Portfolio > Atmospheric Relations 2011

GOAT SWINGING

In Michel Tournier’s re-working of Robinson Crusoe Friday fashions a wind instrument from the skull of a dead goat. He places it on top of the stump of a dead tree. The capturing of the wind means that Robinson and Friday (any animal on the island for that matter) can hear the elemental music from any point on the island. Depending on wind strength and direction, as well as the listener’s position on the island, the skull affects different resonances and tones – a ‘pansonority’ as the philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, coined it. For Deleuze, Robinson’s subjectivity becomes intimately connected to the rhythms of the island. This is what Shone does to the viewer in the art gallery; she sutures experience to the micro-climate of the space. Shone’s art connects us to atmosphere. We, the audience, become conduits for the elemental forces of the gallery. In Shone’s gallery she asks us to become-goat.

The fog builds up with each breath, released in concert with voice. In Shone’s work we see the voice as well as hear it in a kind of synesthesia. A simple swing and the volume and weight of the individual affect the air currents in the gallery. The air moves with us. We become pendulum, measuring time and sensation. The photographs might at first seem out of kilter with the immersive and sensory aspects of the rest of the show, but it is in what the people in the images are doing that the atmosphere tells its tale. They are measuring the weather; transforming it into data. Like the goat skull, they transform the elements. What is by nature, ephemeral, becomes quantified and compacted into a set of data measuring wind, temperature, rain, cloud cover and air pressure. The results of the observations are relayed to the bureau of meteorology which post the data, store it and send it on. There are a number of different expressions for the data beyond this, from the personal and social, to the political.

For me, Shone’s work operates at both the personal and political level. It reminds me that we affect the atmosphere as much as it affects us. We, at a micro-level, affect the environment and it is in this realisation that our actions become political. When the weather observers collect their data it has been influenced by modern humans; what we see, feel, taste, smell and hear in the atmosphere of our planet is, in part, the result of our industry and our increasing numbers. For future observers (and inhabitants) what kind of data will they collect? This is where the science becomes speculative, so too the future of civilization.

The centerpiece to Shone’s show, the swing, presages this speculative movement into the unknown. It reminds me of Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818), a celebration of the sublime in nature and an existential challenge to our place in the landscape. The eponymous wanderer is both in command and precarious at the edge of the cliff, so too is our place on the planet. As we stand and sit at the top of the swing’s arc, above the fog, about to visibly affect the atmosphere, reason tells us there is a floor, but it is obscured. Beneath us could be oblivion. We might as well sing as we swing.


Cameron Bishop 2011

Cameron is a Melbourne artist and academic. He teaches at Deakin University.

Goat Swinging.
(from Atmospheric Relations catalogue)
Cameron Bishop
2011