Teacher Voice Treatment Lecture 2, by Sarah Hayden
Introduction by Sophie Seita:
Sarah Hayden’s lecture poem sequence Teacher Voice Treatment (TVT) explodes the format of the lecture in the anti-tradition of the lecture performance, a form that sits more or less comfortably between art and pedagogy or art and criticism. Having gained traction since the 1960s, with figures like John Cage, Robert Morris, Yvonne Rainer, Adrian Piper, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti, Carolee Schneemann and others playing with this hybrid genre avant la lettre, we can continue to trace its history to Martha Rosler, Andrea Fraser, Karen Finley, all the way to the contemporary experiments of Walid Raad, Hito Steyerl, Tony Cokes, Christine Sun Kim, Coco Fusco, and Gordon Hall. Sarah’s TVT both belongs to and critically analyses this didactic creative-critical trajectory.
In February 2020, I invited Sarah to present some new work in connection with her research on Voices in the Gallery at a seminar I co-run with my colleague Alex Rehding at Harvard’s Mahindra Center. Sound/Text looks at the intersections of language, music, and noise—from experimental poetry to sound archives, from conceptual art to psycholinguistics, from media aesthetics to neuroscience, from critical organology to sonic anthropology, from material culture to practice-based research. Our seminar hopes to offer an interdisciplinary forum in Boston (and since the pandemic, also beyond) for conversations about the roles that sound plays in all aspects of our lives. We’re interested in questions around liveness, documentation, histories of interpretation, and new modes of reading and listening. In keeping with the interdisciplinary angle of the seminar, our meetings try to explore an equally wide-ranging approach: academic talks, lecture performances, listening sessions, concerts, and roundtables.
I specifically asked Sarah because I’d just discovered her 2017 lecture poem ‘L1’ in Blackbox Manifold as I was putting together my syllabus for a graduate seminar on lecture performances, lyric essays, and other hybrid genres under the umbrella of ‘artistic research’ or ‘practice-based research’. I was also re-reading Sarah’s lecture poem ‘L4.5: For the 48 Portraits’ in Datableed, which I had first heard at a reading we both did together in Cardiff in December 2018. I still remember the late-night chat in a not-so-cosy but rather garish hotel bar, a conversation re-spun a year later over more post-seminar jetlagged chats and then almondy porridge in Boston, thinking of the need to find a visual-textual translation (in print or online) for what the lecture poem does in its live, sonically resonant, and embodied form.
Why experiment with the form of the lecture? Why upset the usually unwavering teacher voice?
To quote Sarah quoting Barbara Guest in ‘L4.5’: ‘Heavy [indeed] is the literature’. The lecture poem brings a bit of lightness into the whole knowledge business. That’s not to say it can’t do any heavy-lifting—for me, a lecture poem/performance is particularly fascinating when it gestures towards rigour and depth—but uses a lighter tone. It is in many ways a performance of tone. I could get theoretical here.
The lecture poem/performance introduces ideas, then pits them against—or holds them within—form. It fashions an associative, non-linear, sometimes spurious or speculative pedagogy.
Knowledge, both the production and consumption of it (I’m deliberately thinking of it as a Turkish delight or gummy bear aka Lucretius/Lucy Hutchinson ‘and when they give a bitter potion, baite / The verges of the cup with honie’) usually follows linear lines of direction, exhibits a limited awareness of the body, and delimits our understanding of ‘logic’ or ‘how things are done’. The lecture poem/performance helpfully breaks up the default, makes knowledge more tangible though not necessarily palatable. ‘Th’overwhelm from th’overwhelm is edifying.’ (SH in TVT)
We’ve probably all exclaimed at one point or another—That lecture really dragged!— When we drag something, we experience tension between two surfaces; there’s an inherent delay; time passes more slowly; we might do something with slight difficulty; we might be exhausted; it might be a little awkward. We drag our feet, we procrastinate. We dawdle.
We might chime in with Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s reversal of avant-garde time as rupture and progression: “maintenance is a drag: it takes all the fucking time.”
TVT draws our attention to the makings and meanings of lecturing, the voices of teachers and artists, but also the teaching voices in YouTube videos, the so-called ‘educational turn’, and the didactic tone or many staged lessons in performance and video pieces. This drawing attention to or drawing out or side-by-side provisionality and ambivalence is everything but a drag, indeed such a formal experiment takes the requisite time to make its point: that we need ‘lectures emptied of lecture’ (with their association of authority, surety, hierarchy), ‘new forms’, ‘fractallly, foldingly overlapping’ (like the captions and slides in the margins in Sarah’s piece, which supplement, critique, offer sideway glances), which do something with our bodies, gift us ‘particular structures of feeling’—'As the teacher voice internalised, the lesson / / the language / / that sticks’.
You can read TVT Lecture 1 here.
'I do believe the two, art/knowledge, inflect each other, but I also believe that art inflects pudding’.[i]
As David Antin had already noticed in 1975, video was always hung up on television. And much video, since then and still now, has applied itself to ‘quotes, allusion, celebration, parody and protest’ against/of Televisual forms.[ii] So far sooobvious.
HOME EC / HOME ED
Various artists, early on, looked to television’s early attempts to render itself respectable by providing ‘educational programming’: the charged cookery (utensil) demonstration that is Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (also 1975) is maybe the to-handiest example here. Amortification of the shallow range allowed to the (Child-ish, with capital C) woman presenter. Her tight voice that can speak only the names of these objects (grater, hamburger press, eggbeater, bowl), but is never loosed into anything more expansive: a paragraph, say, even a sentence. Culminating in Rosler speaking only some semantically void letters.
Not incidentally, this was the series designated by PBS for an 8 episode trial, a pilot project intended to test the viability of open captioning.[iii] Would that trial had become universal telly practice.
As Emily Watlington points out, ‘it’s [already] a didactic show’.[iv] Chef’s mission: to make europrestige food look & sound unfancy, unprompting of fear. Or, as Lazard’s voice + caption tracks put it: ‘this white woman dedicated her life / to make French food / accessible to the masses’.
Witness: Child’s every demonstration — supplemented with the patientest description. Where TV-chefs often insinuate a shade of mystery into their doings, implying the sharing of iceberg-apex skills acquired in extraordinary circumstances, this chef’s method is total — <<look no continental secrets up my sleeves>> — disclosure. At every juncture, she opts for demystification. Repeating, on each omelet variation, the basic moves (and their narration) again, bedding in the principles, revising egg-congealing 101, incorporating ‘stretch’ in the construction of a (dismaying) 5, 6 or 7-layer omelet gateau.
And for the benefit of those insufficiently imaginative to free-style conceive of how an omelet dinner party might transpire, some campish role-play: ‘Oh here comes my mother-in-law. / I’ll give her a liver omelet’. Meantimes, for the stronger (stretchier?) students, or those desirous of remedial assist, there’s even a short spot on further (ultraomelettey) reading.
But, though, but […What I want to say is…] From out of these televisual teaching materials, Lazard constitutes an alternative lesson-plan; a reroute squeaky-markered onto overhead transparency. Over the broadcast’s voice, text and image channels, th’artist adds a repeating simu-scrolling+vocalized caption-text, plus variously intermitting and overlapping audio description track. Th’overwhelm from th’overwhelm is edifying.
In its choreography of this concatenation — repurposing at cross-purposes these mutually explicative and obstructive teacher voice channels — A Recipe for Disaster schools supreme. And here, again, Watlington says it best: ‘Lazard is actually retrofitting Julia Child’s cooking show. Their remix shows both the importance and the limits of captioning sounds and describing images on media not made with deaf/Deaf and/or blind and low-vision audiences in mind from the start’.[v] Lazard and Watlington are teaching art at large a lot about captions and accessibility right now. We have, we should already know, such a very great lot to learn.
TUTOR ME, TUTOR YOU
Teaching as telling people how to do stuff on telly really properly took off with Web 2.0’s democratization of the format: making it possible for everyone to teach everyone without anyone intervening, checking credentials, certification, co-reqs.
The teacher voice from a YouTube tutorial on creating ‘a displaced body of water, using a plan and a displaced modification’ in Maxon Cinema 4D turns up in-cameo in Steyerl’s Liquidity Inc (2014). Having warned, earlier, that a ‘nervous breakdown’ on the part of the artist ‘means no budget for water CGI’, Steyerl’s chatboxes draw back the curtain on cobbled, ersatzing composition ‘I’ll have to do it myself, it will be flotsam from C4D tutorials’. Or, more flamboyantly translated, <<Ta-daah! This is how I do what I do>>. Paradoxically, this de-magikification of the process makes the synth-sea shimmer more impressively. Onc