Live Call, 2019, is a live sound piece by Lydia Ourahmane, which connects a direct call from the artist’s phone to any given space in which the work is being presented. An audio source then transmits Ourahmane, in full presence and live dialogue, from any location in the world, for the duration in which the work is being exhibited.
Originally conceived as a light and two speakers within a gallery space, here the work is presented for the fist time as a phone number and SIM card attached to a bugging device which will be carried by the artist over a period of twenty-four hours on 11th December 2020.
We live in a world in which privacy has become more and more exhausted. It is interesting that you would choose to make a work in which that self-exposure is voluntary. Can you tell me why you choose to make this work now?
Self-exposure has shifted value whereby the sharing of information, as a language, has become a mode of survival, retaining presence in the collective conscious. Beyond the fear of intimate life risking dislocation, I do recognise the generosity of intimacy when public facing. Of course there are dichotomies and ways in which one withholds or reveals, and its balance in the theatre of exposure. But I was struck by the potential to undo and un-calculate the act of self-exposure, which I experienced further into the work. I think a large part of that unburdening was the fact that there was no permanent record of the piece, it wasn’t archived and cannot be revisited. The observer effect is almost dislocated by the freedom that temporality allows, which actually re-inscripts ‘privacy’, I guess in the same way phone calls work between two people.
This word calculate is really interesting. Social life has become more and more calculated. This seems especially true of the art world where there is such a blurring between the social and economic. I wonder if you could talk a little more about what this ‘un-calculating the act of self-exposure’ was for you?
I think about communication as a space where two beings come together, and risk the possibility of being misunderstood as they endeavour to reveal each other. The ‘heat’ of that moment lies in that intention, so calculation only works when there is room for loss. Intimacy here, on the other hand, is cold, it doesn’t encounter that risk because the receiver is abstracted from being able to give a response, they become passive, and in that, what do they do with that gesture or language?
This passing of information does not know what it might activate in the other, the interpretation after all is subjective, so what responsibility is on the audience? They are the ones who must metabolise and be affected by what they have become conscious of … risk exists in a time frame which isn’t in immediacy. But every record changes a path, I don’t know what decisions someone might take because of that information but it is the same way we consume any kind of media. The inflation of consciousness feels evolutionary, but is there a limit? In a world where we do not have the freedom to try and not feel the repercussions of failure, in the face of this compression feels really aggressive.
So un-calculation for me is about the practise of demystification. I think about museums or institutions as spaces which allow me to extend that practice into, where by nothing is ‘fool proofed’ prior to being exhibited, for example. With each project I work with a completely new medium, which allows me to experiment with a kind of chaos that feels closer to truth.
When I think about this piece I think most about vulnerability and the ways in which you might be made to feel or seem vulnerable. Can you tell me what that experience was for you? And what changes, if any, you have needed to make throughout the duration of the piece in order to cope with that experience?
It kind of inverted that ‘vulnerability’ of exposure, turning to my surroundings first, or to the people around me. I suddenly became very aware of public spaces I was making legible, and therefore felt the impulse to divert that rather than the impulse to censor my words. Having one-sided phone conversations listened to didn’t change much of what I was saying. But beyond the notion of language and censorship, I would move my body very differently, within the private or public domain, within the knowledge of every moment registering as sound first. At the beginning I would notice myself exaggerating quotidian tasks, such as locking the door twice, or wearing shoes inside to punctuate the act of walking, or worrying about the stretches of silence where the audience might have nothing to hold on to, which shed after a few days. The shift in that awareness was the most abject. So, does the willing arousal of self-exposure-turn-alienation count as vulnerability? Or masochism?
As I understand it, these movements were performed to engage, so as to ultimately entertain? But I am interested in this gesture or double locking the door. To what extent were these gestures performed so as to assert or reinforce forms of security? And to what extent, if any, would this extend into the realm of paranoia?
It’s interesting that the door leans forward to meet questions of privacy, because the door itself is a relatively new idea. My architect friend/collaborator Alessandro Bava, sent me a file over the summer containing fractal geometric forms in tandem with an aerial view of the village of Labbezanga in Mali within which huts were built in continuum without any doors. While we were thinking precisely about ‘privacy’ as a threshold, a barrier of sorts, and what that does to the notion of trust. Privacy here is defined by the positioning of the entryways to each hut, that a shift or tilt could rearticulate this by way of making sure there was never a direct meeting of two gazes.
The door delineates the public and the private, but also as a means for the separation of labour which is public facing and the retreat of labour into the domestic realm. But both are equally intensive. Which makes me think about rest, and where that happens? Where do we feel safe?
I am interested in the ways in which this piece also implicates and exposes others. What strategies did you need to develop in order to manage this? And what types of reaction did you get from those with whom you came into contact?
It was more difficult to navigate the more fleeting interactions I would have with people, in shops, or when bumping into people in the street, I felt like the exposure I was submitting them to was wrong – despite them retaining their anonymity, I would give them away by a level of guilt causing me to behave uncanny, which had an impact on how I would then relate to people …
We are presenting text by Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han alongside this work. Han has argued that, ‘the body no longer represents a central force of production … now, productivity is not to be enhanced by overcoming physical resistance so much as optimizing psychic or mental processes’.[i]In this work, so much of your labour as an artist, is tied into the ‘performance’ of the piece, which feels to me much sooner a psychological labour than it is a physical one. What does this mean for you as an artist living and working under late capitalism?
I agree that we are forced to carry an amount of labour in the psychic realm – purely because there are less accessible resources to distribute ‘experimentation’ into. But labour, whether psychologically extensive or not, is always related back to and is therefore carried in the body. I would argue that the energy required to remediate the lapse in the physical responses to cognitive stress, is a bi-product in the very nature of the continuation that late capitalism extends us into.
I am wondering if, as a result of this work, you have become more conscious of other involuntary forms of exposure and surveillance?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of incumbent surveillance – the preconception that everyone has the potential to be suspicious, that there is something worth uncovering to protect – there is something perversely democratic about that process … but oblique in the sense that the recording of information is passive, quantative and indirect, in the anticipation of a trigger. It’s interesting here to think about the role that language plays in betrayal, and how its input is the key to activation, which is voluntary. But refusal enters the murky waters of self-policing, or requires vast amounts of energy to redirect communication into a space which can work its way out. Exposure is to do with defining the gaze which makes me think in terms of murmuration, where birds will flock together so as to create a visual ‘white noise’ making it more difficult for each individual to be singled out as prey. But in the circulation of digital content there is always a root, or a source tied to a specific network or person, which makes it almost impossible to negate that gaze, and even the sharing of that has the potential to single individuals out. Scapegoating politicises the realm of information, you see this in autocratic governing where activists and journalists are targeted and their fates displayed as a warning, to anyone else positioning themselves on the outer edge of the murmur.
[i] Han, B-C. (2017) Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power. London, UK and New York, NY) Verso. P. 25.
Lydia Ourahmane, born in 1992 in Saïda, Algeria, is a graduate of Goldsmiths University (BA 2014) and Camberwell College of Arts (Foundation Diploma 2011). She has shown internationally including solo exhibitions at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art in San Francisco and Chisenhale Gallery in London. In January 2021 she will present a major solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Basel.