The sculptural installation work Listening for Antigone operates both as a direct response to Sophocles' tragedy Antigone as well as additionally considering numerous components of literary tragedy discussed throughout the Tragedy’s Figures: Aesthetics, Politics, Philosophy course.
Through the diverse readings and varied perspectives on the topic of tragedy, I came to realize the most important aspect in ensuring tragedy functions in literature and art is the need for hope, and the requirement of possibility. What makes tragedy unique is the opportunity to see oneself in the narrative and rather than see things simply as they are, go on to envision the possibility of something better or more.
As with much of my current work the process for creating Listening for Antigone was intuitive and owes an immense amount to the materials and how they responded; like the memory of the paper which allows the drawings to wrap themselves around their wooden forms, or the sounds from the recording which create links between the drawings and the embodied act that went into creating them. Additionally, I am interested in working with sound as a tool to explore different levels of consciousness, as well as the transmission of memories and storytelling orally.
The story of Antigone was of personal interest to me, as I was initially interested in the representation of kinship and familial duty, specifically the bond between sister and brother. The relationship I have with my own brother, while different from Antigone’s with Polyneicis (thank the Gods), has gone through its own set of difficulties; mainly the trauma related to my brother’s heroin addiction and our bond which has grown stronger during his sobriety the past two years. So many addicts lose the connection with family and friends through their illness. One of the most powerful experiences in strengthening the bond with my brother has been the act of, through verbal and written means, claiming my kinship with him.
When reading Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim I was struck by her description of how Antigone performs the “illegal” act of burying her brother, not only through physical action but through claiming the act when she vocally confesses and does not deny the act:
"Antigone acts, but what is her act? She buries her brother […] When she appears before Creon, she acts again, this time verbally, refusing to deny that it was she who did the deed [...] To say, “Yes, I did it,” is to claim the act, but is also to commit another deed in the very claiming (p. 7, 8)"
Similarly, I found The Collected Essays of Arthur Miller expressed a version of tragedy in which Miller describes the ‘hero/ine’ as having an ‘inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity’ (p. 8). I liken this to Antigone’s sense of what Miller calls ‘the right way of living in the world’; for her, it is to follow decree of the Gods, like Zeus, and honour her brother by burying his body (p. 12).
Susan Sontag wrote an essay The death of tragedy in which she describes what makes a play a tragedy is the lack of self-consciousness of a character like Antigone. Sontag argues that many of the plays which would be considered tragedies by Shakespeare are not tragedies at all, so much as ‘metaplays’, explaining that his plays are all about self-consciousness:
"Achilles and Oedipus do not see themselves as, but are, hero and king. But Hamlet and Henry V see themselves as acting parts—the part of the avenger, the part of the heroic and confident king... (p. 135)"
It was this idea of exploring different levels of consciousness that led me to explore the act of listening and drawing with different levels of self-consciousness.
Pillar I: While listening to three different versions/translations of the play Antigone, I drew “blind”, choosing materials at random and without knowledge of colour, whilst responding to the voices and story. I layered the three drawings, each appx. 1.5 hours in length (depending on the length of the reading of the play), on top of one another on a single piece of paper. After each play I had the drawing documented by an assistant, so I would not see the work until the drawing was complete.
Pillar II: During the drawing of the initial pillar, I created a sound recording of the act of drawing. I listened to these recordings while drawing Pillar II, responding to the sounds of the drawing tools on the paper, the sounds of my unconscious noises/breathing/mumblings, and even the unique sound of the plastic on top of the carpet that I was standing on.
Pillar III: I chose the translation that was closest to Butler’s Antigone’s Claim and listened to it once through, allowing myself the ability to see what I was drawing and with the knowledge of what the other two pillars looked like.
The Number Three: The number three carries several different references within this project. I was aware that Antigone was the third play in the series, after Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus. There is also a long history within Greek mythology with the number three, there are the Three Rulers; Zeus, Poseiden, and Hades, as well as the Three Charities and the three Moeraes.
Blind Drawing: There is the reference to Antigone’s father, Oedipus, blinding himself in Oedipus Rex, and to the character of the blind prophet Tiresias. However, I am additionally considering this as an act of embodying a response to the concept of Antigone’s death by entombment, the punishment for burying her brother. I was thinking of her entombed alive in a dark place, unable to see.
Through the act of blind drawing, I feel that one can enter a state of movement that is less self-conscious, where you are responding to sound and are present in the moment. This process of drawing is incredibly intuitive for me.
Sound: The use of sound in this piece is an important aspect of my current research. I am interested in methods of documentation and recording that are not tied to the photographic image. The initial impetus for recording the sound of my drawing was simply to hear what my unconscious noises may be. However, although working with sound is incredibly new to me, once I began the process of listening and responding to the recordings during the creation of the second pillar, I knew that the finished work would require a sound element.
It was important for the work that the play itself became secondary to the repetition and response recorded in the drawings, which is why there is not any of the play to be heard in the sound component. I am specifically interested in the unconscious sounds that came about through the process of completing the drawing. By being an ambient and perhaps slightly atmospheric sound, it was my desire that the sound element would add an additional layer to the experience of viewing the pillars.
This work was exhibited at the University of Dundee's 2019 Arts and Humanities Post Graduate Conference, Arts and Humanities in the Community: Past, Present, and Future.