18 April 2022
To whom it may concern,
I am writing in support of Jessie Bullivant’s Fine Music, a project made in conjunction with the exhibition Feeling Material, curated by Benjamin Woods in 2015 at c3 Contemporary Art Space in Narrm/Melbourne.
Jessie and I both presented projects for the exhibition that focussed on listening and that were situated outside of the gallery, in and around the grounds of Abbotsford Convent arts precinct. Fine Music engaged the re-channelling of broadcast sound to amplify and complicate the social relations of two architectural situations at Abbotsford Convent, a rotunda and a colonnade.
At the time of the exhibition, the rotunda was closed off with temporary fencing in response to ongoing ‘inappropriate’ and ‘anti-social’ behaviour. There were similar concerns of the colonnade area adjacent to c3 gallery. Jessie set up speakers in both locations that live broadcast 3MBS radio, a community radio station that programs ‘fine music’ from their studio on site at Abbotsford Convent.
This kind of broadcasting of music as a means of affecting the way people engage with space has been well utilised since the advent of sound recording, most notably by the Muzak corporation. In the 1950s Muzak were hired by businesses to broadcast music to workers to maintain productivity which soon expanded to customised playlists for public spaces they coined as ‘audio architecture’.
In the instance of Fine Music the broadcasting of music was used as a means of emphasising the power dynamics within the Abbotsford Convent arts precinct. The tension between ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘fine music’ created a rupture between who is controlling these spaces, and who is welcomed and who is not. I think of a similar strategy in the early 2000s when Footscray railway station starting playing classical music on its platforms as a way of reducing unwanted behaviour. This particular placement of music from a European classical tradition in a suburb at the time consisting primarily of a population who had immigrated from south east Asia and north east Africa was an act of white washing and a signifier that your presence is not welcome here.
The control of access is the primary concern here and the way architecture and music can be utilised to invite and reject certain demographics and cohorts of people. Fine Music worked within these conditions to amplify the control strategies harnessed within the Abbotsford Convent arts precinct, and intern highlighting the ongoing systems of control perpetuated through the history of the convent itself and its greater relation to the colonial project in so-called Australia.