Listening Wall at QSS, Belfast

Iris Garrelfs  contribution to the current Sonorities Festival  in Belfast   consists of 30 A4 sheets with printed words  displayed in groups on the walls of the first room of the QSS gallery. ( – wall)

The second room houses a video, hand drawn city plans and  schematic notation of some sounds heard on the walk guided by an Austrian artist katrinem ( She defines it as a “path of awareness” both of space walked though and the sounds produced by walking  and  surrounding architecture.   Focused on  the “walkability” of urban setting, observation of  a site and experience of what is heard, each group starts from the QSS gallery on similar and different pathways and indeed path of awareness. It is narrower and parallel to the walks  around Belfast organised by  Dr Aisling O’Beirn, over several years in a recent decade. I have not participated.  Often – we walk with a arrival point in mind when the perception and expectation meet.  These walks differ: beginning is known, the arriving point is not,  blending the insecurity with mystery of recognition hungry to belong to our consciousness.


<Silent Sonorities> slipped easily from conceptual art to  a play between run of the mill  cognitive  test  and sound related instruction scores.  Two artists based in Belfast, Gascia Ouzounian and Sarah Lapin  are included in a large number of exhibitors. The visitor is invited and encouraged to take all the “score sheets” home  – a generosity valuable for later  leafing through them – as if they were documents/memory of  looking at the Listening Wall.  Woven from imagination and synesthesia  the  ensuing aesthetic  experience  is indomitable. Unless you disable it  by habitual expectations.   The installation  unfolds consciousness evoked by the “scores” and  nourished or disabled by viewer’s response.  Some would be “Walking on the Pastures of Wonder” ( courtesy the title of John O’Donohue book published posthumously on 2015), others may echo Manon de Boer’s fascination with “open time” as condition for innovation. Tacitly. Others  will – with surgical precision examine how we experience sound through mute, written, language. Conscious that words are slippery. That the power of subliminal matters. Or – leaving insouciant.

Under the carapace of driest possible score  there is a telluric plane where even the porous vessels of languages do not destroy luxuriant burst of fantasy  or dream. Not valid apart for the person not afraid of arrogance of charm  while you read the words.  Charm that may leave the conscious mind in a split of the second.

It is precisely that – ephemeral.

The oldest score is by John Cage.  On August 29 1952 at Woodstock NY  the three parts of Tacet  were performed for 4’33” by David Tudor at the piano. Opening and closing  the lid marked the start and end of the composition.   Here, the viewer has just three identical words “Tacet”. The accompanying text mentions that the “ work may be performed  by an instrumentalist or combination of instrumentalists and last any length of time”.  This makes one’s  response, the body,  into an instrument.   Imagine dancing it like a waltz… one tacet, two tacets, three tacets …

Other scores are less open  issuing  instructions to the visitor  to follow – a strategy identical to Hans Ulrich Obrist in his Do It.  By transferring the method to the viewer – any creative force  becomes subordinated to awareness of something given, defined, to be followed.   Only the gap between the following and  experiencing harbours fragments of  freedom.

Some instructions lead to instant shifts in perception , others, being lengthy and elaborate,  end with an ennui. E.g.

Viv Corringham: Stand very close to a wall … Turn sideways and close one ear by pressing it onto the wall. Listen to the sounds of your own existence. Can you hear your breath, your heartbeat ? Slowly release your ear and listen as the sounds change. Can you hear the wall? Listen through the wall. 

Majority of participants, in adroit and unsentimental way, conceive scores  as a dynamic collaborator in making a meaning.

 Cathy Lane, Barry Cullen, Jo Thomas, Dan Scott (cups),  @radio_mind,,  Sharon Gal, Lisa Busby,Jude Cowan Montague, Iris Gareelfs, Bianca Regina  issue prompts like: sit quietly, consider practice, prepare, start, recline, repeat, go somewhere quite noisy, find, make, find,tilt your head, take 4 deep breath, drum with feet on car floor, stick one ear into a small encounter, stop in a yawn, etc.  I suppose the offer of the score sheets to take home fits these Do It exercises.  The one from @radio_mind trespasses from imagined to made, by asking : Copy the sounds the device makes. Send me a photo or short film.

Typing each on a text score card Marina Papadomanolaki  asks  Can you hear your footsteps? Can you hear your co-walkers?  Similarly Iris Garrelfs   posits one question at the time: How does one blade of grass sound? What does yellow sound like?Does the tree to your right sound the same as the tree to your left?   These do not depend on others, on place or time.

Garrelfs also combines instruction with a question: Listen to the voices around you. What does their sound tell you?  In three  text scores she sticks to the cold instruction: Listen to the transition between spaces. Listen to the voice inside.  This leaves me with a cognitive puzzle that would interfere seriously with any listening: where and what is a transition between spaces?  Which inside is meant?   Ambiguity of instruction is brought to the daylight also by  John D’Arcy   who  offered crosswords crazy maze to find words like bang, eel, gallop, gasp, grind, hum, hump…. strongly leaning to cognitive and visual patterns.  Deluge of words makes Catherine Clover’s  overwhelming.  Demands repeated reading, and lot of time.

Leaning on the verbal touches on poetry in Barry Cullen’s “Redburn”. His note made me smile: *extra sensitivity here if this route is used for the return journey”.

I suppose perception of very art is a journey from nothing to something.

Ian Stonehouse  starts with musing about sound, memory, our senses offering a conclusion that “our bodies are self-aware portable recording devices that gather, carry and discuss sensory information about the world we inhabit.” It is followed by a DoIt instruction worth quoting in full for  echoing  Dada and play.

“Approach someone and request they say their name aloud. As they are doing so gently draw a circle on the palm of your hand with a finger and commit your recording of their voice into your hand.  Pause for a moment  and replay the recording by redrawing the circle on your hand. ”

He adds a note: A moment is defined as lasting up to ninety seconds.

That brings me back to John Cage and a score for listening #84 displayed at QSS. It is made up of an image ( a blue crumpled plastic bag and a flowering branch)  and  a statement: sounds appear randomly placed intentionally.  (My apology to the author – name not printed on the score….)

Sherry Ostapovitch and Anita Castelino  move from “Listening is an active process. Hearing is not listening” to instructions and questions, ending on the instrumental role of art: Who do you listen to? And who listens to you?

Majority of the scores are tailored to urban  civilisation.  Only one starts with : Find a place in the woods… Tansy Spinks  offered a triptych of instructions, she says,  inspired by 1950 source:  the Braziers Park School of Integrative Research and Braziers Adult College Brochure.  ( The idea that the subjective and objective understanding may be not in conflict is still with us, unresolved. Spinks adds an asterisk : *… (so) get busy with the creative work that a sick world needs so urgently.

I hope that by creative she means also  how we know what we know, science, technical inventions, and participatory democracy for equals.   Ideas woven from the gossamer of  insights and still unbreakable, help us  unthink the inevitability of the power relations that calcified over the centuries..

This installation at QSS  certainly offered a  fair chance.












Stephan Dillemuth (*1954 Büdingen, Germany) considers his potential as a visual artist in front of the backdrop of a changing concept of what the word “public” implies. Contemplating his own involvement and the possible ways he could act as an artist, he asks to what extent self-organization and personal and collective integrity can be created within the framework of a society bent on control.



About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
This entry was posted in essay and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Listening Wall at QSS, Belfast

  1. Are there many Irish artists included ?


    • Hello Danny – I mention two from Belfast (Gascia Ouzounian and Sarah Lapin) and one from Germany (katrinem) – but do not know where each of the rest live May be you can ask the curator I shall sent you her email.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.