In the voiceover to the 1991 film Eclipse of the Man-Made Sun, a film about the “language of the user” of atomic bombs and nuclear energy in times of proliferation, directed by Amanda Stewart and Nicolette Freeman, Stewart exposes the language of nuclear weapons. This is a film attentive to cinematic language and its particular modes of invention. Letters crop up red across the screen with the acronyms (Permissive Action Link [PAL]). So the language tells us, they’re your “pal”: the weapons are humanized, the victims, dehumanized. Later on, the documentary enters into increasing levels of abstraction — some might see a resemblance to the “Star Gate” sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey — but it’s that abstraction that becomes the critique. The saturated color breaks away from the cinematic citation of advertisements and clips from mid-century Australian propagandizing around atomic energy and the use of uranium.*
Two months after my initial conversation with Amanda Stewart, which I described in one of my first commentary posts, I returned to her house to continue talking: this time, to ask specifically about her work in the collective Machine for Making Sense, who were active from 1989 to 2005. Machine were Amanda Stewart, Chris Mann, Rik Rue, Jim Denley and Stevie Wishart. They simultaneously and dissonantly worked with improvised and composed music, sound, text and performance. Their recorded output includes five CDs (you can preview tracks from the CD Dissect the Body here). They toured internationally and impressed significantly on local formations. The interview below is specifically interested in Stewart's experience as a member of the collective; her answers do not attempt to represent the collective, or to speak on its behalf. The text has been transcribed and edited from a longer recording (which features beautiful early-summer birdsong of Sydney, as well as the blissful snores of Stewart's mother's dog, Suzie, who was happily adream for our nattering!)
the movement throughout the image of body, whole, gathered and real. begin. end.sense.
like a likeness, a sign, the ritual, repeat. To focus becomes the object is disappearing.
It suffices. An Astronomy of power, implicit, subtle, carnivorous, bureaucracies serenade their untied shoelaces
not being able to possess: not being able to
(Amanda Stewart, from "Icon", I/T)
In beginning my fossicky labours, my first desire was to visit Amanda Stewart. I wanted to ask her about her sense of Sydney, since we seem to occupy a similar orbit. She went to the same university that I did, twenty years before me, and studied in the same cultural studies node that I did (though she copped the guts of it and I caught the lingering whiffs). And like me, she has found herself working, making and thinking in collective arrangements that share an approach to method, rather than an essential identity. This means that she has been variously involved with sound artists, musicians, performers, film-makers, radio-makers, poets, critics, etc., and she has produced work that could be considered sound art, music, performance, film, radio, poetry (spoken, written, concrete) and criticism. She uses the word poetry to describe what she does, where poetry is a methodology. I mean methodology very literally: how things are done when things are done. For Stewart, experimenting broadly and socially with technologies of signification, including but not limited to language, is poetry: and this has come to include a good heft of work in lots of directions, alongside many technicians, poets and otherwise.