Nothing Short of Complete Liberation: The Burroughsian Ideal of Space as Curatorial Strategy in Audial Art

Nothing Short of Complete Liberation: The Burroughsian Ideal of Space as Curatorial Strategy in Audial Art

PhD Research Degree

Mark Jackson

Completed 2014

This research contributes to an understanding of curatorial strategy and sound art practices by using an inferential approach to curating. The study uses analysis of the theories and tape experiments of William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) to explore curatorial problems occurring within sound-related gallery displays of contemporary art. The study presents a Burroughsian methodology of curatorial practice engaging in “games with space and time” (Mottram 1977) in a manner suggestive of a complex form of mediation between aspects of the “meaning-making process” (Drabble in Graham 2010) relevant to the presentation of an exhibition of sound art.

The study examines Burroughs’ project in the ‘60s and early ‘70s in the theoretical framework of curatorial strategy in sound-oriented practices to articulate a domain of meaning-making focused on visitor interactions. By considering interaction with sound as an unstable and unclear process, and privileging the exhibition visitor as the focus of the process of meaning-making in exhibitions, this study presents an ecological approach to curating, advancing studies in ecological approaches to meaning (Clarke 2005 and Gibson 1979), definitions of meaning in relation to Konstantīns Raudive’s experiments with Electronic Voice Phenomena (Raudive 1971 and Banks 2012) and Burroughs’ revision of L Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics (Hubbard 1950). This study advances practical studies in curatorial theory and Burroughs scholarship, with particular regard to how meaning-making processes might be conceptualised in sound-based artistic domains. To this end it includes the practical example of a sound art exhibition Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs at IMT Gallery, London, in 2010.

Through analysis of Burroughs’ project and how it absorbed his understanding of Cubism, Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950), and Hubbard, his collaborations with Brion Gysin (1916-1986) and his application of experimental techniques, the study articulates a Burroughsian space as a motivation for experimental curatorial practice.


A digital copy of this thesis is available from the UAL Research Online repository.

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