Hands on

Hands On : Oldenburg is a media art project that combines aspects of an interactive audio installation, museum exhibit, craft corner, black market, and paper theatre performance, in a ‘storytelling machine’ that is created by the audience, both in the installation space, and by adding content remotely. The resulting ‘paper portrait’ of the city is animated by sound, both ambient, and in a hidden layer that can be explored by touch, using tactile transducers embedded in the surfaces of the ‘city’.


Designed to be created and exhibited over at least eight weeks—longer if feasible—, the installation will fill the Edith Russ Haus exhibition space as places and characters are added by visitors, both on site, at stations that offer materials to create objects, record text, or transfer media content to the installation, and remotely. As the work grows, places and characters that have been added by visitors will be placed and animated by a miniature, MAX/MSP controlled conveyor system that moves objects and controls media content such as micro-projections, lighting and localized sound.

The ‘city’ will be mounted on a large ‘table’ that roughly follows the city’s topology and houses miniature railway tracks, projectors, light sources, point source speakers and the ‘paper city’ with its inhabitants. Media content can be added through a server at the Edith Russ Haus or through a dedicated website, or by any other means that can be incorporated into the installation. Things may get messy, although content will be vetted—and, in the case of a conflict, the ensuing discussion will itself become part of the content, in a mutually agreeable form.

As with much of my previous work, which is informed by acoustic ecology and acousmatic work, ambient sound will be a part of the ‘audible’ layer of the installation, both as a background multi-channel diffusion, and in the form of point source sounds embedded in the installation and linked to physical objects, characters and ‘events’, as they accumulate over the duration of the project.

The ‘inaudible’ layer of the work constitutes its centre. Using tactile transducers, a layer of sound that includes narrative components, historical and fictional descriptions of the city, recordings, noise, dialogue, commentary, normative and dissenting speech acts, will become audible only when the perimeter and surfaces of the installation are explored by touch, where a set of tactile transducers create a layer of intimate ‘subtext’ that adds itself, through bone induction —like one’s own voice— to the soundscape and offers another, deeper layer of reflection on the visual experience.

Hands On Oldenburg is designed to invite people of all ages and backgrounds to create a miniaturized portrait of their city with its social codes and manners, its known and secret features, its contradictions and hidden tensions, that is as rich and layered as the city itself.

Hands On Oldenburg continues my ongoing explorations of audio-based installations, paper theatre, and sited performances that combine aspects of acoustic ecology, community-engaged work, and project that focus on creating a framework for a city to describe, remember, and invent itself using a blend of ‘legacy’ technologies, such as cardboard, analog sound recordings, radiophonic interventions, stories and images, presented in an environment that accumulates and transforms data and discourse.

Previous installations such as YVR—The Remembered City (2011) have been concerned with acoustic mapping and memory, particularly in the context of a city like Vancouver, which has been dramatically ‘re-developed’ over the past twenty years, reflecting the collision of colonial social models, the movements of global capital and contested cultural dominance. The tensions that appear in social spaces as a result are mapped using audience memory as it appears in cardboard replicas of disappeared architecture, maps, written and audio commentary, and a cumulative process of exploring the city together.

I have worked with some of the strategies in a a rural context, on Gabriola Island, a mall community on the West Coast of Canada, near Vancouver, where human and non-human inhabitants must find ways to coexist. Working with composer and acoustic ecology specialist Darren Copeland, I have created a number of projects that use ambient and animal sound as compositional material for installations, such as Sound Columns (2011) and Fish on Air for the Elements Festival of Nature in Performance (2007).

Hands On : Oldenburg takes advantage of the opportunity to create a ‘model city’ over a sufficient amount of time to support the cumulative aspect of the work, and to accompany its development by facilitating the direction its ‘creators’ may choose to take the work in.

While I have an interest in the development of contemporary paper theatre as a form that both enables and denies certain types of embodiment considered central to traditional ‘theatre’, I also believe from experiences with projects such as YVR that the involvement with the creation of maps, objects, and the shared experience, offers a mode of interacting with media that neither submerges subjective experience in the datastream, nor valorizes it beyond the larger frame of social and political discourse.

With Hand On: Oldenburg, I am hoping to create a prototype of a system that is part museum, part performance, part sound sculpture, and a dialogue with the expectation created by the frame itself. Rather than a single ‘theme’, the work presents content that can ‘braid’ in any number of ways, analogous to narrative structures that are found in Indonesian Wayang shadowplay, for example, with which I have considerable experience.

The ‘inaudible’ centre of the work for me is the notion of a dialogue which can never complete itself, signified at other times by cardboard characters such as the ‘puppet’ of Jeff Koons and Jeff Wall engaged in a pillow fight.

The creation period of the project will involve an extended stay in Oldenburg, to research its historical, social and architectural dimensions, create an acoustic mapping and a library of sound recordings, conduct sound walks and paper theatre workshops, and to prepare the physical infrastructure of the work. I will be working with a programmer for some aspects of the control system, and invite the public to participate in the first iterations of the ‘cityscape’. I will be applying for a creation and travel grant from the Media Arts Section of Canada Council and the BC Arts Council to support the creation phase of the work and would expect to be in residence for two to three months including the exhibition phase of the project. The work will have a life beyond the Edith Russ Haus, and I would expect to develop further iterations for exhibit in places including the Roundhouse in Vancouver, Gallery 303 Montreal, and Giardini Pensili in Rimini in 2014/2015.


















a set of 'puck' transducers


Paper City

Paper Buildings form 'YVR'


Jeff and Jeff

Paper Characters from 'The Linear Animal'