Sound wave with smoke

Reflections on Echo

Reflections on Echo:

Sound by Women Artists in Britain and Ireland during the 1980s

In 1980 the American artist Laurie Anderson entered the commercial sound waves with a recording of O Superman (For Massenet), one of a suite of performance works collectively titled United States, which combine image projection with sound. What is especially striking about Anderson’s work is its sophisticated manipulation of audio reproduction and transmission technologies not only in her practice – her use of sound F/X and voice modulation (with its capacity to alter gender patterns) – but in her references to the way human communication is mediated through aural mechanisms such as the telephone, PA systems and TV utterances. O Superman concludes with an appeal to be held in ‘Mom’s electronic arms’ – ‘Mom’ as productive machine is all that remains, it seems, when the narratives of patriarchy have failed.1 However, Anderson’s recorded performances are only the most well-known examples of an extensive practice by women artists that pays attention to the sociosexual implications of speech and audition. It is what this work has to say about the construction of female subjectivities in Western culture that these notes attempt to address.

Discussions of media-based art rarely include a substantial review of sound, whether it is used as a component or as the sole medium of a work.2 At its most effective, sound is not simply laid on to provide a background unifying element to the flow of images or actions, but both collaborates in the production of meaning and extends the spatial dimension of the work. Sound evokes images; but it also positions the listener in a physical relation to the source of transmission, or in an illusory relation to distance (drawing nearer/fading away).

The inattention to aural experience in the construction of human subjectivity is undoubtedly coincidental with a general emphasis in critical debates on visual representation, an emphasis that is attributed to the priority given to vision in a Western culture dominated by patriarchal principles. Jacques Lacan equates this priority with the visibility of the phallus, rendering it the privileged signifier of potency under which all those constituencies deemed lacking – in terms of race, gender, class, etc – are subordinated. Certainly, vision has a significant place in the classical founding myths of patriarchy. Oedipus’s self-blinding is interpreted by Freud as ‘castration’ (the self’s submission to the authority of the Father – symbolic language); but it is worth noting that this shift towards a ‘feminine’ position of ‘lack’ simultaneously enables the hero to gain insight – access to an ‘other’ knowledge beyond perceptual vision. This visionary role is not, however, given equal value in terms of gender. We might contrast the status held by the blind seer Tiresias, or the blind philosopher Sophocles, with that of Cassandra. Like Tiresias she is also a visionary, and yet she is deprived of a legitimate speech: her utterances are dismissed as inconsequential mad ravings.

A similar depreciation of the female voice and a usurpation of its creative potential is to be found in contemporary media representations. I should like to draw attention to Kaja Silverman’s analysis of the use of the woman’s voice in mainstream cinema since, like the use of her image as visual spectacle, it aims to disavow and project the male subject’s impotence, or ‘symbolic castration’, onto the body and voice of the feminine.3 This female voice is denied its own utterances to become ‘the site of a discursive impotence’ – his ‘acoustic mirror’. As Silverman points out,4 one rarely encounters a genuine female voiceover in classic film since this position assumes an omniscience or transcendental (traditionally male) author of the narrative. By contrast, the thrust of a good percentage of conventional psychosexual dramas is to make the woman confess, to reveal her ‘true nature’, as it were (and is this not also the demand that Freud as ‘father confessor’ makes of his ‘hysterical’ female patients?5) The extreme expression of this ‘confession’ is the extraction of an involuntary cry, confirming for the male subject his equation of the feminine with the body and nature (as distinct from the mind and intellect), and with the infantile (immature or meaningless speech). The female voice is conventionally synchronised with the image track precisely because it is as ‘body as lack’ that she is constructed in mainstream cinema.6 Brian de Palma’s Blow Out, 1981, understands this essential demand of a male-authored cinema. A sound-effects man on a porn film production is sent in search of a female scream to dub onto a Hitchcockian shower scene since the actress’s own is not ‘authentic’ enough. Not surprisingly this is extracted from a female protagonist at the moment of her death, leaving us with the feminine as a disembodied, endlessly repeatable representation – the recorded scream.7 Insofar as it understands that male representation (or art, if you like) is achieved at the price of a loss of the (feminine) real, Blow Out is a postmodern reworking of the Orpheus and Narcissus myths of male creativity. Where, however, does this place women’s creative practice? If Eurydice is rendered mute and Echo deprived of the right to be the subject of an enunciation within the discourses of patriarchy, in what way can women be the producers of meaning and not simply its passive sign? Can ‘lack’ be turned to positive effect?

What can be said about Echo’s prescribed position? According to one version,8 Echo’s story begins with a maternal sentence. Hera is vexed by the nymph Echo’s incessant chatter, which distracts her from keeping an eye on Zeus’s adulterous affairs. As a punishment, Hera prohibits Echo from uttering all but the last phrase of another’s speech. As we know, Echo subsequently falls hopelessly in love with the beautiful but self-absorbed Narcissus. Some say he drowned himself in his own reflection; others say he metamorphosed into a lovely flower. In any case, like Orpheus, Narcissus presents a redemptive phantasy of male loss and regeneration: the artist/poet whose creative act springs from a denial and a usurpation of the generative role of the feminine (the ‘maternal’) in order to secure his own immortality. As for her, she may, through her expiratory breath, be the inspiration but not the producer of meaning. Thus, as Eurydice’s body is relegated to the place of a liminal shade, so Echo’s body fades away leaving a voice without originary speech that is, according to this patriarchal myth, nowhere in particular. Clearly her utterance is quite other than the authorial voice of being since there is no being to speak of. But Echo’s disembodied voice that speaks in others’ tongues presupposes an additional function: it is also an ear. Echo becomes both audio receiver and transmitter.

I want to pursue the significance of this function by way of what might, at first, appear to be an unlikely literary elaboration of the story of Echo (if only unconsciously on the part of the author) in Bram Stoker’s late gothic novel Dracula.9 It is the character of Mina who absorbs our attention, for she is the matrix of the plot to which all things collect and from which they are reproduced.10 We first meet her as Mina Murray (a name that recalls the old word murra, meaning the substance of precious vessels). She is soon transformed by marriage into Mina Harker, a name that now establishes her role as a listener. In contrast to her voluptuous and romantic friend Lucy, Mina is the disembodied, de-eroticized feminine. Indeed, her ‘body’ only appears in the text after her ‘seduction’ by Dracula: a seduction that renders this body ‘unclean’, and therefore subject to ‘disfigurement’ by the brand of the Holy Wafer (making visible her transgression in the eyes of the Law.)

Mina, described by the patriarch Van Helsing as having ‘the mind of a man (but nevertheless possessing those feminine weaknesses against which she herself must be protected),11 collects and disseminates information: she writes in hieroglyphic shorthand; she reads and transcribes the written and phonographic diaries; she listens to the men’s talk and lends an ear to their emotional troubles; and she collates and reproduces everything on her typewriter. Later, in telepathic communication with Dracula, she becomes his ear and recorder as he flees his future assassins. Her role is thus centred on an economy of the ear not of perceptual vision: she is the transcriber and disseminator of ‘truth’, but also a ‘visionary’ insofar as she ‘sees’ and ‘hears’ what the men do not. In short, she encompasses those roles assigned to women in the capitalist economy or its fringes: typist, stenographer, nurse, psychic medium, psychoanalyst, etc – all ears, and typically connected to the technologies of (tele)communication.

In retrospect, we should not be surprised to find that, since the late 1960s and the development of non-traditional forms of art, women artists have found a creative space through technological media, ranging from the single-screen use of film and video, slide and sound projection, to multi-media performance and installation. Women’s strategic use of a heterogeneity of media practices is not simply the result of their being less circumscribed by male-dominated aesthetic codes. Theories of female subjectivity were instrumental in challenging the modernist notion of stable and fixed human identities defined in relation to a privileged sovereign subject (white, middle class and male). If an effective female practice was excluded from the history of modernism’s static and autonomous object, it is in part because this ideal object, also circumscribed by a privileging of vision, served as a mirror for a transcendental ego: Narcissus is transfixed in a deathly relation with his phantasized image through which, nevertheless, he misrecognizes himself and others. If women’s art practices turned away from this narcissistic investment in the ideal object, it was in part because they recognized its inadequacy as a model of subjectivity in a world of ever-shifting identities.

By contrast, time-based media – and installation strategies that insist on the mobility and accumulative experience of the viewer – introduce a temporal component to art production and reception. (Indeed, one of the legacies of ‘70s aesthetic debates, not however exclusive to feminism, was a Brechtian insistence on the active and critical participation of the viewer in the production of meaning of the work.) This, in turn, opens the work to models of transformability: a potential to interrogate idealist illusions of coherent subjectivity, and to explore the mutability and heterogeneity of human identities. Hence, for those groups previously denied the right to represent their own experience, time-based functions provide the means for re-narrating subjectivity and transforming a sense of selfhood from the fixed categories of race, gender and class imposed by dominant culture. It is therefore a kind of narrativity that interests us here: Echo’s oral-aural circuit. However, a cautionary note: I am not imputing an essential feminine to sound or narrativity, for this would distract us from the profound heterogeneity of women’s experiences and their expressions in culture. While we may all, broadly speaking, share the same language, our experience, and hence use of it, as gendered, class or ethnically defined subjects is by no means identical. The question is, rather, of the way the reproductive value of the female voice has been not simply suppressed but colonized by a language dominated by the privileged subject and positioned in its social discourses. While women have been essential to economic productivity (‘labour’ in both senses of the word), this role is rendered marginal in society’s master narratives of productivity and creativity.12 It is also, therefore, a question of working through the stereotypes of feminine ‘passivity’ to which, at first glance, Echo’s repetition appears to conform. Given this non-place assigned to Echo, does her repetition always return language to a putative (male) place of origin and its pretensions to transcendental meaning, or can it shift the ground of the sociosexual text?

It is precisely because we are dealing here not with nature but with language and its fundamental indifference that subtle interventions seem possible. From this reflection on women’s sound-work and female authorship two interdependent concerns are of note: an interrogation of the discursive spaces occupied by the female voice leading to a displacement of given terms of linguistic utterance, and the return of a repressed (maternal) economy. We might say that the ‘other’ written out of dominant culture has an uncanny way of rising up in the very place from which it was evacuated – which is, of course, the demon that Dracula’s narrative of patriarchal power seeks to pacify.13

I should now like to shift the location of this narrative to Greenham Common outside London where, in 1981, thousands of women, from different social classes,14 gathered to form a peace camp in protest against the installation of the 501st USAF nuclear missile base. The base was perceived as symbolic of a malignant military policy endangering the future of life itself. I should like to discuss two pieces of work that refer to this scenario: Tina Keane’s single-screen video version of In Our Hands, Greenham, 1984, and Alanna O’Kelly’s sound work Chant Down Greenham, 1988.15

In the visual component of her piece, Tina Keane takes up a primary metaphor in the peace camp: women’s industry (productivity) as it works to form the matrix of community, yet its exclusion from the site of power. Images of a spider spinning her web are juxtaposed with footage of the women’s activities – joining hands around and outside the perimeter fence of the base; weaving webs of wool to symbolise strength in unity; decorating the fence with family photographs and personal memorabilia. The soundtrack counterpoints the sounds of the peace camp with a woman’s voiceover testimony of how she decided, independently of her husband’s opinion, to march for peace, and her witness to the ensuing confrontation with the police. What emerges is the sense of euphoria and comradeship experienced by the women.

In Our Hands, Greenham pursues a recurrent theme in Kean’s work – women’s collective action and sense of generational continuity – which the artist has explored both through early collaborative work with her daughter Emily and through various forms of oral narration – ‘As I have heard it from my mother as she has heard it from her mother’ (as the woman narrator says in Keane’s film Shadow of a Journey, 1980). The mother/daughter dyad in Keane’s work does not, however, presuppose Freud’s Oedipal relation to the maternal as the only form of identification with the mother open to the daughter. (If anything, the persistent bond between these two female subjects suggests a transgression of the Oedipal demand for the girl’s psychic investment to be redirected from the maternal towards the paternal signifier). Keane’s work addresses the position of the female subject within the social text. Hence the importance of the metaphor of the journey in Keane’s work, which frequently makes problematic the relationship between female subjectivity and historical linearity.16 In the sound version of Demolition/Escape, 17 the arrival and departure of a train brackets My Girl’s a Corker, a burlesque song denigrating the female body, and whose male gendered ‘author’ appears in the sudden drop in pitch of Emily’s young singing voice. In the installation version of the work, the constant shunting back and forth of a toy train is juxtaposed with a wall-mounted ‘countdown’ of neon numerals and the videotaped image of the artist struggling to ascend a rope ladder – metaphors of women’s entrapment in, and struggles against, dominant narrative closure. Through the body of Keane’s earlier work, her own childhood memories are woven with the encounters in language of her growing daughter; but continuity here entails not a repetition of the same but a constant attempt to re-inscribe and re-make female subjectivity across diverse social narratives.

Alanna O’Kelly’s Chant Down Greenham is less an overt narrative than a tone poem, composed of uncompromising silences alternating, like Keane’s piece, with the sounds of the camp – the women’s wordless echolalia, their derisive whistling, their chanting and drumming, their laughter, and the noise of circling helicopters which, since the Vietnam War (or at least since Apocalypse Now!) has come to represent the chilling sound of military aggression. These sounds are orchestrated with a powerful keening (from the Irish caoine, or Caoineadh na Marbh – keen for the dead, which is traditionally part of women’s duties at funeral rites.) O’Kelly’s menacing sustained expulsion of breath is less a cry of loss, however, than a rallying cry of defiance, to which the women’s chanting and laughter become a chorus or echo of solidarity. This cry is therefore a reminder of the materiality of sound as it resonates through and connects bodies, revealing the socially unifying function of communal chanting. And it is through physicality that the work exerts its most powerful effect, for it not only hits us in the ear but also in the solar plexus. Hence, sound here is not simply the carrier of a message; it figures the power of the voice and body to act beyond its subjugation to articulated speech and its reduction to physiology. O’Kelly’s keening liberates the voice from the specular body and reinvents it as political agency, alluding, among other things, to a refusal of the pacification of Irish identities effected through English colonialism.

In neither of the ‘Greenham’ works is the notion of the community of women, or communication among women, intended to homogenize differences under some universalizing principle; in both cases singularity or personal witness is juxtaposed with communal experience, and one that is attached to a particular social and historical moment. A collective articulation of women’s experiences reminds us that femaleness and female sexuality are historically and politically constituted.

The implied affirmation of the ‘mother tongue’ in O’Kelly’s piece is a theme specifically addressed in Jan Kerr’s I Am a Regional Variation. Here the Scottish narrator explores her marginalization through recollection of an education system that insisted she surrender her own vernacular speech to ‘correct’ English enunciation. In Carole Wilkinson’s Interference/Transference, the artist and a mature French Algerian woman discuss their various interpretations of the meaning of ‘interference’ as that which distorts the seamless flow of articulated sounds and, in colonial terms, that which invades and fragments the mother tongue of the colonized subject.18

It is the complexity of this subject that Mona Hatoum’s video work Measures of Distance, 1988, seeks to explore.19 The video confronts us with the taboo image of the mother’s naked body in the shower – a taboo whose ‘author’ is announced in related fragments of the mother’s letters to her daughter relaying the father’s disapproval: ‘He felt that I had given you something that belonged exclusively to him.’ Indeed, this ‘gift’ of her image from the mother to the daughter would appear to be as liberating a gesture for the former as for the latter. The father’s exclusion and ‘dispossession’, as in Keane’s work, transgresses Oedipal economy, opening up the possibility of a difference and creative space. This is not to say that Hatoum usurps the position of the father. This maternal body is never consumable as a specular whole image by us, the viewers. Changing positions and focus, she is constantly screened by a (for many of us untranslatable) Lebanese Arabic script – letters written by the mother trapped at home in the conflict in Beirut to the ‘free’ but exiled daughter in the West. The sound component of the work complements the return, repetitions and shifts in focus of the mother’s image, yet by contrast to the Hitchcockian female body in the shower, nowhere is there a move to synchronize voice with body that would confirm the latter as ‘lacking’. Fragments of intimate conversations with her mother, taped on the artist’s infrequent visits to Lebanon, are orchestrated with a voiceover of the artist reading an English translation of passages from the letters – news of local events interspersed with tender and wistful thoughts on shared memories, her separation from, and longing for reunion with the absent daughter. The mother, then, speaks through the daughter’s voice – a doubled ‘authorization’. And yet this mutual identification is marked by a movement of differences and displacements (‘measured distances’) – from body to text, from written to spoken to electronic transmission, from one location and language to another, one political situation to another, one desiring subject and another. In this persistent oscillation of relations that map the limits of the transcribable and the untranslatable, Measures of Distance traces out a constantly shifting ground of subject-positions. The maternal nurturing function is alluded to, to be sure, but called into question are those social constructions of the maternal that deny women’s desire. Here the mother is constructed through a complex web of differentiations, not as the de-eroticized imaginary vessel of plenitude but as a specific sexual, social and historical subject.

Interference in articulated speech, with its insistence on the inscription of the speaker in linear historical time, is what Echo calls into play. Echo’s repetition interrupts and fragments logical syntax, reducing a given utterance to an oscillation of phonetic signifiers disengaged from a determinable ‘originary’ meaning. Is this fracturing of symbolic language simply the sign of an incoherent ‘madness’? Or is ‘madness’ what is produced in women whose own desires remain unnarratable? This is what seems to be suggested by Sharon Morris’s sound work Everyday, 1988, a litany of the mundane repetitive routine of the housebound wife, which periodically falls into delirious speech. However, that this fracturing of articulated speech may also provide a ground upon which to construct ‘other’ meanings, is suggested by Morris’s The Moon Is Shining on My Mother, 1988.20 The piece begins with a woman’s voice singing a Welsh lullaby. Soon the voice doubles, then multiplies, slipping into a harmonic humming. From the repetition of the sound ‘hum’, formed by a simple resonance of the buccal cavity, two voices echo the childlike syllabic fragment ‘ma-ma’. Then through a dialogical syncopation, vowels and consonants combine and recombine into a progression of English and French syllables that form themselves into words: ‘…a-ma… mum-ma… mur-mur… mur-der… mer-de… a-mour… ai-mee… me-me…’ From this Babelian play of phonemic differences a web of meaning-effects is spun out that speaks of the interruption of the mother tongue by the language of patriarchy, and hence that child’s accession to subjectivity through separation, loss of desire for a maternal imaginative space. But in ‘me’ there forever lingers the faint murmur of ‘ma-ma’: ‘The Moon Is Shining on My Mother’ is the song that fades to a memory.

The cryptolinguistic sign is central to the work of Susan Hiller. Her use of projected automatic scripts and wordless vocalizations alludes to what has been absented from the socio-political domain yet remains as a persistent trace or ‘hallucination’ at the borders of social consciousness. Hiller makes visible these seemingly marginal utterances as the very terms upon which dominant narratives are predicated.

Belshazzar’s Feast/The Writing on Your Wall, 1983/84, specifically refers to storytelling; one version presents a cluster of video monitors arranged on the floor to suggest a camp fire.21 As we watch images of sparkling lights develop into flickering tongues of flame, a woman’s voice announces the commencement of an artifice: ‘What the fire says, Take 1…’ Thereafter we become engulfed in a mesmerizing daemonic and indecipherable vocalization, whose exotic overtones suggest some other space or time. At intervals, a secretive whispering recounts newspaper reports of images of aliens transmitted on TV after station close-down, and the artist’s young son Gabriel hesitantly attempts to describe the story of the cryptic and apocalyptic inscription that the prophet Daniel is invited to ‘interpret’. Belshazzar’s Feast is a reverie on the images of reverie as figurations of repressed unconscious desires. What we perceive as transmitted messages – in the fire, on TV, in the patterns of wallpaper, etc – are projections of our own imaginings. What appears as the ‘inexplicable’ or ‘illogical’ on the border of consciousness also marks the limit of the subject in socialized language – or the limitations of the latter to restrain desire. In Belshazzar’s Feast, vocalization releases the vibrations of the libidinal body, and different stories of ‘other’ selves become audible.

Narratives proliferate; voices multiply, merge and echo one with another. No longer the stutters and paralyses of an unspeakable ‘reminiscence’; no longer, also, the confessions extricated from Freud and Breuer’s hysterical patients. Women’s claim to an authorial voice, resonant with their own experiences, is a move to re-articulate an imaginary space with symbolic language, a move that transgresses the Oedipal demand that they accept their ‘lack’ with good grace. For Hélène Cixous this body called female is not to be censored, for to do so is also to censor its breath and speech. ‘Write yourself’, she exhorts, ‘Your body must make itself heard.’22 For Cixous also the female voice is an embodiment, not of Oedipal lack but of a reactivation of a pre-Oedipal desire for the Mother:

‘In feminine speech, as in writing, there never stops reverberating something that, having once passed through us, having imperceptibly and deeply touched us, still has the power to affect us – song, the first music of the voice of love, which every woman keeps alive… The Voice sings from a time before law, before the Symbolic took one’s breath away and reappropriated it into language under its authority of separation…’23

If Cixous’ Voice of the Mother seems like a phantasy of a pre-Oedipal utopia, it is nevertheless articulated through a post-Oedipal experience. As political agency, perhaps we have to think of it as a metaphor, like Hiller’s ‘automatic writing’: something that insists in the interstices of symbolic language, that rises like the vampiric mist to contaminate it with its repressed desires. It is perhaps in this way that women’s storytelling reclaims the oral traditions of personal and collective memory as counter-narratives to the homogenizing and depoliticizing histories of dominant discourses.

As she speaks, Echo produces a plural singularity. Her transmission is itinerant. Never identical to its source, her repetition is a constant production of difference. Its ‘speaking in tongues’, its disruption of syntactical order, signal a refusal to be tied to any fixed subject-position. Hera’s sentence, while insisting on a maternal alliance, releases an imaginative and subversive speech.

And what of women’s use of silence? Is this, too, always to be construed as passive acquiescence to her subordination in language? Perhaps not. The absence of sound in Tina Keane’s video installation Escalator, 1988,24 is notably rare in the artist’s body of work. Its effect is all the more oppressive as we become hypnotized by the flow of Underground escalator steps, moving endlessly up to a bright scene of corporate success and down to the twilight zone of poverty and homelessness: a world without human communication.

We have already mentioned the silent pauses in Chant Down Greenham. Their duration produces unease, a suspension of breath. O’Kelly resists the demand that ‘she’ fill absence with the illusory plenitude of words.

And one final story: Anne Devlin, 1984, as told by the Irish filmmaker Pat Murphy. Anne agreed to act as ‘housekeeper’ to a group of United Irishmen lead by Robert Emmet who were plotting an uprising at the beginning of the nineteenth century. She was captured, tortured (almost hanged) and kept a prisoner by the British military long after the conspiracy had been crushed because she refused to ‘confess’. As Luke Gibbons points out, Murphy re-reads Anne’s silence, not as passivity or absence of meaning but as a political act of defiance: ‘Throughout the film, Anne is pre-eminently a messenger, a vehicle or medium of communication between Emmet and his various contacts. Yet Anne is a medium with a difference.’25 From a position always oblique to the action, Anne sees, she touches, but above all, she listens. And what she hears is an empty rhetoric that springs from the voices of both Irish romantic idealism and British colonial power. If she refuses to speak it is out of loyalty neither to Emmet nor to the nationalist cause, but because she will not speak in the voice of the other the words he wants to hear. She refuses to be an ‘acoustic mirror’ to male narratives of redemption; and in this refusal her silence is to be feared.


1 O Superman (For Massenet) concludes:
‘Cause when love is gone,
there’s always justice.
And when justice has gone,
There’s always force.
And when force is gone,
There’s always Mom! Hi Mom!
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
So hold me
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms.
In your arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
In your electronic arms.

2 I have not seen the most recent anthology of artists’ sound works: Sound by Artists, Dan Lander and Micah Lexier (eds), Toronto: Art Metropole, 1990.

3 Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988.

4 Ibid, p 165.

5 Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer, Studies on Hysteria, The Pelican Freud Library, 1974, p 368.

6 An apparent exception is the voluntary scream uttered by the Doris Day character in Hitchcock’s 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, whose intention is to divert the aim of the assassin. The premise of the scream is turned back on itself insofar as the woman must use an effect of her body not to confirm the other’s power but to exert her own.

7 The heroine’s body is ‘bugged’ with a miniature microphone through which she must provide the hero with an incessant narrative of her location. His failure to remain connected to this apparatus leads to her death by garrotting – an abrupt loss of voice and its severance from the body.

8 Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

9 Bram Stoker, Dracula, (1897), New York: Bantam Books, 1981.

10 In Jonathan Harker’s postscript at the end of the novel, we learn that Mina has become the mother of a son whose ‘bundle of names link all our little band of men together’.

11 It is noteworthy that film versions of Stoker’s novel – for example, Herzog’s Nosferatu and Badham’s Dracula – seems unable to deal with the subversive implications of Mina. She is reassigned under the character and name of Lucy.

12 For a critique of Marxism and women’s work see Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Feminism and Critical Theory’, in In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics, New York and London: Methuen, 1987, p 77.

13 One common reading of the vampire is that it figures a female libidinal economy which exceeds the jurisdiction of phallocracy. (George Stade in his introduction to Dracula comments that the female vampire inverts the patriarchal roles of ‘nurturing mother and chaste wife’.) Two key features of vampirism – the lack of mirror reflection and the dominance of orality – lead us to speculate that this economy circulates around female desire for the mother – what Silverman describes as an expression of a ‘negative Oedipal complex’.

14 I have not been able to ascertain whether women from other ethnic constituencies also participated.

15 O’Kelly’s piece is part of an anthology of sound works by women artists, Sound Moves, 1988, compiled by Sharon Morris and Michelle Baharier, and coordinated by Projects UK. The work could be heard on British Telecom from 4 May to 6 September, 1988. Unfortunately it is not possible to discuss them all here. The participating artists were Michelle Baharier, Mari Gordon, Jan Kerr, Marysia Lewandowska, Sharon Morris, Alanna O’Kelly, Anne O’Sullivan, Maggie Warwick and Caroline Wilkinson.

16 For a theoretical discussion of women’s relation to time see Julia Kristeva, ‘Women’s Time’, in The Kristeva Reader, edited by Toril Moi, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1986.

17 ‘Live to Air’, Audio Arts Magazine, Vol 5, Nos 3 and 4, 1982.

18 Jan Morris and Caroline Wilkinson in Sound Moves, op cit.

19 Mona Hatoum, Measures of Distance, 26min, U-matic colour videotape, 1988. Western Front Video Production, British Columbia, Canada.

20 Sharon Morris, Sound Moves, op cit.

21 Susan Hiller, Belshazzar’s Feast/The Writing on Your Wall, version installed at the ICA, London, 1987.

22 Hélène Cixous, ‘Sorties’, in Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsy Wing, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, p 97.

23 Ibid, p 93.

24 Installed at the Riverside Studios, London, 1988.

25 Luke Gibbons, ‘The Politics of Silence: Anne Devlin, Women and Irish Cinema’, Framework, No 30/331, p 11.

The essay was published in Signs of the Times: A decade of video, film and slide-tape installations in Britain 1980 – 1990, Oxford: The Museum of Modern Art, 1990, pp 60-67. An earlier version of this text was presented at the Whitney Museum Students Independent Study Program, 1987, and published in Eau de Cologne, No 3, 1989.