Right at the Museum

Recently I returned to working in a museum

One of my first activities was to create this interpretive panel for their iron lung.

It surprised me as I'd already written about this item when I worked here six years ago, but returning to it I learned this is a Both respirator.

Edward Both was an inventor considered the "Edison of Australia" and he had a remarkable career in medical and military settings, as well as creating a scoreboard for the Melbourne Olympics.

Cut it out & cut it up

This week I shared with a Studio Co!Lab what I've learned using the Cut-Up Technique

To begin my talk I encouraged everyone to print a copy of Picasso's poem about noon, since he's known to have stated that artists steal and it feels right to honour this contemporary of Cut-ups.

My Cut-up experiences have been realised in lyrics, sampling and also a book that invites destruction.

I also mentioned the poetry reading that I gave at a book launch which performed a live remix.

We began cutting Picasso's poem into individual words while I explained how the imagery reminded me of the Riverina and introduced David Bowie's use of the technique.

The singer acknowledged his debt to Brion Gysin and echoed some of the magical attributes he promoted with a process pioneered earlier in the 20th Century by Tristan Tzara.

My recollection is Cut-ups were a significant development in the split between Surrealism and Dada, when Tzara created a "manifesto" using newspaper clippings.

At the time the Surrealists were writing manifestoes and took offence at this brute process for generating words.

However, the cut-ups have been seen to share in common the influence of Freud's ideas of dream analysis as a way of identifying cues from the unconscious.

Cut-up documents interrogate the text in a haphazard manner that reveals as much about the dynamics and relationships of the reader, while allowing anyone to be an author. 

In this way it shows a Dadaist antiestablishment attitude that can be seen as an attack on authorial intention.

Some might view the process as reassembling a document and the process can be viewed through a variety of philosophical positions, such as the magic and art roles.

When you begin creating a cut-up text there are decisions about the process that determine roles for chance or probability.

You might choose to draw a word from a hat, or you might assemble them from a visible pool of possible words.

My partner developed an exhibition that referenced William S. Burroughs' use of the Cut-up Technique in 2014 and that year introduced me to an alternate approach proposed by the Disquiet Junto.

While the process of preparing the pieces and then pasting them together has a meditative quality that suits gallery spaces that are open for more of a performance art aesthetic, the simplicity of the idea is ripe for technology.

It is interesting to see David Bowie returned to the idea as personal computing developed with the Verbasizer, which has been beautifully realised at this website.

The idea of cutting seems simple and it's worth remembering that many ideas about editing have developed since Tzara.

When you cut up a text the words are never entirely anonymous, even if the document become a palette for beige language.

Each discrete piece becomes a springboard for a chain of connotations, which is a process that has been called "unlimited semiosis" in semiotic theory.

These become potent symbols and through the popularisation by Gysin the cut-up practice came to be infused with ideas of magic that were researched by Genesis P-Orridge.

Burroughs undertook audio and film-based cut-ups that extended the ideas he identified in literary practice.

I explained an audio-based curse that P-Orridge detailed and how sampling harnesses a similar energy when it takes a small example from a larger whole.

Working with the landscape as a document to sample you find inspiration in selecting small symbolic examples to trigger memories of entire ecosystems.

Which l led into my discussion of my Soundscaping videos and exhibitions.

Using video as a medium for cut-ups led to the role of Arthur Lipsett's 21-87 in the development of Star Wars.

I pondered religious implications as well as broader philosophical questions of free will and determinism.

There were some questions towards the end, including some discussion of AI and machine-learning tools.

I talked about my collaborative poetry, where I fed lines about the environment into a website.

It offered results that were surprising in a way similar to cut-ups but overcame a key constraint.

The responses from AI saw angels, which was delightful and language that I never use.

So the AI experiment gave a nice counterpoint to the Cut-up Technique and Andrew, the moderator, decided that was the moment to end.

Modern torture

Along with the children I knew at one primary school, we all specialised in various forms of torture

One of the most common forms was vividly describing pain and letting the victim stew in their own tense juices.

At the time it was popular to give exotic names to the different styles of torture.

Jungle Torture, for example, involved inflicting a sequences of techniques that would ascend in their intensity.

This would begin with a series of tickling finger-flicks across the chest while describing ants, then progress to pummelling as elephants negotiate the terrain of the victims torso.

Some of the most severe actions came from Asian countries, such as the wrist burn attributed to the Japanese.

It would involve the torturer grabbing a wrist with both hands, then twisting in opposing directions.

My skin was supple back then and I don't recall it caused more than a brief rash, but now I wonder if my dry wrist might catch and rip open on that bony bit that protrudes.

However, there's something about anticipating the touch of my torturer that also feels different now.

I hold hands so rarely with anyone now my kids have grown up -- and not because I scared them away with wrist burns!

My body feels a bit tingly just thinking about someone grabbing me.

Another approach might be Chinese Water Torture, which uses dripping water to slowly frustrate then irritate then madden a victim.

Thinking about this while I lay in the bath recently hearing the shower head drip, I realised it seems underwhelming.

I expect the sound of dripping would barely register among the hum of daily life or even my tinnitus.

The tortures I knew as a child all seem out of date.

Now there's something appealing about the idea of being touched or having enough silence to find dripping water sound loud.

And, of course, the real tortures of waterboarding, electro-shocks or locking-up refugees on remote islands has been well-documented.