British Museum: Living Building Dying Sculptures

2 buildings comp

British Museum left, Acropolis Museum right

The British Museum in London is holding a series of public debates with the theme: ‘Museum of the Future’. How much contention-in-argument there is to be we will find out. These debates give the impression of being more like discussions, rather than debates on contestable propositions.

All three talks have interesting and relevant titles, and the British Museum should be commended for raising these issues. It is to the first talk of the series, to be held on 11 September 2014, that I’d like to draw attention. It carries the title, ‘A living building: How can the British Museum best deliver its constant purpose for a changing public’. This heading exactly raises the kind of questions that are asked by the supporters of reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum (BM) to the Acropolis Museum.

Before identifying some of these questions, a look at the first part of the title: “A living building,” is crucial. This immediately indentifies change. Any organism must adapt to survive. Is the BM an organism that must gain but also shed parts of its body? Do we finally have a concept that allows the BM to return the Parthenon Sculptures? It would seem so, for the attributes of a living building are completely consistent with the need to return the Parthenon Scuptures to Athens. Even at this level of self-supporting existence, the BM has a key operation away from the current stasis of refusing to return the Parthenon Sculptures; for in stasis there is also decay.

However, the crucial part of the phrase is, “…for a changing public.” Changing from what, to what? Who is the public the BM is beholden to? Full analysis of these questions is outside the scope of this piece, but on all acounts reckoned by recent public debates (the adversarial kind), and polls in the UK, the British public supports (by large majorities) the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens.

So the question really becomes, will the BM listen to its public? Will the British government, neatly part of a circular ‘pass-the-parcel’ legal screen with the BM Trustees, also listen to its public? The hope is that these series of talks will enable the BM to confront its own mandate, to allow the legitimacy of this claim to become part of its operation.

However, there is evidence to doubt the ability of the the BM to listen. A little more scrutiny of the relevant BM’s webpage gives the indication that the “museum directors and cultural professionals” might rather intend that the debates become a forum to “…explain what they want and expect from the BM…” The familiar names of Neil MacGreggor and James Cuno, proponents of what Tom Flynn calls the ‘universal encyclopaedic museum’, are taking centre stage at these events. Has their position shifted? Have they noticed the continuing shift in public opinion to return the Parthenon Sculptures? Will they follow their own purpose and responsibility to the public?

A disquieting give-away that the BM and its culturo-historical complex is not listening to its public is found in the line, the BM provides “…a place where people can see the history of what it is to be human.” The direct implication is the well established rationale by the BM that its “constant purpose” is to be a museum ‘of the world for the world’. What this disguises is a very particular narrative, from a very particular point of view, about how the BM sees ‘human history’ to have evolved. This narrative normalises the historical exploits of colonial acquisition; the reason the BM has the Parthenon Sculptures in the first place! This reasoning claims to explain that the BM, and similar universal museums, have a duty to possess-and-curate objects from around the world, to then explain – to the rest of the world – the history of humanity. The only authority and legitimacy in this claim is that of colonial acquistion; that only from this postion can an adequate history be described. It ignores notions of place, of context, of meaning as embodied in those fields; of differing stories and alternative readings, that of course challenge this universal encyclopaedic narrative, that itself is an exoneration of empire. Such a narrative seems too easy a way out, too much like a justification for retention. It helps to avoid the obvious special case for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.

This case is special because it is absolutely clear from where these sculptures were taken, the history of their theft and subsequent sale, and that these sculptures are part of a single and singular piece of art that is the Parthenon building itself. It is an art that should not remain fractured and separated. Special because with the Acropolis Museum we have the best possible place for the sculptures to live, to be alive; a place that was especially built to house them. The Acropolis Museum is a home, where the Parthenon Sculptures can become reunited into their foundational narratives, as Pheidias had intended. Where meaning is once again created in this reunited embodiment, where the correct viewing orientation is restored, where the sculptures are bathed in the Attic light that vivifies the pentellic marble, and where they join in a direct physical and visual dialogue with the Parthenon on the Acropolis hill.

There might come a time when the Acropolis Museum will need to ask the questions surrounding a ‘living building’, but that time is not now. Because in so many ways the Acroplis Museum has answered these questions; it is alive in a way that the BM is not. Especially for the Parthenon Sculptures in the BM, that continue to languish in a gallery that says more about decay and rule, rather than life and imagination. Yet the fundamental task of serving the public is one that the BM has set for itself, and it is hoped they can act on this most noble of wills. I hope the British Museum chooses life.

Transfusion: Video, Topology, Sisyphus

Still from the video clip to the TJ Eckleberg remix of the Tom Kazas song, Transfusion.

Still from the video clip to the TJ Eckleberg remix of the Tom Kazas song, Transfusion.

Q: ??

A: Interesting you should say that, because working on the video clip to Transfusion -TJ Eckleberg remix brought back some of my curiosity about the links between topology and psychoanalysis. It reminded me that the lyrics to Transfusion are from the time I was making my cinema poem (short-film) the Topologist, that in many ways was trying to explore these connections. In simple terms, topology is study of the folding of space, the preservation of properties of space under transformations. This subject matter can also be imagined as the terrain of unconscious drives and desires; where separated histories and urges can come into connection, or where accepted associations become disconnected, where shape does not have to correspond to content, and where visually, (in a somewhat literal rendering for the Transfusion video clip), a multi-surface multi-angled scene represents such psychoanalytic structure and tension, or torsion, if you will. Loss, not only of present fixed co-ordinates, but of nostalgic co-ordinates and future co-ordinates, requires (and required of me in the making of the Topologist), a new way of seeing the world.

Some of these ideas were expressed via the narrative (or more appropriately the anti-narrative) of my film the Topologist; with its unidentified polyvocal voice-overs, its episodic sequences, and its representation of no ‘real-world’ terrain, that tries to question metaphor. With the video clip to TJ’s remix, all this was able to come together in a new way with the inclusion of the 3D image manipulations I created of a still from the Topologist. These image transformations (as seen in the image above) depict this multi-dimensionality and contrasting orientations, with that tiny figure of the topologist himself present in some of these Escher-like and Dora Maar-like scenes.

I was thrilled that TJ’s remix focussed on the lyrics: “I stepped out of the water, walked in from the weather”, because this couplet condenses the idea of transition from one terrain to another, of transformation from one shape to another that struggles for coherence. It poses an escape from a dense bounded space (in the lyric: a bathtub) to a somewhere-else, from a site of elemental turmoil (in the lyric: the weather) to a new space, that in many ways become equally challenging for the topologist. You see, as experimental as I tried to make the Topologist, that is, with its non-narrative features, the lyrics to the song Transfusion are certainly narrative in form. Namely, they describe a journey over time, where this movement can be plotted and its parts related, intentionally problematic as they made be. Elements of the ‘absurd’ now enter, especially with the sense of the absurd that Camus wrote about in his treatment of the myth of Sisyphus. That book became inextricably linked to my lyrics, that found some form in: “I revel in the burden that’s rolling up and down the hill.” But Camus’ book, the Myth of Sisyphus, deals with so much more. For example, how suicide as a response to the absurd is not an acceptable option; not a somatic suicide, not a psychological suicide, not an abandonment or apathy. But it precisely identifies the need for struggle, for a freedom that only becomes intelligible in the face of the absurd. One begins to see the political in this story.

What became interesting to me were the deeper layers to the character of Sisyphus. Sure, he was given an absurd punishment, but Sisyphus is not simply a criminal, nor a simple criminal. He can be understood as a hero. The Greeks certainly rendered him as such. He was a hero that challenged and disobeyed authority, the Law. He was equated with that other great hero who disobeyed authority, Prometheus. Prometheus was also given an ‘eternal’ punishment, but we celebrate his crime because it becomes the very beginning of humanity; we understand this act as a gift. However, this gift is not just that of fire, (the arts of civilisation), but one of the ‘act of disobedience’ itself. Eric Fromm identifies that civilisation can be understood to have been founded with acts of disobedience. It was this Promethean disobedience that brought civilisation to humanity. In the biblical myth, it was Eve who disobeyed and precipitated the Fall, that allowed humanity to begin. These Western creation myths embody, at their very heart, acts of disobedience. It is not a stretch to see that for society to evolve, at many levels, we need to acknowledge this deeper sense of the role of disobedience. (Fromm is clear to differentiate between the right and wrong kinds of disobedience.) Authority, whether political, economic, patriarchal, theological, cultural, etc, needs to be challenged by humanity for society to exist. For me, this is a crucial insight. Sisyphus, in the hands of Camus, becomes a character that disobeys, rebelling against the absurd of his situation. It is in this act that a deeper sense of emancipation is created; a rupture in the repetition. As Camus writes, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy,” and happiest in this situation. So that if freedom means anything, it means a predicament that necessitates struggle, and so this becomes the definition of happiness. These ideas were irresistible to me, so I had to title my ep, (the one that contains my mix of the song Transfusion), ‘Sisyphus Happy‘.

I won’t go into it here, unless you ask me a question on this, but the other major theme on that ep is the tension between presenting different remodellings of one song on the same ep. (There is yet another version of Transfusion, on this ep, called Revel in the Burden). The ep problematizes ideas of the original versus the copy, of cause and result, and of discovering alternate meaning by juxtaposing these remodelled versions. It comes full circle by trying to equate these songwriting ideas with the Sisyphean moments between ascent and descent.

Trying to make sense of all of this can be seen as an act of transfusion; of absorbing this absurd predicament as a life generating act, even as a therapeutic act. My lyric, “I read words for transfusion” not only references that act of reading Camus’ book, but also that words and language, with their structures (and poststructuralist implications), are a way to allow/restrict movement inside this topological terrain. I have never written many narrative song lyrics, and when I do, they generally start off as word poems, with the poetry of the music arriving much later.

Q: ??

A: …

Shimmering Reverb: Presence and Absence

photo from @EARTH_PICTURES

photo from @EARTH_PICTURES

TJ Eckleberg has devised a clever a method to achieve a shimmering ‘tuned’ reverb. This is detailed in an audio-video demo piece found here.  I can imagine situations where this would work a treat, as it does in his Emm Collins/Celemony example at that post: layering a chord, grabbing only the newly created notes and sending those to the reverb – lush. TJ of course acknowledges the Eno-Lanois ancestry and this effect, but kudos to him for detailing and demoing this method. Surely Celemony can invent an algorithm that encompasses these multiple processes to create a new audio plug-in, that might even be called…Eckleverb.

TJ’s ‘shimmer-verb’ method, by way of contrast, draws our attention to the operation of ‘standard’ reverb. This being that standard reverb is much less ‘tuned’, (dependent of course on the nature of the input source, among other things), or at best is one that achieves a smearing of pitches. It is this ‘un-tuned-ness’ that separates the reverb from the rest of the track, that allows space to be defined. This becomes a rather unique sonic position in the mix, given that everything else in the mix is tuned. (Although, this distinction is not that clear given some sounds, e.g. percussion etc, lack an easily discernible ‘note’.) In any case, if every other element in a track is tuned, a tuned reverb has to then compete in that dense tuned space. I’m not suggesting that such a sound would be unappealing, (quite the opposite), but I want to make the point that this new tuned-reverb becomes subjected to the challenge that all mix engineers encounter, that of trying to clarify and separate elements in a mix. As in TJ’s online demo, the sparser the setting, the more this tuned shimmer-verb becomes a lush and engaging element. However, one could argue that the act of creating this ‘shimmering’ already puts the reverb on the path of separation, away from our finessed and habituated listening to the qualities of standard reverb. Yet, what is of more interest to me is the very nature of all reverb itself, that a shimmer-verb allows us to highlight, that has implications for our sense of presence and absence in a sound world.

Initially, this leads me to think about another way of achieving reverb: the piano-sustain-pedal-method. This is one of my favourite acoustic experiences: press down on a piano’s sustain pedal, then simply shout at the strings. What is heard are the freely resonating strings; some in sympathy with the pitched parts of a shout, and others (I assume) reacting to the pressure waves of air. This shout (the cause), activates the ‘tuned’ piano strings (the result), where the moving air is translated into a tuned response by the piano strings. Ok, an electro-magnetic transducer, (mic or speaker etc), is much more impressive, and what I detail is an obvious (if a little unconventional) analog technique, but it does reveal that individual sounds have tuned components, and that any untuned components can be transduced as pitch. But there is a deeper transduction taking place in the use of reverb in sound production.

The beauty of TJ’s method is that it isolates the tuned-ness of the source, creates new harmonic layers, and shoots those new portions only to a digital reverb. And here is the point: this operations creates a ‘presence of something that is absent’. One transduces an absence into a presence by appealing to space, to a bouncing-back, to reverb. In simple technical terms, what we ultimately hear  in TJ’s demo is the ‘wet’ reverb only (the result). We do not hear the ‘dry’ pitch-shifted signals (the cause), for they are not put into the mix. It is not just the sensual texture of the resulting shimmer-verb that is engaging. For me, this operation creates the strong feeling that something can exist without any clear, direct, (or even conscious) referent or access; that only a remnant of something, in itself often hard to define, becomes present in the soundscape. Like a haunting memory of an event we are unaware of, or even the residue of an event we have never witnessed. It is this psychological effect, or rather the psychoanalytic effect, and certainly the psychoacoustic effect, (in this case more appropriately ‘affect’) that becomes overriding in the creation of a deep and reactive sonic space. A new emotional resonance is created by the predicament of a distinction between presence and absence.

It is this predicament that has always engaged me. The piano piece Berceuse, (from my album Verdigris), offers a rather extreme sonic example of this presence/absence binary, to the point where ‘absence’ becomes the privileged term. In this piece of music, the original cause, the piano, is absent. Only the many treated manipulations of that piano remain, that include variations of shimmering reverbs. A lush orchestral enormity replaces the small singular piano part. In this way, the piano becomes so much more than it could ever be, but only by its removal. To me ‘Berceuse’ is an example of, and clearly suggests that, results of an event can become so much larger and absorbing than the original cause; that features of the result are not present in that cause. Furthermore, it suggests that sometimes the original cause cannot be decoded, or retro-interpreted, from any resultant artefacts. The original cause becomes much less important (or at least much less sonically complex and interesting) than the result, and that only the remnant can take on new proportions and new meaning.

I think that we hear some of this predicament in TJ’s Emm Collins/Celemony demo. I suggest that one is responding to the situation, (consciously or not), whereby the source of this shimmer-verb has no presence in the dry sound world; that it becomes a ghosting from an imaginary event, and that a new and much stronger emotional power is created precisely by this separation, by rendering this distinction audible. One could even remark that this shimmer-verb allows us to hear the ‘potential’ of the lead vocal line, that is only expressed in the ‘actual’ reverb. I, like many others, have always found reverb astounding.

I think I’ll go and shout into my piano.

Parthenon Sculptures: Narratives of Possibility

Peplos Frieze scene bw

Tom Kazas  13 December 2013.  

This paper is a more detailed expression of a talk I gave on Saturday 16th November 2013 in Sydney, for the International Colloquy, ‘Parthenon: Icon of Global Citizenship’.

I am very happy to be here, and honoured to participate in the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. I’d like to thank Dennis Tritaris for his work in organizing this International Colloquy, and Emanuel Comino for maintaining the charge.

I will say it often and clearly: in full and in place. The Parthenon Sculptures must be in full, as much as is now historically-physically possible, and in place, at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. A Latin expression captures this imperative, and is wonderful for its brevity and clarity: in toto in situ. The Greek translation speaks to the poetry of this plea: ensomatomena ekei pou oloklironontai.

In simple terms, what ‘in toto in situ’ really refers to is the Aesthetic Imperative.[1] This imperative is the argument that the Parthenon Sculptures must be returned to Athens, to be reunited with their severed ‘counter-parts’. For only in this state can we attempt a fuller understanding of the aesthetic qualities these sculptures embody. These qualities are not only those of visual form, but those of narrative itself; the work of literature that the Frieze of the Panathenaic procession is, or the drama that the Metopes and Pediments express, especially in their physical relationship to the dimensional qualities of the Parthenon. The Aesthetic Imperative states that the original intention of the sculptors, as far as possible, must be respected. For in this way we respect ourselves. However, we should be in no doubt that as a campaign for reunification, we are at a standstill. We languish in a kind of post-Mercouri hypnosis. For even though all arguments for retention have been refuted, what is painfully clear is that our desired outcome still eludes us. Clearly much more is needed in the campaign to reunify the Parthenon Sculptures.

I would also make the point that the British institutions, that is, the British Government (BG) and the British Museum (BM), are themselves are stuck. They are a victim of their own history, ambitions, legal system and the contingency of events. Clearly we should not accept the divisions that these British institutions have cleverly created in a 1963 parliamentary Act, between the BG and the BM, that keeps these sculptures in a convenient legal circularity of (ir)responsibility. Former British politician, Andrew Dismore has aptly described this legal operation as “pass the parcel.”[2] So rather than the BM being the only responsible party, it is more correct to refer to the responsible parties as the ‘British Institutions’, in contrast to the British people. The BG are complicit in this refusalism. They not only purchased of the Parthenon Sculptures from Thomas Bruce after stating they were ‘fairly and properly acquired(!), fit for purchase for 35k pounds’,[3] but created a legal structure to obfuscate responsibility for their retention. This complicity, however, does not exclude the argument that the British are themselves stranded. Might this all come down to how they can ‘save face’ upon the return of the Sculptures to Athens? As public opinion in Britain increasingly favours the reunion of the Parthenon Sculptures, seen in recent public debates there,[4] I believe the British want to find a way out but cannot, because their contemporary urges remain eclipsed by the long shadow of their imperial history. Part of our task is to find a way to help the British liberate themselves, to emancipate them from their own condition of aesthetic, legal and indeed moral imprisonment.

Our campaign must therefore be framed as a project of emancipation, it precisely becomes an operation of politics. We should not be proud of the boast that says that our campaign is ‘a-political’, that somehow it is only a cultural property issue, or a justice issue, or even an aesthetic issue. No, for to do so misses the point that we must confront the source of our grievances. We should redefine this task as precisely one of politics; of confronting illegitimate authority. One could say that until we understand this as a political problem, the resolution will elude us.

It is in this way that I read the plea by Emanuel Comino that “there are no more excuses.”[5] Indeed there are not. We must be brave enough to accept this political dimension; how each party has contributed to it, and how we can break out of this loop in which we are caught. So how do we interrupt this procedure, how do we create an emancipatory crack?

What I want to do in this talk is to investigate one very powerful way of breaking out. My talk is now titled: ‘Parthenon Sculptures: Narratives of Possibility’. ‘Narrative’ is many things, and I don’t want to get caught in the different meanings this word has. What I want to do here is restrict its meaning to ‘the stories we tell about the Parthenon Sculptures’. I will show that we have a tremendous power at our disposal, and this is the power of narrative.

One Word: Sculptures

How often are we struck by the power of one word. Either by the way it restricts and evades, or by the way it expands and liberates. But usually, before we can act, that word has moved on and been replaced by another, and then another, until the possibilities of this word have vanished. I say we must halt and focus on one such word, and that word is ‘Sculptures’. For it is impossible to deny the power of language in shaping reality: words shape our thoughts, thoughts shape our actions, and actions shape our reality. So if we want to create the reality of the Parthenon Sculptures returned to Athens, then our task is obvious, we must choose our words carefully.

I am constantly struck by the indecision and fractured nature of how these Pheidian works are referred to. It appears that many people cannot decide whether they are ‘marbles’ or ‘sculptures’. These words are not synonymous, and to fall into the trap that they are reveals either: a lack of attention, an urge for cheap jokes, or an acceptance of a dangerous ideology. This blurring and uncertainty then becomes planted into the reader. It’s like we are hedging our bets; ‘marbles’ as some simple and direct, ‘matter of fact’ term, or ‘sculptures’, when wanting to emphasize the aesthetic qualities. It is precisely the neglect inherent in this lexical interchangeability, this inability to accurately define these Pheidian works that weakens the position of the reunification campaign. These two words have completely different sets of conceptual contents, and by conflating the two, we do the campaign harm. But, this of course this plays right into the hands of the British institutional propagandists.

Just two weeks ago in the Sydney Morning Herald, the title of an article sympathetic to the return of the sculptures, (referring to the UNESCO change in policy), had the title: “Rule changes could end Britain’s game of playing with marbles.”[6] At a recent meeting in Melbourne, attended by supporters of reunification, I heard a similar joke about “losing our marbles”.  I claim that such expressions do harm to our cause, they trivialize and distract from the crucial issues. I say that the reunification campaign is at fault for not insisting on the exclusive definition of the Pheidian works as ‘sculptures’. We are at fault for leaving it to others to mark the territory, and by falling into the trap that ‘marbles’ and ‘sculptures’ are synonymous, and therefore interchangeable. The campaign must claim this definitional space and focus attention on what these objects really are; they are sculptures. So it is in this way that the Comino statement of ‘enough is enough’ is a political plea, a plea to action that must begin with one word. It will be this word, whose use will take root and allow us, or better still the sculptures themselves, to tell their story.

My central point is this, that if we want the return of the Pheidian works from Britain, then we must insist on the exclusive use of the obviously correct term: ‘Parthenon Sculptures’. We must replace the word ‘marbles’ with ‘sculptures’ in our discourse; in our casual conversations, in our formal literature, in the text-space of social media, in our committee names – in our thinking. We should pull people up when they slip and use the word ‘marbles’ and ask them to refer to the these items as ‘sculptures’. For sculptures is what they are.

Sculptures not Marbles

I have yet to find a definition that refutes the claim that the Pheidian works are, first and foremost, ‘sculptures’. All references confirm that a sculpture is a piece of art made by shaping processes.[7] Even at this most basic level, and one that I think is inherently understood, the Pheidian works are absolutely ‘sculptures’. Do we really need to challenge this? I think not. However, my point is much less about an insistence on absolute definition, and much more about what the word ‘sculpture’ brings with it, and what we can leave behind with the word ‘marbles’. This is the pivotal operation.

By changing just one word, from ‘marbles’ to ‘sculptures’, a whole domain of education and activism opens up for the reunification campaign. Firstly, this change allows us to restart the discourse. It allows us to initiate conversation on the nature of sculpture, and its centrality to the Greek Project. In simple terms, we have something important to re-define and to re-broadcast; we take up an offensive. A change of any key word in any discourse would have a similar effect, yet, it is precisely this effect we seek; a way to break out of the predicament in which we are caught. This insistence on ‘sculptures’ allows a redefinition of the terrain and affords an opportunity to re-engage with supporters, yet also those who are indifferent to, the campaign. We would have new issues to explain, such as, why this word was changed, why we think it is better, and what the problem with the old phrase was. This shift allows us to invigorate public attention by raising the status of these Pheidian works to that of their obvious existence as sculptures.

Secondly, this change allows us to reaffirm the Aesthetic Imperative, which I claim is the main argument for reunification. Again, this is the imperative that the Parthenon Sculptures must be in full and in place: in toto in situ. In Full means repatriating the Parthenon Sculptures from London back to Athens so that they can become, once again, an aesthetic whole. The contemporary reality of In Place means in the Acropolis Museum; with its dimensional Parthenaic reconstruction, its direct visual dialogue with the Acropolis hill and the Parthenon itself, bathed in Athenian light that vivifies the pentellic marble, and in context with the physicality of Athens, and wider still, Greece. By making this change from ‘marbles’ to ‘sculptures’ clear and obvious, we make a direct incision into the discourse on Classical Athens.

Thirdly, this change also allows us to subvert the ideology of retention. It allows us to disrupt the narratives invented by the BM that are inextricably bound up in the word ‘marbles’. Not only would we invest the campaign with a positive message, with a reality-check, but we would identify the colonial ideology of appropriation, and begin to remove the conceptual obstacles inherent in the term ‘marbles’.

So why must ‘marbles’ to be abandoned? Firstly, it shares a long association with the term ‘Elgin’, and even for this reason alone it should abandoned. Most of us have dropped this term, but it still influences wider thinking and mainstream journalism,[8] especially for those unfamiliar with this issue. This ‘ownership by association’ with ‘Elgin’ must be broken. The media in general still like to refer to them as the ‘so-called Elgin Marbles’, because we have not effectively challenged this usage. The word ‘Elgin’ adds the advantage of scandal and complexity, it keeps the possibility alive that there is some kind of case to be made by the British, that there is in fact some contention, like that over the supposed ‘firman’, that is in reality only a ‘letter’ by a subordinate, translated and purposefully misconstrued to achieve a ‘permission to plunder’. There is no contention here, but only an art that remains fractured and separated. So while we are distracted by such a scandal, the British quietly continue their possession. ‘Elgin’ is obviously an incorrect term, because it also hides the idea that the sculptures only exist by virtue of the privileged grace of a British lord, that the elite position of Thomas Bruce adds some kind of weight of authority to the claim of possession. One can see the ideological operation here. I claim that we need to permanently break this link with ‘Elgin’ and the British possession it entails. We should abandon the term ‘marbles’, and in doing so, we can start to achieve this.

Secondly, the term ‘marbles’ reduces the Parthenon Sculptures to ‘property’. It is a reduction that signals their status as ‘only’ marbles, namely, that they are a loose collection of fragmented individual ‘pieces’, and as such can happily continue in their current disjunction. Furthermore, it strives to absolve the crimes of theft and vandalism, that these acts are less severe because they are only marbles. The term ‘marbles’ helps to disguise the real nature of these works, that they are sculptures that belong to a whole, and in doing so it demeans them and supports the ideology of retention.

Thirdly, they are not unmediated geological objects. They are not random pieces of irregular shaped rock, nor are they ‘found objects’ in any sense. One must not confuse the material these works are made from with the objects they become after transformation. It is embarrassing to state that they are a product of the ‘plastic arts’. They are not the little glass balls that children play with, nor are they the slabs that are often used as kitchen bench-tops. If we want to avoid such trivializations and obfuscations then we must abandon ‘marbles’ in favour of ‘sculptures’, for that is what they are. It becomes an operation of truth.

One of the problems this shift poses is the question of what happens to the names of a number of campaigning committees that use ‘marbles’ in their titles. The Australian and British committees use ‘marbles’, yet the American committee uses ‘sculptures’.[9] Why is there a difference? What does this disparity tell the world? In the twitter handles of many, including the Australian committee, the term is again used, as with @MarblesUnite. I claim that if we want to take a leap further down the path of reunification, then this naming problem has to be addressed. You might see how opportunities like this rarely present themselves, especially in a case that is 200 years old. So I make a strong plea to the committees to embrace these opportunities and replace the word marbles with sculptures. Now is the time.

The combined acts resulting from the exclusive use of ‘sculptures’ would signal a new solidarity in our cause, in itself is a desirable outcome, and play no small part in the equations of education and activism. It signals a new motivation, and allows us to make the point ever sharper and stronger. So I say most emphatically, this is not a trivial operation, and it becomes a vital precursor to subsequent action.  When ‘Parthenon’ and ‘Sculptures’ are joined we have the full and proper nomination. We have the full narrative in front of us: where they belong and why they are important: in toto in situ. This is the power of narrative, to let the sculptures tell their story.

Parthenon as Singularity: Local not Global

More speculatively, I would like us to consider how arguments of ‘global citizenship’, as stated by the title of this conference, have serious and problematic implications. If one is a citizen of the globe, does this not then negate the need for a singular residence? Does this not then undermine the claim for the importance of the singular site of the Acropolis? This leads onto ideas of ‘universal heritage’ and ‘world culture’, that are not only ill-defined and contentious, but converge dangerously close to the very same arguments the BM use to justify their retention. The BM emphatically advocates for the ‘universal museum’, that is supposed to be an institution ‘of the world for the world’, that somehow can “transcend political boundaries.”[10] Are not these curatorial narratives a construction of a particular point of view that supports the claims, and spoils of, empire? One can begin to see the proximity between ‘global citizen’ and ‘universal institution’, and it is this association, that I claim, emerges as problematic.

By attempting to trump the adversary’s claim to ‘global universality’, are we not conflating two quite separate things? Namely, that there exists a specific physical location whose aesthetics has been vandalized and whose integrity we are trying to restore, with, the idea that a ‘world culture’ allows the fragmentation of artworks because it somehow tells a more ‘important’ global story. Is this latter account anything other than a ‘curation story’, that supports retention by framing their possession in a British colonial story? It seems important to clarify that these types of stories are only ever inventions, contingent and never free from bias. If we are to neutralize these operations we might focus on the problem from the other end.

Can we make the argument that Ancient Athens was a ‘local’ culture, as opposed to a ‘global’ culture? Can we say that this culture was in fact a ‘singularity’? That the Parthenon itself is a singularity? A ‘singularity’ speaks of a specific location in space and time. It speaks of meaning as being embodied in that location in space and time, created by the unity and continuity of these sculptures being ‘in full and in place’. This conception does not deny the impact on world civilization of Classical Athens, nor does it exclude the reinterpretation necessary by subsequent societies. What it does say is that the local situation in Athens, and in particular the Parthenon, is that of a singularity. That this local embodied singularity precedes all later retro-active interpretations and selective cultural appropriations. In this way, the claim for unification is precisely the claim that the local context is paramount, and not the reverse, that of some diffuse global condition. The conception of ‘local singularity’ is more akin to the somewhat forgotten phrase of ‘think globally, act locally’. It is from this local context that the proliferation of meaning follows, from this singularity that cultural iterations begin. This is to say that the Parthenon Sculptures do not, at all, have the same meaning outside their reunified embodiment.

You see, the British institutional narrative attempts to subvert this idea of ‘local’ phenomena. They would have it that the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens are only part of a ‘local history’ that should be subsumed to the importance of a ‘global history’, and that this is only possible by their retention in London. This is the rendering of a binary opposition that privileges ‘global’ over ‘local’, that is a justification for retention. This leaves us with the patently absurd proposition that to understand Classical Athens we must fetishize it from afar; that by being fractured the Parthenon Sculptures can tell a superior story, and that only in an ‘encyclopedic-universal-museum-story’ can their global significance be understood. This is not only an error, but a deception.

I want to highlight the work of Tom Flynn in critiquing this concept of the Universal ‘encyclopedic’ Museum,[11] by discussing as he does, not only the history of these institutions from the 17th century ‘cabinets of curiosity’, their Enlightenment compulsion for taxonomy, but the imperial ideologies of acquisition and possession that support the mythologies of empire. These above speculations of mine, on ‘location’ and ‘singularity’, trace part of their genesis to this work by Tom Flynn, and I encourage you all to become familiar it.

What I am saying is this, that if one wants to understand these works of art, the narrative whole of the Parthenon Frieze, the embodied meaning of the Metopes and Pediments, the dimensional physicality of the Parthenon, the effects of Athenian light on the pentellic marble, the elevation and dialogue between the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis hill, the context of the physicality of Greece, the history of ‘place’, the singularity that was the culture of Classical Athens – then this is best achieved in Athens at the Acropolis Museum.

I think what we need to be saying, in the campaign to reunify the Parthenon Sculptures, is that the Parthenon has a ‘citizenship of place’. This ‘citizenship’ and this ‘place’ reassert the idea that the Parthenon is an unparalleled edifice whose singularity must be respected, and though it exists in this particular place, it becomes a citizen of the world by being ‘invited in’ to the psyche of civilization. Citizenship of place does not become an end point, but a beginning.

The Day They Came Home

I’d like to conclude with a far simpler idea, and one that I believe can have a huge impact on the reunification campaign. Its inherent acts of imagination and creativity become another way of breaking the stalemate in our campaign. In this way, we have a movement from the narratives contained in ‘one word’ to the power in ‘one story’. This is the story of ‘The Day They Came Home’. It is a story that will tell of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens.

This story, in fact the manys stories, will be the imaginatively detailed and beautifully written accounts that will describe in detail the events of this day. It is vital to create these ‘future narratives’, because to imagine this day is to bring it closer to reality. This imagining will provide the maps required to navigate the Parthenon Sculptures back to their home.

Stop and imagine that day…

Will it be a Saturday?

What type of ceremony will there be; simple and solemn, a cultural spectacle,

a jubilant party?

Which composer shall we engage for the music?

Will there be dance?

Who might we ask to write a poem for that day?

How many poems will be written?

Will it become a public holiday for Greece?

What route will the precession take?

Will there be people lining the streets for a parade?

How will we, necessarily, acknowledge the British?

This last question is crucial. What stories will we now start to tell of the British? How will we affirm the integral role the British have played in the story of the Parthenon Sculptures? How will they be celebrated for their gesture? What might the British now say of themselves?

One begins to get lost in the possibilities of The Day They Came Home. It will be in these stories that we will explore the possibilities of return, and allow the world to test and rehearse the ideas and practicalities of reunifying the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens. Storytelling as a glimpse of the future.

The campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures requires an agitation that must wield many powers. But we must also harness the power of narrative; the politics of sculpture, the function of a singularity, and the poetry of return. It is these powers that will change thinking, that in turn will chage reality, which makes me believe that the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is much closer than we think.

Thank You



[1]  For a fuller treatment of the aesthetic imperative see Christopher Hitchens 2008, The Parthenon Marbles: the Case for Reunification, Verso, London.

[2]  From the video of a talk given by Andrew Dismore 2012, Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. A Legal Perspective. <>

[3]  ibid.

[4]  Such as the Intelligence Squared Debate in London on 11/6/12, with the motion ‘The Parthenon Marbles Should be Returned to Athens’ <> What is interesting is the swing in audience voting. Prior to the debate the audience voted thus; for the motion 196, against 202, undecided 158. After the debate the audience again voted; for the motion 385, against 125, undecided 24. A rather striking message.

[5]  This plea by Emanuel Comino, chairman of the IOC-A-RPM, was an introduction to the 2013 International Colloquy, Sydney 15/11/13, ‘Parthenon: Icon of Global Citizenship’. <;

[6]  From an article by David Hill in the Sydney Morning Herald, 8/11/13 <>

[7]  The Parthenon Sculptures are additionally many things, including architectural elements, but this additional context does not negate their status as ‘sculptures’. Perhaps ‘sculpture’ as defined by ‘The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, On Historical Principles, 6th Ed., Vol.2, N-Z, 2007, p.2718, cuts to the essence, “The art or process of creating (now usu. large) representational or abstract forms in the round, in relief, or (formerly) in intaglio, by chiseling stone, casting metal, modeling clay or some other plastic substance, carving wood, etc., or, now also, by assembling parts, the practice of this art.”

[8]  Such an example is the article ‘Top Ten Plundered Artifacts’ in Time magazine (online version, undated) <,28804,1883142_1883129_1883001,00.html> What is interesting in this article is that, apart from the erroneous term ‘Elgin Marbles’, the Parthenon Sculptures are the only ‘plundered artifacts’ that are not referred to by an original cultural name. Instead, they are referred to by the name of the plunderer.

[9]  The following three committees collaborate in the campaign for reunification of the sculptures, whose names are as follows: The International Organizing Committee – Australia – for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles’ (IOC-A-RPM) <>,  The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles’ (BCRPM) <;, The American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures’ (ACRPS),’ <;

[10]  The British Museum webpage on the Parthenon Sculptures, that introduces the self-appointed concept of itself as a “resource of the world.” <> Both Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, and James Cuno, President of the Getty Trust advocate for the Universal Museum in their many books and talks. For a critique of the language and ideology of retention at the British Museum webpage on the Parthenon Sculptures see Tom Kazas 2012, Part 3, Parthenon Marble Cake: Having and Eating it Too’. <;

[11]  See Tom Flynn 2004, ‘The Universal Museum: a valid model for the 21st century?’ <> See also <> for a video of his talk on this subject at the Parthenon Marbles colloquy 2012. For a transcript of that talk see <;


On Superstitio and the Horror of Compulsion


Image: Victorian Horror Vacui’ by John Haverty

(This post is a response to the 25/4 ‘Audio Research Article v2‘, however it does stray markedly from that terrain, and therefore appears as a separate post. I see that both Patrick and Josephine have subsequently written pieces that address some of the concerns below, so apart from the urge to challenge a few of their initial ideas, this post allows me a little exploration.)

In Patrick 25/4, (sounds rather biblical, sorry), he writes that “Jo has written a line I hadn’t noticed before which has suddenly smacked me in the face, ‘I think most writing arises from superstitious behaviour…’” Patrick continues, “this might be the best line ever written about the artistic process.” In Josephine 11/5 (surely old testament, no?) she identifies Slavoj Zizek’s complaint that “…writer’s block is not the true horror, rather, it is the opposite: the compulsion to keep on writing.” Furthermore, Zizek’s “whole economy of writing is in fact based upon an obsessional ritual to avoid the actual act of writing.”

I think Patrick is right to be hit by Jo’s line, for it is powerful and not easily parsed, even to my atheist mind. It identifies that writing (more generally, the artistic process), is often full of spurious drives and desires, prey to a semi-conscious ruse or two, that enable us to complete the task. (That’s right, I must replace that lightbulb..) But is this ‘superstition’? Zizek appears to be saying that ‘obsessional ritual’ is a way of dealing with the ‘horror of compulsion’, (once we accept this as the true horror), and that it is a scary yet necessary response. Ritual, though sometimes superstitious, need not be so. Obsession, though often worthy of fear, does not require a recourse to the supernatural. I suggest that these drives and desires become the province of the psychoanalytic and not the supernatural; that (for better or worse) these fears, rituals and compulsions arrive from the territory of the unconscious. I would therefore claim that the ‘horror of compulsion’ is a very real and rational fear, and one that we can, and should, decouple from ‘superstition’. If nothing else, it may well be simply a question of degree; of how much this fear actually results in the starting and/or finishing of a work, and how much we might rely on ‘techniques to get the job done’.

What then for superstition? The Oxford dictionary defines ‘superstition’ as: “irrational awe or fear of the unknown…religious belief or practice founded on fear or ignorance…credulity regarding religion or the supernatural…” (OxDic: 3113).

So if superstition is more narrowly a type of fear of the unknown, it easily accords with our ignorance of, or refusal to admit, the psychoanalytic. Is not the project of psychoanalysis one of trying to bring the subliminal drives into the light, to attempt an understanding of our behaviours and motivations? Is it not a process that moves us away from superstition? So I reiterate, that while Jo’s line is not easily parsed, there need not be any residue of the supernatural in the artistic process. However, if superstition is this belief in a practice centred on fear, what this belief might disguise is the surprise in finding out that, ‘I am stuck’, and the serious disappointment that, ‘I don’t seem to have what it takes to finish the job’. So as a remedy, we can employ tricks, devices, subterfuge and mis-directions, that become the necessary and clever techniques in response to the very real Zizekian horror of compulsion. But, can we generalise from Jo’s line, and Patrick’s initial response, that the artistic process is one of working with fear? Is this what is left for our praxis?

To a large extent, yes. Leonard Cohen is said to have remarked that (song)writing is ‘more a sentence than a vocation’. It then becomes unreasonable for us to expect a linear path to the completion of a work, and we must admit that this compulsion can be tyrannical and overwhelming. We must allow the detours, (necessary and unnecessary), to realise the work. So yes, I am in sympathy with the idea that the artistic process can be full of deceptions, but these are not superstition; yes they are prone to compulsion, but need not be prone to the irrational – for there is a logic to the psychoanalytic. Zizek identifies what he calls Lacan’s single best known formula: “the unconscious is structured as a language;” the unconscious itself obeys its own grammar and logic, “the unconscious talks and thinks” (Zizek 2006: 3). Not surprisingly then, language for Lacan becomes “a gift as dangerous to humanity as the horse was to the Trojans; it offers itself to our use free of charge, but once we accept it, it colonizes us” (Zizek 2006: 11).

We might approach ‘superstition’ another way, by its opposition to a very closely related term, ‘religio’. It can be placed in a binary of superstitio / religio. ‘Superstitio’, following the latin, is read as an ‘irrational or excessive fear of the gods’, while ‘religio’ is the ‘proper or reasonable fear of the gods’ (Lewis)(EtymologyDic). Is the writing we are discussing here superstitio or religio? Can the term ‘the gods’, construed as I do, be synonymous with ‘writing’? If so, it would subversively appear that writing is in fact ‘religio’, requiring a ‘proper and reasonable fear’ of its horrible excesses. We might engage with this problem by claiming that writing/the gods, do not deserve our fear, especially on the political grounds of a disobedience to the tyrannical authority of its power to compel. Art/writing then becomes a paradox: it enslaves us to its compulsion, but it is also the act that undermines this power, and allows us to disobey its (and many other) authorities. Eric Fromm reminds us that civilization was created by acts of disobedience; Prometheus, even Adam and Eve,  with their actions allowed us to come into being (Fromm 2010: 3). Maybe we are only ever ‘one word ahead’ (one word behind) of this ever-present horror. Perhaps this predicament allows us to remember that art is the only activity that grants the abandonment of all rules.

I will put aside any further fear that mention of god creates in me to reiterate my point, which is – fear (and its subterfuge), need not rely on superstition. I think we can redefine fear of the uncreated, the incomplete and the abandoned, as a fear of compulsion; but also its result. For to acknowledge that compulsion, and not superstition, is central to the creative process, we find yet another way to say that god is dead. Mikhail Bakunin wrote that “if god really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.” Yet, we might have recourse to return to Zizek on Lacan with, ‘god is not dead, but unconscious’ (Zizek 2007). This of course plays havoc with the standard atheist position. I would then say that while god is being unconscious, I might just have to get ‘on with my song’, and change that light bulb later.


Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary,

Fromm, Eric 2010, Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem, in ‘On Disobedience’. Essay originally appeared in Clara Urquhary, A Matter of Life (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963).

Online Etymology Dictionary, “Superstitio” and “Religion”,

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 2007 6th edition, Vol. 2, N-Z, Oxford University Press

Zizkek, Slavoj 2007, “God is Dead, but He Doesn’t Know It”: Lacan Plays with Bobok,

Zizek, Slavoj  2006, How to Read Lacan, W.W Norton & Company Inc., New York

Lyrebird: Sound to service Narrative


(A response to ‘Patrick 25/4’,for the Audio Research Article v2′, conducted at writingfix)

In considering Patrick’s three categories – place, memory, narrative – I would agree that “the first two are becoming enmeshed and the third is the means by which we express this” (25/4). The references below, as requested, are also divided into these two (neat yet not exclusive) categories for the same reason. They are collected from my film studies and specific research for the Lyrebird Project, that is, the radioplay ‘Under the Forest’ and the sonic poem ‘Ladyswamp’. What I see is that my interest in ‘sound to service narrative’ is mostly understood through the art of film making. This also contrasts with my interest in non-narrative sound and music. The binary of narrative/non-narrative continues to absorb my interest and was applied to the sound design and music composition for the Lyrebird project. Furthermore,  ‘sound in film’ theory held me in good stead for the work of ‘narrative sound’ in the Lyrebird project where clearly a proffered visual is not just absent, but unneccessary. Or, the visual is only to be discovered in the imaginary of the listener.

My understanding of ‘narrative’ based on these film studies, is that narrative is not the story, but rather, how the story is put together. This helps me, as the definition of the term ‘narrative’ seems to vary according to the different arts (writing, film, music, philosophy etc). We can therefore see that there are – linear, episodic, circular, hidden, unresolved, etc, narratives, regardless of what the story is doing. As mentioned elsewhere , I have come to hear that music might well be the only form that can truly express the non-narrative. But this idea strays from our task of ‘sound to service narrative’. What is of interest to me, and briefly discussed in (TK 5/4), are the categories of place – of the diegesis: diegetic, non-diegetic and meta-diegetic. An example of meta-diegetic sound might be, sound imagined, or perhaps, hallucinated by a character (Milicevic). In Audio Research Article v1, Patrick identifies that the radioplay text is essentially a meta-narrative, where the story of the child lost to the forest is distorted and internalised by the memory of the narrators. Here there is a dialogue between the non-diegetic and the meta-narrative. I remind the reader that the sonic place from which the radioplay narrators speak is that of the non-diegetic; it is not a sound imagined or hallucinated, but intended as a sound that is completely outside the experience of  the radioplay, to create as much distance as possible (a Brechtian alienation even), to allow the text enough space to realise its meta-narrative quality, to become the elusive – ‘sound of memory’.

I have been contemplating Carter’s powerful statement, that Josephine reminded us of (3/4), which is, “to sound a space is to denominate it a place: it is to mark it as an historical event.”  Focusing on the first part of this statement has led me to some curious questions. Is sound the only real way, the best way, to denominate a place? Is any place that has an absence of sound essentially placeless? Even in our suspicion that we do not hear sound, as in imaginary spaces, are we in fact ‘hearing things’ (in a subcoinscious way), thereby allowing that place to be denominated? I have more questions, but will try for some answers before profering them, and hopefully be reformed by responses.

A list of references, useful to me on  ‘theory of sound’. Patrick, I hope this suffices.


Beck, Alan E., Listening to Radio Plays: fictional landscapes,

Carter, Paul 2004, ‪Material Thinking: The Theory and Practice of Creative Research,Melbourne University Publishing

Carter, Paul 2009, Dark Writing, University of Hawaii Press

Carter, Paul 2010, The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History,Uni of Minnesota Press

Dunn, David 2001, Nature, Sound Art and the Sacred,

Soundscape, The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology,

Toop, David 2010, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener, Continuum International Publishing Group


Altman, Rick 1992, Sound Theory, Sound Practice, Routledge, New York

Balazs, Bela 1884-1949, Theory of the Film: Sound,

Brophy, Phillip 1989, Film Narrative / Narrative Film / Music Narrative / Narrative Music,

Milicevic, Mladen Film Sound Beyond Reality: Subjective Sound in Narrative Cinema,

Sonnenschein, David 2001, Sound design: the expressive power of music, voice, and sound effects in cinema, Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City

Spande, Robert 1996, The Three Regimes: A Theory of Film Music,

Truppin, Andrea 1992, And Then There Was Sound: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky, inSound Theory, Sound Practice, Altman, Rick (ed)

Conversation in an Air Raid Shelter: A Sonic Poem

ciaars cover

music & production by Tom Kazas, words & voice by Josephine Scicluna.

Listen here.

Featuring the musical compositional techniques of phase, repetition and pulse, with sounds of New York recorded from a 16th floor hotel window, this sonic poem by Tom Kazas and Josephine Scicluna is a plea for the intimately spoken word.  As cockatoos rise in the white siren sky, two lovers confront love and time in a halting conversation inside a placeless shelter.

Originally presented at the Double Dialogues Conference: ‘The 21st century – The Event, The Subject, The Artwork’, University of the South Pacific, Fiji, 23rd September, 2013. This audio recording will appear in the forthcoming issue of Double Dialogues In/Stead online journal. An accompanying discursive article ‘Love, Politics, Time’ will appear in the forthcoming issue of Double Dialogues online journal.

L8R – Tom