Woody Sullender is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY. His pieces encompass a myriad of media including sculpture, performance, theater, music, installation, architecture, origami, and even sonic weaponry. His recent work examines the social construction of the performance space and how it reinforces specific rituals and modernist ideologies of reception. By minor interventions and reconfigurations in existing spaces, not only can these habits be ruptured but larger notions of social relations can be explored.
Sullender has performed internationally at venues such as the Kitchen (with Sergei Tcherepnin), Issue Project Room (Brooklyn, NY), the River to River Festival, the Schindler House (Los Angeles), SculptureCenter (NYC), Abrons Art Center (NYC), Les Instants Chavirés (Paris), GartenKultur Musikfestival (Germany), Chicago Cultural Center, DNK-Amsterdam (with Seamus Cater), and many others. He has been an artist in residence or visiting artist at art technology hubs STEIM (Amsterdam), Harvestworks (NL), and Brown University’s MEME program. He contributed to Maryanne Amacher’s installation “TEO! A Sonic Sculpture” (which won the Golden Nica prize at Ars Electronica).
Previously, Sullender was recognized as a pre-eminent experimental banjo improviser and hosted a weekly radio program on WFMU.
Among other activities, he teaches new media at various New York institutions and is founding co-editor (will Bill Dietz) of the sonic arts publication Ear | Wave | Event.
Contemporary media technologies (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) may be increasingly supplanting our communal public consumption of music, cinema, art, etc.. These fora allow anyone to be an artist (or from a more cynical perspective, a “content producer”) resulting in a exploding landscape of videos, images, songs, and performances. But, who is watching? Is there an audience? As Boris Groys notes, “If contemporary society is, therefore, still a society of spectacle, then it seems to be a spectacle without spectators”.1
In this landscape, the public form of a congregation or audience becomes increasingly conspicuous. It is without coincidence that there is an increased interest in 'participatory art', performance, and the politics of theater (re-examined Brecht and Artaud à la Jacques Rancière). There is a significance to real bodies in real spaces in terms of the macro- and micro-political.
While this discourse has largely informed visual arts production, ‘new music’ frequently relies on modernist notions of listening and a focus on the phenomenological. As Christopher Small notes “We leave out sociability behind at the auditorium doors”.2 Although historically, Mozart performed to audiences who may have been walking about admiring each other as much as the reverberating sound (he performed in the Rotunda at Ranelagh Gardens in London, pictured here).
Music should be a privileged site for contemporary arts discourse on participation, audiences, and the politics of theater. Across societies from Indonesian gamelan funeral marches to late-night sing-a-longs at the piano bar, the musical act has largely been a social activity, blurring lines between artist and audience. Within more traditional Western forms, the act of performing a musical work is inherently one of organizing people. The orchestra is organized differently from the improvisational jazz combo because of a larger set of politics about individuals and symbolic freedom.
My recent work examines the social construction of the music performance space and how it reinforces specific rituals and modernist ideologies of listening. If the contrived silence of the concert hall is a means of eliminating ‘noise’ and therefore the quotidian, it seems imperative to re-imagine a space of inclusion that explodes the forced rituals of music reception. This is attempted through minor interventions and reconfigurations in existing spaces. For example a temporary wall may become a table, shifting an object of division to one of unity.
As opposed to utilizing boxed speakers or Baroque-era instruments, in recent performances my music emanates from modular cardboard furniture and walls (outfitted with transducers). This provides for a doubling of the core idea that the arrangement of objects affects reception, whether that is social or acoustic. This also allows for direct tactile experience of musical content, emphasizing the body in one’s role as listener.
1 Groys, Boris. “Comrades of Time”. E-Flux. Journal #11. December, 2009. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/comrades-of-time
2 Small, Christopher. Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover, N.H., 1998.
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