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  • The Persuaders: about the work

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    Posted on: 30/06/2014

    Entering the space of The Persuaders we are confronted by seven 'urgers', seven figures who alternatively cajole, admonish, exhort and abuse us for sins real or imagined. Just occasionally we get it right, and these impassioned observers are lavish with fleeting praise - 'good on ya!'. For much of the time, these persuaders (if that is what they are) simply watch: impassive, slumped, tense. Their sudden explosions, sighs, cries, catcalls and admonitions catch us by surprise.

     It takes a moment to realise that these seven individuals are in separate spaces - clearly 'at home' - and that they are not simply watchers, but 'barrackers'. Each is familiar with the names of all the players and the failings of the umpire, intimate with the machinery of the unnamed game in play. Like nervous back seat drivers, each dropped mark or torpedo punt is rehearsed in the body and breath of the barracker. But it is soon apparent that each watches their own game - a different game, at a different time.

    In this space, time does not roll out smoothly, in one direction, continuously. In the space of The Persuaders time is fragmented, cut up, represented by the artists as an accidental composition of conjunctions - and disjunctions - of sound and gesture. While one watcher regards us with sullen silence, another erupts in a fury that passes just as quickly as it arises. Emotions flicker across faces, and move through the body in twitches and tics, grand gestures.

    It is different in real time, in the stadium: there we watch the game together, at one with the crowd. But in the video installation this gathering of tension, of expectation, and its sudden explosive release is individualised. The collective gasp of the crowd is dispersed, contradictory, complementary: one spectator sighs, the moment passed; while beside her, oblivious to his neighbour, another gathers himself in, holding his breath. Suddenly without warning three, four of these be-couched figures are in motion - one pleased, the others furious with the ineptitude of their players. Deflation. Inflation. Explosion.

    Sonia Leber and David Chesworth have long been fascinated with the acoustic texture and dynamic range of the sounds of human effort and of various kinds of crowd experience: its rhythms, sounds, 'shape', tone and frequency, and the way these elements are relational, in constant transition (subject, as it were, to time). For earlier works they have recorded environments where particular kinds of crowd patterns are evident: an army barracks, dog training schools.

    5000 Calls, their major work at the Olympic Stadium site in Sydney, drew upon a vast corpus of recordings of the sounds of human effort - playing, working, lifting, moving, even dying.

    The Persuaders is rich in ideas and allusions, while remaining instantly recognisable. It is playful, but close attention reveals a complexity that only emerges over time: like much sound-based work it demands our time in order to reveal itself. (Sound, more than the moving image, inhabits duration.) Here, as in those earlier works, Leber and Chesworth are concerned with the ways in which we make meanings through human utterances at the very borders of language - the 'proto-linguistic'. While our persuaders do occasionally lapse into whole sentences, more often than not we are addressed in single words, in ejaculations, gasps and grunts. Muttering matters: meanings are made without recourse to semantics or syntax. In a sense, this is communication not as a system of signs but as a series of 'pure' (uncultivated) physical and vocal gestures. What is persuasive here is not the silver tongue of spin-doctor, 'personality' or politician. We might say these figures arepersuasive precisely because they speak so directly, so obviously at one with the invisible actors to which their remarks are made.

    The sports arena might be seen as the social equivalent of a nuclear reactor: a precisely engineered space in which the energy of the crowd is gathered, excited and released, and then vented harmlessly (a distant roar) into the sky above the stadium. Increasingly, however, the profoundly physical experience of the sports crowd has been dispersed into a million living rooms, tiny explosions, domestic eruptions. This 'televisual' crowd experience is defined by temporal rather than spatial relationships, and its nature and experience are paradoxical. Glued to the screen we feel part of the crowd, but remain alone.

    There is more than a hint of this in watching The Persuaders: seven individuals alone in their rooms urging on different teams, in different places, at different times, all at once.

    Tony MacGregor

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