Watching, waiting, listening: Audio Obscura and the perceptual ecology of non-place

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This essay, an experiment in critical writing, traces the modulation between work, world, and self that is set in play by Lavinia Greenlaw's sound work Audio Obscura (2011), commissioned by Artangel and the Manchester International Festival for Manchester Piccadilly and St. Pancras International stations. Known for her work as a poet and novelist, Greenlaw has written that Audio Obscura is "an exploration of the point at which we start to make sense of things; an attempt to arrest and investigate that moment, to separate its components and test their effects" (Greenlaw and Abrams 2011, 7). This reflects her long-standing interest in sense-making and "the mechanics of perception" (Greenlaw in Kendall 1997) which has been expressed in her early collections of poetry and in her collaboration with photographer Garry Fabian Miller. In Audio Obscura, the participant, donning headphones and listening to a prerecorded soundtrack whilst standing in a railway station, is positioned at a threshold between interior and exterior, between seeing and hearing, and between sensory perception and meaning making. This positioning is a common feature of much site-specific theatre and performance practice which, through the evocation of multiple frames, places the spectator in a liminal state, destabilising perception and self (Fischer-Lichte 2008, 95). This dislocated and deterritorialised position, in which neither the work, nor the world, nor the self are as certain as they once were, thematises the relationship of the spectator to the environment around them, making the renegotiation of one's relationship to the world a particular focus of this sort of work (see Turner 2004).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-40
Number of pages22
JournalAbout Performance
Issue number14/15
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2017


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