'Gesture 7.2a' from 'The Joy of Loss'

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Performance Documentation

Improvised performance lays at the centre of The Joy of Loss. Featuring dancer Penny Mullen, musician Grant Johansen and me, this showreel (around eight minutes) shows the performance in action.

Best listened to with headphones or dedicated speakers...password is Fellowship14

Silent Interviews Documentation

The Joy of Loss features 'silent interviews' projected onto fluid, dynamic fabric.

This video documents these projections in the space.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New, reflective posts to come

In the next few weeks, I will be blogging about my reflections on the season The Joy of Loss.

Taking pride of place will be the documentation of the performances and installation, and the great work done by my fellow artists from the Queensland Academy of Creative Industries.

In the meantime, here is a couple of snaps from the space...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Opening night beckons

The Joy of Loss opens in just a couple of days, and I have been finalising a range of components as well as preparing for the opening performance...

Not just practicing and rehearsing, but moving into the right spirit for the piece...

One of the ways I do this is revisit a piece that I used to perform reasonably often, one which puts me in the space, helps me be present. 

The piece is Karlheinz Stockhausen's  Aus den seiben tagen. These are works of words that explore what is within - an intuitive music for ensemble. There are 'text instructions' - though I use that term very loosely - operating as pathways to musical intuition, another realm of sound, an intersection of the spirit and the body.

You can find these text instructions here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Catalogue essay...

The Joy of Loss?

The rite of our springtime is nurtured by physical and emotional privation manifesting wholistically.  It is an all or nothing equation, an essential absolute.

What joy could possibly come from this? 

Perhaps there is no joy in loss, ‘only [the] hope that what one feels will eventually go away, that “time will heal”, [that] one will be able to “rise above” and won’t sink and die. That instead, one will become a bottom-of-the-abyss feeder, the dweller feeding on crumbs of other peoples’ losses…[each] loss creating an abyss between oneself and the others, those lucky ones, still naïve and untouched’ (Kucharova, 2011).

But surely to live it, to taste it, to feel it, to hear it is a spiritual awakening, not the tolling of a nearing bell. It is not what it is, it is how it is dealt with; it is the unexpected, as is our resilience, our stamina, our compass travelling an unsteady difficult path through an intense but finite wilderness. And whilst it invades every thought and corrupts every action, the measure is in one’s ability to practice the ‘art of losing gracefully’ (Silva, 2011), emerging more complete than thought possible.

The Joy of Loss is not a treatise on fortitude. It is an exploration of the silences that embody loss: the unheard sounds, the unseen faces, the unspoken words. It is breath and it is pulse – and it continues long after the source of loss has faded into fluid, uncertain, grainy, disputable memory. Here it lives – perhaps transformed into a muted strength, perhaps existing as a living excuse – layering the ice, and cracking it when the great thaw succeeds in grasping a lungful of fresh air...

- David Sudmalis

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vale Aneel Silva

My friend Aneel Silva completed his journey last night, passing on after an intense battle with his own body. We will celebrate his life on Friday.

Aneel wrote a short contribution for The Joy of Loss in his last weeks, which was posted on The Joy of Loss blog.  The link to his contribution is at

Our shared love of test cricket and banter around Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar was a highlight of our relationship, and one that will remain dear to me.

To his beloved Shar and Tiddles, our thoughts and love are with you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Some images from the rehearsal during tech week

Photographer Keith Novak came by the rehearsals on Thursday and Friday of the technical/development week at The Block and captured some stunning moments of Penny Mullen, Grant Johansen and me as we worked through the performance of The Joy of Loss.

I have shared some of the images here. I will post more soon...

Image credits:
David Sudmalis, The Joy of Loss, 2011, installation image. Photo by Keith Novak.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sue Kucharova - the joy of loss?

Continuing the process of soliciting short written pieces around 'the joy of loss', I approached my friend Dr Sue Kucharova to contribute some words around the theme.  In her usual pull-no-punches style, Sue has composed a direct, straightforward piece that draws on her own experience, offering her own uncompromising perspective...

Thanks Sue!


Joy of loss?
What joy? There is no joy in loss, only hope that what one feels will eventually go away, that ‘time will heal’, one will be able to ‘rise above’ and won’t sink and die. That instead, one will become a bottom-of-the-abyss feeder, the dweller feeding on crumbs of other peoples’ loses. Every loss creates an abyss between oneself and the others, those lucky ones, still naïve and untouched.
I know all about loss. To start with, I am Czech. We have invented a national trait that publically accepts and even celebrates loss – we call it litost and the concept is untranslatable into the English language…it is a complex emotion that contains elements of sadness, loss and grief but it can never be simply identified as one or the other.  At the centre of it lies a profound lack of self worth, a form of passivity that hands over to some other person/nation the right to govern, show off and be successful, while we retreat behind the notion of maly cesky clovicek  -  that roughly translates as ‘little Czech person’ – someone who is always at the mercy of others, hence the litost.  Many Czech writers have made their careers out of exploring it in their works, the rest of us live with it in our DNA.
The second claim that gives me the right to pontificate on the nature of loss is my credential of having been an asylum seeker. These days I am a reasonably successful Australian but 40 years ago I arrived here as a political refugee with no functional English.
Like all refugees, I will forever carry with me everything that happened before and after I left home, hidden deep inside, malformed into a profound sense of loss that will never leave me. Surprisingly, this particular sense of loss is perfectly compatible with and lives side by side with feelings of happiness and contentment, but, as every refugee will testify, we know it’s always there, waiting to inflict itself on those we love.
The loss of one’s shared history, mother’s tongue, the smell and sound of one’s homeland, the taste of the food, the understanding and acceptance of litost, is all part and parcel of the way refugees process everything else that follows: the fear of authorities, the never-ending battle with new language, the loss of continuation of family connections. These and a myriad of other instances of loss are inside a baggage that every refugee grabs hold of when crossing the line between being a citizen and becoming a refugee, a stateless person, an asylum seeker.  With approaching age, aspects of this loss start leaking out in various ways – need to visit ‘home’ gets stronger, the dreams in the original language suddenly return, the past family links take on greater significance. Even the paths created in the brain in the mother’s tongue seem to resist the onset of senility better than those created in the new tongue.  The older we get, the baggage we carry gets heavier. The only change we can inflict upon it, is in the way we handle it, the way we swap it from one hand to another or to stop and take a little rest. From time to time we can even drop it, but never ever can we leave it behind us and walk away.
Profound loss is always part of us. We can only find different ways to handle it, manage to distance ourselves from it, learn ways to hide it or pretend that it doesn’t exist, but there never is a joy of loss.
- Dr Sue Kucharova
Unedited contribution from Dr Sue Kucharova

Monday, July 18, 2011

IDA Projects and Sudmalis

I have enjoyed a really productive personal and professional relationship with IDA Projects since way back in 2004. At that time, I was working at the School of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Tasmania, and had - in a short time - became firm friends with one of my colleagues at the university, Malcom Bywaters who was the Director of the Academy Gallery.

Early in 2004, the gallery had a show going up that was part of the IDA touring program.  A collection of predominantly print-based works as I recall, it shook my understanding of the visual arts to the core. Admittedly, my understanding was fairly limited coming exclusively from a music perspective, but nonetheless, it shattered whatever pre-conceptions I might have had...

Up to that time, I was narrowly focussed on writing music for instruments and the concert hall, a fair portion of which involved live or pre-determined electonics.  In the IDA show going up in the gallery at that time, I saw distinct parallels between some of the conceptual, technical and methodological issues I was trying to solve reflected in the work laid out in front of me. I turned to the Director of IDA to talk about it.

And that is where my relationship with Steve Danzig began.

We discussed what it is to change something, what it is to meld, what it is to re-orient.  Steve asked me to compose a work for the opening of the exhibition.  I did.  I composed 'ENKI' for flute, digital fixed audio and live electronics. It was performed at the opening by Daynor Missingham, who could really play. 

This is the piece here:

Following ENKI, the connection between IDA Projects and me became solid, visiting Beijing in 2005, hooking up in Japan in 2007, in Australia in 2008, and the UK twice in 2011.  I also wrote some conference papers; Steve plugged me away to anyone who would listen and we generally had an interesting and enjoyable time doing it. We've also worked together on a few pieces, including the rather fantastic Un_Place animation and soundscape, and something interesting yet to emerge from the vaults...

And now that relationship continues, as Steve and IDA Projects supports The Joy of Loss at QUT. As he always does, Steve has given me something of carte blanche in terms of concept and method - certainly something I am grateful for, as it allows me the time and space to consider, re-consider, reject, re-work, or even start from scratch.

In many ways, The Joy of Loss is something of a summative statement of our relationship - how strength and resilience can arise from difficult situations.  Both personally and professionally, Steve has never been far away...and whilst we might not always agree on the best way to proceed, the strength of the relationship which has survived respective health problems and relationship breakdowns, is rooted in truth... 

...which is just another joy made profound forged in the fire of loss.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Catalogue Essay - Introduction; Aneel Silva

Recently, I have turned my attention to the issue of the catalogue essay.

I have determined to maintain the thread of stories and perceptions of loss in the writing.  This provides another pathway for considering the dynamics of overcoming and transcending loss - at the same time using language as the window for sharing experience.

I have asked several people to write short episodes about their experiences of loss, in same the way that interview subjects relate their stories in silent interviews.  In those interviews, words are removed and only the play of the face remains.  In the essay, the visage is removed and only the words remain.

I will not be using the stories provided for this as material dropped into the essay. I plan to extract key phrases and themes, and co-opt them into a weaving text that is fluid and experiential instead of fixed and analytical.

The first piece I would like to share comes from my friend Aneel Silva.  Aneel is a young man with a family, and is currently living with leukemia. I'd like to thank Aneel for writing such a brutally honest and personal appraisal of the subject.  It is difficult to read, but it is Aneel's truth. 

In the end, we all lose. It is a part of growing, a part of living, and a part of dying. It is a part of maturing and coming of age. We cannot control the cards we are dealt, we can only control our response to them. It is an experience – something you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Loss brings to mind a whole range of emotions that are self-destructive: guilt, regret, lost opportunities, disempowerment. These emotions are not useful to hold onto in the longer term - though they are possibly useful in the process of grieving or coming-to-terms-with - but to hold on them for too long is disabling.

What I want to consider is the transmission of loss. I am a husband and a father and I love my wife and I love my daughter. But I have been given an experience that will not allow me to see my daughter realise her potential, be happy as a woman, control her own destiny, laugh as a woman laughs, cry as a woman cries.  I will not see her finish school, go to university, meet the person that gives her happiness.

For my daughter, I must concentrate on living now and in the small moments so that when these events in her life happen, she can remember the supportive and happy father, not the one who was a crying poor victim of the uncontrollable.  I cannot allow the negative aspects of loss pollute the most joyful moments of her life.  I may not be there, but I know I will always be there. And I know that she will always feel me there.

We can control loss for ourselves, but can we control our loss on others?  I know that my loss will be her loss too, but I must minimize the negative impact on her.  She will grow without me, but that is not enough.  She should blossom into the full person that she is.  Perhaps my loss will help her do that – I am determined not to let it stop her growth as far as I can. I am no martyr, but my love for her is greater than my feeling of self-pity.

Loss is a challenge. And I will lose.  But I must perfect the art of losing gracefully so that my darling daughter can experience the joy of life…indeed, the joy of my loss.

- Aneel Silva

Unedited contribution of Aneel Silva.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Introducing Rick McCullock

I've known Rick for many years - way back since our shared time at the University of Tasmania in Launceston.  They were heady days indeed.

Back then, Rick was running computer labs, solving all manner of tech problems, and generally being enigmatic.  At the same time, Rick was also undertaking a investigation of the acoustic properties of heritage sites - a form of acoustic conservation - and developing tools for measuring and replicating those properties for use in digital audio workstations as plug-ins. One of the highlights of my time at UTAS was his balloon popping demonstration as he explained the principles of reverberation and sound reflection to a generally unenthused group of fine arts postgraduates and academics.

Rick eventually moved on to the Tasmanian Qualifications Authority in Hobart, Tasmania where he seems to have been wreaking havoc ever since.

Rick joins The Joy of Loss team to lead the iPad Orchestra project.  An experienced app developer, Rick has already brought to bear his expertise on the problem and demonstrated the elegant simplicity of the design and functionality in our meetings late last week.

We're looking forward to sharing the fruits of this development here soon.

The iPad Orchestra is one of the interactive elements of The Joy of Loss, where audiences can produce sound and music in real-time in the immersive space. As a first step into iPad music making in this way, it holds much promise for this - and future - projects.

Very exciting!!

Image supplied by Rick McCullock.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Genine Larin - Guest author

Genine is a key person in the QUT curatorial team for The Joy of Loss.  Following the tech week, I asked if she might be interested in contributing to the blog. In this entry, Genine writes about her observations and perceptions of the week...

Thanks Genine!


Observations of The Joy of Loss Tech/Development week

We started the week by working through the material practicalities of David’s primarily ethereal work, namely, the fabric surfaces that capture the silent interview projections.  I cut the polysheen into six metre drops, fixed these to hanging devices. Then David, Blair and I spent the afternoon lowering the rig, arranging the drops, raising the rig, observing, contemplating, discussing and then re-arranging.

The fabric drops are 120cm wide and are positioned in a way that is meant to fragment but not interfere with the 5 metre projected imagery. The fabric is translucent so that the projected image can be seen from both sides. Since the polysheen is not transparent, any overlapping of fabric casts a shadow on the drop behind.  Eventually, we found that the best configuration was to align the drops side by side whilst staggering them in distance from the projector.  This added an additional three dimensionality to the faces of the silent speakers.  It was interesting to observe that the reflective nature of the fabric revealed light waves from the black and white projection as colour frequencies.  In a similar way David’s sound work reveals sound vibration frequencies.

While David and Jason installed all the technical gear for the sound work, I meditated on literally fragmenting the edges of one of the six metre drops.  I accomplished this by fraying the raw edges of the polysheen with a metal pet grooming brush which, to my delight, made the job so much easier than I had anticipated!  As it turned out, even though the frayed edges themselves looked amazing, in the context of the darkened projection area, they were not very noticeable along the outside edges of the projection.  Unfortunately, it also cast fuzzy shadows onto the fabric drop behind, in the middle of the silent interview projection, so we opted not to use it. 

There was a buzz of excitement in the air once the sound installation was up and running alongside the video projection.  It was amazing to see the space in the block transformed and filled with the vibrations of sound and light while the performance part of the work began to be resolved.  I really began to feel the work.  Literally.  There was a throbbing in the air that could be felt through my whole body.  It was like the feeling of my heart beating during a rest interval after a period of physical exertion ... or like the pounding of a headache that didn’t hurt.  The emotional expressions of the individuals in the silent interviews were open, honest; vulnerable yet strong.  Intellectually, I knew they were talking about personal losses but in this space of imposed aphasia I could only perceive what they were saying by observing their body language. It made me think about similar feelings of my own.  

At the rehearsal, with the backdrop of video and sound, David and Grant performed musically, with great technical skill, along with a powerful performance of movement by Penny.  It was quite a moving experience for me to watch the dual 40 minute improvisation of movement in response to sound, and sound in response to movement.  Penny’s performance was like a slow and controlled writhing ... as if she could slow a painful experience down to carefully contemplate each moment of it.  This was such a beautiful, even spiritual, response.  As opposed to what one might expect in an instinctive reaction to loss which would be to fight and resist it ... or to run away.

I had the opportunity to see some of David’s visual journal which contained all the conceptual and emotional inspiration for The Joy of Loss.  I felt like an intruder looking a such a personal document ... but it was beautiful ... and I thought that it could be exhibited as a work itself.  It goes to show how little one consciously knows about how much goes into a work like this.  On the other hand, when one can experience it in this way, with one's entire being, the body knows even when the mind doesn’t. 

In joy and in pain there is need to express.  Difficulties can be bonding experiences.  Being present, in empathy with another, is a form of connection.  And true connection with another is a joy.  A problem shared is a problem halved.  And I feel privileged to have been involved, in some small way, in the development of this work. 

- Genine Larin