Private conversations in public as dozens of microphones and speakers infiltrate a museum
M6, part of a series of projects exploring 'miscommunications' that began in 2000, operates at a number of different levels - part acoustic installation, part architectural conceit, and part hertzian peformance, it inhabits a museum, a supposedly public space, by overlaying several dozen radio-linked microphone/speaker units, each of which is connected, and broadcasting, to one other unit within the museum, sharing 'private' conversations held in 'public' space.
As people wander round the different spaces of the Museum, perhaps talking amongst themselves, perhaps commenting on the artworks, their voices are picked up by the microphones and broadcast with a delay of several seconds to another space in the museum, temporarily creating an acoustic proximity (because it is as if the spaces are temporarily next to each other) but also blurring the boundaries between public and private - most of the conversations that we have in so-called public space are actually private in nature; and these days 'public' space is usually owned and operated as a 'private' initiative.
Debates about the distinctions between what is public and what is private on the web often ignore this subtlety - even in the physical world, such concepts are not embedded within the space, but are properties that we attribute to particular contexts, particular moments, particular relationships.
As a result of the delay, and because a microphone in the remote space will pick up the output of the speaker and broadcast it (again with a delay) to another part of the museum, the sounds that people make will continue to echo softly round the museum long after they have uttered them their voices, their comments, their actions, their contributions, become part of the ongoing experience of the museum. With each hop, however, the voices degrade and quieten, leaving barely a trace of the original utterance.
The architectural conceit is to create temporary acoustic proximity - it suggests that the experience of architecture is not solely based on the immediate, fixed, immutable structure of a building, but instead that through technology people can alter the fabric of space, and that even remote spaces can be folded in locally. The notion of a neighbourhood becomes less based on geographical location, and more based on a network of relationships between locations that may be near or far.
Meanwhile, somewhere within the building, a single space is carved out to become the focal point for all these radio waves, all these sounds, all these interactions, all these experiences - in there, the Listening Room, visitors can stand and listen, but say nothing back.
Miscommunications No. 6 was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art Aalborg for the Movin' Space exhibition, 16th October 2010 - 16th January 2011, with special thanks to Gitte Ørskou, Director of the Museum. Photos by Anders Sune Berg. Interview with Usman Haque in Danish.
Miscommunications No. 6 Version 2 was commissioned by Mediacity Seoul 2012 for exhibition from September 11 to November 4, 2012 as part of Spell on You at the Seoul International Media Art Biennale 2012.