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.
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.
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.
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.
The Listening Booth
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Find Katie’s own work here.
Find Lizzie’s work here.