by Zoe Theodore
‘Grammar is politics by other means.’[i] – Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto
Jacqueline Stojanović’s audio installation Keeping in Touch raises concerns about the failings of traditional forms of communication by revealing the shortfall of syntax whilst attempting to expose the possibility of human and nonhuman intimacy. The exhibition fosters an unlikely communicative bond between the visitor and an innate object that continues Stojanović’s ongoing investigation into the posthuman condition. Adopting concepts form Jane Bennett’s notion of ‘vital materialism’ and Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (ANT); Stojanović explores the possibility of nonhuman objects having the potential to act and participate within social networks.
Keeping in Touch was exhibited as the second weekly edition of ACCA’s 2015 Startups program. The exhibition housed three vintage rotary dial telephones within the emptied shipping container that occupied the ACCA forecourt. The telephones were mounted along the right interior wall and each performed a different communicative action that invited the visitor to communicate with the objects. Each of the telephones requested the visitor to perform a routine human action: two telephones asked for ‘listening’ and one asked for ‘talking’ whilst also performing the corresponding communicative roles back to the visitor.
Upon picking up the designated listening telephone, the visitor received a recording of intimate conversations between the artist and her closest friends and family. Despite the perceived intimacy of these conversations the recordings were edited to play only the spaces between the words, which have no apparent meaning or function outside the original conversation. Whist listening to the recording, one could hear some shuffling, a ‘like’ or an occasional ‘um’ – all varying sounds that designate the space between words. By editing these recordings to pay homage to the pauses that signify the deliberation of what the speaker will say next, and also the filler words that sit outside of language proper that have no nuanced meaning, the artist accentuates her interest in the ‘slippages of spoken language.’[ii]
The apparent lack of foreground, or a verbal narrative to the recording, is further emphasized by the background music – snippets of songs by the ethereal pup duo, Rhye. The accentuating of the background allows the intimacy of the original conversation to transcend the words spoken between loved ones and infiltrate not only the recording of their conversational pauses but also the agency of the recording that is delivered through the said telephone. This subtle residual feeling of intimacy pervades the recordings and infiltrates the installation as a whole.
The absence of words within the recordings highlights Stojanović’s interest in forms of intimacy that don’t require a linguistic understanding and exposes the potentiality of an intimate relationship between an innate object and human subject. They confront the ontological ideas elucidated by Bennet’s concept of ‘vital materialism’ that explores the relationship between inanimate objects and human beings. Bennet argues that “edibles, commodities, storms, and metals act as quasi agents, with their own trajectories, potentialities and tendencies.”[iii] Stojanovic adopts this concept as a means to explore the how nonhuman entities (here three telephones) can have the capacity to act or participate in the interaction with visitors.
The “talking” telephone also draws upon these posthuman concepts as it asks the visitor to talk to the handset whilst replaying the amplified voice back to the visitor. This function distorts the visitor’s ability to differentiate between what aspect of the interaction is determined by human agency compared to technological intervention. This distortion raises concerns propagated by Latour’s ANT, which attempts to explain the infrastructure of technological advancement and assigns social agency to man-made objects. It argues that because humans develop technology it is ultimately influenced by our social conditions. These theories are adopted regularly to describe how today’s electronics have become a technological extension of our own subjectivity. Stojanović choice, however, of presenting an outmoded model of telephone extends this ideology into the past to map the telephones own historical life and our relationship to it.
In the age of Google and the iPhone, technology has infiltrated nearly every corner of our lives and facilitates so many of our interpersonal interactions. Stojanović’s Keeping in Touch, however, presents a nostalgic and sentimental take on the contemporary relationship between man and the machine.
Zoe Theodore is an emerging writer, producer and curator. She is ACCA’s intern on the Startups project.