Pfalzer - Exhibition, School of Listening Differently

School of Listening

Inspired by the School of Seeing founded by Oskar Kokoschka in 1953, the School of Listening is a public programme developed especially for the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts. The events and exhibitions emphasize the role of the human voice in media including performance art, music, radio, and film, and invite the audience to listen differently. It probes the capacity of listening to embody conflictuality, amplify silenced narratives and challenge simplistic perspectives on identity.

The programme is a call to come together in performative and participatory frameworks, questioning the invisible borders that weave between us and define us. It is a platform to participate but also to refuse, to speak, to listen or to be silent; to collaborate or to co- resist; to temporarily (de)construct and rehearse non-homogeneous, disharmonious communities of possible dissensus; to be together as a form of negotiating differences.


What happens when a "School of Seeing” becomes a “School of Listening”? Many theoreticians have spoken about the uniqueness of the realm of the voice versus that of the gaze. Richard Coyne refers to Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the nature of the voice, in which he speaks of aural history as stemming from an ancient time of a subconscious communal ethos, whereas the newer visual history of ‘seeing’, since the invention of writing and visual technologies, relates to objectifying and discriminating.

Steven Connor wrote that the voice is more elusive than the gaze, as it can come from anywhere and undermine the perception of absolute truth or the boundary between self-consciousness and the world. While seeing is controlling space, hearing is creating space.

Slavoj Žižek and Mladen Dolar examine the power of the voice and the gaze to control and seduce, considering Lacan’s concept of objet petit a – the void created by the unfulfilled desire for the other. Žižek exemplifies how the relationship between the voice and the gaze relate to an impossible lacuna: the voice points towards what eludes our gaze – we hear things because we cannot see everything.

For Donna Haraway, the eye is attributed to a view from above, from God, a satellite or a surveillance camera. It relates to control and to the patriarchal view of science as absolute. Haraway refers to the voice in the sense of making one’s voice heard – whether through writing or oral testimony. According to her, feminist voices understand that the truth consists of many truths that are related to subjective and embodied experiences.

In present times, rapid technological advancements and surveillance methods using AI further extend the dominance of the eye over the ear. We are flooded with horrific images, but the algorithms show us only what they think we want to see, like an endless narcissist echo chamber. The dehumanization of voices and bodies that do not adhere to mainstream ultra-nationalistic agendas is accelerated by the regime of the image and further resonated by the silencing of the voice.


The public programme School of Listening is presented alongside and in conjunction with two exhibitions: under the title School of Listening: (Im)possible Conversations, Ofri Cnaani, Thalia Hoffman, Stav Marin, Samira Saraya and Neta Weiner, and Manar Zuabi will present a selection from their works at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in interaction with works from the Generali Foundation Collection, and participate in a series of performances.

School of Listening: (Im)possible Conversations addresses the conflictual struggles that make up relationships when they attempt to go beyond the dichotomic perceptions of identity politics. The works put forth the complexity of antagonistic dialogues and difficult collaborations, where language could become a sort of weapon, and at the same time a means of defusing the borders between one and the other via empathic recognition.
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A second exhibition and a series of live events, under the title School of Listening Differently, are staged at the Zwergelgartenpavillon, with the participation of Ari Benjamin Meyers, Brandon LaBelle, Sunny Pfalzer and Netta Weiser. Among the works are an audio installation where one can hear choreography, a video where one could listen to sign language, a video-dance about the identity struggles of a metaphorical teenager and an invitation to sing together.

School of Listening Differently stages performative conversations and discursive performances that imply the dual potentialities of the voice and the body –to be governed and controlled, as well as to subvert and undermine forms of governing. Entangled between the personal and the collective as well the artistic, activist and academic, it embodies a fragile and differentiated collectivity, where listening can become a form of resistance to oppression.
See more here.


In this current moment of political turmoil, violence, fear and silencing seem to dominate the discourse, and identity positioning is usually perceived as a coherent and absolute stand, staged in opposition to others. School of Listening is interested in making room for challenging and complex conversations, where unequal power relations are accentuated and silenced narratives resonated. At the same time, it wishes to invite a potential subversion of hegemonic power struggles by embracing conflictuality as a vehicle for transformation. Thus the programme is an invitation to take part in a temporary community that revolves around co-resistance rather than co-existence – a resistance to violence, to dehumanization and silencing and a platform to co-developing new empathic ways of listening.

Curated by Sophie Goltz and Maayan Sheleff

Connor, Steven. Dumbstruck, a Cultural History of Ventriloquism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Coyne, Richard. ‘Voice and Space: Agency of the Acousmêtre in Spatial Design’. In Exploration of Space, Technology, and Spatiality: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Phil Turner, Susan Turner and Elisabeth Davenport (Napier University, UK), 102–112. New York: Information Science Reference, IGI Global, 2009.
Dolar, Mladen. ‘The Object Voice’. In Gaze and Voice as Love Objects (Series: SIC 1), edited by Renata Salecl and Slavoj Žižek, 7–31. Duke University Press, Durham and London, 1996.
Haraway, Donna. ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’. Feminist Studies, vol. 14, no. 3 (Autumn, 1988): 575–599.
Žižek, Slavoj. ‘I Hear You With My Eyes; or, The Invisible Master’. In Gaze and Voice as Love Objects (Series: SIC 1), edited by Renata Salecl and Slavoj Žižek, 90–126. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996.

Maayan Sheleff

Dr. Maayan Sheleff recently completed her dissertation at the curatorial platform, University of Reading (UK) and ZHdK (CH). Her new book, based on the dissertation and titled Echoing with a Difference – Curating Voices and the Politics of Participation, is published with OnCurating. Taking the global wave of protests that began in 2011 as an entry point, the book critically discusses its impact on participatory artistic and curatorial practices and the ambivalent manifestations of this impact in collective vocal utterings.

Sheleff curated projects including at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht (NL); Reading International, Reading (UK); Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo; Madre Museum, Naples (IT). Her publications include (Un)Commoning Voices and (Non)Communcal Bodies(co-editor with Sarah Spies, OnCurating, 2021), “Fear and Love in Graz”, in Empty Stages, Crowded Flats. Performativity as Curatorial Strategy, Performing Urgency #4, ed. Florian Malzacher and Joanna Warsza (Berlin: House on Fire, Alexander Verlag and Live Art Development Agency, 2017) and “The Infiltrators - Crossing Borders with Participatory Art”, in Refugees and Cultural Education – Formats and strategies for a new field of practice, ed. Caroline Gritschke and Maren Ziese (Transcript publishing, Germany, 2016).