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Earwitness: Jennifer Stoever, M J Grant and Andrew Brooks

  • UNSW Art & Design Cnr Oxford St and Greens Rd, Paddington, NSW, 2021 (map)

UNSW Galleries is proud to present an evening of talks by and conversation with Jennifer Stoever, M J Grant and Andrew Brooks as part of Eavesdropping, a major project by Liquid Architecture, Melbourne Law School and The Ian Potter Museum of Art exploring the politics of listening and being listened-to.

We need to talk about lis­ten­ing, power, and race. Will­ful white mis­hear­ings and audi­tory imag­in­ings of black­ness — often state sanc­tioned — have long been a matter of life and death in the United States. How­ever, recent events— and large-scale protests tes­ti­fy­ing to their occur­rence and ampli­fy­ing their impact — have tem­porar­ily halted the usual silence sur­round­ing the vio­lent con­se­quences of the racial­iza­tion of both sound and lis­ten­ing. In this talk, Dr Sto­ever will speak to some of these events in rela­tion to what she calls the ‘sonic color line’, the learned cul­tural mech­a­nism that estab­lishes racial dif­fer­ence through lis­ten­ing habits and uses sound to com­mu­ni­cate one’s posi­tion vìs-a-vìs white cit­i­zen­ship.

Although it has come to wide­spread public atten­tion only through meth­ods used by US secu­rity agen­cies in th“War on Terror”, the uses of music in tor­ture and ill-reat­ment are much more exten­sive, both in the present and in the past. In Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, many formal and infor­mal prac­tices of jus­tice made ref­er­ence to musi­cal tropes, par­tic­u­larly the con­trast between har­mony and dis­so­nance. Tra­di­tions of public sham­ing which folk­lorists and his­tor­i­cal anthro­pol­o­gists have gath­ered under the gen­eral ter“chari­vari” gen­er­ally incor­po­rated a cacoph­ony of noises. Some aspects of these prac­tices res­onate in rit­u­als used in mil­i­tary jus­tice in the eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­tury: mil­i­tary jus­tice and dis­ci­pline seem in turn to have informed the ways that music has been used both in the Soviet Gulag and, even more exten­sively, in the con­text of Nazi per­se­cu­tion and geno­cide.

The ques­tion and prob­lem of who is afforded a voice — of what voices are heard as speech and what voices are heard as noise — is con­nected to the his­tory of the modern sub­ject. This lec­ture will con­sider the trans­for­ma­tion of the voice into an ideal object that comes to rep­re­sent the lib­eral sub­ject of post-Enlight­en­ment thought. Sep­a­rated from the cor­po­real noises of the body, the voice of the lib­eral sub­ject is dema­te­ri­alised and trans­formed into a static image of sound that is both illu­sory and impos­si­ble. Despite its phan­tas­magor­i­cal nature, this ide­alised voice that speaks in the form of a uni­vo­cal demand is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to the lib­eral ide­olo­gies of pos­ses­sion and accu­mu­la­tion that under­pin the logics of set­tler colo­nial­ism and its shift­ing forms of racial­i­sa­tion. Against the ide­alised voice of lib­er­al­ism, we might open our ears to the noisy voices and fugi­tive modes of speech that sound out­side the locus of the pol­i­tics proper. Lis­ten­ing in to moments in pop music, the murmur of crowds, the urgent whis­pers of a gossip net­work, and active silence, this lec­ture pro­poses a type of fugi­tive lis­ten­ing that attends to voices his­tor­i­cally excluded from the polit­i­cal sphere.

Eaves­drop­ping, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Liquid ArchitectureMelbourne Law School and The Ian Potter Museum of Art, com­pris­ing an exhi­bi­tion, a public pro­gram, series of work­ing groups and tour­ing event explor­ing the pol­i­tics of lis­ten­ing through work by artists, researchers, writ­ers and activists from Aus­tralia and around the world.