Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva: Pheno TV

Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva: Pheno TV

  • 24 June 2020
  • A Constructed World (ACW) is a collaboration between Australian artists Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva, founded in 1993 and based in Paris, France. Their practice is concerned with the multiple narratives we use to construct and understand our world. They work with methodologies that bring attention to diverse modes of artistic practice and are well known for their extended performances that incorporate high levels of specialisation and “not-knowing” as a shared space.

    ACW believe in the notion of collectivity and tend to work with an expanded field of collaborators that include (by their own description) “other artists, writers, art historians, philosophers, dancers, musicians, curators, doctors, and pharmacologists, among others.”

    A Constructed World is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Case Chiuse HQ, Milan.

Click the image above to watch the recording.

For their recently programmed edition of MUMA Online, titled Creative Yuk: Speech Without Doors, A Constructed World (ACW) focussed on how to use the platform to frame “what- we-want rather than be subject to what a platform may want of or from us.” Their recent YouTube-hosted project Pheno Tv, is an attempt at this time by A Constructed World to “make a space to share the control panel with our interviewees, experts, invitees, friends and acquaintances to see if we could produce liveness or a sense of being with each other.” For this MADA Art Forum A Constructed World present the latest output of Pheno Tv, Episode 1, Voice, talking over the 28-minute video in the obsolescent form of a DVD Director’s audio commentary.


We're here today to talk with you about a recent work that we've made called Pheno TV. That's just been released. And we're going to talk over the top of it and you can watch it again later, if you want. It comes in two forms, it's called ‘The 4 Minute Argument’ and this is the full links form which is about 27 minutes, which we'll talk over now. And it's made together with a group of other people around the world, I guess. And we've included contributions that people gave us to try and see how a group of people could have say passively put together some representation of what's going on, or what's going on between us at this time. So we're going to do it in an obsolescent form of DVD commentary. And it's a bit different to that because with the DVD commentaries they would have like the writer, or the director or actor talking over the top of the film, and you could listen to it later. But that was usually after the film, had a big audience reception, and they had been received and consumed. Whereas in this case, the videos has just been released and we don't really know what anyone thinks about it. We've don’t know so much but what we think about it. So the two things that we were starting with was very, very basic issues about, where we are, like in what place are we in? That's why it refers to empiricism, and how do you know where you are in a place? And what can you say? But I guess as time went on more specifically, where does voice come from? When we speak, do we say what we want to say? What the others want us to say? Like what is the brutal kind of action say?

The program more or less starts with an interview with two interviewers. And the first interviewer asks the presenter Pheno, what is the purpose of a TV show now? To which he, she, them responds “to show what we already know, and how we're sharing that”. The second interviewer asking, what could be the purpose in collecting what we already know? Pheno responds, “how what we think is produced and in what way we do that together?” So, if we think about the way that we do produce language and knowledge and culture, we become much more aware that cultural knowledge and history have been written and produced through institutional discourses of exclusion and it's not neutral. And more often than not expects us. So when we make an address, it's relevant to say what we don't know and what we already know. And the way we're making these discourses together. Keeping in mind that many of the institutional discourses exclude so many people. And I guess, what we're doing here is using the disembodied voice, the problematic status of the voice. Because it's a ventriloquist doll that’s speaking. And which of those, of course, which is speech and trying to make that speech material, in some kind of way.

And of course, during the period that we're making this saves a huge amount of changes went on around us, you can watch the version of this later, if you want, we made two versions of this, it's called ‘The Forming of Argument’, there's the shorter version, and then the long one that includes all the contributions that people sent us is 27 minutes long. And it's on YouTube, you can just look it up under Pheno TV. And so, there were so many changes with the global events that happened while we were making this, that it brought up all sorts of issues. And I suppose, in some ways, we didn't want to address them really directly, but just leave it up to people how much I want to talk about it. But one of the things that came up that was really interesting was about the idea of speech, and contagion, and speech, I don't know if any of you saw that. But like singing in a choir is about one of the most dangerous things that you can do at the moment because it makes all the airborne particles and this bit that's on the screen now, in fact, was sent to us by a friend in Beijing. And he just put together with the four haircuts that he had during the lockdown. I think they’re in lockdown again now. But the four haircuts that he had done during the lockdown, and then there's this is super positive, Disney communist party song about how we all have to be positive during the lockdown. But like I said, we weren't really looking to say anything about COVID. And what was happening, but to such an extent, like what you can see here now, is Frances Ferguson. This is something that we made quite a long time ago. And she talks about people's use value and utilitarianism. She talks about it in terms of pornography and representation. So, I don't know, we just had made these quite a while ago. And we wanted to expose them again to see if anyone thought anything about it.

I think that the part of the reason we put this material into the TV show is that it's an expert speaking and we acknowledge the voice of the expert. And think that it's important to come back to the expert and listen to fact and provable ideas and information.

Well, this has a long discursive history in our work. The first project that Jackie and I made together was called ‘Art Fan’ and it was in the early '90s. We invited people who said they didn't know about art to write about art. So, as you can see, we're interested in completely the opposite. We were interested in what the audience didn't know, knew, like what do you know, when you don't know? And we've followed this thread through Pasolini, he used a lot of amateur people in his work, and the idea that there was a pagan under belly to democratic and Catholic behavior in Italy. And it was always this other kind of impulsive, perhaps eroticised behaviors trying to get out. And so we worked a lot around the idea of people who couldn't paint, people who couldn't write, people who couldn't sing, and that to think about it. But perhaps even a little bit tragically, that what's happened now is that the expert has been designed so much and that we're designing things that seem to be really appropriate by people that have worked really hard to win that knowledge. And so, we've gradually been making our way back to the expert. And so instead of popularising, what say Frances Ferguson or Philip Morrissey, the professor of indigenous studies. That we've tried to leave it in its complexity, but condensing down to something really short, so most of those videos were made to be one minute.

We've always used music in our work. And for part of this program, we invited about 20 people to sing a part of a song. And the song is written by Queen Kristofferson. Someone we met in Alaska. And it's about a person who is transgender, and about the way that they felt erased, being in the wrong… caught in the wrong gender for a certain period of their life. And so that's become really part of the subject matter of, I guess, the whole program. This idea of the disembodied voice. Disembodied voice is often attributed what really is the voice of the female voice. And it's also has a very problematic status, which is of course, means that speech has a problematic status. And trying to make that material is something that we've done a lot in our work. And to see the voices of performative action, I think, does come across in what we're doing here.

I think that the idea with this voice that I'm most interested in, because even though it sounds serious, some of the things we're talking about, it's also pretty stupid at times and full of mistakes. And that's been, something that we've courted for a long time. But I think that what we're really interested in is this idea of materialism, and where the disembodied voice is, like whether it's a material thing that you can actually locate, where the place that we speak, rather than talking about democracy, we were trying to think about the actuality of where we speak from, what's the physical place that we speak from and to and maybe.

Well, perhaps we're attempting to be present in here and now that most of us don't really relate to it. So what can we do about that? And one thing is we can take responsibility, but maybe that's a larger conversation that we don't have time for. To come back to this idea of the voice, the disembodied voice, which could be like a voice heard, in neutral or a ghost. But more so here, I think it's the off voice, the voice that allows for the unseen, and the contradicting exceptions, and the enunciations that are produced. And Pheno's voice is really implicit in that, and it's intuitive. And the voice of the speakers in this sense, has a performative function.

So the bit that we're looking at now is the philosopher and I don't know, chef. He makes Bon Cabe for lots of people. And he's a philosopher and an incredibly good cook. And we've been to events that he's done cooking for like 120 people, even more. And it’s about, he's got this idea about inoperativity, that what are you doing when you're eating and just talking to people and you're doing nothing. But what is the material value of that? And so he's made this really bad zoom, annoyingly bad zoom. We've tried it about three times and we just couldn't get the quality any better than that. So he cooks something very, very simple in the south of France. He lives in Arles the south of France. And he cooks something extremely simple. And then talks about a very complicated relation of phenomenology and fear at the same time. So he’s putting two things, that's the longest thing in the show that we did. And he's putting in something that is very immediate and accessible in terms of this tomato, pasta from Sicily. And then with that, he's talking about something about trying to make a physical representation of what we may be or feeling, or something like that. But this is, I mean, where is the part you can't speak from? And could we make a pattern for that? Or could we make a map or a location, or something like that, to talk about, rather than being depressed, or rather than being oppressed? That where could we find a place to speak from that's basically what's interesting to us.

And he talks about virality in terms of this idea of the virus and the way the virus requires a host to manifest and to change and to be passed on. And he makes this kind of metaphor with the virus and the creation and the passing of the virus with, in fact, I guess, the making of art works, or making of discourse. And so we require being together as people to make something happen, to make a discourse, to find a way of getting ourselves out of the problematic political discourses that exist and cultural discourses that exist. And so in terms of this idea of confinement, and we could see it as an attempt to stop this virality and this way of making things, or allowing things to happen.

And I think this has some particular relevance in terms of June, 2020, because in Australia, there's a lot of newspaper things at the moment where we're talking about, we don't really need the humanities because they're not real like the science and they don't lead to employment. But, for us, it's just incredibly important that speech is a thing. Speech is an object, discourse shared speech and knowing how to speak together is a really important thing. And that it's really important to us that it's seen that way, that if you leave out the humanities and you discard the humanities, then you're just left with a whole group of things that speak for themselves. Rather than “that's a table” and “that’s a this and that’s a that” as though everything is self evident. And it's really not the case, because we don't understand most things very well at all, or the words that we use for them. And then we're not really so much in control of the words that we use. And so you really need speech, and you really need some short shared discourse, like cooking. We'll all sorts of things to be able to, I don't know, examine that together. And so that's what we're offering into this thing and maybe if it's sent out to everyone and maybe a few people will get it. One of the things I would really love, and would be enthusiastic, I'd really love to have some terrible, bad comments on this. I read all these things that there's a carpentry show that Jackie looks at on YouTube. And the guy gets the most awful comments on it. And people like they attack everything about him, and he's showing it, its just carpentry. So I'd be really excited if you wanted to insult us in our project for whatever reason that you might find.

I'm just waiting for the next segment to come up so Fabian meal is cooked and ready to eat while he's been giving his mini lecture.

Fabian, we have invited Fabian to work with us on a number of occasions and we’ve made performances with often up to 20 people and Fabian will prepare something to eat during the performance, while everyone's performing you can either hear the chopping and cooking. It's all in the same room. And it's the food is always somehow related to the subject matter of the performance.

Yeah. Well, I guess there's three things that in those performances that maybe have nearly come to an end for us now. But in those performances, we were thinking about three things that we'd hope people who didn't know how to sing singing, people who didn't know how to act acting and all of this. And then in the middle of that we would put a discourse that was probably not accessible to the audience that was there, like people talking about philosophy, or talking about some really complex thing about virality and phenomenology and this kind of thing. So that in a way that what we're having was like different kinds of not understanding together. And then this next bit this is John Campbell, just being gorgeous and saying how much he really likes somebody and how much it excites him to see someone when they come to terms.

And I think it's the time now for a bit of ecstatic dancing. It's when in doubt, and when one has been through a very difficult period, I think ecstatic dancing is something that brings one back into one's own body and to feel what is unpleasant and to shake it away.

John’s doing a bit of what we used to call Sharpie dancing here. There you go, that Sharpie dancing.

Teenager of the '70s.

Well, John plays a really big thing with this line. Like, he can sing, but he's sort of can't sing and can play and he' kind of can't play. And it works in a way that you are never really sure of the status of what you're receiving other than maybe… it's like the thing that I suppose it is worth trying to resist is good will, with which presents (inaudible). So we're coming to you here through kind of layers of like fake zoom, like it's live, but it's not live. And even this very thing that we're working on now is the same, that it's got layers of whether it is actually live or whether it’s a replay of a replay of a replay. And we've done quite a lot of things like that. We've done a performative thing with Skype like that in much the same sort of way. It's to try and think about the materiality and that we take all of these things as immediate, as though that they're coming to us and it's actually happening now, and things like that. But it's to try and unwrap that a little bit and try and think about it, about like what's happening when you talk to someone. Like zoom in itself is really complex like this, because most of the schools, like in France and in Australia, everyone's teaching all of the courses. And a lot of people talk about being really exhausted by doing that. Maybe some students like it. But anyway, it's an attempt by us to think about, what is a voice, what's an unmediated voice? Like something that you believe? Is someone talking to you right now, like I'm talking to you right now? And what's a voice that's being demanded of us, or a voice that’s being spoken through us.

Well I think it's quite interesting because, I guess, a lot of people have been thinking about the way they use social media over the last couple of years. And the way that data is not protected, and information is sold and passed on. And that for some people, this is something dangerous and they don't want to be involved in, a lot of people stopped using Google and Amazon and so on. But the problematic thing was that when we found ourselves in confinement, the way that we could communicate with people, with the family and with other people was through Zoom, and through all these social media. And so, we realised how reliant upon we are and how much it was used to stay in contact. And some people were in very isolated situations and I guess it would have been very problematic for some people without that form of communication. So it's a really love, hate relationship that I have with this way of communicating with people.

Yeah. I think it's very demanding and controlling and there's a lot of discourse about how it's using us. And how a lot of people talk about the idea that we're actually working for free for Facebook and whatever. But at the same time, it's hard to imagine now having gone through this confinement period, how you could even possibly live without it. I've had so much contact with people from other countries and so much really important and great contact with people from far places during this period of being alone, I guess, in the house and stuff. So, yeah. Well, it's going to be up to your generation to think about it much more than us. But, for us, we just waddling through it sometimes.

This segment, it's a short discourse on the post human, and to think of other ways of speaking about people and the human condition to these institutional discourses of power and what can and can’t be said.

It's complex and requires a larger and more serious conversation than we might have here. Certainly, there is a lot of anxiety attached to how we speak, what we say and what we mean. Most of us are aware of how we speak individually, subliminally and materially that is being fed back to us via our own contributions to algorithmic data collection. What we freely provide through Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. What do we do to alleviate anxiety? Most likely consume. So we're in a moment of convergence of the post anthropos, trans-human, and so on. What this convergence brings into question...

And if we see that we're in this basic convergence right now, this is the time to re-make the discourse. And if we think about what's going to happen with artificial intelligence and with trans-human possibilities and all of this sort of thing. Really, we need to think about how we position in that and what that means for some people in the future, and not others.

Okay, we're nearly at the end now. We really welcome any of your feedback. And thanks for inviting us to do this. And this is Pheno TV project, we're going to do three more additions of it. The next one's going to be about liveness. The episode three will be about the post-human. And then the last one will be live, as a live work.

I hope you're all doing well and really looking forward to seeing some of you next year I hope in Prato.