A&E Gallery
South East England

Listen to entire discussion here: (in stereo!)


Huw: My favourite piece was Last Friday …

Mocksim: So I’m taking you back to pre-Art School, taking you back to a very innocent state.

Huw: I like the posters on the walls. I like the way that they use the space for dividing up in between – because there’s a black curtain in between I thought was quite an interesting thing to do. And ..

Mocksim: We have a problem with the word ‘interesting’, don’t we?

Huw: We do, yes. What I mean by that is …

Mocksim: Interesting’s the new nice, isn’t it?

Huw: Interesting is the new nice.

Mocksim: It’s a neutral and meaningless word. In fact, nice is something that has been re-embraced in recent history for that particular reason, I would say.

Go on, anyway. The second one, yes…

Huw: Yes, second one …

Mocksim: Third one now, sorry.

Huw: Third one is I found the whole experience very tranquil. There you are.

So posters, curtains and tranquillity: they’re my three …

Mocksim: So would you compare it to the idea that Matisse had about art being equivalent to the experience of a nice couch to sit down and …

Huw: Yes.

Mocksim: That someone who is a banker or a bookie or a chippie might …

Huw: 26 minutes of peace, yes.

Mocksim: … feel it in the same way. Yes. You timed it, did you? You paid a lot of attention.

Huw: I think that’s how long it was, yes. Something like that, yes. But I didn’t …

Mocksim: People were free not to listen to the whole thing, for sure.

Huw: Yes. You could chop and change.

Mocksim: There were no police there, I noticed. It wasn’t as if you were in Fascist Italy with the Futurists being told exactly what to do, is it?

Huw: That is an interesting thing – that is a very precise thing to say.

Mocksim: Okay. Enough of that. Now it’s time for me to say a few things.

Huw: Right.

Mocksim: First of all, as I’ve already said, I don’t feel myself to be properly qualified to deal with this and I’ve asked some specialists in the arena of audio to get themselves involved, and I don’t know if they have or not, but I really found the whole thing satisfying. Hopefully more than the reasons you just said; yes it was very tranquil and an escape from the noise of urban life and …

Ironic, that, given that it was a whole load of recordings of what we hear all the time.

So, for some reason, just reminding us of what was in front of our ears, and also a completely different experience because of where it was positioned and because of those speakers that were stuck in your ears. That astonished me, really.

I must admit I was impressed by the special effects which I hadn’t experienced before, this – I can’t remember the term for the kind of microphones and the technique used, but it’s a frequently enough used approach. But I just – so I won’t talk about that because that’s not something I should – but I had to see if the idea of illusion was there.

Huw: Illusion?

Mocksim: I was tricked into thinking as I first listened that there was some other noise going on in the space outside what was – I took the headphones off at one point just to check, even though I was 90% certain that it wasn’t going to reveal anything. I was quite easily – like a child would be at a 3D film – fooled by it all.

I liked the fact that we had some writing in tiktoc about music recently; expressing a kind of hostility towards popular music, certainly, and the easy acceptance of it. And the fact that it’s a mundane thing now, ‘rock and roll’ in particular, rockers with guitars and generally at all levels but it’s expected all the time in shopping centres…

So Mr. Young is saying the same thing as we said in that exchange which we published, and we were happy to publish, which is that “Rather than listening to music I prefer to listen to the sound of traffic.” And I’m more and more like that. I think it’s in the ether (which is a problem). It’s trendy at the moment: Cage Against the Machine etc.: also the interest in escaping the noise pollution.

But it was something else that Young did which I appreciated, was the fact that clearly when he was making the recordings he had to deal with some challenges. There was that problem in the place. There were noisy students or people upstairs banging on the stairs, walking up and down, paying no attention to anything. And he just decided to include that in, bravely and appropriately. And it was very site-specific, to be honest, as a result of that.

Now, we don’t all like that but – I’m not being too lucid in my explanations here. But that gives you four different potential …

Huw: But what’s it got to do with Marinetti?

Mocksim: Now, there’s a good question. And we have a problem with Futurism, don’t we, because of politics. But not necessarily. That can be put to one side and there was a communistic bit to Futurism too by the way.

Huw: Well, do we have a problem with sound art in general?

Mocksim: We have a problem with a reactionary nihilism as opposed to a nihilist nihilism.

Huw: Nihilist nihilism?

Mocksim: Well, I think Futurism represents a reactionary nihilism really. And it’s a necessary thing. It could be a kind of Buddhist thing, to be honest. It’s “Don’t try and change what you can’t change; embrace it and wallow in it. You made it and look at what we’ve done and it’s fantastic.” And you have to do a bit of that, don’t you?

So maybe ‘neo’, which is overused as a prefix for sure, helps us to escape Futurism as it’s understood. Walter Benjamin, at the end of his essay …

Huw: Which essay?

Mocksim: ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. (Snorts) At the end of that it does – including statements about the Futurists and the role they were playing, really.

Anything else to say, Huw?

What do you mean? I’m curious as to your precision in distinguishing between what’s ‘visual’ and something else. I’m curious as to the way you talk about photography as well, but let’s talk about noise here.

Huw: I found the experience a little bit sparse, really. On one hand I can see it as a therapeutic thing, but the fact is …

Mocksim: Earlier on you said you felt there was not enough distillation in it.

Huw: Distillation?

Mocksim: That what was poignant and important hadn’t been extracted well enough; that there was other stuff there that you’d prefer not to have had.

Huw: Yes.

Mocksim: It seems contradictory with what you’ve just said.

Huw: It is a contradiction, isn’t it? But I don’t think you can. I don’t think you can – the best thing about this show was that they were available to download. They were available outside of the gallery.

It does ask very strange questions about how we do present sound art in a visual art space. Short of asking the punters to close their eyes, I’m not sure what you do to take them away from the fact they’re sitting in a gallery.

Mocksim: The funny thing is the fact that they’re downloadable, it brings back ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, doesn’t it, because you have no control over how that’s listened to. You have got a bit more control in the gallery space. I think that’s what galleries are about.

It’s about saying “We are interested in how you experience this. We’ve done something. We know we can’t do it 100% but we can do it 50%”. Whereas online, you might not even wear proper headphones. If you listened to those things in mono as opposed to stereo, you’ve lost it. You’ve lost the experience completely, really.

So I’m surprised he did that [uploaded it]. That’s a weakness, I would say, to the thing.

Huw: But also, I would say that the actual specifics of the gallery space haven’t been considered to the best degree. I don’t think it’s a – this is what is quite confusing, is that the sound files, if I can call them that, are the show. But the rest of it seems rather superfluous, really.

The visual …

Mocksim: The seats and the nature of the seats? …

Huw: Yes. The seats, the heads, the curtain …

Mocksim: So it was a kind of chapel-like experience, really; a church of some sort.

Other people came in while I was there. I don’t know if you were alone. It’s a busy gallery …

Huw: Yes. I was alone.

Mocksim: ‘Footfall’ is …

Huw: High.

Mocksim: … significant by comparison with some equivalent independent galleries that we know.

Huw: Yes. For better or worse. I think – it asks a great deal about how we receive revolutionary arts movements, I think.

Mocksim: We should be interested in the fact that many punters were hostile towards this. That’s always a good sign.

Huw: That is a good sign. I didn’t see anybody hostile.

Mocksim: You might not have, but this is definitely part of the …

Huw: Shall I take your word for it?

Mocksim: Statistically I think you’ll find that a significant proportion of people would have come out of it saying “Not my bag.”

Huw: It seems a very difficult piece.

Mocksim: Yes. Okay. In what way?

Huw: It asks a lot of you. It asks you to …

Mocksim: Well, this is the problem with all time-based media in art; video too. You can’t – with a painting, I can spend ten seconds with Constable, even, in the National Gallery, or I can spend an hour. With all of this, you’ve got to sit through the what, 20 …

Huw: 26.

Mocksim: … 26 minutes or – now, you don’t have to, but if you don’t, you’re fucked. So there’s a trade-off between two kinds of satisfaction.

Huw: You’re not sure what you’re missing and you’re not sure how far down the line you are, in that sense.

Mocksim: It’s the show-reel effect.

Huw: Yes. But that’s a very well-known problem, but it does ask a lot of you in terms of your commitment.

Mocksim: That’s why I, for example, I never make anything more than five minutes long and that, to me, is a very long piece. I know that sounds like a blunt rule to apply, but typically a minute’s good.

Huw: Yes.

Mocksim: And I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to expect more from people, really.

Yes, 26 minutes. I sat through the whole thing, though. I was surprised at myself – I really enjoyed it as well. I think I was trying to escape what was outside.

Huw: The actual experience isn’t wholly disagreeable, but when you reflect upon it, you’re left with almost a feeling of emptiness because you feel as though those files would have been playing regardless of whether your ears were between the headphones or not.

It’s a very dehumanising experience, but at the same time …

Mocksim: Do you think the exhibition took care of itself, regardless of whether it took care of the passers through, like you?

Huw: Yes. I think so. No attempt was made to introduce the concept of neo Futurism. But in that …

Mocksim: What about the manifesto and the kind of ranty, preachy aspect?

Huw: Those are – I think what happens is that we have to be aware of a certain context in which it’s created. And it’s not created as a new piece; it’s created as a dialogue between a movement of the last century, which we do have to form judgement upon.

We do have to say “Well, I know about this first before I came in and when I do come in I’m not seeing something in a vacuum. I’m seeing something that is prepared and is almost at best having a conversation with the past and, in another sense, it’s unsure of itself. But it uses this concept of Futurism to justify itself, really.”

It tries to cleave off the revolutionary intent and asks a very serious question: “Is revolutionary art possible?”

Mocksim: Regardless of what it claims to be doing, I don’t think enough is done to make what’s predominant in the world generally vivid, and I felt this piece did that.

I’m astonished at how – an ABC of artistic practice is observation. It’s easy for avant-garde artists and conceptual contemporary artists to pooh-pooh that idea. But it was completely forgotten and it’s the most fantastic idea.

I’m reminded of the story of Beckett at the funeral of his best friend seen taking notes and that seen not in the pejorative but the opposite.

The idea of observation is something that artists are lucky enough to – are privileged enough to be permitted to and have discovered, really, that you can treat life in that way. So it’s almost like a way of living.

And it seems to me that Joseph Young does that and Futurism and its essence was kind of about that; an element that is absolutely crucial. It’s not the all of it. And we live in a noisy landscape where people – Right now, look at where we are right now making this, we’re having this conversation, we’ve got popular (sarcastic tone) music playing in the background. We’ve got vomit pouring from the speakers in this place. We’ve got the beautiful sound of people’s voices in the background. It’s a perfectly acceptable sound. There’s the murmur of male and female voices. We’ve got our own voices. John Cage, whatever. There’s a million ways of dealing with all of this.

And I think Joseph Young, it’s not – this approach is not as common as it ought to be. And if it were common, then we could be far more discerning and far more happily critical, really. But I don’t think there’s enough of this.


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