What Now? 2015
The Politics of Listening

Special Event
Apr 24, 2015–Apr 25, 2015

What Now? 2015 was a two-day annual symposium, organized by Art in General in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, which investigates critical and timely issues in contemporary art. Dedicated to the topic of The Politics of Listening; the 2015 symposium comprised four panel discussions spanning Friday and Saturday, a keynote delivered by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and a program of sound installations, audio works, film screenings, and performances.

Click here to read about the 2015 symposium in detail.

Click here to view dedicated What Now? website and additional resources.

Friday, April 24, 2015, 12.30–7:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 25, 2015, 2:00–6:00 pm.

The New School, Anna-Maria & Stephen Kellen Auditorium
66 Fifth Avenue, New York City — Free admission.
Please RSVP to [email protected]

Symposium Booklet: Download PDF


The Narma Tapes: Polyphony and Politics in the Postwar by ESTAR (SER)

“Listening to understand, listening to forget. An exercise.”

WELCOME AND INTRODUCTIONS by Anne Barlow and Carin Kuoni

PRESENTATION by Dr. James Hudspeth: A Scientific Definition of Listening

James Hudspeth conducted undergraduate studies at Harvard College and received PhD and MD degrees from Harvard Medical School. Following postdoctoral work at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, he served on the faculties of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After joining Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Hudspeth moved to The Rockefeller University, where he is the F. M. Kirby Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Sensory Neuroscience. Dr. Hudspeth conducts research on hair cells, the sensory receptors of the inner ear. He and his colleagues are especially interested in the active process that sensitizes the ear, sharpens its frequency selectivity, and broadens its dynamic range. They also investigate the replacement of hair cells as a potential therapy for hearing loss. Hudspeth is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


This panel explores listening in terms of its relation to various contexts including space, media, ethics, communication, and networked culture. It considers the act of listening in terms of the orientation of the listener in relation to one that is listened to, and the process of listening as something that is “socially coded” rather than merely a physical act. How has our understanding of phenomenology, the idea of the un-learned, un-mediated, un-processed, and the related concept of “real-space” shifted with the rise of Internet based media and in particular social media? What other approaches or ways of understanding have emerged? Surveillance is an intentional form of listening, in many if not all instances, without consent. How can we explore mythologies and norms of surveillance culture today, as personal data is constantly being acquired from Internet users? When corporations such as Facebook and Google are capable of gathering, saving, and analyzing our conversations, listening becomes the site of a power struggle, scrambling the codes of subject and object.
Moderator: Shannon Mattern
Participants: Christoph Cox, Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Brian Larkin

Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin] with Mendi + Keith Obadike and curator Rashida Bumbray

Location: University Center, 65 5th Avenue, Social Justice Hub
Artists Mendi + Keith Obadike present Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin], a multichannel sound artwork installed in The New School’s University Center from April 1 through 30. Part of the city-wide celebration The Year of James Baldwin, it celebrates James Baldwin’s keen understanding of the social role of the blues. Baldwin (1924-1987) was a key figure at the political juncture of music and words in the United States. This immersive sound installation turns the entire University Center into one speaker, resonating across four floors on three sides of the new building. Conference attendees are invited to experience the sound installation before attending the discussion with the artists and others about how listening contributes to interdisciplinary studies of power, inequality, and social justice. Preceded by a reading of excerpts of Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues (1957) by musician and poet Karma Mayet Johnson at noon.


Taking its cue from James Baldwin, who was greatly influenced by sound and music, particularly the blues, this panel explores what it means to take listening seriously. How are those who are largely “un-listened to” being heard? How can one avoid polarizing discussions, paternalistic approaches, or reinforcing stereotypes in an attempt to open up channels of listening? What do different soundscapes say about class and inequality? In his important 1957 short story Sonny’s Blues, Baldwin argued that attending to the blues required the listener to confront and accept both literal noise (sounds beyond the listener’s understanding) and ideological noise (elements of the lives of those whose journeys have taken radically different paths.) How can tuning into literal noise help sensitize us to ideological noise? What is the contemporary role of the blues—a musical form inextricably linked to America’s history of racism and oppression—and what potentialities remain?
Moderator: Julie Beth Napolin
Participants: Rich Blint, Rashida Bumbray, Mendi + Keith Obadike


KEYNOTE: Presented by Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Lawrence Abu Hamdan is a multi-media artist with a background in DIY music. In 2015, he was the Armory Show commissioned artist and participated in the New Museum Triennial. The artist’s forensic audio investigations are made as part of the Forensic Architecture research project at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he is also a PhD candidate and associate lecturer. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at institutions such as The Showroom, London; Casco, Utrecht; Beirut, Cairo; and forthcoming at Kunsthalle St Gallen and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Friday, April 24, 12:30–7:00pm
Ping Pong Drawing by Wato Tsereteli
Wato Tsereteli, artist and Founder of CCA Tbilisi, leads a non-verbal listening exercise adjacent to the What Now? symposium lecture hall. Providing an experimental space for reflection and response for audience members in between and following the conference programming, artists and non-artists alike are invited to share a plain sheet of paper, leading to conversation by means of visual expression. In contrast to a table tennis game that is based on competition, Ping Pong Drawing develops a perspective built on collaboration, respect, and serendipity, and furthermore articulates the potential to have individual dialogue within oneself while drawing. This simple situation positions drawing as an extraordinary practice—comparable to yoga—that has the potential to disrupt habitual patterns. The project aims to amplify an essential quality of artistic practice as a process based upon unexpected consequences, creating new narratives in our collective consciousness and the world around us.


AUDIO WORK: Iman Issa, 5:58 min. audio, 2010

Issa’s work explores the relationship between history, memory, language, and objects. She does this through the presentation of multiple forms, including sculpture, text, video, photography and sound. The Revolutionary, an audio work created using text-to-speech software, tells the convoluted story of a political radical, using contradictions and ambiguity to present an enigmatic portrait.


This panel addresses the slippages between truth and fiction in relation to interpretative listening, media communication, and acts of testimony, translation, or redaction. What is the place of language and translation in this evolving narrative space? Every translation sets into play distinct vocabularies and systems of listening and interpreting, and it is in these encounters that priorities and positions are negotiated. In forensic analysis, for example, how are ideas of truth, testimony, propaganda, translation (or “untranslatability”) played out? In terms of oral histories, why are narratives meant to be listened to rather than read alone, and what is the relative role and importance of accuracy, credibility, and the spinning of truth within this realm?
Moderator: Lauren van Haaften-Schick
Participants: Joshua Craze, Naeem Mohaiemen, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz


FILM SCREENING: Moments of Silence by Bigert & Bergström, 14:00 min. HD, 2014

A meditative memento on the importance of collective memory, Moments of Silence compiles a series of these moments into a film to examine one of the few remaining activities that shape a collective human experience.
Bigert & Bergström are an artist and filmmaker duo based in Stockholm. Their films and artworks have been shown in institutions worldwide—including Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; ICA, London; and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo—and included in the Venice Biennale, the Moscow Biennial, and the Singapore Biennial, among other exhibitions. They are currently working on a trilogy of short films that examine the public statement as a performative act. Moments of Silence(2014) is the first film in the series, and will be followed by Important Message to the Public (2015) and Explosion of Speech (2016).


In what situations has listening not just been the goal, but also the means to a tangible end? What kinds of attentive actions or collaborations can advance specific issues of urgency? This session focuses on initiatives that explore critical social issues through interdisciplinary lines of enquiry, research and projects over an extended period of time. Case studies include Council that works across the arts, scholarly and scientific research, and civil society in order to propose new representations of social issues. Postcommodity is an interdisciplinary arts collective that works to promote a constructive discourse that challenges the social, political, and economic processes that are destabilizing communities and geographies; and connect Indigenous narratives of cultural self-determination with the broader public sphere. Legislative artist Laurie Jo Reynolds is the organizer of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots campaign to close the state supermax prison in Illinois that included intensive lobbying and cultural projects like Photo Requests from Solitary. The New Centre for Research & Practice is conceived upon the idea that the space of knowledge is a laboratory for navigating the links between thought and action; their pedagogical approach bootstraps the conventional role of the Arts and Sciences to construct new forms of research and practice alongside, within, and between the existing disciplines and technologies.
Moderator: Mohammad Salemy
Participants: Grégory Castéra, Laurie Jo Reynolds, Kade L. Twist

Saturday, April 25, 2–6pm
Ping Pong Drawing by Wato Tsereteli

This is the second annual symposium “What Now?,” organized by Art in General in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, as part of Alignment, the Vera List Center’s 2013–15 curatorial focus theme.

A new book series relating to the “What Now?” symposia from 2015 through 2017 will be produced with Black Dog Publishing Ltd., a project that was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (MA-10-14-0304-14).

Art in General would like to extend special thanks to the key funders of the “What Now? 2015” symposium: the Institute of Museum and Library Services (MA-10-14-0304-14); the Lambent Foundation; and the Trust for Mutual Understanding for their generous support of this initiative. The Vera List Center would like to also thank the Center’s Advisory Committee.

Facebook  Twitter  Tumblr  Vimeo    Instagramr

Art in General was founded in Lower Manhattan in 1981 and supports the production of new work by local and international artists primarily through its New Commissions Program and its International Collaborations program. Art in General also produces an annual symposium What Now? on critical and timely issues in artistic and curatorial practice.

General Support of Art in General is provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; the Cowles Foundation; Toby D. Lewis Donor Advised Fund of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland; and by individuals. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

The New Commissions Program is made possible by the Trust for Mutual Understanding; National Endowment for the Arts; Jerome Foundation; Ruth Ivor Foundation; The Greenwich Collection; and the Milton and Sally Avery Foundation. Support has also been provided by Commissioners’ Circle leaders Jeffery Larsen and Joseph Bolduc; Commissioners’ Circle supporter Cher Lewis, and Commissioners’ Circle members Nader Ansary, Roya Khadjavi-Heidari, Mary Lapides, Richard Massey, Ron and Lucille Neeley, and Leslie Ruff.

Project Description:

What Now? 2015
The Politics of Listening