|Justin Clemens CD Launch|
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
"I'm very excited to have been asked to help launch Jodi Rose's extremely strange Singing Bridges CD tonight. Although some of the flyers for tonight have billed me as "bridge philosopher extraordinaire," before Jodi told me about her possibly pathological idea about 7 years ago, I cared almost nothing about bridges, and knew even less.
Brooklyn Bridge, New York 2002 (audio)
What - at least for me - is notable about her project is how much it's forced me to attend to some of the weird features of bridges, as well as their extraordinary significance in the history of warfare, commerce, philosophy and art. Just think about how many common phrases turn on bridges ("We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," "Don't burn your bridges," "bridging loan," etc.), or how many films turn on a relationship to bridges (e.g., "Bridge on the River Kwai," "A bridge too far," or even the recent "The Ister"). And in the history of philosophy, many of the greatest philosophers of the modern world have made bridges a key element in their work: Friedrich Nietzsche ("Man is a fragile footbridge thrown across the abyss"), Martin Heidegger, and the recently-deceased Jacques Derrida.
In the history of modern art, we find Marcel Duchamp's famous boutade about American art: "The only works of art America has given the world are its plumbing and its bridges." Modern suspension bridges - such as the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate - are favoured items on postcards, adding to the thrill of the Pont Neuf or the Bridge of Sighs. Poets love bridges (at least, they love the metaphor of the bridge): hence the Brooklyn Bridge has been written about by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Marianne Moore, Jack Kerouac, Hart Crane, and many others.
And since we're talking poetry, if you're going to top yourself, why not do it by leaping from a bridge, just like the great Paul Celan? And apparently certain advances in modern technology and engineering have been driven by the difficulties involved in suspension bridge design....
What I find even more striking is that, despite histories of the suspension bridge claiming that the rope across the river has been around forever, that major suspension bridges have been in operation in China since the third century, and in barbarian Europe since the thirteenth, that steel suspension bridges are one of the wonders of the contemporary world, I'm shocked that no-one has thought of recording bridge sounds in just this way before.
If you'll permit me a short diatribe - and you're going to have to - I have to say that I really hate the concept of "sound art," which is a degraded modernist ideological category become bureaucratic funding designation. As far as I'm concerned, something's either art or it's not - and I think that Jodi's singing bridges are unquestionably art.
Green Bridge Song in G, Brisbane 2006 (audio)
Why? Well, I think her project has involved the following operations: i) Jodi's had a genuinely interesting and unusual idea, that of recording the sounds that suspension bridges around the world make, from Vietnam to Finland to USA; ii) she's worked like a dog to record all of these bridges, over an extended period of time, having to solve or resolve all the problems peculiar to such a project, whether of funding, travelling, interviewing, recording, etc.; iii) in the process, she's brought together or connected an entire range of people, things, and situations that would otherwise have remained disconnected (e.g., other artists, engineers, tour operators, sound recorders, weirdo enthusiasts, academics, patrons, bureaucrats, etc.); iv) she's thereby made-perceptible a state-of-affairs that people have hitherto overlooked, ignored or dismissed, and thereby encouraged them to think and rethink what they may have thought they already knew about bridges; v) crystallised and disseminated all of this work in a variety of forms (e.g., by website, the ABC radio program, exhibitions, and CDs).
So, all these factors together smack of art: it's a good idea; hard work; connecting the unconnected; making you see what you've over-looked; transmission. So I urge you all to log onto the website, listen over and over again to the ABC show, and buy as many copies as you can carry of Jodi's CDs....visit the bridges! listen to their sounds!"
Justin Clemens has published poetry and prose fiction, as well as writing extensively on psychoanalysis, contemporary European philosophy, literature and Australian art.