Conal McStravick #2: Learning in a Public Medium

Stuart Marshall's Sound Works Part 2 - The Queer Space of Sound and Video (1975-1978)

by Conal McStravick

Second post by LUX Artist in Residence Conal McStravick

Stuart Marshall’s diversion into video can be considered in direct relation to his coming out; but how one considers Marshall’s works made before and after the fact should give pause for thought.

Before Stuart Marshall’s transition from sound to video practice was complete, he had taken part in several of the leading British video surveys to date,[1] that in the efflorescence of artists’ video featured many LVA artists, post-haste. This quickly hegemonised the organisational capacities of UK artists’ video. On the side of Marshall’s prior sound art practice, Gavin Bryars has noted that Marshall’s commitment to sound and composition was winding down, as greater opportunity lay in London Video Arts and the emerging UK video scene. As David Toop has observed,

“In a way he made a smart move. I’m not saying he did it to ‘make a smart move’- but there was simply a bigger constituency.”[2]

At the same time that he turned to single channel video works Stuart Marshall began to contribute theoretical articles to the art press. In this and many other ways, Marshall proved to be a crucial catalyst in the formative years of London Video Arts. In a 2005 interview for Rewind, Scottish video pioneer, Maidstone tutor and fellow LVA committee member Tamara Krikorian cited Marshall’s criticality.[3] Describing “the work (as) a critique”[4] she neatly summed up the early LVA philosophy, a co-extensivity between theory and practice.

There is a certain irony that a tendency towards auto-critique implied in the process of Marshall’s development as a video artist and theorist, has eluded attempts to contextualise his practice. Especially given that essays like ‘Video: Technology and Practice’ and ‘Video: From Art to Independence’ have been so instrumental in British video theory. Marshall’s vested interests are apparent – demarcating his personal, political and collective ambitions – distilling a passion for the capacities of the medium per se. Yet as David Toop suggested in the first post[5], in addition to the opportunity that lay in video, Marshall’s reasons for leaving sound were more intrinsic than confounded categories and the shifting ground of sound and performance practice.

In the standard texts on British Video Art Stuart Marshall’s video art chronology starts with the Mouthworks (1975-76) and Soundworks (1975-78) series, shadowed by a number of sound and video installations, followed by loosely defined ‘televisual’ works, before Marshall’s final decade in television documentary for the Channel 4 LGBT slot Out/ Out on Tuesday. A chronology that emphasises Marshall’s development through video to gay subject matter, or more broadly speaking through identity politics.[6] This is reflected in A.L Rees’ comments:

“Marshall…had begun in the milieu of video art and installation, but ultimately turned to more conventional social commentary, mainly about gay politics.”[7]

Noticeably this binds Marshall’s move into video with his emergent sexuality. However, if at the outset Marshall was in a heterosexual marriage, oddly these early works stand out as his most queer. This is corroborated by a return to Marshall’s early work by artists Charlotte Prodger and James Richards. Simply put, these works weren’t always considered a part of ‘the canon’, as their absence from early British video showreels in successive LVA, LEA and LUX catalogues demonstrates.[8] In addition, Marshall would infer in his final years that his later ‘gay politics’ works for Channel 4, those that followed the early video experiments, posed as ‘straight’ documentary.[9] A queer turnaround, but given the return to Marshall’s work by Prodger and Richards, my own ‘Learning in a Public Medium’ and three decades of academic reconsideration of the closet within queer theory and the queer space of culture at large, this deserves re-consideration. Looking at the relationship between Marshall’s theory and Marshall’s practice is one such attempt.

Of Marshall’s initial theory, two Lacanian film and video theory pieces by Marshall bookend the 1975-78 period. ‘Video Art, the Imaginary and the Parole Vide’, was Marshall’s first Studio International article published for a video-special edited by Richard Cork[10]. This was a paradigmatic period piece in which the author psychoanalyses the new medium of video, superseded only by ‘Lady in the Lake: Identification and the Drives'[11], in its Lacanian theoretical bent. Following these, theoretical limits notwithstanding, Marshall would forgo the exclusive use of psychoanalysis in a moving image framework. So it is to Marshall’s 1976 Studio International follow-up piece ‘Alvin Lucier: Music of Signs in Space’,[12] that one should look for a grounding of Marshall’s subsequent video theory.

Marshall’s attempt through the mediation of the voice to marry a deconstruction of language and subjectivity, the speaking subject, the body and video per se as a non-essential or non-essentialising form[13] alongside parallel attempts at theorisation, calls into questions in/out categories and sets a trajectory within Marshall’s work that challenges over-simplistic readings of the queer ‘canon’ that have tainted these works. I will draw on Marshall’s use of the theories of Julia Kristeva and texts by Roland Barthes, Jonathan D.Katz and Drew Daniel, alongside Marshall’s works and influences to examine these ideas.

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Courtesy the artist and Koppe Astner
Courtesy the artist and Koppe Astner

Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…
Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…
Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…
Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…

Stuart Marshall, Go Through The Motions, 1975

I am sitting in the back yard of Charlotte Prodger’s ground floor tenement flat in Glasgow, it is mid-2010.

I am being filmed with a 16mm camera by Luke Fowler for a new work by Prodger. I am reading a description of an anecdote about an adolescent band performance. In the description, Glenda, the manager of the pub that Charlotte DJ’s in, is telling the anecdote to Charlotte while Charlotte cues the record Glenda has just requested. The record is that which inspired the original band performance, and therefore the anecdote. A circular set of displacements that results in a short film. The camera is locked off with a zoom lens and all that can be seen in the resulting film are my lips, mouth and beard. Charlotte has asked me to grow the beard in place of her. I perform Charlotte re-telling the story. At LUX, a matter of weeks later I watch Stuart Marshall’s video Go Through The Motions for the first time and the cycle of appropriation, of Charlotte’s appropriation of Marshall, of my beard, becomes clearer.

Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…
Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…
Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…

I am sitting in a bedroom of Hospitalfield House, Arborath, it is mid-2015.

I am on residency at Hospitalfield and immediately preparing to travel to a Collective Gallery workshop I have organised with Irene Revell and Electra. In the final hours, it becomes clearer that Go Through The Motions sits perfectly between other selected workshop material; Alison Knowles 1963 performance Shoes of Your Choice and Marshall and Bartlett’s 1988 agit-prop video Pedagogue, in terms of the space it opens, a space that simultaneously evinces and exploits the problem ‘of saying one thing and meaning another’, that is, the problem of appearing as oneself, of performing oneself, of one’s self. The repetition of those lines, countered by the miming lips, at first in sync, then faltering and out of sync, figures the dissimulation that Marshall would carry over into many other works, hiding in plain sight, it anticipates the very structuring device of Pedagogue.

Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…
Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…

I am sitting in the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh later that day…

I am watching these words play across Marshall’s lips some forty years after their first being spoken, and again in front of previous and successive audiences, it seems that this work in particular distils many of the limits and possibilities of Marshall’s work. The work is the critique, the system is the speaking subject, the act of performance, the registration on camera, in its degraded, albeit digitised copy, by way of going through the motions it de-centres the spectator-performer relation, sexual signification… That moustache, the masculine face on camera. Marshall’s own, forty years later, as a more queer, less black and white world reflects back. Each element held in tension by ennui, repetition, disruption, dissonance.

Go through the motions of saying one thing and meaning another…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Courtesy of BAFVSC.
Courtesy of BAFVSC.

I am sitting in the British Artist’s Film and Video Study Collection, it is late 2013.

I am making a catalogue of the contents of Stuart Marshall’s research folders held there since the collection acquired Marshall’s papers from Mayavision, his production company, in the mid- 2000s.

Marshall’s research, contained in folders titled ‘Semiotics’, ‘Video Theory’, ‘Psychoanalysis’ and ‘The Politics of Sexuality in Capitalism’ amongst many others indicate the breadth and depth of the artist’s reading and the extent to which in the early to mid 1970s, his theoretical framework mapped onto the editorial concerns of Studio International and Screen, with structuralist and post-structuralist theory, psychoanalysis and a developing feminist psychoanalytical critique dominating.

Amongst the papers I find a newspaper cut-out of a 1973 Times Literary Supplement article by Julia Kristeva titled ‘The system and the speaking subject’, whose concepts yielded Marshall’s initial sound and video theory. In addition I find the last four issues of Gay Left. Gay Left was the seminal magazine published by an eponymous, trans-disciplinary reading-group and collective of gay men from 1975-1980. Gay Left proved a crucial filter of international ideas on the burgeoning LGBT movement in its academic and non-academic, cultural and political outlook: a critical blend that influenced Marshall profoundly.

Browsing Issue 8, I read- ‘Ice Breakers- March 8th- 7.30pm’- a marginal note in Marshall’s handwriting. Ice breakers grew out of the counter-psychiatric group of the Gay Liberation Front and between 1973-84 provided a voluntary counselling service to LGBT men and women. This offered an unapologetic, ‘out’ affirmative approach to those seeking help. These artefacts (and one small piece of marginalia) forge an intimacy with Marshall, that at once indicates an insistence on finding form for and giving voice to profound necessities, that underpin any attempt to unpick Marshall’s theory.

– – – – – – – – –

Film still
Film still

It is possible to look at Marshall’s formal developments, the progression of theoretical ideas set out in his early essays, alongside early video works. In particular the series for single monitors titled Mouthworks (1975-76) and Soundworks (1975-78). Nicolas Collins was present when some of these works were made. He described how video signalled a shift in artists’ attitudes to making work. Not least an authorial approach by Marshall, with regard to the referencing of a recent conceptualist and feminist video canon.

“I remember watching Stuart make some of the early video pieces like the ones with the sort of Joan Jonas-esque ‘vertical roll'[14]. They were produced much the way one would produce a performance even though there was no audience. He would come into the gallery and he would set up the camera there and video tape whatever the material that was going to go into the work right then and I remember very distinctly doing one of these things in a studio at Newcastle, at the Polytechnic, just before taking it across the street to a gallery. You know to do the credits he simply wrote in marker on the white sheet rock wall of a painting studio and video taped it for 10 seconds. He crash edited it and took it to the person in charge of the exhibition.”[15]

This simplicity and the spare visual style which accompanied it is borne out by Neil Bartlett who worked with Marshall on Pedagogue a decade later.

“You know when the camera is just roaming around looking at me, looking at the bits of my body, that’s very Stuart I think, that’s very much the trademark – the very bald, almost blank use of the camera. Now the camera’s looking at this, now the camera’s looking at that, now the camera’s looking at this with a voice over.”[16]

Marshall would reveal his frames of reference through articles like ‘Video: Technology and Practice’ for Screen, drawing on recent minimalist sound and composition and conceptualist and feminist video practice. While certain references remain unacknowledged, one need only look to Steve Reich’s Come Out (1966), Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room (1969), and Bruce Nauman’s video, Lip Sync (1969), as inspiration for the first Mouthworks tapes.

While Marshall’s appropriation undoubtedly reorientates the work and is re-referenced by artists like Prodger, Marshall’s feminist standpoint re-orientates the work again. Marshall states in ‘Video: Technology and Practice’, that Lynda Benglis, Hermine Freed and Joan Jonas, “draw the viewer into a bracketed structure of viewing which then collapses problematically with the of facts of sexual difference”.[17] For Marshall, this implicates the viewer in practices of signification. The inevitable outcome of the early, ‘narcissistic’ conventions in video installation, exemplified by Vito Acconci’s Command Performance of 1974, where the audience is made aware of their presence ‘in the work’. And while in Marshall’s ongoing installations through the period, we see similar methodologies in tandem, for Marshall the precedent set by Benglis, Freed and Jonas laid the grounds for what Marshall would eventually come to recognise as an ‘oppositional practice'[18] and questions of sexual difference and sexual signification that underpin these types of practice are apparent in both the Mouthworks and Soundworks videos.

The Soundworks series, begins with the formalist ‘vertical-roll’ style Animation (1975) and continues with the cut-up experiment Just A Glimpse (1975), while Mouthworks videos Go Through The Motions and Arcanum were made in successive years. Mouth Room, the Mouthworks finale, takes the exploration of the resonant frequencies of space established by Alvin Lucier and extends the practice through body art[19]. As the Soundworks series culminates with Still Life Animation, a certain style and dramaturgy has developed, sitting close to the tragi-comic if more polemical attitude of work such as Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975). Little surprise that as a reaction to Section 28 Marshall revived this language for Pedagogue, echoing the farcical Gay Semiotics (1977), sans text. These works share to greater or lesser extent in heightening the sexual signification playing out on camera. That is to delimit an artistic over-reliance on semiotic critique. Certainly in Marshall’s case, a riposte to the building, ‘ideological’ reading of certain structural-materialist theory, challenging images of sex on film. Here sex simmers beneath the surface.

Film still
Film still

Retrospectively it seems that sex as sound, sex as signification or simple sexual signifiers fill out these works. In Still Life Animation Marshall inverts the spectator dynamic of something like that other Acconci work, Seedbed,[20] where an out of sight yet audible Acconci masturbates under a platform over which the audience walks (one can see Acconci masturbate energetically in the video documentation). For Marshall after Jonas, the visual effect of the vertical roll does the work; a beating fist accumulatively, imaginatively takes on the aspect of a masturbating hand; the zoom which at first lines up a view of crotch and hand, progressively leaves the seated performer out of the frame – seeing only the framed ‘animated’ fist on monitor and the percussive knocking, slapping or banging in time with the roll, lending the sound-action interplay the monotony of hearing rather than seeing sex. For Freud, art was sexual sublimation, Marshall takes this idea and runs with it, containing all necessary action within the confines of a single screen.

In 1991 Marshall stated:

“I was thinking about… deconstruction and the history of avant-garde political work in this country, since I’ve come out of that movement…So much of that work was informed by two things: a particular kind of politics of film form, and certain ideas coming out of feminism around representation- ideas which were profoundly suspicious, about representation of sex and sexual pleasure. Now that’s the point where we- lesbian and gay filmmakers- took off, because our pleasures had never been spoken about. We wanted to speak about our pleasures in a way that was very difficult, say, for heterosexual feminist filmmakers. And I think for me that’s been the most problematic issue that I’ve been trying to negotiate: how to make work that is still politically critical… but would produce pleasure, a pleasure that is very   confirming for lesbian and gay audiences.”[21]

– – – – –

Courtesy of BAFVSC.
Courtesy of BAFVSC.

I am sitting in the LUX/ Electra offices with Irene Revell and Ash Reid, it is mid-2015.

Irene, Ash and I are preparing for a LUX Scotland workshop on Stuart Marshall and the feminist performance score. The conversation turns to a consideration of Marshall’s video as queer sound. Queer sound follows from Jonathan D. Katz’s millennial essay ‘John Cage’s Queer Silence or How To Avoid Making Matter’s Worse’ and the 2011 Wire article by Drew Daniel titled ‘All Sound Is Queer’. Following our conversation, I turn these essays over and over again. I imagine Marshall’s queer space, a deconstructive, retroactive space of consideration informed by Katz’s configuration of John Cage’s queer closet, for Marshall, and Daniel’s post-identitarian dialectic of sound and music as ‘the sound of the world’. This somehow meets with works by Alvin Lucier and Stuart Marshall of the mid 60s to mid 70s. This coincides with Marshall’s account of Lucier’s music of signs in space, his critique of the normative and negative value of space in Western music and the priority given to the recorded, stuttering voice of Alvin Lucier, familiar to Marshall, Roland Barthes complimentary account of the recorded singing voice in the ‘grain of the voice’ and their origin in Julia Kristeva’s ‘geno-text’ and ‘pheno text’ – the embodied language that gives form to Marshall’s and Barthes’ theories. This is a speculative set of relations and the following attempts to deal with their associations.

Firstly to consider queer sound after Daniel is to consider the queer present and its relationship to the queer past in its simultaneity. Daniel portrays three queers walking into an Eagle bar leather night to 1988 house hit ‘French Kiss’ by Lil’ Louis, playing the queer canon against itself by describing how music interpellates or ‘hails’ the subject. Daniel describes an Althusserian situation of neo-liberal, post-gay-liberation whereby ideology is embodied in institutions, music for example, which in turn constitute the nature of subjectivity forming a neo-liberal queer identity delivered in the process of “becoming identifiable, standing up and being counted… seeing and being seen”.[22] The no longer hiding made-visible queer subject of seeing and being seen has become ‘politics as usual’ and ‘subject-consumer’. Daniel concludes however, that it is precisely sound and ‘what makes hearing sound, rather than being hailed by music’ which makes it ‘so powerfully odd and so potentially ‘queer'[23]. Daniel refers to Lacan’s interpretation of the ear, the organ, which unlike the eye, cannot close. This ‘promiscuous openness’ means that we as living systems are open to and invaded by the world.

“Sound queers the self/world boundary all day everyday.”[24]

Secondly to consider queer sound is to re-imagine the in/out dichotomy of post gay liberation.

Jonanthan D. Katz positions Cage’s closet in the public gaze; for Katz it is nothing short of seditious. For Katz, it is a closet constructed around a moment of crisis, that is the failure of Cage’s heterosexual marriage and the beginning of his relationship with Merce Cunningham, mediated by a brief if failed attempt at psychoanalysis[25]. This event immediately preceded a life-long engagement with Zen Buddhism, a philosophy which unlike psychoanalysis lacked any categorical concept of homosexuality. As Katz observes, for Cage, Zen negated any question of sexual identity, a rejection of the economy of revisiting the kind of trauma that analysis entails. That by acknowledging pain and moving beyond it, healing could begin. This simultaneously complimented Cage’s larger aesthetic, political and philosophical ambitions. Katz contextualises the ‘closet’ that Cage constructs within the socio-historical conditions of Cold-War cultural and sexual prohibition. At the same time however, Katz demonstrates that this configuration is one of resistance not of opposition, an evident ‘hiding in plain sight’. What this yields in aesthetic terms is a sense of detachment, which Cage called ‘listening’, the point of silence, ‘to give life itself a more ample hearing’.[26] The irony of this as Katz declares is that Cage’s silence became so performative. Unlike the silence of the closet, Cage fails to escape notice. Katz notes Cage’s contrarian lecture performance at the height of macho-Abstract Expressionist fervour, when Cage deadpanned,

“I have nothing to say and I’m saying it”.[27]

Finally to consider queer sound is to consider Marshall’s own theoretical development. In the essay, Alvin Lucier: Music of Signs in Space Marshall makes two main claims- that Lucier’s is a spatial and a ‘signifying practice’. The first claim rests on a critique of the negation and normativisation of space in Western music. With its spatial emphasis, Marshall contextualises Lucier’s innovations in sound and installation in the context of sound, music[28] and art installation practice[29] and by extension within an enlarged cultural field of practice.

Marshall affirms that Lucier’s is a marriage between ‘musical space and musical semantics’.[30] This offsets a countervailing repression of space in Western music- a ‘gradual slide towards asignification’ up to the 1950s, exemplified by Cage’s ‘metaphysics of presence and denial of semiosis’.[31]  Cage’s asignification contrasts Lucier’s ‘richly semiotic music'[32], extending beyond human to animal communication in works like Vespers (1968) and Quasimodo the Great Lover (1970). The former, inspired by bat sound, is a mapping piece made by echolocation device[33] and the latter, inspired by whale song, explores the resonant frequencies of spaces. For Marshall these entail non-semantic, phonemic sound, where communicational codes replace musical codes. This establishes the idea, which Marshall soon adapts to video, that Lucier’s is a ‘signifying practice’.

Lucier’s documented vocal performances form the basis of a critique of the voice. Marshall describes how Lucier’s ‘sometimes pronounced stutter’ is used as material in The Only Talking Machine of its Kind in the World and I Am Sitting in a Room (1969).  Marshall applies Julia Kristeva’s theory of the ‘geno-text’ and ‘pheno-text’ to the recorded voice. He states:

‘Lucier’s concern is with the transgression of the linguistic code and the appearance of extra-linguistic signifiers within speech (‘the fracture of a symbolic code which can no longer “hold” its (speaking) subjects…’,’…the speaking subject as subject of a heterogeneous process.'[34]

For Marshall, after Kristeva, the presence of the geno-text, “the body of the bio-physiological process constrained by the social code” exists in the pheno-text, “the perceivable signifying system”.[35] It challenges the illusory whole of the transcendental subject. Lucier’s recorded stutters are:

“psychically overdetermined signifiers resulting from repressed unspoken signifiers interfering with intended speech and irrupting as… transgressions of the systematicity of the linguistic code”.[36]

The geno-text and pheno-text, as a “heterogeneity within the signifying process”[37] mark the operations of the unconscious and desire. Material is repressed because of the association it bears for the subject and at the same time it is through linguistic transgression that the subject derives pleasure. This lends art an immanent, critical role in subject formation, in providing an account of that for which traditional semiotics cannot: “desire, play or transgression from social code(s)”.[38].

Published soon after Marshall’s intervention, Image Music Text by Roland Barthes takes up these ideas in a chapter titled ‘the grain of the voice’. Like Marshall, Barthes’ analysis derives from the recorded singing voice. Barthes, after Kristeva, argues that the predicative relation between music and language establishes normative grounds for criticism, a ground dictated by the difference between, music and language. Barthes seeks to eliminate this normative impasse of the transcendental subject, confounded as the “predicate or the ineffable”.[39]

Like Marshall, Barthes draws on Kristeva’s concepts of the ‘pheno-text’ and ‘geno-text’ to describe ‘the grain of the voice'[40], a ‘dual production of music and language'[41]. An individual, choice by choice, body to body relation is crucial to locating the ‘grain’ in Barthes’ new schema. Barthes explains:

“The grain is the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs.'[42]

An economy that is not ‘subjective’, bur rather ‘erotic’. In contradiction to the listening, ‘psychological subject’ a hoped for climactic pleasure does not lead to the expression or reinforcement of the subject. Rather, like that of the erotic or the sexual, one recognises a constitutive loss of subjectivity in music and auditory experience.

– – – – – – –

Film still
Film still

Under the table make no sign…
Under the table make no sign…
Under the table make no sign…

Stuart Marshall Arcanum 1976

I am listening to Stuart Marshall’s Arcanum as I walk around James Richards’ exhibition If Not Always Permanently, Memorably at Spike Island. It is mid-2013.

Marshall’s voice drifts between the works, works that translate texts, performances, bodies, media.  Richards has curated the works and as I walk between these in the hour I spend there I think of the word ‘curatus’, ‘to be cared for’, curation in its original sense, to care for and to live with the materiality of art as the materiality of one’s forebears. Temporalities, subjectivities, spatial forms bind together cut through with flicker or a brief glow like the lancework letters in Cerith Wyn Evans’ Pasolini Ostia Remix (1998/2003) and other monitors, the projector, the slide projector.

Writing at the dawn of the consumer video age Adorno says that:

“Many artworks of the highest calibre effectively seek to lose themselves in time so as not to become its prey, entering thus into insoluble antinomy with the necessity for objectivation. Ernst Schoen once praised the unsurpassable noblesse of fireworks as the only art that aspires not to duration but only to glow for an instant and then fade away.”[43]

Christodoulos Panayiotou’s frozen firework slide projections If Tomorrow Never Comes (2007), mechanically stage this fading, but echoing through the room Marshall’s looped sound persists.
Under the table make no sign…   Under the table make no sign…

wiii                                   oo-  ehr- oo- uh-    uh-

As under the surface of the incantation, a cracked, analogue utter ruptures Marshall’s clipped delivery.

Under the table make no sign… Under the table make no sign

wra-       n-  clown-         s-              th- wiis-ha- huhh-     hah-

Marshall’s sound track falters, phonemes crack and splutter and all the while lips sync- at least…

Under the table- nobody’s the wiser Wrapped in clouds nobody’s the wiser

un- np- te- bl- ma- n- sii-              Wrapped in clouds-make no signs

At closer proximity the lips mime other words. Simultaneously text and subtext flip… compressed together… looping…

Wrapped in clouds nobody’s the wiser Wrapped in clouds nobody’s the wiser

u-  u-    n-      n-          uh-                                         un-       te- th- ta-        sss-
I watch until the loop ends and the words fade from Marshall’s lips…

– – – – – – – –

The irony of John Cage’s silence revisited itself on Stuart Marshall more than once.[44] That Marshall’s development through sound and from sound into video was so contingent on the problematisation of the opposition of sound and silence, that is to say the demonstrative co-existence of sound and silence established by Cage, is clear. In addition, Jonathan D. Katz’s reconsideration of Cage’s closet as a space of resistance shows that there is recourse to the queer potential of Marshall’s works made before and after he came out, borne out in the return to Marshall’s work in recent years. Drew Daniel suggests ways in which we can re-think Marshall’s sound queerly- demonstrating the contingencies of queer identity and sound, and queer continuities in post-Cagean practice and beyond.

Most significantly Marshall’s own theoretical imperatives for a music of signs in space is for a signifying and an oppositional practice. Marshall found an authorial voice through video, a voice which continues to echo through contemporary queer practice and offer ways to re-consider the standard narrative of Marshall’s coming out through video. This offers an implicit critique of gender, sex and sexuality in and of itself. The theoretical ideas that Marshall encountered and incorporated into his practice, such as Julia Kristeva’s immanent, semi-analytic critique and burgeoning feminist and queer methods set the template for the next decade and more. Marshall’s deconstructive ambitions did not abate but would be informed by a critique of the subject and a recognition of the necessity of politics, polemics and pleasure.

In the third post I will examine Marshall’s televisual critique and the influence of the post-gay liberation cultural scene on Marshall’s developing cultural and critical framework, the audiences this addressed and the working relationships that Marshall forged that prepared the ground for Bright Eyes and the move to television documentary.


[1] Marshall exhibited in Arnolfini, Bristol, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow and Tate, London in 1976 and Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry and the Paris Biennial, an international survey in 1978.
[2] Interview with David Toop by Conal McStravick & Irene Revell, June 2015.
[3] An Interview with Tamara Krikorian by Dr. Jackie Hatfield 14/07/2005, Rewind, p.18
Krikorian states, “The two people who helped me the most were David Hall and Stuart Marshall. They were absolutely unique in terms of the way they encouraged loads of people. But in my case particularly, I think I couldn’t have done what I did without the two of them. Or at least, I would have done something entirely different. Maybe I wouldn’t have done it at all.”
[4] Krikorian, Tamara, ibid., p.17
[5] Interview with David Toop by Conal McStravick & Irene Revell, June 2015.
[6] Cubitt, Sean & Patridge, Stephen, British Artist’s Video in the 1970s and 1980s, John Libbey, 2012, p.23
Cubitt and Partridge describe Marshall amongst several British video artists concerned with ‘issues of representation, identity, gender, sexuality’.
[7] Rees, A.L., A History of Experimental Film & Video, BFI/ Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.89
[8] This was redressed when LUX published Rewind + Play- An Anthology of Early British Video Art in 2009. The compilation includes Marshall’s Go Through The Motions, 1975. However, neither is this helped by a larger part of the Soundworks series being held by li-ma in the Netherlands, with no UK distribution.
[9] “Filling the lack in everyone is quite hard work, really…” from Queer Looks, Ed. Gever, Grayson & Parmar, Routledge, 1994. Hereafter (“Filling the lack…”), p.48.
Speaking in 1991 about dedicated LGBT TV programming for Channel 4 Marshall stated: ‘Now we’ve got the Out on Tuesday slot, which does specifically address a a lesbian and gay audience. But the channel also needs to have a large heterosexual audience watching, and there has been a slight pressure to generalise Out on Tuesday’s form of address.’
[10]   Published to coincide with The Video Show at Serpentine Gallery. The essay would appear again in Gregory Battock’s New Video Art anthology in 1978.
[11] Published in Film Form Vol. 2, 1978 co-edited by Marshall.
[12] Alvin Lucier’s Music of Signs in Space Studio International. Volume 192 # 984, December 1976, p. 284-289. Hereafter Marshall/ Lucier. Marshall’s text was commissioned for an issue on sound art.
[13]  Marshall, Stuart, Video: From Art to Independence, Screen, Winter 1984. Hereafter (Video:From Art)
This interpretation relies on Marshall’s concept of video established in Video: From Art to Independence, from Screen in 1985. This would be the final statement in a decade long theorisation of video and video practice. Marshall states: ‘The drive to establish the ontological autonomy of video brought (…) artists up against issues which constantly displaced the terms of their projects. By attempting to produce a self-reflexive modernist practice, video, in fact, became embroiled within practices of signification. Unlike the media and practices of painting and sculpture, video technology (…) do not ‘belong’ to the artist. The technology was not developed with him or her in mind…’
[14]   Joan Jonas, Vertical Roll, 1972. A performance to camera video that directly influenced Marshall’s Soundworks series.
[15]    Nicolas Collins in conversation with Conal McStravick and Irene Revell, June 2015.
[16] Interview with Neil Bartlett by Conal McStravick, July 2015 See:
[17]    Marshall, Stuart Video Technology and Practice, Screen, Vol 20 No 1, 1979 p. 115
[18]    Marshall, Stuart, (Video:From Art) op.cit.,  p. 69
[19] Marshall’s exploration of the mouth with the camera is taken further by Marshall student Mona Hatoum in Corps étranger, 1994
[20] In January 1971, Acconci performed Seedbed intermittently at New York’s Sonnabend Gallery. On days he performed, visitors entered to find the gallery empty except for a low wooden ramp. Below the ramp, out of sight, Acconci masturbated, basing his sexual fantasies on the movement of visitors above him. He narrated these fantasies aloud, his voice projected through speakers into the gallery.
[21] Marshall, Stuart (“Filling the lack…” ), op.cit., p.44
[22] Daniel, Drew All Sound Is Queer, The Wire, Issue 333, November 2011, p.43
[23] Daniel, ibid., p. 43-44
[24] Daniel, ibid., p. 44
[25]  Katz, Jonathan D. John Cage’s Queer Silence or How To Avoid Making Matter’s Worse. Hereafter (Queer Silence).
Katz quotes Cage, ‘So through circumstances I substituted oriental thought for psychoanalysis’.
[26]  Katz, Jonathan D., ibid.,
[27]  Katz, Jonathan D., ibid.,
[28]  Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, op.cit., p. 284
Marshall pinpoints Lucier’s spatial and environmental concerns within ‘acoustic communication and the history of music semantics.’
[29]  Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, op.cit., p. 284
Marshall sees parallels between Lucier’s exploration of space and exploration of space in environmental and conceptual practice at exactly the same time.
[30]  Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, ibid., p. 284
[31]  Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, ibid., p. 284
[32]  Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, ibid., p. 284
“Quasimodo the Great Lover (1970) – for any person who wishes to send sounds over long distances through air, water, ice, metal, stone, or any other sound carrying medium, using the sounds to capture and carry to listeners far away the acoustic characteristics of the environments through which they travel.”
[34] Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, op.cit., p. 286
[35]  Kristeva, Julia:
[36] Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, op.cit., p. 286
[37] Marshall, Stuart, Marshall/ Lucier, op.cit., p. 286
[38] Kristeva, Julia:
[39]  Barthes, Roland, Image Music Text, Fontana Press, 1977, p. 180
[40]  Barthes, Roland, ibid., p. 179
[41]  Barthes, Roland, ibid., p. 181
[42]  Barthes, Roland, ibid., p. 188
[43] Adorno, Theodor Aesthetic Theory, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, p. 28
[44] Katz, Jonathan D., (Queer Silence), op.cit.,
As Katz explains, post-gay liberation, Cage’s non-out status became increasingly compromised and a critique of Cage’s silence would endure, re-animated by the politicisation of the cultural sphere. An emphasis on oppositional practice would lend particular resonance to the critique of silence during the years of the AIDS crisis. As the crisis continued Marshall in particular, would become critical of the historical value silence had assumed in post-gay-liberation discourse.

Stuart Marshall Blog Post. Courtesy of British Artist's Film and Video Study Collection



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