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Thursday, September 25, 2008


Art collective’s sound-based research directly engages political struggle.

The art collective Ultra-red utilises sound-based research to directly engage political struggle. Ultra-red members in North America and Europe pursue a dynamic exchange between art and political organising in radio broadcasts, performances, recordings, and installations. Founded in 1994 by two AIDS activists in Los Angeles, the collective has performed internationally as well as exhibited with such institutions as the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Schirn Kunsthalle (Frankfurt), and, most recently, Tate Britain (London). Ultra-red have released recordings on labels such as Mille Plateaux (Frankfurt), FatCat (Brighton), Beta Bodega (Miami), Soundslike (London) as well as their own fair-use online record label, Public Record ( Ultra-red is the cover feature in the September 2008 issue of Wire, a publication devoted to experimental music and sound art.

Ultra-red is currently exhibiting three installation works at the KZNSA Gallery. These works are part of the group’s SILENT | LISTEN project, a public record of today's AIDS epidemic in North America and globally. The record is composed of statements by AIDS activists, organizers, researchers, artists and people living with HIV/AIDS.

SILENT | LISTEN: A Record of the AIDS Epidemic. "Silence=Death" - ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), an AIDS activist organization founded in New York in 1987. "Silence is the condition for listening" - Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator and social theorist.

In 2005, Ultra-red launched a series of AIDS activist performances at arts institutions around North America. Titled SILENT | LISTEN, the performances brought together people living with HIV/AIDS, service providers, researchers and activists in seven North American cities. In performances staged in museums, galleries, and art schools, Ultra-red invited audience members to have a set at a table and enter statements into the record of today's AIDS crisis.

In August 2006, Ultra-red organized a large-scale version of SILENT | LISTEN to coincide with the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada. Bringing together participants from each of the previous performances as well as nearly 30 delegates from the Conference, Ultra-red opened the record once more. This time, instead of one table, the performance featured seven tables. Presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the performance invited conference attendees from around the world to enter their reflections on today's crisis into the record and to listen to statements made by others.

With references to John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and the activist art collective Gran Fury, SILENT | LISTEN invokes the vital role played by the arts in HIV/AIDS education, cultural critique, political organizing and direct action. Ultra-red’s work illustrates how rigorous aesthetic practices (e.g., conceptualism and minimalism) may be used to critically investigate the conditions of contemporary experience. It is in the spirit of that legacy of inquiry and reflection that Ultra-red invited communities affected by the epidemic to participate in the SILENT | LISTEN performances.

The three installations on exhibit at KZNSA apply a variety of analytic procedures to the SILENT | LISTEN record.

1. SILENT | LISTEN: The Record (2006). This sculptural and sound installation investigates how feelings about the AIDS crisis possess their own analysis of the pandemic. Visitors are invited to be seated at one of seven tables and to listen to statements extracted from SILENT | LISTEN performances held in seven cities in North America. Suspended at the end of each table is a reproduction of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting, the visual equivalent of John Cage’s 4'33" composition for silence. The white surfaces and periods of silence included in the sound elements of the piece establish the conditions for dedicated listening and critical reflection. Each table represents one of the cities visited by Ultra-red. Statements played through speakers placed on each table, document a broad range of feelings. Few statements express anger, which is considered necessary for action to redress social suffering. What kind of mobilization, Ultra-red ask, is possible with emotions such as bewilderment, confusion, or sadness? SILENT | LISTEN: The Record was commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.

2. SILENT | LISTEN: The Minutes (2007). This installation is an archive of the minutes from the seven iterations of SILENT | LISTEN. The minutes take the form of electro-acoustic compositions made entirely from the sound texts recording during performances at the Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore, USA, the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, USA, the Walter Philips Gallery in Banff, Canada, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, USA, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, USA, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. The compositions are heard through headphones installed below posters of the protocol used to facilitate each of the events. An eighth poster, printed in an unlimited edition, contains a generic text for the minutes. SILENT | LISTEN: The Minutes (2007) was first exhibited in the group show From Fluxus to Techno Noise at La Casa Encendida, Madrid, Spain.

3. Untitled (for six voices) (2008). This work draws on the formal features of the SILENT | LISTEN events and the installations SILENT | LISTEN: The Record and SILENT | LISTEN: The Minutes. Untitled (for six voices) asks six performers to enact brief excerpts from statements entered into the record during Ultra-red's performance series SILENT | LISTEN (2005 - 2006). To perform the excerpted statements with their accompanying choreography, Ultra-red invited six individuals from a nascent coalition of activists working at the intersection between HIV prevention in prisons, human rights for the incarcerated, prevention justice, and the abolition of prisons. Untitled (for six voices) was commissioned by Fowler Museum at the University of California in Los Angeles for the exhibition Make Art | Stop AIDS.

SILENT|LISTEN has included the participation of the following Ultra-red members:

Taisha Paggett has an MFA in choreography from UCLA and a BA in Art History from UC Santa Cruz. She joined Ultra-red in 2006 to work on Untitled (for six voice), which was commissioned for the exhibition Make Art | Stop AIDS. She is co-founder of the dance journal project, ITCH. She has performed with Moving and Storage Performance Company/Crash, Burn and Die Dance Company. Her work and collaborations have been presented in several California venues including Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara, and at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Transplanted from Florida’s electronic music scene, EDDIE PEEL collaborates with Ultra-red for the first time on SILENT|LISTEN. As half of the duos Sony Mao and Needle, Peel has released projects on Beta Bodega (Miami), Ritornell (Frankfurt) and Public Record (LA). In 2004, Peel joined other Los Angeles AIDS activists to initiate a new chapter of ACT UP helping to coordinate the organizing workshops.

Dont Rhine co-founded Ultra-red in 1994. As an activist, Rhine has worked with a variety of social movements including ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), Clean Needles Now (needle exchange), and Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project. Rhine is a visiting faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Art and was a 2007 recipient of a California Community Foundation Mid-Career Artist Award.

Robert Sember joins Ultra-red for SILENT|LISTEN. For 10 years he was a researcher and teacher in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, New York, and now teaches at the School of the Arts and Architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, Sember has brought his background in performance studies to numerous AIDS / HIV community initiatives in New York, Brazil and South Africa. His international perspective on the pandemic informs his work in public policy as well as collaborations with artists and curators.

ULTRA-RED: SILENT LISTEN runs at the KZNSA Gallery until October 12. More information 031 277 1703, fax 031 201 8051, email: or visit