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the listening booth: end of residency at collingwood neighbourhood house

Listening Booth_115

i've been quite the boringly busy blogger this year, haven't i? 
constantly apologising for blogging about things way after they've passed.

so 'tis with the end of the residency at collingwood housing estate.

as the end of the residency loomed,  i really wasn't sure the best way to 'mark' the occasion. my initial idea was to put on a concert, with the local band, some experimental music peeps and some vocal groups from the local area.
whilst i don't think it's a stupid idea, the failure of the movie night helped me realise that my resources (time, money, skllls and patience) were too limited to be able to pull of something like that on the estate. and it just felt like i was going to make a work that kinda failed.

so i cancelled the tentative plans i had made, but that left me with a bit of a hole in my plans and a sense of impending anticlimax. 

thankfully i was able to chat about it with sue kent, the administrator and person who started collingwood neighbourhood house. she suggested, very sensibly, that i join the community safety day which was planned for the weekend after our conversation. it was a super-quick turnaround, but a great idea: the community would be out, it was going to add to a  sense of safety and awareness (listening, that is), and i'd be included in an event that already had community support, promotion and context. perfect.

the only problem was the i wasn't sure the best way to include some of the art community in that end-of-residency rah-rah. it wasn't a sexy event and i also didn't feel like making into a typical art event with a bunch of artists who aren't really into community-engaged practice.

thankfully my friend lucas came to the rescue - he suggested exactly the right thing, which resulted in two quite private tours for invited arty guests as well as members of the estate. perfect.

finishing touches

having brought my finale 10 days forward, i had to work really hard to bring everything to completion, but thankfully i just put my mind to it, and employed an assistant. mark, a local in transitional housing and main guy for the men's shed was my assistant for the week and he was amazing. he helped me put together the listening booth and string up all the wiring for the underground sound listening stations.

i worked my arse off writing up the sound wall, compiling the CD, getting maps printed and sorting out the logistics of inviting people to a one-off tour. all whilst  talking to loads of people from the area about what was happening. it was pretty intense, but amazing week. and it was really satisfying. those posts about each of the artworks will give you an idea of the meta processes of the whole work, but the overall fervent activity about all the works really brought everything together and did make it feel like a finale. the locals got a sense of what i was doing, and i started to see what my work was about and how it fit.

the listening booth and tours of the housing estate

Listening Booth_120

thankfully the listening booth was the perfect device to bring all the works together on the one day.
i gave out CDs, maps to the estate and it was a great site from which to leave the tours.

the tours were great! a really nice mix of locals and arty-visitors and each person took something different away about the residency and the estate itself.

each group started with underground sound listening stations, to the sound wall, through one of the tower foyers and back to harmsworth park. i spoke a little about my experience on the estate, some about the work, about the significance of the places we passed (including the neighbourhood house and the DHS office0  the first group was overflowing, with quite a lot of the local peeps joining in (including a couple of kids) and we were treated to an outstanding tirade about public housing by a resident as we passed through the foyer of 229.

the second tour was slightly smaller, but later in the day. it was still a great little tour and some great questions asked about the nature of sound on the estate. I think most of the visitors really enjoyed all the works, and the chance to have them placed in context with a bit of a story and a chance to compare and contrast.

Listening Booth_117

during the week afterwards, i was able to give people who couldn't make the main tours a consolation tour - with out the booth and vibe of the day, but still a glimpse into the sound works, the wall and a copy of the CD and maps.

i was so flattered at all the people who came and the great feedback i got about the works.

i also feel incredibly honoured that i was able to make the work that i did, and to be able to connect with such a wide variety of residents and locals to the collingwood housing estate.

Listening Booth_118

mad props to 
the wurundjeri elders and their ancestors who allowed me to make work on the country and who were generous with their time and blessings
mark ryder, who was a total rock; 
to sue kent and john bainbridge who ended up totally backing me, even though i was an upstart early on; 
to kaukau who helped me and really befriended me
to my guest listeners: eddy carroll, jed from VACRO and travis marke with his year 8 music class
and to lucas, who helped me reason it out.



i just stumbled upon this video by australian artist gabrielle de vietri, whose chinese whispers work i loved at PICA screen space a while ago.

how beautiful is this story! it's like princess bride meets finnegans wake.

Captcha from Gabrielle de Vietri on Vimeo.


the sound wall (extended remix)


the sound wall on the yarra men's shed is the culmination of two and a half months of regular listening at the collingwood housing estate. it's a hand-written façade of every sound on the estate, covering the outer two walls of a weatherboard clad shed.

regular readers are probably aware of my ongoing listening practice - and may have popped over to the poorly-kept listening to the city blog to check out the listening i've been doing during the residency.

the locals and residents would see me pop up around the estate, standing for just 30 minutes at a time, usually with a camera in front of me, armed with headphones and a notebook. less ignored on the estate than i am in other areas of public space, i was often approached and asked what i was doing. if not in the moment, then afterwards. most residents were curious, assuming i was taking photos, singing, making a film clip or something creative. the most suspicious were always the powerful ones on the estate: the office of housing, security guards and heads of committees or organisations.

anyway, after the sound wall at electrofringe, i realised that it was a great idea for the project on the estate. there were a few false starts (namely some mis-communication between organisations resulting in the ordering of an embryonic wall to be removed).

anyway, the men's shed were delighted to be able to have the wall on their shed whilst they sorted out other creative opportunities. over a few weeks, i painted the corner walls of the shed black and the first text went up. it coincided withe the stages of organising the final event. 


in the 10 days prior to the listening booth, i spent evenings writing up the wall. the weather was particularly crappy at that stage, so mornings were usually raining, clearing to a fine-ish evening. as i perched on my ladder, or stood and write, it was a good opportunity to talk to residents about what i've been doing over the last two months.

the wonderful thing was that locals, who had observed slow changes to the shed, had no problem asking me what it was all about. i had amazing discussions with cute somalian men, old addicts and alcoholics from the block, an old greek woman who was in the group who sang exe geia kaimene kosme to me early on (and who practiced reading english on the wall). mark from the men's shed spruiked about it with every chance he got. 

everyone was stopping to read the words.


i still do like how i've managed to make a work that has different points of time and access. 
people can walk past it quickly and take in a few quick words as they're walking past.
they can glimpse it from across the street, or right up close.
they can stand and read it whilst they wait to score, or whilst their sister gets the kids out of the car.
i think it's just that bit too big/long to take in during one whole sitting, but someone could if they wanted to.
but that also means that there's enough of it to keep you coming back.
and although it's all about language, it's not the language of power. it's phenomenal. most of the phrases are one, two or three words long. they're not complex, but not simplistic either. and i don't think that it's patronising.
there are parts on the wall that people know are theirs - some names, some phrases they said directly to me when i was on the wall and i think that people like it because they know the sounds.


most assumed there'd be more swearing on there than there was. i only edited out instances where the word 'cunt' flew around, which wasn't actually that often. people also suggested there'd be the sound of gunshots on there. i could honestly say that i never heard gunshots in my time. perhaps i wasn't there late enough, or early enough. nonetheless, it felt right that i was able to remind people that the prevailing sounds of the estate were still birds, traffic and kids playing.


one of the local lads told me he was illiterate and got me to read some of the lists out. i didn't do it very poetically, but he got the drift. he told me he could read a few words and could get by so he had stopped trying to learn to read. he said he knew how to read the word birds, so i showed him were they were on the wall and he could read that. later that evening i busted him reading the wall from the beginning.


i got a lot of comments on my handwriting too. i didn't really expect that, but i guess when people couldn't immediately relate to what was written, they were attracted to how it looked. and the time it took. i didn't even think about doing it another way, and now - having had that feedback - i probably never will.

people called the work beautiful. that rocks my world. i know beauty is a pretty old-fashioned idea, but if i can bring a sense of beauty to a place that is known for its fear, cynicism and ugliness, that's pretty amazing isn't it?

overall, it was a simple work, but something that i'm proud of.

if you're in the hood, it's on perry street, collingwood near the corner of hoddle street and will be in its current form until at least february.


everybody's favourite song

when i first arrived on the estate as the artist-in-resident, i was trying to find other ways to observe sound on the estate (as well as the listening works). in the first week, i went into the neighbourhood house for a meeting - possibly a CHEAC meeting, and i observed deb, a resident, come in, make a beeline for the stereo, put a CD on, go directly to track 17 and listen intently. she didn't have her ears pressed to the speaker, but she was intensely focused on the song, as though she had dived out of the present moment and into whatever meaning that song held for her.

i wrote that down on the whiteboard in the studio, as well as the name of a CD i had found lying around, thinking that i was going to start collecting sounds in an ambient way. sounds that i 'happened upon'.

somewhere along the way i realised that others probably had similar experiences to particular songs - one's that they carried with them. and that was a particular phenomena of listening and sound in public housing. so i started asking people what their favourite song was, and writing it down.

ages ago, niko and i had talked about the device of The Playlist as a means of empowering people - an abstract form of choice that people could move around, customise and personalise. I didn't actually think i would end up making a playlist, but that's what happened.

unsurprisingly, it was a great device for talking to residents about music, listening, what i was doing and who they were. just personal enough to expose a little bit of ourselves, but not so much that i would be intruding or interfering in delicate dynamics or defense mechanisms.

as i wrote here, children and teenagers were the most in touch with their favourite songs. they knew, as though their lives depended on it. perhaps your favourite song is currency in the school yard - like if you like justin bieber, i'll talk to you, but if you like beyoncé, i'll only play with you once. i don't know - i just came up with that then.

A&R peeps for justin bieber, beyoncé, taio cruz, usher, eminem, LMFAO and gym class heroes will all be pleased to know that their biggest fans are 8 - 12 year olds in poor areas. i'm guessing that's exactly who they're pitched at (except beyonce - she rocks my socks too and jackie, 12 and i were friends for an afternoon because of it).

older residents were also quite in touch with their favourite song - like all the likes/dislikes over the years had decanted, leaving that one song that just stuck through. the beatles, simon and garfunkel, lynard skynard.

obviously there were a few "i dunno"s and a lot of "ooh, aah, ummm", but most people could think of something - at least a band or musician that they liked. the vietnamese on the block loved traditional asian melodies and soft, sweet sounds. and the aboriginal crew loved archie roach and bob marley. more than once i got 'took the children away' stuck in my head.

and above all else, people loved love songs.

day after day, i wrote up one song of the day on the blackboards,  i made sure that i chose a love song if i could.  love me do, i love you like a love song, everything i do, i do it for you, greatest love of all, when i fall in love, i want you back.

time and time again. simple and universal, clearly.

here's the final playlist, pretty much in chronological order. i made CDs and handed them out to peeps from the listening booth. i left some at the neighbourhood centre and i will be making a new batch of full sets in the next few weeks.

everything is alright - jesus christ superstar: deb
love is in the air - john paul young: anna
you are so beautiful to me - joe cocker: nga
red & black - les miserables: geraldine
little wings - jimi hendrix - gunther
money for nothing - dire straights
three little birds - bob marley: reg, reggae
gold dust woman - stevie nicks: lola
the power of love - huey lewis and the news: johnny
mua ru'ng: han
when i fall in love - nat king cole: mark
drive-by - the necks: tony
use me up - bill withers: jed
dj got us falling in love - usher: jake
not afraid - eminem: danny
party rock anthem - LMFAO: KK, ikro
freak the freak out - victoria justice: vanahn
set fire to the rain - adéle: maurice
ace hood - lifestyle
all i ever wanted - : sumeyra
i love you like a love song - selena gomez: hillary
venus - bananarama: val
luper - earl sweatshirt: brian
venus in furs - velvet underground: hugh
rain over me - pitbull: sondos
all day - cody simpson: hana
i wish you would - flamingoes: nick
whitney houston - greatest love of all: kaukau
itchycoo park - small faces: susanne
baby got back - sir mix-a-lot: cst pallisier
fight the power - public enemy: snr cst mclaughlin
catch a fire - mojo juju: nikita
memory lane - nas: james
flame trees - cold chisel: shane
took the children away - archie roach: james, tracey
take it easy - the eagles
stereo heart -  gym class heroes: vanahn
run to the hills - iron maiden: wally
fade to black - metallica: rob
under the bridge - RHCP: simon
the end - the doors: simon
sweet home alabama - lynard skynard: deb
superstition - stevie wonder: sue
sole survivor - rolling stones: sue
bad romance - lady gaga: de-anne
dynamite - taio cruz: shey
someone like you - adele: lillian
one time - justin bieber: jessica, natasha, isabella
never say never - justin bieber: vanja, natasha, jessica, izabella, elisha
pray - justin bieber: natasha
love on top: beyoncé - tia
ram jam - spiderbain: kerry
all the single ladies - beyoncé: jackie
california - tupac: DJ
love me too - the beatles: john
traditional greek songs: greek women's group
L-O-V-E - al green
feel so close - calvin harris: emma NYCH
i needed you - chris brown
sounds of silence - simon and garfunkel: peter
everything i do (i do it for you) - bryan adams: tammy
white lotus - poy
i want you back - jackson 5: lauren
khe sanh - sharon boyd
love story - taylor swift: jessica
beat it - michael jackson - taylor b

let me know if you'd like a copy.


the sound wall

last weekend was the culminating event for the residency i've been doing at the collingwood housing estate. i have much to write about - a lot to reflect on and update, but have been quite busy showing people around and attending to other paperwork i neglected in the lead-up.

but i just wanted to post this pic of the sound wall. i think it's my favourite image of all the projects so far.

from two months of daily listening projects, the sound wall is an artifact to all the sounds on the estate.
it has had the most amazing responses from locals and visitors alike.
i have specific stories to tell about people's reactions to it, and more to explain but for now here's just a little pic.

Sound Wall corner



I know that 'mapping' is a bit of a thing, and could likely be ground down in overuse, but today i did an impromptu project with some of the residents about mapping.

I need to make some maps for this saturday's sound art walk, so i got some of the residents to help me make them.

They told me where to mark some of the significant aspects of the estate, especially the car park area above The Underground.

I was particularly impressed with Sean (9) -  his recall and attention to detail was amazing.
He and his mum spend a lot of time in the community garden, so he must have some really visceral memories of the place. In fact, he was quite passionate about it - correcting me and filling in parts himself. It was amazing to watch.

I also found it quite enlightning how Jessica (9) visualised the area with a bit of perspective - not an abstracted form. She loves art, and can't read very well.

Dawn and Dolphin are in their 60s and have lived in the area a long time. Dawn was quite concerned about letting people know about toilets - concerned for people's safety and comfort, and was happy to include whole sections as 'the back of the high rise'.

Dolphin has a boxing ring and was still grieving the death of Joe Frazier. He did a great job of being able to describe the area to me, and of course talked about the ring.

Dawn's Mapweb

Dolphin's Mapweb

Sean's Mapweb

Jessica's Mapweb


The Listening Booth

The Listening Booth

I'll be wheeling this baby out to Harmsworth Park on the weekend for the final project of my residency at the Collingwood Housing Estate.

I'm running guided tours, which are for residents, but if you'd like to come along, leave me a comment and i'll see if I can save you a place. If you're reading about this on here you're probably partially interested in what i've been up to and likely interested in socially-engaged practice of sorts.


free food

yesterday in collingwood i scored some lunch, which was a bonus! mark from the men's shed, who is my assistant for the week called me and said 'there's free food - come and have some - there's even tofu!'. bless him.

so i popped upstairs to the first mothers' kitchen event held at the neighbourhood centre. it was quite lovely actually - thai meal with home-made cupcakes, some beautiful fresh fruit and a pile of kids christmas costumes being given away. it was rather surreal, as it happens, but still quite delicious.

free food happens quite a lot on the estate. which is great, because people's diets can be a bit crap. several of the kids programs cook - they made the most amazing lasagne last week, and a cracking stir fry another day. my mouth waters..

disgustingly, McDonalds also feel the need to hand out free meal cards to the residents.  I know in a free country they're technically entitled to. But the ethics of it makes me feel quite vile - especially given the state of a lot of public housing peeps' teeth, livers and stomachs. However, they go down well with the boys on the block and people are entitled to die however the fuck they want, so they're entitled to eat that way too, I guess.


Art and The Housing Estate

Artist Talks

As part of the AURA Project residencies in the Collingwood Housing Estate, we are hosting artist talks and a panel discussion in The Underground studios.

Interested in questioning ourselves, as artists, on our role on the estate, the afternoon will encompass artist talks by the resident artists and a small panel discussion:

Art on The Estate – is art really an important part of life on a housing estate?

Friday November 4, 2011
3 – 5pm
The Underground Studios
44 Harmsworth St

If you're interested in creative industries, social housing, the practicalities of art making a difference in people's lives, come on down!