“Scanning the Bones II” is an audio-visual installation. It is a meditation on human frailty and the forces beyond our control in an exploration of A.D. Hope’s “X-Ray Photograph” and Gwen Harwood’s “Bone Scan”. After firstly examining the artistic ingredients of the installation, this paper applies aspects of Bourdieu’s “theory of practice” to the installation. Secondly, this theoretical dimension focuses upon the artwork as an experience, as a phenomenological event with emotional impact, as well as enabling a critique of the often conflated view of poetry and performance media under the umbrella of “performance as language”. The paper argues that the relationship between verse-text, sound and moving image have been re-structured and transformed by the installation. Finally, the paper concludes that the installation questions the conventional role of spoken and/or written text as the dominant, framing force where abstract sound and moving image merely support it.
“Scanning the Bones II” is an audio-visual installation by musician/composer Elissa Goodrich and video artist Michael Carmody with narrator Virginia Cusworth. The work is a meditation on human frailty and the forces beyond our control in an exploration of A.D. Hope’s “X-Ray Photograph” and Gwen Harwood’s “Bone Scan“. This paper is not a reflection on poetry and its devices. Rather, I will examine the strategies involved in creating the installation and the artists’ attempts to communicate the two poems’ intrinsic emotional qualities through other artistic media.
The paper will firstly examine the “artistic ingredients” of the installation. It will then suggest, in Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, a “theory of practice”. That is, I will apply a sociological theory to the installation that helps to explain the artwork as an experience, as a phenomenological event with emotional impact. This theory also assists in my critique of conflating poetry and performance media under the umbrella of “performance as language”. My application of Bourdieu’s theory will also help to explain how both the emotional impact and the hidden musical and visual imagery, to be imagined within the poems themselves, can be exposed by the other artforms employed.
In “Scanning the Bones II“, film-maker Michael Carmody and I explored what lies beneath. We explored the hidden, latent sense of mortality and forces both mechanical and temporal, beyond individual human control in our daily lives. We incorporated two remarkably profound poems which use the bone scan and x-ray as metaphors for ‘glimpsing’ at not only mortality but what exists beyond our physical-material worlds. Both poems express an unexpected, unnamed spirituality within the very mechanical ‘clinical’ experience of the bone scan and x-ray. The resultant installation “Scanning the Bones II” inverts what is ordinarily hidden or experienced and what is buried. It takes hidden or cloaked experiences described within the poems into the realm of performance.
“Scanning the Bones II” openly engages the otherworldly experiences alluded to in the two poems, Gwen Harwood’s “Bone Scan” and A.D Hope’s “X-Ray Photograph“, whilst the overt descriptions of the actual bone-scan and x-ray become the somewhat hidden artistic underpinning for the audio-visual exploration.
Indeed, the two poems’ most dominant subtexts are both given more subtle references within “Scanning the Bones II“. This is primarily due to the fact that abstract music and abstract visual imagery have the dominant roles (and not the words themselves). For as Maclean states, in written prose [as opposed to performance arts] “signs become both more specialized and more controllable.” (1988: 9) The more abstract themes or concepts are experienced in a relationship between author and reader that enables reflection, and are not mediated further by a performance created and occurring through time. So, “Time for instance, when reduced to textual space, can be infinitely manipulated by author and reader.” (Maclean, 1988: 9)
‘ Bone Scan‘ alludes to a hidden relationship with a mystical bond, albeit religious and/or that of a secret love, and “X-Ray Photograph‘ from the forties alludes to death from World War II’s nuclear bombs. To elaborate further, within “Bone Scan” Harwood likens the experience of a scan to “the god who goes with me glowing with radioactive isotopes…the friend who lives beneath” who “hast searched me and known me” (Psalm 139 cited in Harwood, 1999: 172 ) and Hope likens the experience of the x-ray photograph (the bomb) to sex and death:
I am full of rage and bliss…
in our naked bed I feel,
Mate of your panting mouth as well;
The deathshead lean toward your kiss…
the instant shield of lust…
Against a more tremendous fear…
the ray that melts my skin away…
For in the last analysis…
The woof of atoms, and below,
The mathematical abyss. (A.D.Hope, 1972: 42)
By comparison, the installation employs specific musical and visual techniques and images to provide an emotional experience that can be found within the prose, but without such direct use of allusion or metaphor. For example, in the first part of the installation which utilises “Bone Scan“, a build up and falling away of musical harmonic progression in conjunction with a simple visual motif, that of a growing unstable white mass that begins to glow before disappearing, communicates a heightened emotional state, and may even draw some audiences to assume a portrayal of a mystical connection and loss. But the first half of the installation does this without direct use of the poem’s overt metaphors. In the second half of the installation which utilizes “X-Ray Photograph” visual graphics are far more complex and fast-paced, black and white edgy images are scratched over the changing sometimes emerging shaved head or hands or sticks-bones. Sound accompanies the image. It is also edgy, changeable, scratchy white “noise” without a harmonic centre. This communicates an emotional anger and nervous or anxious energy, a sense of alienation which emerges from the text. But, again, what is communicated is done so without overt use of that poem’s metaphors.
” Scanning the Bones II” also exposes the visual and musical elements, that is, the materially hidden, or, rather, the imagined elements of poetry. Moreover, by overtly engaging sound and abstract moving image and cloaking the text within the other artforms, the installation also presents how audio and visual media can be the dominant focus in an artwork primarily engaged with verse-text.
The text is ‘cloaked’ by the use of music and sound and of image and collage techniques to create this effect. For example, in the first half of ‘Scanning the Bones II” (lasting 5 minutes 13 seconds), specific excerpts from Harwood’s verse-text is introduced some 2 minutes 30 seconds into the work through pre-recorded voice over. The voice over, like the image and sound is predominantly slow-paced, and solemn, prayer-like. The pre-recorded verse-text reappears approximately 1minute and 30 seconds later. Sound, music and visual image have been well established before the verse-text enters. Moreover, the narration is part of the sound design, and not separate from it. The spoken words form part of the sound score, alternately emerging from the treated pre-recorded sound design and music and merging into it. Indeed, the narration is treated; that is its timing and timbre is edited to fit in with the sound design, and on occasion the voice is multi-tracked – multiplied many times over. On these occasions the words themselves become indistinguishable. All the while, the visual moving image maintains a singular and dominant element in the first half of the installation. In the second half of ‘Scanning the Bones II‘, three lines from A.D. Hope’s “X-Ray Photograph” are quoted. This time they are quoted visually. We see the words written across images (of hands, fist, head and paper), in black and in white and disappearing almost as soon as they appear. The words reoccur, in different order and always at the fast, edgy pace of the sound and visual images. Again, their presence is episodic, and fleeting. Thus audio and visual media remain the dominant focus in an artwork that directly inspired by and engaged with its source material, verse-text.
On the one hand, my account of what the installation communicates, as opposed to the original verse-text depends upon an agreed distinction between verse-text and performance-installation. Barthes account of poetry as an act of enunciation suggests these two artforms actually both fall under the “language” of performance and thus both provide a similar effect:
Enunciation recognizes that language is an immense halo of implications, of effects, of resonances, of turns, of returns, salient…words are no longer illusorily considered as simple instruments, they are projected as missiles, explosions, vibrations…tastes (Roland Barthes (1978) cited In Maclean,1988: 21)
In this account of performance as a language, both A.D.Hope’s and Gwen Harwood’s words and the installation’s sound and images become the missiles, explosions and vibrations that the reader or audience receive and/or reject.
On the other hand, there is a very clear, linguistic distinction between verse-text as an artform and performance-installation. As Maclean reminds us: “Performance in the linguistic sense of the word is opposed to competence, competence being the acquired vocabulary and grammar of a language, the capacity to form sentences.” (Maclean, 1988: 67) Whilst, other media of course have their own “vocabulary” and methods of phrasing (for example, the dynamics, the timbres, the textures, the colours) they operate beyond words and in this installation, they operate in the realms of moving image and music. Of course, as Barthes has done, we can allude to these techniques and structures by utilizing a language metaphor in order to try and articulate their meaning and construction after the performance-event itself. But, as Levi-Strauss asserted, such media, and, in his case, specifically “Music is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable.” (1990:18). And yet, poetry and music are so often found mutually comparable. At a less phenomenological level, neurological and empirical studies do show how music, moving image and words are received differently (see, for example, Patel, 2007). Within the boundaries of this paper, we return to a basic distinction. To state the obvious, words basically form the type of source material that inspired the installation “Scanning the Bones II” but they do not dominate the work in the same (obvious) way they do in the poems. Therefore, the installation provides a different experience from that of the poems.
In our particular use and manipulation of the source material, we are in fact adapting sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s paradigm of the ‘universe’ of orthodox/ unorthodox discourses versus the unknowable universe of ‘doxa’. (Bourdieu, 2002: 168ff).The unique interplay within the installation of the three ar forms (audio, visual and verbal) enables buried themes, references, emotions within the poems to be revealed. Specific manipulation of these three art forms also enables different aspects of the poems to be hidden. Indeed, the very words themselves have been hidden, because we have been very selective about the actual passages we have quoted. For example, we chose to quote from A.D. Hope’s less overt passages: “mapped by its panoply of shade…Within those stellar spaces roll. The countless spark and whorls of soul…these bones are calm and beautiful.” (1972: 42) This in fact enables his poem’s emotional and thematic motifs of “rage”, “bliss” ‘flesh” and “death’, and indeed the x-ray photograph to be experienced through the installation itself, but not necessarily to be identified as or equated with sex and with a bomb in the way the verse-text references these elements. Similarly, we chose to avoid direct references to illness or to God, choosing instead to quote with temporal breaks:
In the twinkling of an eye,
In a moment all is changed. //
On a small radiant screen (honeydew, melon, green)
Are my scintillating bones//…I see glowing with radioactive isotopes
the grand supporting framework
complete (but for the wisdom teeth)//…
Each glittering bone// assures me//
You are known. (Harwood,1999: 172)
[// = point where we chose to break up the text within the installation]
Manipulation of timing, multi-tracking and repetition alongside the verse-text’s re-contextualization with the dominant moving abstract image (on screen) and sound-score further makes abstract the poem’s more direct references to religion and to medical processes. This enables the emotional undercurrent of the poem, of loss, frailty, and the power of both medical technology and of mystical or spiritual connection to be experienced through the installation but without it necessarily being articulated as such. In other words, political structures and materialized expressions of power are not foregrounded.
By contrast, Bourdieu foregrounds political structures and physical expressions of power within ritual and provides a way of recognizing them in institutional and individual forms. His analysis of ritual practice can be summarized as the exploration of ideas and beliefs in everyday, institutionalized practices, and how ideas and behaviors are formalized by practice. So why is Bourdieu pertinent to “Scanning the Bones II“? And why is it also pertinent to the idea of bringing hidden experiences to the surface? His concepts can help us to bridge the gap between making and experiencing and interpreting arts-making in ways often unrealized by other theorists. Importantly, Bourdieu also claims ritualized practice, behavior and beliefs (which include the realm of performance) also represent unrealized potential for change.
At first, Bourdieu may appear contradictory. He adheres to ritual theorists van Gennep’s and Victor Turner’s assumption that rituals are employed by societies to confirm the status quo. So, in relation to “Scanning the Bones II“, and its use of art forms, we might say: “Well, the written and spoken text remains the basis, the structure and thus the orthodox underpinning for the audio-visual work.” How we have interpreted the words, through sound and visuals (as opposed to verse-text), is therefore, one may argue, unorthodox, but certainly not beyond the realms of arts practice. Thus, like Bourdieu, here we emphasise the binary nature of ritual practice and of social, political and cultural structures. But this is of course only at the most superficial level, at the level of construction, and not of meaning. And I am more interested in understanding what remains hidden by our unorthodox use of verse and what becomes revealed.
Indeed, Bourdieu’s analysis of ritual practice goes well beyond binary oppositions and can be summarized as follows: “The profane is what you talk about. It is what you can see, what you can question and challenge. Therefore, recognizable patterns of human behavior fall into one of two categories, either orthodox “normal’ behavior, or heterodox and unorthodox, varied and “abnormal” behavior. The sacred is what you cannot talk about.” (Goodrich, 2009) What you cannot see or conceive of cannot be questioned. Nor can it be challenged. Bourdieu uses the term “doxa” to distinguish the “unimaginable” from that of orthodoxy and heterodoxy. This implies recognition of the possibility for other (opposing) beliefs.
How does this paradigm then relate to our installation ‘Scanning the Bones II‘? Bourdieu’s distinctions may well seem problematic when we look at poetry to begin with. For poetry, and certainly Harwood’s “Bone Scan‘ and Hope’s “X-Ray photograph‘ use orthodox/ unorthodox medical and mechanical procedures as metaphors to explore doxic, sacred, hidden experiences and emotions. And Michael Carmody and I have then taken these “doxic” themes and qualities to create our own meditation on human frailty and forces beyond human control. So, in this sense, “the sacred” or communicating senses of spirituality, of mortality, of uncategorized emotions, becomes foregrounded. However, Bourdieu also argues, doxa, is the “universe” of the “undiscussed” and “undisputed”. It”relates to what cannot be discussed nor challenged for lack of an available discourse” (Bourdieu, 2002 :168ff). Moreover, Maclean complicates our understanding of verse-text by returning to a language metaphor that conflates written language, poetry, and indeed performance:
I can also remind you that words, in the last resort, can only mean what my mind allows them to mean… [and] our reading depends on the extent of our knowledge of the language of literature as well as the language of our society… the network of quotations [from literature and from society] underlies not only literary discourse but all discourse
( Maclean, 1988: xii & 69)
Consequently, the distinction between verse-text and audio-visual performance-installation appears to be narrowed. A way for the “doxic” or the unknown or un-discussed to be introduced within the installation seems closed.
Yet we have created a work that responds to two poems which address the un-discussed and the undisputed. Moreover, in our own work we have attempted to express these themes to an audience. However, significantly, we have foregrounded sound and image to do this. Verse-text may well frame some understanding of what ‘Scanning the Bones II” is about. But it is primarily the moving image and sound-score which take an audience through an experience of the words, the themes and a series of emotions. In this installation and its construction, there is less of a continual challenge between orthodox and unorthodox arts practices. It is not a “war’ between the tyranny of the word and the tyranny of the image or harmonic progression. In other words, it is not a contest between the dominance of the word or the image or the musical progression over the other art forms. Rather, by taking a perhaps less orthodox approach to the poems, by exploring the words through image and sound and reducing the presence of the text itself, we have attempted to foreground the experience of the poems and various potential emotional underpinnings of these written words.
In fact, Bourdieu argues, “the boundary between the universe of” orthodox and heterodox “discourse and the universe of doxa” represents the ‘undiscussed and undisputed…dividing line between… misrecognition and the awakening of political consciousness” (Bourdieu, 2002: 168 & 170). The only time this boundary line is acknowledged is when the relationship between “language” (or discourse) and “experience” reaches crisis-point (Bourdieu, 2002: 168 & 170). This occurs when “the everyday order”is challenged” (Bourdieu, 2002: 168 & 170).
“Scanning the Bones II” does not necessarily awaken overtly “political”, or rather politicized, understandings (our work does not reference specific events; it does not speak directly for or against war, religion or medical intervention). Yet the relationships between artistic discourses (that of verse-text, sound and moving image) have been re-structured. In this artistic intervention we do present a challenge. The relationship between artistic discourses within “Scanning the Bones II” challenges how we might expect to “experience” A.D. Hope’s poem “X-Ray Photograph” and Gwen Harwood’s poem “Bone Scan’. Indeed, the installation questions the conventional role of spoken and/or written text as the dominant, framing force where abstract sound and moving image merely support it.
Bourdieu, Pierre, (2002). Outline of a Theory of Practice, Richard Nice translator, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Harwood, Gwen, (1999). ‘Bone Scan’ In, Selected Poems (Bondi Junction NSW: Imprint)
Hope, A.D. (1972). “X-Ray Photograph” In, Collected Poems 1930-1970, (Sydney: Halstead Press)
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. (1990). The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of MythologyJ. Weightman & D. Weightman, translators (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Maclean, Marie, (1988). Narrative as Performance. The Baudelairean Experiment (London: Routledge)
Patel, Aniruddh D. Music, Language, and the Brain London: Oxford University Press, 2007)