Dr James Parker
Melbourne Law School
As one of Eavesdropping’s curators, this paper offers an account of how are you today, along with the critical and aesthetic practices that generated it, according to the exhibition’s curatorial frame. What would it mean to think about these recordings as or in relation to eavesdropping? What kind of intervention does this work make in the burgeoning field of sonic art? What might be its political or legal potential? Crucially, the recordings produced for how are you today are not, or not just, field recordings. They are also evidence, the product of a collective ‘ear-witnessing’, at a time when more direct forms of testimony seem exhausted. If they document a soundscape, they also speak of the politico-legal system that produces and frames it, so that what we don’t just hear the sounds of the Manusian jungle or the Pacific Ocean, but also Behrouz and Samad listening to these sounds, six years into their captivity. Likewise, what we hear when we listen to Aziz cooking or Kazem showering is both the powerful normalcy of such activities and how their meaning is radically transformed by the violence of their setting. What is the medium of this work? Not sound, not the platforms or technical infrastructure required to make Manus audible thousands of kilometres away and for posterity (Whatsapp, Dropbox, wireless Internet of varying degrees of stability), but offshore detention itself. That is how are you today’s ‘condition of possibility’—the dark logic that it sets out to condemn and explore.
James Parker is the Director of a research program on Law, Sound and the International at the Institute for International Law and the Humanities, Melbourne Law School. His research focuses on the relations between law, sound and listening. James’ published research includes a book exploring the trial of Simon Bikindi, who was accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda of inciting genocide with his songs, articles and book chapters on the judicial soundscape, the gavel and the weaponisation of sound. His latest work is on machine listening. With Joel Stern, James is co-curator of Eavesdropping an exhibition, a public program, series of working groups and touring event which explores the politics of listening through work by leading artists, researchers, writers and activists from Australia and around the world.