cops, published by un Magazine at the invitation of Bobuq Sayed and me, and later presented as conference presentations at Tokyo University of the Arts and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Most recently the concept was elaborated by Bridget in a keynote for the 2020 Australasian Computer Music Conference. Though departing slightly, the same investigation served as context and occasion for a series of working groups for artists and non-artists in February and March 2020, organised by Bridget and myself, which were called No Comment (Together).
This writing, or coda, is decisively not an outline of a history of No Comment. Rather, it is a provisional attempt to comprehend my implication and involvement in the project, avoiding historicisation, theorising or curatorial legitimation (my official role in the project was as curator, though I think convener might be more appropriate). The role I want to hold here is that of a reflexive and imbricated observer with associations, friendships, affinities, privileges, defences, investments and conflicts. I want to write as if the work is inside, to write without the usual distance that analytical models foreground, and to foreground instead the specific and personal contours of experience from which most of these arguments and associations come. A type of writing that is also doing, relating, extending would, I hope, be the poiesis of No Comment’s ambitions. Whether those ambitions reside in the work or in my projective viewing is a distinction I’m choosing not to make here. To note, my perspective on discourses of contemporary art have changed in and through my experience of this project, so my methods and positions should too. Something Bridget suspected early, but which took more time for me to register, is how art discourse co-opts and siphons, or replaces, art itself. This writing is thus an opportunity to test out some non-co-optive techniques and principles, and to articulate the artistic thinking and feelings produced in conversations with Bridget. My central desire is to practice a form of writing on art ‘without euphemism’, to borrow a term from art historian Rhea Anastas. For readers, a lot of the techniques and the tonal, structural and editorial aspects to which I’m referring will likely go unnoticed or unheard in spite of their foundational character. No comment.
One of the most memorable experiences I had developing No Comment was when Bridget said ‘the thing with [graffiti] writing is that only the people who do it know how to read it.’ This point elucidates many of the unique ways that the project engaged with its audience. It’s not participatory, rather it alludes to a type of knowing and a presence of sharing and colluding. Intuitively, No Comment brought together an involved and active viewership despite some of its technical and cultural components demanding a certain competence and knowledge or fluency (some of which are being brought into operation here while others are held close to the chest). Importantly, these knowledges are not field-specific or institutionalised, in that they don’t function as capital. No Comment’s audience, on account of this active collusion, required some degree of ‘skin in the game’. This poses another problem for writing. Writing produces a document, accessible to a future reader of uncertain relation to the project. Some will be insincere and cynical, so how much do I want to share? Perhaps the only honest way to discuss this project is to say ‘no comment’ and mean it. One of the members of our No Comment (Together) group has since given a ‘no comment’ interview while in police custody, a statement that feels more apt to the task of reflecting on No Comment than any writing could. I don’t want to explicate the project through language, by legitimation through an external ‘something’, a this or that theory, curatorial angle or rhetorical device. No Comment’s fortification happened through people and their investments, playing out in real-time over the course of the project’s development, not in writing through the valence of its status as contemporary art, but in people’s desire to witness Bridget’s concepts come to fruition. My perhaps clumsy effort in distanciation, between this writing and a place of authority over the exhibition, is also an acknowledgement of Bridget’s extensive intellectual labour, meaning that the work comes already-theorised. If you want to evaluate the work on those terms I’d defer to the authority of the artist, and recommend reading Bridget’s studio reports from their residency at Testing Grounds, as well as their essay in Un Magazine 13.1.
No Comment did something exhibitions don’t often do: it delineated a community that didn’t specifically centre art, nor did many recognise it immediately as such. Importantly, it did this intuitively — it wasn’t an agenda and its intentions in doing so were more descriptive than evaluative. Several experiences at raves over the course of working on this exhibition where strangers approached me, yelling over loud music something to the effect of ‘what’s going on with that silencer thing Hextape1 is doing?’ confirm this. At protests organisers have enquired, through whispers, about a ‘sound gun’ they heard: something which might, one organiser imagined, phase-cancel the church bells impinging on the sonic space of the 2020 Invasion Day rally. Regardless of whether it was ‘on view’, or if it actually worked, No Comment and its ACAB sound technologies have been ‘living’ for a while now, in projection and in myth. This is indicative of the openness of No Comment as a project, and its commitment to the sociality of sonic demands and investments (spoken, heard and uttered), moving through reciprocity, feedback and generative distortions.
Demonstrating in practice some of my earlier emphasis on the personal or particular associations of the project as well as No Comment’s spirit of openness, this writing will depart a regular framing of the exhibition. This is done in an attempt to play out some of the feedback systems and loops integral to No Comment’s after-effects and sonic qualities. In thinking and writing about No Comment as refracted through, or enacted within, other works, I attempt to amplify the extralinguistic and social disposition of the project, and Bridget’s work overall. At the same time I hope to put the usual assuredness of the critic regarding the ontological primacy of language in relation to art to a minor, albeit inconclusive, test.
One work that comes up for me regularly when reflecting on No Comment is Karin Schneider’s Sabotage, a work I’ve referred to extensively in relation to notions of form and program, but having realised now that it was more so concerned with criticism. With five enactments (so far) over fifteen years Sabotage’s first presentation in 2006 disrupted and departed from forms of visual conceptualism and institutional critique re-emergent in New York at the time. During the inaugural exhibition at Orchard, a cooperative gallery in the Lower East Side operational between 2005 and 2008, Karin (a founding member alongside 8 others artists as well as a historian, a systems analyst and an anonymous member), turned on a smoke machine and kept it running until the exhibition ‘disappeared’, while an invited artist and musician, Jutta Koether, improvised a noise music performance. Smoke filled the small and cramped gallery and limited the visual field, while the noise worked as a kind of withdrawal from speech. Hence, the piece enacted its own sabotage within the ‘machine’ of reception and the mediation of artistic labor that is the gallery, dismantling certain habits of viewing.
Etymologically, ‘sabotage’ derives from ‘sabot’ — wooden clogs worn by French lower class people from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, who, on account of these clogs, were deemed inefficient by managerial classes. The workers frequently jammed their clogs in factory machines, damaging the mechanisms and disrupting production in protest. In Sabotage the mechanism and production apparatus being disrupted was Karin’s own work within the gallery that was staging it, a gallery for which she, as partner, had mutual stakes in. The work’s disappearance was mirrored, momentarily, by the disappearance of the audience, too. Those in attendance were escorted out by New York City firefighters who had received a call from a neighbor. This was documented on 16mm film by Jeff Preiss and in words by Rhea Anastas (both Orchard co-founders), who explained to me that apparently a neighbor had called the fire department, itself a sign of post-9/11 psychology and sloganeering — ‘if you see something say something’. The sudden presence of fire fighters at the front of the gallery opened an abyss of 9/11 memories.2
I’m not usually satisfied with etymological arguments.
Adopting a similar method to her friend and mentor Michael Asher of foregrounding absence (negation) through minor interventions that dissolved the gallery’s back-of-house into the sidewalk, Karin performed a radical closure of language and sociality (an inverted opening reception). At the same time — like Bridget — she solicited emergency respondents into an almost authorial role in the execution of the work. In this gesture, I sense both a cynicism and radical optimism about art, a grasping for new forms of speech, criticism, and antagonism towards what is normally valued in art. Thinking about Sabotage, and much of the work shown at Orchard, requires a presence that art discourse doesn’t usually prioritise — Sabotage doesn’t favour mediation of art historical hindsight and valorisation in that it addresses explicitly the rituals and behaviours of viewership, of looking at artworks but also looking and being looked at by others at openings. Far from being anti-intellectual, the work demonstrates just how much is communicated in non-verbal and non-textual modes of address. The artwork is itself a system of feedback, not the smoke, but what the smoke solicits: firefighters, evacuation, and conceptual associations with other artists like Asher or of moments like 9/11.
Orchard was, according to Karin and Nicolas Guagnini (another co-founder, who also co-founded film production company Union Gaucha Productions with Karin in 1997) a space for testing material models of how art legitimation happens. Instead of via market criteria, or art historical and critical approval, Orchard was a test site whose currency resided in the artistic genealogies and friendships between younger artists and influential supporters, like Asher. Sabotage was a disruptive apparatus, taking aim at a milieu defined by its learned ‘criticality’.3 My reading of Sabotage into No Comment does more than figure them on a respective timeline. Rather it connects them via strategies of absence (of vision, language) that are paradoxically revealing and critical. Also, this association happens through chance and a kind of pseudomorphism. One morning, during the making of the exhibition, I was on the phone to Karin talking about something unrelated. Later that day I went to visit Bridget’s studio, they opened the door and a haze of smoke poured out of their studio. They had just bought a fog machine for the exhibition and were testing it out.
As Aruna D’Souza wrote of pseudomorphisms:
Back when I was in grad school, we were taught to avoid ‘pseudomorphisms’ in our art historical analyses — visual similarities that had nothing to do with historical or conceptual connections between objects, makers, or cultures. The practice was understood to be, well, ahistorical, pretending that the coincidence of formal elements could tell us anything relevant about the objects. Sillman’s show revels unapologetically in such similarities. And what results is not, to my mind, a failure of history but a freedom from it.4
Much of Bridget’s work in developing sound systems is marked by research into fields of military and police sound technology used to control bodies in public space. One system we’ve discussed, ‘the mosquito’, is an audio speaker deployed to combat loitering. This is done through generating high sound frequencies unpleasant to teenagers, but inaudible to older listeners. Often installed in shopping malls, the frequencies can apprehend youth loitering without impeding entirely on the traffic of consumption. However, being exposed to ‘the mosquito’ is an acoustical lesson about the ways in which sonic experience is dependent on age, for instance. Ironically, this knowledge then led to mosquito frequencies being re-appropriated and used as ringtones by high school students. No Comment’s generative sound system is premised on, and promises, the absence of sound — or least its cancellation. In conversation with Bridget and artist Joel Sherwood-Spring, we think, at Joel’s invitation, of sound less as sensorial phenomena and more as material resource — in our case monopolised by the armature of the settler colony. As ‘the mosquito’ demonstrates, sound is not always distributed, or experienced, evenly. Through this prism, we discussed a video work by Joel entitled Hearing, Loss (2018).
In his video installation project Hearing, Loss (2018), Joel recasts audibility as a central and operational dynamic safe-guarded by the settler colony. Spring’s own recollections of Indigenous kids with hearing loss in Redfern and Alice Springs informs the work. These kids were suffering from Otitis Media, an ear infection commonplace for Indigenous youth in Australia, and, as the work recounts, often misdiagnosed as a result of the racism of white doctors. The disease is caused by the intrusion of ‘foreign’ objects/materials to the inner ear. The artwork comprises an audio interview mixed with sound effects that approximate the distorting aural effects of Otitis Media. Visually, we are presented with an endoscopic examination of the ear projected large on two walls. For Spring, ‘the ear’ is a contested site in the ongoing practices of the colony, therefore we must note how information moves and is internalised through it. Further, we must note that as settler control of resources reaches into the inner ear of indigenous communities, it does so in ways that are invisible or appear to happen naturally, are undiagnosed or overlooked by the evidentiary mechanisms of settler Australia. Staggeringly, 90% of Indigenous incarcerated populations in the Northern Territory suffer mild to severe hearing loss. The capacity to hear is not evenly distributed. Sound, especially in urban contexts, is not fluid and shared but rather, like most things, is materially safeguarded by and for power. Overemphasising the fluidity and immaterial qualities of sound as liberated from form often leaves these practices of power and control unaccounted for.
Joel’s research is rooted within a critique of urbanisation in the colony and, interestingly, this doesn’t come through as content alone but also in method. The three of us have discussed together the intentional and focused practice of listening to silence and attending to what emerges through that experience of silence, a research practice Joel likens to the structure of dub music. A lot happens outside of language. When developing this exhibition, Bridget and I would meet at their studio in the city. A lot of time was spent looking for quiet places to talk — that’s ‘method’, too. Bridget isn’t just sensitive to the hyperactivity of sound in policing, they’re sensitive to the hyperactivity of sound in general.
As the three of us listened in on silence as research, I was drawn back to Michael Asher, who captured a similar strategy on 16mm. In 1973, Asher executed his only film project and worked without a camera, projecting a clean roll of film sans image and turning film into light. When you take the image away and project the film, the room is filled with a grey light, exposing the screening apparatus and its viewing conditions. In this case the effect was only seen by four people in a dorm room. As in much of Joel’s commentary, architecture and audience becomes the representation, illuminated, a dramatic shift away from cinematic expectations.
In my experiences of No Comment, ‘audience’ was critical. Effectively, the exhibition is one of protest technologies, and the exhibition itself seems increasingly and comically antithetical. I recall untying a particular type of knot in a protest situation just so the cops couldn’t come later and learn about the knot. Cops go to galleries, too. This type of anxiety in some more or less specific ways led to the No Comment (Together) sessions. The ambition for No Comment (Together) was ultimately to test out strategies of learning, and also an early attempt to test the ‘doing’ of art criticism and of generating stakes in the exhibition that weren’t so explicitly bound up in the vision of the artist or the curator. Like the exhibition, most of the sessions were cancelled. We met weekly and the meetings were loosely invitation-only, made of artists and non-artists with vaguely shared political and/or aesthetic interests. An event organised collectively over the sessions was meant to serve as a closing reception to the exhibition. We weren’t coming from a place of reifying the exhibition either, often we’d be doing the opposite. Jahan Rezakhanlou guided us through a group noise exercise demonstrating solidarity in non-linguistic political speech while teaching us and demonstrating the natural amplification properties of different types of architecture. Once we had finished the group of us walked together for about 15 minutes to attend the last few hours of Cloudy Ku’s 13-hour speed rave at Crazy Arms, a now-closed bar in Fitzroy. Some of the members had spent most of the day prior to the group session there. Half of the group was likely on drugs because of that, and maybe frightened that Tania Brugera’s gun would go off in the performance documentation of Autosabotage (2009) that Carol Que screened for us, which then led into a discussion on what expectations political audiences have of artists.
Importantly, from my understanding, No Comment (Together)’s basic premise was that studying a work of art is not about re-enforcing a meaning model — it’s not about what a work of art means (content), but rather what it does or is doing. Establishing a binary framework dividing the two may be flawed but it’s an essential distinction within certain methodologies developed out of Group Relations and its adjacent traditions. Those fields of practice established some of my minor, almost secret, ambitions for our (Together) sessions. I was hoping to slowly introduce some Group Relations methodologies into our meetings as it was informing a lot of the language I was using. Briefly, Group Relations is a field with a deep integration of theory and practice for studying and experiencing the unconscious dynamics enacted in groups. Central to Group Relations are its opportunities for experiential learning and socially yielded points of enactment. I’m interested in how this could potentially be appropriated and applied within the format of group-based approaches to studying a work of art. My formal engagement with Group Relations, on an organisational level, has mostly stopped at this point, but my interests in its principles and methods are still worth considering.
A few weeks ago I was expressing some of my concerns that I was being re-traumatised in Group Relations to friend and art historian Rosemary Forde. She was sensitive and vaguely familiar to my problem on the basis of some faint knowledge she had about a not-very-well-known group that artist Geoff Lowe organised prior to A Constructed World. She had recollections that there were similar anxieties around trauma and authority and authorship, and that Lowe’s group engaged in similar activities to what I was describing as ‘Group Relations work’, though she was unfamiliar with the term. I asked Rosemary to put Geoff and I in touch so I could follow the link as a strategy for working through this. In talking with him I learned that between 1984 and 1994, a group of non-artists with varying degrees of involvement with ‘organisational development’ (mostly therapists) met for intensive weekend long ‘lock ins’ two to four times a year and made artworks and tableaux-vivants of psychodramas, shot on polaroid, collectively under the name Rosebud. They also developed still-life drawing sessions that were hybridised with group talk therapy and analysis. A central ethos that’s shared in the ambitions of Rosebud and the (Together) sessions is rooted in the effort to not only provide non-specialists a space to speak publicly and freely about contemporary art, but also to authorise non-specialist methodologies of criticism, and to count their findings as critically and discursively legitimate. Rosebud was an unintentional and rich precedent that ‘came-up’ after No Comment (Together) was postponed. Within Group Relations, or organisational development, or psychoanalysis for that matter, things that ‘come up’ become available for reflection and assessment, and everything that ‘comes up’ is attributable to whatever it was activated by, in more or less specific ways. If this rubric of thinking is applied within art historical analysis some interesting things could happen. Things that could, we hope, sit outside of what Geoff described to me as the anxieties produced by the perceived elitism that is instrumental in holding artists and non-artists at a distance from each other.
Another insight from these practices worth stating here is the ethical dimension of being an artist, and the artist’s own responsibility in participating in the production of the discursive context for their own artwork. I would try to distinguish our activities, or ambitions, as having less to do with discourse and more to do with ‘doing’. Notwithstanding the risk of falling into questions of ‘access’ and how our work gave ‘the public’ the privilege of direct access to the artist who is typically absent in exhibitions, in my opening remarks at the start of the first session I made explicit that No Comment (Together) was not a parental bedroom. It was just about developing the terms of an exhibition collectively, with a group. I’m thinking about Adrian Piper’s meta-performances here, and asking how can ‘feedback’ constitute a provisional attempt at discourse. This type of exhibition group-making, or adjunctive structure, that actively plays with modes of publicness also usefully peels back those layers of mediation that so heavily constitute curatorial ‘work’: the preparation of terms that articulate a readymade position from which to have an experience with an artwork. The No Comment (Together) group was a pre-audience and a space for the enactment of our own relations to positions within and outside of the artistic field. Making that ‘readymade’ position from which to view, later, was far less predicated on specialised knowledge and far less the making of a curator. Instead of a panel to accompany an exhibition we developed a ‘situation’ where roles like artist, curator, exhibition and audience were reconstituted through group-work. As a format to pursue into the future, this creation of a ‘situation’ emphasised how an exhibition can be an occasion of language and desire in space. In terms of research, for Bridget and I, the sessions were an opportunity to work out how artworks affect a projected audience prior to the mounting of the exhibition — testing out our devices in material and psychic ways. This has a relationship to Group Relations thinking, specifically the premise that any small group (the membership) will automatically reflect larger groups (society). The ‘audience’ in this sense scaffolded a position from which to view the show later, once it went up and was available to a wider ‘public’. An opportunity to rehearse positions and judgements while also serving as a site of production, as we were also collectively programming the closing reception of the exhibition.
Given that the project is rooted in a politics of ACAB, the exhibition often laid bare the problematics of art’s relation to political action. Not necessarily a problematics of art ideologically, but of art’s pacing and its stakes, its refusals and risks. This relational boundary was one that the project consciously and constantly activated. Jahan Rezakhanlou’s contribution to the sessions was in some respect the manifest-content of No Comment (Together) as a whole. The political content of the ‘chant’ came in and out, mediated in moments of vocal flux politically emboldened in the space between language and non-language. Something else happens when speech is naturally switched out for something else. I’ll test the argument that what Asher did architecturally through film, Jahan was doing psychically through voice.
For the session Jahan contributed to, we were at Collingwood Arts Precinct after-hours, several months before it was open to the public. Critiques of the precinct as an art-mall should be obvious and it’s not the concern of this text. Like the firefighters in Sabotage, the presence of construction materials gave us an opportunity to misrecognise an environment which authorised a certain type of misbehavior. The space wasn’t ready to be a clean container for art’s display yet. An environment such as CAP authorises activities that attend to its systems of idealisation (the main defence persistent in art) and aestheticism. It was through that initial misrecognition of the symbolic systems, of the institution at hand, for its material systems (acoustically) that Jahan’s group process allowed certain forms of ‘habitus’5 to fall to the wayside, making space for a spontaneous and collective enunciation emerging around a new set of desires introduced by Jahan. We rehearsed as a group a number of political chants that Jahan has some relationship to, mostly from Central Asia and always having some vague historical connection to sporting arenas. Under his guidance we were in solidarity but also deeply in the safety of distance. Ushering in voices from the outside through a type of enactment, of chanting shared political speech, does something with spirit possession and trance and play, and it generated something very tangible that the group could hold. My language is imprecise here, as it should be. We started with chants and closed with something more chaotic. It happened very intuitively; one of those really good and rare art moments where honest expression happens. A group-noise of entropy differs dramatically to that of the simple two-tone modulating phrase of police sirens that brought us all together in the first place. That had been the accompanying sound until our shared voices found space together — that was important, we had a lot of room for divergence. Much like Sabotage, this moment rendered certain assumptions about the criticality of language obsolete and antiquated. Much like Asher, it illuminated the banality of ‘the room’ or site of aesthetic perception differently — CAP was not really CAP in that moment.
Differently to this session, it was confronting for the first No Comment (Together) meeting to be so overtly fixated on the use-value of a work of art. It was, however, an important part of the process: to unfix the primacy of art and its discourses in our engagement with each other, investing in new and undetermined metrics. ‘What is it for?’ and ‘does it work?’ are strange questions and expectations to have for an artwork but several members of our group did. I was reminded of a funny story about an artwork by John Knight. Following an invitation from Stroom (The Hague’s Center for Visual Arts) in 1993, Knight developed a bicycle bell that residents of the city could acquire through the museum by exchanging a bell they already owned. Knight’s bell was designed to mimic the call of an endangered frog native to the area, he wanted the city to sing the song of the frog. Before the project was launched and before any bells were distributed, The Society for the Protection of Animals and the Animal Ambulance Service both intervened citing the concern that the bell didn’t simply replicate the croak of the frog, but more specifically (and by accident) it sounded like its mating signal. This meant it would likely draw endangered frogs out of their grassy habitats and onto the roads causing ‘an unprecedented batrachian massacre’. It’s not difficult to imagine that in such a city, where bicycles are ubiquitous, that the frogs would have likely been run over by the riders themselves. I remain ambivalent as to whether anything good can ever come from ‘Art’, but the problem might be less with the category ‘Art’, and more with my emphasis on ‘good’ — in its linguistic, aesthetic and moralistic evaluations. Another member of No Comment (Together), Javed de Costa, interjected during some meditations on whether Bridget’s project would lead to good or bad results and therefore whether it was good or bad art. At that moment the group seemed to have settled on the position that the work was bad because it would give the police an excuse and motivation to make an even more powerful phase cancellation device to mute our speech. Javed identified ‘a paralysis around wanting to “act” but choosing inaction in case something bad happens. Or even if something just looks or feels bad happens. But those [bad] things can be instructive. We can’t always know the consequences of our actions but that’s not an excuse not to act.’ In relation to political activism this makes sense, but in relation to an artwork this view unsettles the assumed neutrality of the making of an artwork. Regardless of content (if any), maybe it’s the making of an artwork that’s good. I remain optimistically unconvinced. Another member of the sessions, Nish Morris, offered that (with sincerity) ‘art is as good as its implementation into groundwork for political action’. For me, art is as good as it feels. No Comment (Together) was a space for argument and analysis as much as it was for art. That felt crucial, though we would never be unanimous. Javed identified in his comment an interesting distinction, the undefined distinction between something ‘being bad’ and something ‘looking’ or ‘feeling’ bad. The sounds used against us by the police feel bad, but Bridget wants us to feel good … and alert and prepared and with-acumen.
The name Bridget performs and produces gabber, breakbeat and hardcore under. ↩
Private interview. ↩
Karin Schneider and Nicolás Guagnini, “Questionnaire”, ed. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, October, no. 123, Winter (2008). ↩
Aruna D’Souza, “Overcoming isms”, Texte zur Kunst, issue 117, March/April (2020). ↩
‘Habitus’ is Bourdieu’s theorisation of behaviors and psychologies inscribed in us through the internalisation of institutions and social-fields. ↩
Thomas Ragnar is an artist based in Singapore. His work is often underpinned by collaborations, affinities and research with experiential methodologies.
This essay was co-commissioned by Liquid Architecture and BLINDSIDE for the exhibition Bridget Chappell: No Comment, as part of our ongoing Sound Series.