20 July 2005

Form/Reform at the Oakland Art Gallery

The fabulous Margaret Tedesco included me in a show she's guest-curated at the Oakland Art Gallery, as part of the Bay Area Performance Biennial (a.k.a. "Bayenalle"!). There are a number of cool people in this one, doing performances and installations. I've made a performative installation called "Performed Listening." Here's the longish description of that one:

This installation is the newest in a series of meditations on the nature of listening, vis a vis sending & receiving electrical impulses. All of my work is fueled by a mutual fascination with popular music and the cultural history of technology. The Sending & Receiving series springs from the admission that much of the work that I make (and particularly the singing I do) is truly a form of listening. While gallery-goers are, in a sense, watching or hearing me “listen” to other music, their own listening is often “performed,” in the sense that they are making explicit choices about the manner and duration of their consumption.

In “Performed Listening,” gallery-goers and I will perform a sort of duet, in which we both perform “listening” in our own ways. In a small space in the gallery, viewers will see a hanging stage curtain; a small, soapbox-sized “stage” (with room for only one) and a microphone aimed toward the stage. The microphone will have been tricked into acting as a speaker and will constantly play a looped recording of me singing a song whose lyrics reflect on the intimacy of our exchange, the nature and history of duets, the nature of listening, and the absence of one of the performers: “Cruisin,” the song made famous when Huey Lewis and Gwynyth Paltrow sang it as a semi-incestuous duet, in the aptly titled
Duets, a movie about karaoke. The volume at which I sing will be so low that the viewer will have to step onto the tiny stage (the ramshackleness of which mirrors my potential lack of talent in both the singing and construction departments) and place their ear up to the surface of the microphone in order to hear it, thus performing the act of listening.

This separation between sending and receiving, performing and listening, also harkens to the historic role of recording technologies (the gramophone, the microphone. the transistor radio, etc.) in separating producers and consumers, rulers and the ruled. One can look more closely at the way in which these technologies have become a channel for sexual politics, where transmission has become a metaphor for viral infection, and electronic components are marked “male” or “female” in a further extension of the ruling class’ alignment with patriarchal power and production—aka “sending.” In the song I sing for my duet with my listeners, not only does the title, “Cruisin,” refer to a common slang term for same-sex coquetry (not exactly transmission between male & female parts) but the song itself typifies promiscuous mass consumption, in its index of karaoke and its Hollywood packaging, via the film.

It is also, incidentally, the first karaoke song I ever performed live. This paradox underscores much of my work, which tends to walk a fine line between parody and participation, nostalgia and critique…


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