The Listening Booth: Katie Tindle on her latest project

Lizzie Masterton talks to the artist and curator Katie Tindle about her online project The Listening Booth.

THE LISTENING BOOTH is an online listening gallery of contemporary sound based art. The platform hosts a series of downloadable MP3s produced by artists, writers, musicians and performers. Each MP3 will act as a dedicated gallery space for each artist. The works can be listened to online or downloaded and experienced in the world.

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Lizzie: So how did you get the idea to start The Listening Booth?

Katie: Basically I had this conversation with another artist and friend- she’s called Bryony Hussey- and we were talking about finding spaces to exhibit. I wanted to break out of the traditional white cube gallery context, but also, I didn’t want to conform to a scene. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to get exposure as an artist, and it can be down to who you know. Normally your peers are really inclusive, but it can be intimidating.

For my final show I did an installation with sound, sculpture and projections, and I wanted to keep doing sound work, but sometimes a gallery space with loads of people isn’t the best way to hear it. So we discussed how I could present sound work without it being compromised. How can I hear this work without it being swamped by a traditional gallery space?

L: It’s quite a loaded space too.

K: I was talking to Bryony about it. I was saying I wanted a space which was intimate: I wanted the work to be right in people’s ears and the best way of doing that would be through headphones. At the time I was downloading a lot of radio journalism, podcasts and audiobooks, as a way of ingesting culture whilst I was getting by in London. So I thought, if I could do something similar with artworks, it would be very intimate, very cheap- people could download it for free- and very convenient for people to listen to.

I talked to a software engineer friend of mine- Matthew Trout- and asked if it was possible for us to create this website where I could post two different sound pieces every week, for people to stream and download. He said yes and built the website for me and I designed the visuals.

Then I put out an open call for submission and contacted some artists directly to contribute. The first open call was quite loose, because I wasn’t sure where I wanted the distinction to fall between art, music, journalism and narrative.

In February I’m launching the next open call. This time I’m going to narrow it down, perhaps with a requirement that the work is made specifically for this platform. Also, I’ve been planning an actual exhibition, with work that is meant specifically for an exhibition space. It would be one day long- an event- with some static or looping works, a film screening, and performances. Hearing some of the sound work performed live would be really interesting.

L: I like distinction between physical and virtual space, and the intimacy of the platform, because I feel like a lot of sound art things can be quite alienating or inaccessible. Whereas with The Listening Booth, it reminded me of a podcast or something on YouTube- it’s comforting, the safety of listening to something on headphones.

K: And your reactions are very private as well. It creates a nice bond between the artist and listener. I prefer listening to the works on headphones in public spaces, as you can create your own kind of retreat, and the work will change depending on what setting you’re in.

L: What I do, if I’m in the library at uni, I listen to ASMR videos which are relaxation videos on YouTube.

K: Do you listen to the whispering people, or the noises?

L: All of them, I’m obsessed haha. But it reminded me of your platform, as it’s the same kind of intimacy and personal dynamic between artist and listener. How do you see that relationship at work on The Listening Booth?

K: It allows artists to implant their work directly into their listeners’ life, but also allows the listener access to art outside a traditional gallery setting. If you’re in a gallery and looking at a piece of work, you often feel self-conscious about ‘hogging’ the art. This way, you can take your time over listening to the works, maybe even listen repeatedly. I wanted it to be inclusive and accessible.

L: Do you think all the works in The Listening Booth are sound art, or that they should be considered sound art?

K: I think they’re all sound and they’re all art. Although some of it could also be music.

L: What do you think is the distinction between music and sound art?

K: I think it’s the intention of the person that’s made it. If it’s art you want it to be contextualised in a specific contemporary art context, and if you want it to be analysed in terms of melody and your skill as a musician, then maybe it’s music. It’s a similar issue to people who write as part of their practice: so is it art, or is it poetry?

L: You’re an artist and a curator. Do you prefer curating or making art?

K: G. George, is a way for me to link all of my curatorial projects together without using my actual name. I suppose it’s my persona as a curator- when I submit to The Listening Booth, it’ll be under my own name, as an artist.

I love seeing other people’s work. I think that was the most rewarding part of my art degree, being around other people’s work all the time.

L: It feeds into your own work.

K: I find showing my own work quite stressful. I get quite a lot of self-doubt, but with other people’s work I am confident in wanting to share it.

L: What piece are you showing on The Listening Booth?

K: It’s a spoken piece about accent, and what impressions you get from people’s accents. It’s more a performance piece, and just me talking.

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L: Does it stem from being a Northerner in London?

K: Probably. It took me a while to admit and accept, but pretty much all of my work is autobiographical.

L: Valuable knowledge. I had a bit of a mild art crisis about whether I thought I was a feminist artist or not, because I’m a feminist, but perhaps don’t make art which is obviously feminist.

K: It doesn’t have to be. You can address it (feminist concerns) without it being your sole onus. I think that dissuades people from having a political point sometimes, because people will grab it and run with it, being like ‘you’re this kind of artist’.

L: Especially if you’re a woman, it’s like: ‘you’re this label’.

K: And if I’m a woman, making work about being a woman, and I’m a feminist, feminism is going to be somewhere in the work.

L: Would you use the term ‘feminist’ to describe your own work?

K: I would use it to describe me. There are elements of my work that are feminist, yes. I do a lot of work about bodies and medicine, and from the viewpoint as a woman in a woman’s body. My recent work talks about my experience hopefully in a way that anybody can identify with.

My latest large work was an installation with sound, sculpture and projections. There were two screens, a mirror and light box, projectors and sound. I made screens that mimicked shape of X-ray hangers, one with a mirror mounted in it, so the viewer’s body was reflected to them while at the same height as the projected videos of self examination using scanners and cameras.

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L: What was the sound?

K: There were two spoken word pieces. One of them played out as if it was a public service tannoy- an omnipotent authority. It was as though you were getting in touch with your doctor about an illness, and it was listing the symptoms- some serious, others more every-day, but presented in a way that was quite sterile. It had a dark sense of humour to it. The second piece was like the voice of a friend- quieter and mounted at ear level, saying things like ‘What have you been eating?’- caring but slightly accusatory.

L: With your degree show piece, was it about physical and mental health in general?

K: It was probably a reaction to my own illness. I took a year out between second and third year because I was getting treatment for Hodgkin disease- I had a lot of tests and chemo, and came back after a year.

L: That’s amazing you came back after a year.

K: I came back to uni and presented my work and was adamant, ‘no, I’m just talking about illness in general not just me’, but at the end I was like, ‘yeah I am talking about my cancer’. The experience definitely coloured all the work that I’ve made- there are a lot of medical overtones. I can’t really ignore what happened.

L: Did you find that it was a good way to cope with it, through art?

K: Yeah, it was very cathartic, and you can get out a bit of bile and anger you have about the situation. You can’t always talk about it, or take it out on other people. I had some really interesting conversations with people about medical issues they’d been through, and medical anxiety.

A lot of my work was to do with scans and tests. I did scans with handheld scanners, a way of getting as much information as possible from my own physicality, but still only learning about the surface. Your relationship with your own body is mediated via other people telling you, ‘you’re ill’, or technology telling you what is wrong. That’s very frustrating, having to relinquish control over your body to someone else. By making work that is autobiographical and being open about that, it seemed to encourage people to open up to me and talk about their own experiences.

L: And with physical or mental health, people rarely talk about it. It’s kept in doctors’ offices and hushed up. There is a definite stigma around saying that you’re ill.

K: Especially if you don’t understand what’s happening and can’t explain it to people, you feel a bit of shame. And everyone’s a bit, ‘What are you doing to cause it?’ ‘Do you drink, smoke, etc.?’

L: Almost like: ‘is it your fault?’ I have a lot of experience of mental health issues, and almost all my friends do. And I think there is a subtle culture of blame- people asking things like: ‘are you making sure you’re exercising and eating well?’

K: It’s funny, because I don’t know anyone that hasn’t experienced ill health to do with their emotional well-being. There’s something about being alive, that sometimes things are really tough.

L: Yeah, I think the 1 in 4 statistic is bullshit.

K: One in 4 people might admit they’ve experienced mental health issues. I think it’s probably a lot more, particularly concerning anxiety and depression.

L: Do you have any thoughts on the NHS?

K: Do you know what, I’m a big fan of the NHS and I think that any threat to it is really scary. Me and my Dad worked it out: I had tests and treatment for a year, and if I’d done it privately it would have cost over £10,000 purely for the tests- not even the treatment. Health shouldn’t be an elite thing.

L: It shouldn’t be privatised.

K: Health is something that is a right. Sometimes people have terrible experiences, but a lot of that comes from overworked staff. I have a friend who’s a nurse who is working ridiculous hours, because most of the staff are off ill from working long hours. It’s a vicious circle. Good for the junior doctors striking.

L: Finally, do you have any advice for teen girls who want to pursue art at university and beyond?

K: I’m not sure I am qualified to give advice, but what I would say that if art is something that you would like to pursue, it takes a lot of self-belief and a good network of other artists to talk to and work with. It makes you strive more when you’re around people achieving and making things. Rarely will people hand you an opportunity to do a show, if you want to do something you’ll probably have to just go and do it- self-belief is important.

LINKS:
The Listening Booth
Keep up to date with all of Katie’s curatorial projects + like the facebook page.
For G.George and The Listening Booth announcements follow: @ggeorgearts on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
Find Katie’s own work here.

Find Lizzie’s work here.

On Fluidity and Checking Your Prejudices, by Geneva Gleason

There is an episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie breaks up with a guy because he’s bisexual. She doesn’t understand his sexual orientation and can’t deal with the pressure of competing with both men and women for his attention. Her paranoia drives the guy away, and it’s over. It’s a typical HBO 30-minute exploration of a hip social issue that actually doesn’t resolve anything for the characters or their loyal viewers.

When I watched this episode I was upset. I date people of all genders, and it caused major problems in one of my past relationships. It hit home to see Carrie Bradshaw, a hero to many people, young and old, shutting down what I considered a perfectly acceptable facet of my life. She and her girlfriends demand that people choose gay or straight and stick to their decision. I almost swore off SATC for the rest of my life.

But a few days later, a good friend of mine from high school who had always identified as gay, insisted he would never date a girl, and shuddered at his middle school experiences dating girls, told me he had a girlfriend. I was absolutely baffled. I knew him as gay. He had to be gay.

I asked him about his girlfriend, how they had met, and whether she was nice to him, like I would with any of my other friends who were in new relationships. Luckily I was hiding behind Facebook and my voice and face couldn’t give away how confused I was. I wanted so badly to ask him “Are you straight now?” a variety on the “Are you gay now?” that I always got when I dated a girl a few years ago. For some reason, the fact that he hadn’t given me notice of his changing sexual orientation made it really unsettling when that sexual orientation changed manifesting itself in a relationship.

I kept myself from asking rude questions about his sexuality—after all, it’s not really my business. The conversation ended and whenever I think about him now, I think about how he has a girlfriend. I continued re-watching SATC and along came the episodes in which Samantha dates a woman. She says to her friends, “I’m a lesbian now.” Again I found myself angry at the lack of sensitivity towards different sexual identities that the show was presenting. I mean, this episode was from the late 90s. The writers should have known better. Someone should have known better.

It was then that I realized I had done to my friend what HBO and Carrie and the girls did to their viewers. I had put restrictions on sexual fluidity, going against the nature of the concept itself, and put a good friend in a box in the process.

For a girl who has always viewed sexual orientation as a spectrum, I was looking pretty closed-minded. When did I turn into the kind of person who insists that everyone’s sexual orientation be strictly defined, and how do I be the kind of person who can accept a gay man dating a woman? Or more importantly, how can I stop thinking about others’ sexual orientations altogether, something I always tell other people to do?

The answer isn’t simple, and I don’t even have it now. Where I can start is with treating this friend and his relationship the way I treat everyone else–with support when he’s happy, and with care and compassion if something goes wrong. Because in the end, my role as a friend is not to judge and know everything about his sexual orientation, but just to be around if the person he’s dating (whatever gender they may identify as) hurts him. Though, for the record, the friend in question and his girlfriend are doing very well.

talking rent strikes with Pearl

Pearl moved to London this year, to study Politics at UCL. Last week, the UCL Cut the Rent Campaign announced an indefinite rent strike, when university management did not respond to concerns about money. Over 150 residents in UCL accommodation are collectively withholding £250,000 until demands for a 40% rent cut are met. I called her up to ask her what’s going on. 

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How did you get involved in the campaign?
I attended a meeting in freshers week of the Cut the Rent Campaign. All that week, I attended political meetings and there were these guys that attended all these meetings, Angus and Pascal. And it turned out they were running the Cut the Rent campaign and they seemed pretty sorted; the meetings were really short and concise and they seemed to know what they were doing, so I thought it would be a good campaign.

Can you give a brief outline for the campaign. Like, what bitesize bits do you feed to the media?
UCL makes 45% profit off rent each year, which is 16 million, while the rents are too high for much of the student body to be able to afford and live a comfortable student life.

Are you withholding rent?
I am part of the campagin. I helped to organise the strike, which we decided would be in Max Rayne halls. I’m in Schafer halls (so not withholding rent).

How does it tie into the wider struggle for affordable housing? Does UCL Cut the Rent coordinate with other campaigns?
The campaign has always stood on a platform of solidarity with other housing struggles. We’ve believe that rent is everybody’s problem. The way that UCL tags its rents to market rents is symptomatic of the wider housing crisis in London. We haven’t spoken to many other campaigns directly before our strike. The escalation of the strike was inspired by these other campaigns. We’re grateful for their support.

Am I right that rent strikes have been done before at UCL?
Yes. That one was not that many people, in Campbell West. About 60 people. They withheld their rent over conditions. We’ve slightly changed the direction of the campaign now, to broaden it, because all halls are too expensive but only some have bad conditions. And because rent is about numbers, so easier to put a figure on.

So, have you broadened the campaign to prioritise the issues you care about or is it tactical?
No, it’s kind of about value for money. So the conditions are still important but it’s a difficult campaign to run because with bad conditions, you’re on a graduated scale whereas a 40% cut is a 40% cut.

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Student activism, like most activism, tends to stick to certain formulas. but do you think the rent strike, which is more direct, will push the student movement to work in new ways?
I think the tactics of this has been the most interesting thing for me. We had a petition in the autumn and that got about 1000 names and nothing happened. We didn’t think it would. We had a few demonstrations and a mini-occupation and they were quite poorly attended but the since the strike has been happening and since payday, they (the people on strike) have been so, so good at the media, better than we have. They’ve been so eloquent and knowledgeable.

Do you think this campaign will inspire people to use different forms of protest?
Yeah I think it has to. It’s not even a normal strike. I mean, normally with strike you go stand on a picket line as a symbol of solidarity with each other. And with a rent strike you don’t necessarily have that safeguard. So we set up a bank account where students would put their money instead of paying it to UCL.

What are the potential repercussions for those involved?
They appear to be very minimal. The strike in the summer was threatened, some of the strikers were threatened with sanctions of being kicked out of university and all of them were fined £25. But then subsequently, the academic sanctions were deemed illegal.

How does the campaign cope with threats like these?
Well, I’m not sure. Not all of the strikers paid into the bank account so there’s an interesting partial safety net. But morale appears to be very strong.

There has been a fair amount of media picking up the story, how do you think that affects the campaign?
The media coverage was quite a surprise to the campaign. We weren’t expecting it to that extent. It’s not enough in itself to win but it has bolstered the campaign. Reputation is very important to UCL, so this has damaged how it sees itself.

How and also why should other people get involved in these kinds of campaigns?
Various people, like Sian Berry’s campaign have been extremely keen in contacting us, to try and use us to launch their London Renters Union. I’m not too wised up about that. I know that Plymouth is trying to set up a Cut the Rent campaign and LSE has been working on it. I heard that York ran quite a successful campaign in 2013.

What about non-students, for example? How can they help?
Yeah, I think it would be helpful for people to turn out on demonstrations, but it is quite a UCL focused campaign. It’s really tricky to figure out how decisions are made within UCL, like who to be lobbying. That’s taken up quite a lot of energy so we haven’t made connections and reached out to campaigns outside of UCL.

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So, the campaign has a lot to do with accountability and transparency as well.
Yeah, I feel like it does. It’s not one of our main talking points, but for me, in terms of campaigning, who to lobby is quite an important issue.

I’m guessing some people would be concerned about the risks of being involved in campaigns like these. How does the threat of sanctions affect you, or those on strike?
The sanctions are impossible and illegal. The importance of a large amount of strikers is that they have safety in numbers. I don’t myself, feel particularly accountable in relation to the university accommodation sanctions because I haven’t really done anything. If anyone, it would be the members of the campaign who are in the Student Union but they’re not on strike either.

How are you finding activism in London? Is it quite different to what you had at home?
I was thinking about his before I came and found what’s really interesting is that the university is a nice, medium access point. It’s not the Government or an MP who’s whipped but it’s not a council who can’t do much and it feels a bit personal. So yeah, for me personally, the thing I didn’t factor in was for this campaign and the Fossil Free campaign as well, is who to be lobbying and who to talk to, rather than just the University. The democratic structures are very opaque and it’s difficult to try and break in and work that as an outsider.

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Rent strikes are not a new tactic and have a great history of success. Particularly inspiring is the Glasgow Rent Strike of 1915, led and organised primarily by women, such as Mary Barbour. There are plenty of inspiring housing campaigns, such as Focus E15, which began in 2013 when a group of young mothers were due to be evicted from their hostel. They were advised by the council that due to cuts to the housing benefit and London’s lack of affordable homes, the women would need to relocate to other cities. Focus E15 has organised effectively to demand social housing, not social cleansing!

by  Hufi