pointing at things and naming them

March 3, 2016 - workbook

I was talking to Paul Whitty on Monday and he commented that if people look back on some of the work being made at the moment they will think we have an obsession with isolating things, pointing at and naming them. He’s right: there are lots of pieces that do this very literally (see my playlist!), but more generally the sense of fragmentation of material and objects in order to present them as units within a larger structure is very apparent. I think in particular sounds in these situations become placeholders for other ideas. They might mark time or an action, signal a particular category, or draw on a focused reference point. The compositions are assemblages that play with these categories through their recontextualisation.

With reference to Paul’s observation, a particular subcategory of these pieces literally involves naming things. I’ve been enjoying Louis d’Heudieres’ Laughter Studies recently, and the live description of sounds in this piece always makes me smile (and sometimes laugh). Other examples include the opening of Tim Parkinson’s Time with People or Joanna Bailie’s Artificial Environments, or any other piece which involves describing or labelling sounds in some way. I do this in my things to do series where the spoken cues initiate sounds that are attached to the relevant labels.

Paul’s comment made me laugh though as the new piece I’ve made almost exactly does what he says. It’s going to be played twice this week, first by Ruben Zilberstein and Alex Nikiporenko at 840 on Saturday, then by Distractfold on Tuesday at the RNCM. The piece is titled in which one thing depends on another and the players have to learn to associate lists of words with objects such that they form stable pairs over the course of the performance. They don’t actually point at things though at least, but that might be a future piece.


  1. James says:

    PS: I just noticed some ideas that I wrote in my notes in January for a piece that involves pointing at people. This is definitely going to be a piece soon I think.

  2. Michael says:

    To perhaps state the obvious, I’m reminded of John Baldessari’s 1969 “Commissioned Paintings” series. In reflecting on that point of reference: I wonder if anything fruitful emerges from considering a difference in the way that Baldessri’s hands (as representative of a subjective encounter with an object) are twice displaced by shifting the authorial perspective/focus to another artist and the medial transferal from photograph to painting, and the direct, immediate, near instantaneous (almost documentary) recalling/resounding (copying, be it verbal, oral, sonic, or otherwise) of some thing or things heard in “Laughter Studies” and “Time With People” …

    Oh, and I’ve always had the feeling that Opus 5 (more so than Opus 1) from Parkinson’s “Time With People” was a good example of the type of thing you are talking about:


  3. James says:

    I didn’t know this series. There’s a useful essay here: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/contemporary-art-evening-sale-n09141/lot.10.html

    Interesting also to see the quote from Al Held that ‘All conceptual art is just pointing at things’ to close the loop.

    Perhaps the analogy with a score, or at least set of instructions, in making this work is also relevant. In all these cases the artist/composer is instructing others to realise the work (while retaining authorship – although Baldessari names the painter as part of the work and performances credit performers, the status of the author is not really questioned). In Louis and Tim’s pieces, we are led to consider the idiosyncrasies of the performers (and also in Opus 1), but in the paintings perhaps that’s less clear given the (very good) photorealism.

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