Category Archives: relay

Relay / Exist-ence 5

Exist-ence5_Boni Cairncross_photo Antony Makhlouf

cycle 5: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, Sydney AU and ]Performance Space[, London UK / 20.07.13 / 2 hours

Relay (iteration 2. cycle 5) was performed as part of the Sydney extension of exist-ence 5 a festival of live art, action art and performance art curated by Rebecca Cunningham and Nicola Morton.

Sydney artists, curated by Julie Vulcan, joined the International and Brisbane artists at PACT 19-20 July 2013.

Image credit: Antony Makhlouf


Responding to public speaking, speaking publicly

The following text was an email written to Lauren Brown on July 9, 2013. It follows on from a discussion that Lauren summed up on her blog, and was written the day after performing Relay (iteration 2, cycle 5). In reply, Lauren said – “I think this discussion/brain explosion should be public – how do you feel about putting those words (verbatim – please don’t censor them) up on either of our blogs, underneath the post about the work itself?” I have a bit of an ambiguous position currently to the accessibility to my work, particularly to the processes that inform the works (which I’ve not questioned until very recently), but that emerges in the text. 

That was a great link – I think Goldsmith makes some great points about the responsiveness of literature to current methods, although I’m not sure that mash-ups aren’t that unusual, it seems to be pretty frequent with dramaturgy.

When we re-performed this score again yesterday (Iteration2, cycle 5 as part of Exist-ence 5) the words certainly seemed emptied, certainly out of context. Its difficult to say such words with conviction when I don’t necessarily agree with some of the positions expressed, along with the monotony of saying these words over and over again.

I think when we began this project 12 months ago, there was an interest in the shift of political speeches over the last century or so. From long durational speeches that functioned to communicate ideological positions, policies (etc), as well as functioning to demonstrate to the public the speaker’s eduction and qualification – to the current mode of political speeches which is manifest in soundbites and snippets. The function has kind of shifted right? And with it so has the role of the listener. But what is that now? What was it then?

I’ve also been doing some reading lately on past avant-garde movements such as Dada and Italian Futurism, IS – thanks Claire Bishop (Artificial Hells). Bishop makes a comment that Italian Futurism and Soviet Constructivism were intwined with political positions (Futurism directly leading to Fascism). Dada on the other hand negated a single political position and worked on negating all. Bishop directly links the participation debate with political action – for Marinetti for example active participation was seen as a total commitment to a cause (Is the oversimplification of the active/passive spectator debate mirrored by an oversimplification of political debate – symptomatic of this age of absolute access, absolute excess? What is the link between this neo-liberal world, performance and politics?). I think our aim with not selecting a political position to argue from, but rather choosing to negate them, is a strategy to remove a didactic and dogmatic edge… we could continue this, or determine our position and go for it. For me there is a fear of making overtly political work and I’m not sure why this is – perhaps because I don’t want to tell people how it is, because I think I don’t know what I’m talking about. But perhaps there is a way of determining a position and communicating the uncertainty and questioning… actually why can’t we just start asking questions – thats what I’m always doing and whats wrong with verbalising them? Its also another way of engaging the audience – challenging them to listening and think… (or own voices?… see below)

Active and passive spectatorship. This is a live work – we know its got to be live. But what exactly is the role of the audience. Currently we, the performers, are in a self-contained process, the audience exist as onlookers. Is this oddly replicating the reality of a democratic system? Also there is a power in the locations we’re using – and yet we’re also not being clear with this. What are the actual sites? Why is there no direct reference between these and the score (when we performed yesterday, Lauren became aware that the references are very Australian based)

However, as it stands the score doesn’t commit to one thing or another. Its flakey and shifts all over the place. We’ve got lots of questions, but haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of what this thing is.

Active/passive spectatorship – there is a link back here to Bishop.

Is this about the futility of political activism? The futility of performance as a political action? (we’re making a performance, there is something important in the choice of this medium – the live and the duration, I think there are lots of links between politics and performance and spectatorship, lets pull them out, or make the questioning clear and conflation of these things clear throughout the score)

Contrary to what we decided with this iteration – I think this performance actually has to commit to the radicalism of the words being spoken – we will go on, we will fight, we will not be deterred, we will persevere… this is a political statement that we need to speak up, that people need to listen, that listening is active and engaging – that listening is the first step of participation in a democracy… but as a political action, a revolt against the disinterested and disengaged, this performance has to commit to the necessity of the need to speak and listen all the time – it must go on for as long as possible – until it becomes physically impossible to continue.

Otherwise what is the point?

To take a tea break between speaking and listening to the loaded and weighted subjects we are dealing with, is almost like saying – that’s okay, take a break now, watch that youtube clip of that kitten over there and forget about this for a minute – for many people in the situations we are dealing with, forgetting about it, taking a break isn’t an option.

We are in a position of privilege that we can walk away, stop listening, stop speaking.

At the moment – this score, with its mash-up, glitching, slightly nonsensical sweep of a variety of positions (from multiple contexts, which frankly I have no position to speak of) is one without conviction. Taking something that could be a powerful and moving speech and transforming it into a succession of babble. How is what we are performing any different that turning on the television and listening to a consistent stream of nonsense – effectively switching off? I don’t want to babble and I don’t want to drone. I want to move the audience, provoke them to listen, to think, to engage them and make them stop this disinterested disconnect for at least a moment or two. Why have we stopped caring? Why is it daggy to give a fuck about other people and to express that?

A few things that we need to work on for the next iteration:

1. a much longer score, clearing up what the aims are of this score – if it is about speaking and listening, then why isn’t it focusing on this – others’ words mixed in with our own. Why are our own voices missing?

I don’t actually think it should repeat. How long would an audience engage for if there was no repetition? When I performed at Exist-ence the audience seemed to stay around for one cycle of the script – as soon as it repeated it left.

2. I don’t think the listening/speaking needs to be so clearly demarcated in the action. If we perform this live and work through the cycles – there is no reason that the dual-performance can’t intersect with each other. Why can’t I stop to listening to you speak – then reinforce those words by performing them shortly afterwards and vice-versa? As we begin to move away through the cycles, the devices and network come in to facilitate (as well as disseminate) the speaking, allowing the listening to function.

I also think its really important to shift away from a clear division of speaking/listening (active/passive) and start blurring these. Isn’t it possible to listen while speaking? Responsive listening, responsive speaking… if that makes sense.

Reading the score – yes but I tend to just focus on the screen then (hide behind it) – I think that’s been okay when I’m not using my own words – but there needs to be a connection to the audience. It has to be live, there has to be a committed, enduring live audience (the changes to the script will probably help), but there needs to be contact with them – eye contact, gestures that engage them. Politicians use gestures all the time – they’re conventional but stamped with individual personality, lets start doing this.

The costumes – ? I like the circles, I like the all black – I reckon it needs to be more formal though – I’m still hanging onto power suits.

Duration – performance for as long as possible.

Site: what’s the significance between London and Sydney? Potentially, this could be performed moving through the cycles with both of us in Sydney, again with both of us in London, a third time completely mediated between the two sites. Alternatively, we perform it once completely mediated.

… My brain just exploded onto the page. I hope it makes sense.


relay (iteration 2)

relay. iteration 2. cycle 1.

relay (iteration 2. cycle 1. speaking)

cycle 1: Alaska Projects Level 2, Sydney AU / 12.06.13 / 2 hours

relay (iteration 2. cycle 2. speaking)

relay (iteration 2. cycle 2. speaking)

relay (iteration 2. cycle 2. listening)

relay (iteration 2. cycle 2. listening)

cycle 2: Alaska Projects Level 2 and Level 1, Sydney AU / 12.06.13 / 2 hours

relay (iteration 2. cycle 3. listening)

relay (iteration 2. cycle 3. listening)

relay (iteration 2. cycle 3. speaking)

relay (iteration 2. cycle 3. speaking)

cycle 3: William Street, north side and south side, Sydney AU / 12.06.13 / 2 hours

Relay is the title for an ever evolving cluster of durational actions in collaboration with Lauren Brown. The performed actions attempt to interrogate the social and political nuances embodied in the acts of hearing, listening, speaking and keeping silent.

Performing othersʼ words we work through iterations and cycles to explore what it means to speak for oneself and on behalf of others, what it means to listen, what it means to hear and what it means to keep silent.

Photography credit: Julia Gove and Andrew Gove

Liveness: questioning form and capacity

Despite an incredibly smooth tech run two days prior to performing Relay (on August 19th), the actual performance was marked by complete a technology fail. So much so that it completely altered the work from what Lauren Brown and I had intended to something very different. After a patchy beginning (for more details check Lauren’s own blog post about the work here), the first 2 hours of the performance was consumed with trying, and failing, to get a sustained connection via Skype between Alaska, Sydney and Performance Space, London. This was the crucial element in which the simultaneous performances were evidence in the alternate site, and what created the ‘relay’ aspect.

After the 2 hour mark, Lauren and I were completely out of synch, we were frustrated by the failing technology, and the struggle of trying to perform while also trying to sort out the connection was taking its toll. Through a txt, we had decided to continue performing our own roles, continue recording what was happening in the space and playing back this audio – focusing on listening to our own performance instead of the other’s as was intended. A little while later Lauren sent me another text:

“i’m going to have to log a DNF. the tech is not happening and the listening isn’t either. go forth and i’ll see you at the end”

The following three hours of the performance were tense. Whilst performing I was questioning whether to continue with the performance which had now drastically shifted from what we intended. At what point do you quit? How do you decided if there is an integrity in the altered form of what your doing – whilst your doing it? Do you just blindly continue anyway – because there is a set duration for the performance? Because maybe something will come out of it.

I felt decidedly vulnerable and exposed. At the time I couldn’t remember why I was doing what I was, why I had decided to work in this form, and why I wanted to place myself in such situations by making work publicly. The situation was also tense for Lauren – her reflection can be read here

I did complete the 5 hours. I could still talk by the end of it. I did cry. There are a few considerations that emerged in the aftermath of this performance:

1. Without the possibility of an audience, this performance would have been a studio experiment. And more than likely I would have given up at the first sign of any tech difficulties. In fact I’ve been in that situation before and cancelled what I was doing because it would have emptied the work.

2. There is an element of exposure in making artworks live. With a studio practice, if you try something out and it doesn’t work – well no one needs to know. But when you’re running through an situation that is contingent on ‘liveness’ – the here and now of the performance site, with an audience watching on, everything is on display. That being said the ‘failure’ of the planned intention to play out exactly as you imagined it can add to the performance (not detract from it – as I was thinking during relay). In this case, the perseverance and endurance I drew on to reach the end of this performance resonated with the words I was speaking. The score – compiled from over 25 political speeches – often referenced perseverance and endurance, fighting against the odds.

3. Was it really a failure? At the time I thought so. But no.  The performance became something different, nothing like what Lauren and I had intended, but it was still attended. It was still a durational task that challenged my limits – and in more ways that I could have foreseen. It still had an element of ‘relay’ – instead of relaying between sites located across the globe, the work was relaying between the live and recorded elements, but also between the two levels of this carpark in Kings Cross (A live feed video was being played the level above – where Alaska is located – from where I was performing). And I asked more questions about my own practice – something we probably don’t do as much when things run smoothly. And I learnt a lot – mainly have a contingent plan!

notes on R E L A Y

– R E L A Y –

A 5-hour durational performance between Lauren Brown (Performance
Space, London) and Boni Cairncross (Alaska, Sydney).

A spoken performance is relayed between the two performers, the two spaces.
What is seen and what is heard is ruptured by the delay of relaying
between the two locations.

To be performed simultaneously on August 19th, 2012

6am – 11am @ Performance Space, London


3pm – 8pm @ ALASKA, Sydney

When devising this performance with Lauren, I was very much interested ‘where’ the artwork exists. Does it exist as me, performing in Alaska? Or does it exist as Lauren, performing in Performance Space? Or does it exist somewhere between us – in the interwebs that are connecting our performances? Or does it exist between the mediating technologies and our bodies? Or between the people present in the space? Or is it all of these things at the same time?

And what about the unintended contextual things that will no doubt fold into this performance? Are these to be seen as irritations that should be minimised (possibly eradicated from the documentation), or embraced as part of the contingency of performance work? Considering that for two-hours of this performance, there will be a 2-hour experimental music performance to celebrate John Cage at ALASKA, I am leaning towards embracing these contingencies as an important aspect to fold into the work.

Beyond these conceptual philosophical musings – we also began to think about the act of speaking and listening for long periods of time. It seems history is littered with long political speeches. Before the ‘sound-bite’ it seemed that long political speeches were an acceptable way to demonstrate your knowledge and learning, as well as communicate policies and addresses etc. Speaking and listening are two roles (inter-changable of course) that set up a dialogue for a political system.

But long speeches are not limited to politics. We also began thinking about sports commentary, performance monologues, graduation speeches, song cycles and other modes of speaking which had an intended listening audience. So when devising the score for ‘Relay’, Lauren and I looked at a broad range of texts that were constructed deliberately for an audience. We will quote from twenty-five separate speeches in our own marathon speech. The score has been broken into five sections – 12 minutes each. There are five texts referenced in each section. The whole score should last for an hour. This will then be repeated four times.

Built into our performance is the task of recording and playing back. When researching this area of liveness, I came across a section in Philip Auslander’s ‘Liveness’ that points out that distinguishing something as ‘live’ is a fairly recent thing. According to Auslander, it was with the rise of radio that caused the need to categorise something as live or recorded. Prior to this, of course music could be heard live or recorded, but the source was obvious – one could see if it was one or another. With radio, the source was made invisible to the listener – therefore creating the need to communicate if something was being played live in the studio or from a recording. With radio we can also see the blurring of the categories – playing a recording live across the airwaves for example. So in part, our performance is an attempt to explore this blurring of live, recorded and live recordings.