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Umm. Mmmm. Ahhhh… Huh? Exploring the sounds, speech, utterances and un-articulated moments in project meetings.

Notes for Common Place.

image: film still from Borris’ painting buses anecdote

“It is my argument that to understand the full range of the voice, as an event (and discourse) entangling itself around bodies, desires, politics, identities, and nations, it is important to recognise the mouth in all its performative verve, effective influence, and complicated drama.” (Brandon LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth – Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary, 2014, p.4).

“The play between vocal emission and acoustic perception necessarily involves the internal organs. It implicates a correspondence with the fleshy cavity that alludes to the deep body, the most bodily part of the body. The impalpability of sonorous vibrations, which is as colourless as the air, comes out of a wet mouth and arises from the red of the flesh.” (Adriana Cavarero, For More Than One Voice, Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression, 2005, p.4)

Let’s open our mouths and look inside. How are words, sounds, utterances formed through this fleshy wet orifice? Which pre-articulated thoughts get caught at the back of your throat? What preparation does your tongue do while you listen and prepare your response? Where in your body did that laugh originate? Is the mouth a space where listening and speaking meet and mingle? How do secretions, dialects, silences, jargon all swill around and influence our sonorous encounters in a project meeting with other artists, funders, collaborators, participants, community groups, activists, curators? Which words and phrases do we end up repeating, so much so they loose meaning? Our mouths breath in and out complex political landscapes. Let’s reflect together on how this busy orifice influences the way we communicate, interpret and interact.

A burp under the breath in the middle of sentence.

A tongue clicking the roof of a mouth making a quiet tutting sound.

An uncontrollable yawn rises and contorts a face.

He tries to pick a stubborn bit of lunch from a molar with the end of his tongue.

An excitable pre-announcement lick of the lips.

A sentence attempted a number times to try and get the words in the right order.

Their every sentence begins with an apology.

An interruption from someone who thinks they’ve got this.

A nervous repetitive swallow to bide the time before finding the right time to contribute.

Damn. I whisper. They’ve moved the conversation on.

Parted lips as if about to interject. Close again.

The pressure to be articulate makes my mouth go dry. It needs lubricating before the next item on the agenda.

I repeat the acronym slowly, each letter rolls around my tongue to see if it feels familiar. Surely I must know what it stands for, everyone else does it seems.

I spend a lot of time in meetings. I find them fascinating places, like stages for us to play out certain versions of ourselves, reflecting our assumptions of other people’s expectations. The mouth is an opening through which temperature controlled air and corporate language is breathed in and out. We learn through this space, make mistakes, take things back, speak before we think. Through our mouths we reach out to others. 

What is the story of the mouth before it arrived and opened here today? The air is thick here with past words being inhaled by us newcomers.

Words are recycled, on spin cycle creating cleaned up jargon ready for the washing line.

Mouths are performing certain forms of behaviour – behaving, efficiency savings.

What about the non-human voices in the room? Have we forgotten to listen to them? [“Is not every object a potential body with a voice?”  (LaBelle, p.6)]

Which ways of speaking are privileged? Which accents are taken more seriously? Do certain words and the way we say them carry more weight than others?

In socially engaged art practices we have to talk to each other, don’t we? My listening to your voice can result in ‘story theft’ – the taking of other people’s stories for my own self gain. Recording, capturing, reworking. A form of cultural embezzlement (Bourdieu) can take place. ‘Giving voice’ implies some people don’t have a voice and others have one to give. Everyone has a voice, it’s just that they aren’t listened to. Or their voices are not articulated in the way power understands. How can we keep hold of the reality of inarticulate mess and a cacophony of voices, messages and agendas that play out in meetings? Which voices are absent? Which voices are heard in / through the archive? How can voices (beyond/behind/to the side of speech) reveal something more about the in-between practices, the stuff that is not made public? The mouth and all that swashes around in there could provide the behind the scenes of speech.

Someone is speaking. But what is their mouth doing?

Someone isn’t speaking. But what is their mouth doing?

[Thanks to: Jenny Richards, Sarah Browne, Henry Hope, Alice Hope, Barry Sykes, Henry Mulhall, Selina Robertson, Viv Blanchard, Adriana Cavarero, Brandon LaBelle, Claudia Firth, Lucia Farinati – I’ve been breathing in your words, sounds and ideas and they’ve been percolating and circulating…]

Further links, references and inspirations to come…

image: Henry chewed on my presentation notes, as I was talking (1 July 2019)