Decentralising authorship, decentralising the self — In Conversation with Vito Willems Pt. II
In dialogue with silence
The second part of FIBER Festival’s Reassemble Lab took place from 25 -30 October 2021. Under the title Sound Ecologies, we collectively explored how sound can make audible the invisible affects of the Anthropocene. The lab invited artistic creators, researchers and scientists to collaborate in a peer-to-peer setting, through a combination of lectures, workshops, and fieldwork to support group research and work development. Vito Willems was our sound technician during the lab, setting up and introducing the spatial sound set-up to the participants. He also shared his approach towards creating sound art, influenced by principles of non-hierarchy, soul-omniscience and decentralised authorship. We spoke to him to delve deeper into these topics, and to reflect on the necessity of these principles in our current time of crises. This is Part II of the conversation, which explores expanded modes of listening, the role of mythology in art-making prcoesses and the importance of decentralisation in art works. If you missed Part I you can read it here.
non-hierarchical modes of listening
Rhian Morris: Maybe we could talk a bit more about the positioning of the speakers in your installations, especially how you direct your focus on the spaces between the speakers.
Vito Willems: I think it’s interestingly linked to decentralisation, non-hierarchical modes of listening. A hierarchical mode would be the stereo image, as with stereo-setups you have a front and back, audience and stage, a separation in space. When you add just two more speakers in the other corners of the space you open front and back into an omnisphere, there’s more freedom to move around. Scientifically it’s quite important to learn about the potential and precision of loudspeaker reproduction; high quality means a more clear representation of the source. However, for me it’s the experience itself we should not forget. I was talking with a friend/artist, Luis Sanz, who proposed the idea of unorthodox speaker arrangements, I really like this idea, which has been explored by artists like Maryanne Amacher for example, a big inspiration. She worked in the space for many, many days before an opening, moving the speakers around slightly, searching for hidden voices within the space. To me, this is not escaping scientific traditions, but embracing technologies as part of the experience, through this you can liberate rules as well as embracing what is already there.
RM: During the field trip of the lab we had a deep listening session led by Sharon Stewart just outside COVRA. It was very affecting as we were focusing on tuning in to the voices coming from the environment with our own voices, but then you would realise you were tuning to a human voice from someone else in the group, not a voice from the environment! It all merged and blurred so much. After we finished this, there was a murmuration of birds which flew over us, like they were recognising our attempt at collectivity. This moment reminded me of a cloud chamber we saw inside COVRA, which is where you can see the alpha and gamma waves of radiation, which can’t be seen with a naked eye, but here you could see how the waves moved and disappeared.
VW: Imagine that, these waves are touching us all the time.
RM: Exactly. So for me there was a resonance between those two experiences, with our voices merging into space and picking up on things whether human or non-human. And then these radiation waves that are always there, but just not visible to the naked eyes. It made me think about shapeshifting and how that can be useful for our current point of crisis. I wondered whether this offers some knowledge for us, this ability to adapt, not to necessarily project ourselves onto other people, but at least to tune into frequencies other than our own. I wondered what your thoughts would be on that.
VW: This is a daily practice for me. If there’s a hum or tone [in space or object], I always try to meet it. You have to be careful that you don’t overpower it, there always has to be respect even to the waves or structures. It can create beautiful things. Resonance is one of the key words. You amplify the natural frequency on which sight or object acts. This is a moment of celebration, where you can meet and become one, which is important in fragmented times. This practice of searching, meeting voices, is needed as you find out if this agency also wants to meet you. By navigating and negotiating you start to find this moment of resonance where you feel a response, a portal to an exploration of common frequencies, starting a dialogue, to become one with each other — this is the most beautiful feeling.
RM: That’s incredible. Yeah, it’s nice to think of that as a meeting, with respect to the other entity that maybe they don’t want to meet you sometimes, and that’s also fine.
VW: If the subject will not vibrate back in that moment, then it may not work out. But if you hear a response, they become curious.
decentralising the self
RM: It’s a dialogue, much like creating an art work. What is your approach to making art with this shapeshifting in mind, where the self is decentralised?
VW: Drawing back to the question of the equilibrium between artistic input and awareness on the agency of other collaborative forces; I think it’s in communication. The contradiction [in making art] is we want to decentralise agency, but at the same time we put our name on our work. I’m not criticising this, because I think it’s also part of a system we live in, I can offer my contribution as Vito Willems, however, I would promote stepping into another domain, therefore ⵣ.
Making works in the art-world, a niche, in my case “sound art”, we can talk about it with like-minded people, but outside they wouldn’t understand. By creating a myth more can connect with [the work]. To make a myth and shapeshift into these characters we could be more understanding about different kinds of power. That’s what I would like to research. Not that we shouldn’t conform to institutionalisation, which has a power structure, but come to an agreement, a balance between both worlds, an alternative system within the system.
Interestingly, Alex, a friend and dedicated astrologer, told me there is a difference in the art of Neptune and Venus. The art of Neptune is just the artist, the work and the cosmos. Whereas the art of Venus is the work and the way in which it’s presented to people, a focus on the aesthetic. There’s a separation of these two different kinds of art practice. The greatest thing is when you can bring them together; you can still be with the cosmos and create, but at the same time there are people who can experience it collectively.
RM: Yeah, because what is art if it isn’t a shared experience?
VW: Yeah.. there’s a responsibility to be part of this social structure, as an artist.
RM: It’s really wonderful to hear how you really live your work as well.
VW: I think art and life are not very different. Art is life and life is art. What we’re doing here is the performance, this is the art. We get into a good state, I drink my tea before we meet, burn a candle. Actually, this is the ritual. And I think when we make an artwork, we show and connect with what life is actually about.
RM: I’m always curious how we can merge those two realms. The creation of work and its presentation. When [artists] get into presentation mode, I sometimes feel that the audience is cut off from knowing or experiencing everything that’s been going on up until that point. It’s interesting to see how these roles can be exchanged.
VW: I really love process based works. I think it’s always a process, the art practice and the art work. [In my own practice] When you come into the space on the first day, it’s empty and nothing yet installed, you do a small ritual to initiate the space, to create a connection to it. I think this is quite important, people will feel it. It’s interesting to embed the performativity in the process, even when no one will see it or know, it’s about connection.
RM: Then you’re also connecting to the space itself. And the space itself is a part and portal for the performance. So it’s nice to also reach out and include that. Maybe it won’t be felt by the audience but it would be felt by the space itself.
VW: Yes indeed! Rhian, I want to thank you a lot, the framework you provided, without this, we were not having shoes and walking on the fire. [both laugh] And I think this balanced the elementary forces to create this.
RM: Thank you so much, it was really an honour.
Edited by: Rhian Morris & Vito Willems