Exhibition: Frances Barrett: Meatus
Artists: Frances Barrett with Nina Buchanan, Debris Facility Pty Ltd., Hayley Forward, Brian Fuata, Del Lumanta and Sione Teumohenga.
Commissioning Curator: Annika Kristensen
Gallery: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
The external acoustic meatus is the passageway that leads from the outside of the head to the eardrum membrane of each ear. More generally, a meatus is a passage or opening that leads to the interior of the body, such as the urethral meatus or the nasal meatus.1
I stepped into Meatus during Ramadan. I was visiting from Boorloo (so-called perth) away from most of my family and friends, and my brittle, unfaithful body was struggling with the adjustment to consistent fasting. The sedative frequencies of Meatus reached every inch of me. By the time I reached the end of Nina Buchanan’s composition in Gallery 2, my gut had settled and everything felt much more doable. On my way out, I meekly walked toward the bathroom and proceeded to relieve myself. As I washed my hands, I looked into my own sallow reflection overlaid by the sparkling visual intrusions of Debris Facility Pty. Ltd., and wondered what the deal is with symbols being on toilets in the first place. I have half-joked to a number of friends, saying that in order to begin writing this review, I simply had to write the word ‘orifice’ multiple times on various bits of paper. Eventually, my vocabulary for describing this show extended to language such as: sedative, seductive, red, consumption, organismic, whole, corporeal, striking, holistic, potent, hole, slick, osmosis, excretion, sequence and silence. In this sense it is important to note that language can be so unsatisfying in its limits for articulation, and I encourage you to go experience Meatus for yourself.
As though the words were just out of reach, I found my experience of this exhibition difficult to articulate. I found it hard to begin writing this review because my memory of Meatus is held so fondly in my body. While I was in Narrm, I returned to ACCA a second time to compartmentalise my initial impression from a separate and potentially more logical impression, with which I could efficiently write. I listened and I noted down everything I was hearing. Instead of anything logical, the focus with which I listened and oriented myself in the space left me swiping Tinder in horny desperation. Ultimately, I’ve decided to indulge all of those sense-memories, as I feel that remains true to the entire sensibility of the exhibition.
In tandem with the zealous red that coats each room, lies worm divination (segmented realities) by Frances Barrett, Hayley Forward and Brian Fuata; and sequentially thereafter lies Untitled by Del Lumanta, Untitled by Sione Teumohenga and Body Scanner by Nina Buchanan. Within each holding bay of the meatus I stood, I laid, I closed my eyes. By way of penetrative aural osmosis, I reached an entirely new place of catharsis, emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have always liked to process things in stark embodied extremes.
The height of the ceilings creates an atmosphere of omniscient grandeur. The spatial orientation of each channel of audio is discernible the more you move through the space with intention. If I turn my head this way, will the sound move painfully through my ears? If I lay on the ground, will I feel the vibrations, or will they float above me? If I stand in this particular spot in between these particular speakers, will the sonic experience of this composition be altered? If I stick my fingers in my ears in an attempt to block the sound, will I still be overcome? There is an abundance of such questions that you may ask yourself in the process of experiencing this exhibition, and all of them will be — at the very least — intriguing. In order to experience the depth of Meatus, each viewer becomes implicated in paying attention to the orientation of their body — and their external acoustic meatus — as they traverse the space.
Each channel throughout Meatus is placed with an attentive minimalism that guides the viewer through the space. In an obvious way, the sheer extent of the exhibition sensorially delves deep into the practices of each involved collaborator. Each room plays in sequences of silence as the next begins. In Gallery 1 worm divination (segmented realities) entices the viewer towards an element beginning in another part of the room as the one you immerse yourself in definitively ends. Del Lumanta’s Untitled in Gallery 4 literally encircles the viewer within a vesicle of recorded improvised performance, that draws from an extensive habitude of relational sound production.2 Debris Facility Pty. Ltd. escapes into other less definitive sites of excretion throughout the gallery: into the foyer and bathroom. On a more visceral level, this collaborative bleed beyond worm divination (segmented realities) is an immersion into the intestinal, corporeal substance and singular large scale installation that is Meatus.
The orientation of these channels intently forays from structure and recedes back towards it. This is evident in the placement of each slick black monitor, their haphazard cabling and the audio that emanates from them. The only thing visually uninhibited is that which is black, and that which is heard. The combination of these various elements are at once engorged in a spiky industrialism and a corporeal movement through the guts of a body. At the same time, the frequencies of each sonic element wash over the body in vibration, and it bleeds sequentially from each room to the next. Barrett’s exhibition design is simple, enticing and all-consuming. To succumb is to yearn for so long and then finally release, and there is something very satisfying about the conditions of that aural catharsis being arranged by the likes of Frances, Hayley, Brian, Del, Sione, Nina and Debris.
Aisyah Aaqil Sumito is a queer and neurodivergent writer, installer and conceptual artist based on sovereign Whadjuk Noongar lands. Their visual, text-based and curatorial practice operates towards a provision of tools for collective liberation, outside the tools of the institution. Aisyah has participated in lots of projects in both conventional and unconventional capacities, but mostly they orient themself with discretion and intimacy. They sometimes DJ, experiment with sound and waft in other performative capacities.
un Projects’ Editor-in-Residence Program is supported by the City of Yarra.