Olivia Muscat is transported by Hannah Brontë’s audio-visual work mi$$ Eupnea at BLEED 2020
Lately I’ve been in a fog: the kind of haze where I can’t seem to draw creative words out of myself, and can’t sit alone either with the thoughts inside my head. I can’t create, I can’t analyse and I can’t sleep.
The way that I often deal with these enervating times is to cram my brain full of nonsense. I overload myself with TV or movies or books that keep my brain buzzing with voices, images and noise, but that don’t require anything much from me; nothing complicated, nothing that requires real mental energy, because I simply don’t have any. It becomes this cycle of consuming and consuming and not creating anything. I’m exhausted. I hate it, but it’s a struggle to pull myself out of it.
So, while in theory I was really interested and intrigued by Hannah Brontë’s mi$$ Eupnea, an online audio-visual work for BLEED, it took me much longer than it should have to allow myself to encounter it in any active, thinking way. I didn’t want to just sit there while it played. I wanted to actually interact with it and take something from it.
As usual, as soon as I managed to pull myself out of my own head and away from my loud, junk-food media bubble, I felt much much better. According to the program notes, eupnea is a mode of breathing that occurs at rest and within meditative states and that doesn’t require cognitive thought. The work is an invitation to slow our breath as a way of becoming more connected to to the world around us, and to our own bodies.
I love the structure of mi$$ Eupnea. I had to click on an orange segment to open up each individual part of the story, which really appealed to me. It’s a little thing, but the links were labelled “orange slice 1”, “orange slice 2” and so on, which allowed me to take part in that particular visual aspect. I so appreciate it: it’s amazing what a simple image description can achieve.
Jess Koroi’s sound design is lovely. Each speaker’s musings is backed by gorgeous sounds from nature that for me were almost as relaxing and restorative as going for a real swim. As I clicked on each orange slice, I was eager to enter each new environment. Where would I go next?
Listening was transporting. Hearing each considered and poetic perspective on intuition prompted me to really think about what intuition is in my own life. I don’t think I have ever considered this before. I found myself pondering where and how intuition comes to me, and when I have really listened to and acted upon its direction. Each speaker described what intuition and nature meant to them so passionately and thoughtfully that it made me walk away with the desire to be more aware of my surroundings and their messages, and to take time to look for and listen to my own intuition.
mi$$ Eupnea made me think about my connection to place. If I went to the hillsides and valleys of the villages where my ancestors once lived and really listened, would I feel a sense of belonging? I wondered if I would sense a connection that I don’t think I have ever truly felt In Australia, where my family has only lived for 72 years.
As I was listening to the beautiful sounds and stories; and relaxing into the calming rhythms, part of my mind was also focused on something else. Mi$$-Eupnea is an audio-visual work, not only an audio work, which is the way I experienced it. I constantly wondered what visuals I was missing. I just wanted to know what I should’ve been seeing.
I needed to know if the images I was conjuring up in my head were the same sort of images on screen. I was sure they weren’t. For me, this feeling is unique to digital work. When I see a live performance, there are movements and breathing and other sorts of signifiers that can convey visual aspects such as movement or position. I lose these clues when we enter performance in the online space, and my visual memory and synaesthesia kick in and start forming images in my head in a way they rarely do during live performance.
I don’t feel that this was detrimental to my overall experience, but I think I would have been a lot more satisfied if I had had an idea of the sort of visuals that Brontë had created. I doubt it would have changed the way I experienced and interacted with the work; I just really like to know the visual information.
It seems strange to some people when I tell them that my brain is very visual, especially since I have had some form of severe vision impairment/blindness for my entire life, but it’s true: I’m obsessed with pictures and patterns and colours, and there are always images in my head. Although my eyes can’t see a thing, I’m always looking at something. When I know an artwork is audio-visual and I’m only getting the audio part, I can’t help but be a little frustrated. I want to be able to appreciate what the artist has created.
This artwork grounded me with a sense of unhurried focus that allowed me to feel calm and relaxed while simultaneously engaging me with something thoughtful and creative. It transported me somewhere new while also prompting me to look in at myself and my own beliefs and experiences. I just wanted to keep on listening.
mi$$-Eupnea. Lead artist: Hannah Brontë. Storytellers: Megan Cope, Joshua Appo, Elle Reynolds, Chantal Fraser, Ayeesha Ash, Grace Eather. Soundscape by Jess Koroi. Commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre. Online until August 30 as part of BLEED 2020.