Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Performing the Act of Listening

If something is meaningful to me, perhaps it holds meaning for another as well. Just as a thread connects a button to a garment, a thread of communication connects one person to another. Words once spoken cannot be taken back without leaving some residual substance behind. They remain forever 'out there' lingering in the vastness of the universe.

I understand radio transmissions to be like that. As a child, I was fascinated by radio waves forever circling the heavens, scattered and fragmented in the many pockets of a universe I wasn't even aware existed.

Words can also live on as memory, deeply embedded within our psyche - an embodied experience. We can cut our ties with a person, but inside us, no matter how hard we try to bury or push them aside, words remain.

Listening is a powerful means of communication. It can be passive or active. Listening involves far more than mere silence on the part of the listener. Active listening is attentive; participants are fully engaged and feedback is often given through body language.

Can listening also be an art form? Can the experience of listening or being listened to, be beautiful or thought provoking? I suppose we have to examine our finely-ingrained definitions of what 'art' is to determine whether we accept listening as a form of art, just as we need to consider a 'performance artist' as the artwork.

Art as a performance is not so very different than art on a wall. Viewers form ideas, opinions, insights, connections, and sometimes are confronted by discontent or opposition to the circumstances. All situations demand a response or reaction. When we enter an art gallery, do we have the expectation that we will see something familiar, something that we recognize? Perhaps we have the expectation of seeing something we haven't seen before. It is an art gallery after all - a space for viewers to suspend belief, if only for a little while, and take the work in through their various senses. Next time you enter an art gallery, consider what the work is asking of you, rather than what you are asking of it.

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