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This is the Art

Emma Hedditch’s installation We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! (2005), consisting of a series of ‘get-togethers’, queers hegemonic disciplines of psychoanalysis and pedagogy through a subversive appropriation of the aesthetics of a therapist’s waiting room and the educational workshop. It is the get-togethers that specifically open up a space in which “illegible and non- compartmentalised practices” (transcribed Hedditch HNS-2012) circulate through what Lauren Berlant, writing about the world-shaping affectivities of intimate publics considers as “a kind of communication more akin to gossip than to cultivated rationality” (Berlant 2011: 227). In effect the get-togethers ‘eventalize’ 1 the body politic through the process of “listening-as-musical-experience” (Born 2010: 81) which occurs through the political economy of the exchange by “taking on listening together as itself an object/scene of desire” (Berlant 2011: 224 emphasis in original). An eventalization of the political economy of the exchange is a means by which to transform a political economy of music “into a use-value” (Attali 1985: 24) and to further force such an occurrence “from its status as object (use value) to thing (resistant, attractive enigma)” (Berlant 2011: 275).

This process involves taking on listening together as itself an object/scene of desire. The attainment of that attunement produces a sense of shared worldness, apart from whatever aim or claim the listening public might later bring to a particular political world because of what they have heard (Berlant 2011: 224).

In this way, ephemeral, diffuse noise can simulate a sense of immediacy, as a particular kind of “transmission” that “performs political attachment as a sustaining intimate relation” (Berlant 2011: 224 emphasis added). The shared audition of ephemerality provides a feeling, a sense in the double meaning of the word – as understanding and knowing – that can provide feelings of immediacy and solidarity. It does not escape mediation, but affectively shapes mediation as a means for measuring the parameters of the historical present. The experience “that shapes the sense of immediacy among mass mediated intimate publics in the historical present” (Berlant 2011: 228) is like looking through murky water, or listening through a water glass placed on the wall to hear what’s on the other side, scanning the airwaves through the crackle of static and noise, searching through the tentative, slippery connections and disconnections. What is heard here though, shapes this sense of immediacy, it is not really immediate as affect (affective ephemeral noise is not necessarily engaged in ontological illusions), but can provide a sense of it being so in ways that enable connections and communications and the exchange between strangers that might “produce the sense – if not the scene – of a more liveable and intimate sociality” (Berlant 2011: 228) through what Hedditch has called, “alignments without unity” (transcribed Hedditch HNS-2012).

This performance of audition comes together through the series of “get-togethers” that constitute the installation. The title of the work, We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! may be deciphered as a specifically queered performative utterance. For it signals not only a stubborn refusal and survival in the face of institutional and structural disqualification through insistent attachments to a denied historical past, but also simultaneously performs a desire for the political as a mode for thriving. The sustenance of a ‘desire for the political’ is one that interferes in the scene of interpellation that would seek to “constitute a being within the possible circuit of recognition and, accordingly, outside of it, in abjection” (Butler 1997: 5). For survival itself points to a crisis in which the production of everyday life is fraught with continued historical erasures and social violences connecting “the experience of living” to “the difficulties of coming out” often again and again (Cvetkovich 2003: 1). Berlant extends the historical crisis of denied sexualities in the historical present as an “ordinary crisis”, as “a crisis of history, body and intuition about how we live now” (Berlant 2011: 61).

Listening into and with the intimate publics that emerge in their absence through We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! presents a way to reconsider and “broaden the understanding of what performance can mean in music” (Madrid 2009: 4). It connects a “creative practice of performance as a way of knowing, the critical analysis of culture from the perspective of performance, and activism as performance” (Madrid 2009: 6 emphasis added). It is an everyday strategy for surviving the trauma inflicted by institutional and structural violences that would erase music made specifically between women who love women. Working in the queer archive Cvetkovich explains that “queer performance creates publics by bringing together live bodies in space, and the theatrical experience is not just about what’s on stage but also about who’s in the audience creating community” (Cvetkovich 2003: 9). The stage in this instance is the space of We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! where the “audience creating community” is the auditory performance of the composition, recalibrating what counts as both ‘her’ and ‘noise’. Combining Madrid’s concept of performative composition with Cvetkovich’s queer performance extends the notion of performativity with a temporal theatricality in a way that activates the audience through shared memories of negated histories further disrupting the traditional composer/performer dyad where the audience become both the composers and performers of the work through their listening. The composition then becomes the creation of a kind of community, as a queer intimate public emerges through the process of listening together. For the archive itself, activated through such a performance, enables the study of how “publics are formed in and through cultural archives” (Cvetkovich 2003: 9) to actually be not only the performance but also the composition of radical collective histories in the space of their erasure. As Hedditch states, “this is the art” (transcribed Hedditch SLG-2005 emphasis added).

  1. Eventalization is a Foucauldian genealogical practice based upon “rediscovering the connections, encounters, supports, blockages, plays of forces, strategies and so on, that at a given moment establish what subsequently counts as being self-evident, universal and necessary. In this sense one is indeed effecting a sort of multiplication or pluralization of causes” (Foucault 1991: 76). Additionally, Berlant explains that for Foucault, eventalization further “refers to a need to move analytically beyond the moment when a happening moves into common sense, or a process congeals into an object-event that conceals its immanence, its potentially unfinished or enigmatic activity” (Berlant 2011: 64).
Published inChapter 2 | Unspeakable Noise