Who Is Doing What to Whom? (Object Impermanence)

External view of installation
Image description: A tilting black reflective cube like structure in a dimly lit gallery space
Internal view of installation
Image description: Inside a small room with black walls, dim red lighting and multiple small speakers hanging in various places (mounted on poles hanging from the ceiling), all pointing towards a central chair.

Who Is Doing What to Whom? (Object Impermanence) is an experiential, multi-speaker sound installation inside a large black structure, developed for The Big Anxiety Festival 2022 by sound artist Thembi Soddell, with structure design and fabrication by remi cady freer. It is a significant reworking of Soddell’s installation Held Down, Expanding and its companion CD Love Songs from 2018, with the goal of improving accessibility, visual impact and experimentation with how changing the user interface would speak to the concepts behind the work.

The work draws on Soddell’s own lived experiences of emotional abuse in intimate relationships, its insidiousness, intangibility and aspects of its ongoing impact that cannot be captured in words. Abstract sound in darkness becomes the vehicle through which to process and reimagine these experiences, while also leaving space for audience (mis)interpretation and self reflection.

All aspects of its design are also influenced by Soddell’s longterm relationship with the medical and mental health systems through the lens of a patient. There is a deep tension between a distrust of these institutions (which themselves are built upon histories of abuse) and a need for their help. This underpins the way the audience members interact with the work.

This video provides a 3-minute overview of this audience interaction (the work is designed for one person at a time). The main sound experience is proceeded by a prologue and concludes with an epilogue, as shown. Please use headphones or a quality playback system for listening as the soundtrack contains low frequencies sounds that will not be heard through all speakers:

Image description: YouTube video player showing a closeup of a man of Han Asian appearance inside the installation. Two horizontal poles are between him and the camera, attached to speakers that point towards his ears on each side. There are two speakers behind him and the background is black. He is wearing a black mask, staring straight into the camera under red lighting.

Lead artist: Thembi Soddell
Structure design and fabrication: remi cady freer
Programming: Jon Becker (Airborne Innovations)
Sound composed by Thembi Soddell using samples from Alice Hui-Sheng Chang (voice) and Jim Denley (flute).

Thank you to Emah Fox and Jamila Main for access consultation; Leith Thomas for production support; Jen Tran for design input; Pauline Cady for book binding; Borys Chciük for assistance with the Polish phrases in the book; Camilla Hannan, Jack Sweetman and Monique Gawne for assisting with deinstall; Kelvin Lau for featuring in the documentation; and the team at RMIT Gallery for in-kind materials and fabrication support. Photo and video credits: Thembi Soddell 2022.

This work was exhibited in “Archives of Feeling: Sensation, Connection, Community“, an RMIT Design Hub Gallery project. It was a part of the RMIT Culture program and The Big Anxiety Festival 2022.

This project was supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.