– Spring 2015

Sharon Hayes Sounds Off

Sharon Hayes, In the Near Future, New York, 2005, multiple-slide-projection installation, detail. All images courtesy the artist and Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin

1. Should I Start Recording?

A person sits down at a desk, puts on headphones, opens a cassette tape, inserts it into a machine and pushes the play button. Clips of archival recordings from the twentieth century unspool, overlap, fade out, get clicked off: audio of the 1969 moon landing, Watergate testimonies regarding listening devices in the White House, commentary about the National Voice Library at Michigan State University, fragments of music. It is a compendium of sounds about the history of sounds as captured by analogue technologies, with the inscription of its own recording: a microphone is positioned near the cassette machine to capture its snaps and whirs when it is stopped and started.

This scene of active listening is one component of Sharon Hayes’s four-channel video installation Parole (2010), in which we observe a sound technician (played by artist and performer Becca Blackwell) as she records everything around her: water boiling on the stove; the placing of her keys on the hook by the front door; her inhalations and exhalations as she lies in bed at night; a series of interlocutors who sit across from her at her desk reading aloud from a variety of source material,

  1. I take care to distinguish the actor Becca Blackwell from the character portrayed in the video. I use the female pronoun to refer to the character, despite the gender ambiguity of the figure, in part because Hayes used the female pronoun when casting this role. See my 2013 interview with Hayes for the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts website, available at http://herbalpertawards.org/artist/early-formations (last accessed on 17 November 2014).

  2. With this, Hayes recalls the opening sequence of Chris Marker’s Le Joli Mai (The Lovely Month of May, 1963), in which the female narrator announces Marker’s longing to track the city ‘like a detective, with a telescope and a microphone’.

  3. Rüling’s speech is titled ‘What Interest Does the Women’s Movement Have in Solving the Homosexual Problem?’. As Christiane Leidinger writes, ‘Rüling was the first feminist and the first woman to understand herself as a lesbian who made this known publicly in the form of a speech.’ C. Leidinger, ‘Anna Rüling: A Problematic Foremother of Lesbian Herstory’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol.13, no.4, October 2004, pp.477—99. Leidinger also details Rüling’s troubling German nationalism and right-wing ideological leanings.

  4. The transcript of Baldwin’s speech can be found in James Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (ed. Randall Kenan), New York: Pantheon, 2010.

  5. For more on Hayes’s notion of re-speaking, see my ‘We Have a Future: An Interview with Sharon Hayes’, Grey Room, no.37, Autumn 2009, pp.78—93.

  6. Carolyn Dinshaw in conversation with Lee Edelman, Roderick A. Ferguson, Carla Freccero, Elizabeth Freeman, Judith Halberstam, Annamarie Jagose, Christopher Nealon and Nguyen Tan Hoang, ‘Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol.13, no.2—3, 2007, p.178.

  7. The phrase ‘the ears are the only orifice that can’t be closed’ is repeated across several works by Hayes, including Everything Else Has Failed! Don’t You Think It’s Time for Love (2007), I March in the Parade of Liberty, But as Long as I Love You I’m Not Free (2007—08) and Revolutionary Love: I Am Your Worst Fear, I Am Your Best Fantasy (2008).

  8. See Patricia Webbick, ‘Nonverbal Behavior and Lesbian/Gay Orientation’, in Clara Mayo and Nancy Henley (ed.), Gender and Nonverbal Behavior, New York: Springer, 1981, pp.253—59.

  9. See Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (1915, ed. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye in collaboration with Albert Riedlinger, trans. Wade Baskin), New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

  10. Rey Chow and James Steintrager, ‘In Pursuit of the Object of Sound: An Introduction’, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, vol.22, nos.2—3, 2011, p.2.

  11. These projects are: Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) #13, 16, 20 & 29 (2003), My Fellow Americans: 1981—88 (2004), In the Near Future (2005—09), Revolutionary Love: I Am Your Worst Fear, I Am Your Best Fantasy (2008), I Saved Her A Bullet (2012) and Join Us (2012).

  12. Marcia Landy, Italian Film, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.223.

  13. Rather than attempt to sculpt a wider sound atmosphere or produce a sense of the space through ambient noise, the only sound source in this video is the microphone that is tethered to Hayes’s body.

  14. In 1902, sexologist Havelock Ellis proclaimed that women’s colleges were ‘the great breeding ground’ of lesbianism. See ‘Dr. Havelock Ellis on Sexual Inversion’, Pacific Medical Journal, no.45, 1902, pp.199—207. For a historical examination of the representation of women’s colleges in turn-of-the-century fiction, see Sherrie A. Innes, Intimate Communities: Representation and Social Transformation in Women’s College Fiction, 1895—1910, Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State Popular Press, 1995.

  15. Ruth Padawer, ‘When Women Become Men at Wellesley’, The New York Times Magazine, 15 October 2014, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/magazine/when-women-become-men-at-wellesleycollege.html (last accessed on 20 November 2014).

  16. See https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB967 (last accessed on 20 November 2014). This bill was signed into law in late September 2014, though it has long been advocated for by sexual-assault-prevention activists.