The founder of sound-art collective Ultra-red talks conceptualism, activism, and musique concrète.
As part of USC’s “Digital Studies Symposium” Visiting Artist Lecture Series, Dont Rhine discusses the sound investigations and acoustic mapping he conducts in collaboration with community groups, human/labor rights organizations, and a range of social movements. Having co-founded the activist sound-art collective, Ultra-red, in 1994, Rhine helped spearhead “culture-jamming” ideologies that buoyed publications like Adbusters and generated a buzz for artists like Shepard Fairey. In seeking to engage audiences with such issues as housing justice, anti-racism, the struggles of migration, gender and sexual rights, the dignity of the poor, and HIV/AIDS activism, Ultra-red sees acoustic space as an enunciation of social relations. As such, the collective—which currently consists of ten members and has outposts in LA, NYC, Berlin, London and rural England—produces radio broadcasts, performances, recordings, installations, texts and public space actions that challenge the standard processes of analysis and action that activist art is traditionally associated with. Rhine will surely elucidate Ultra-red’s mission and modus operandi, whilst describing the Creative Time exhibition the collective was selected to participate in as part of “Living As Form.”
Ultra-red Mission Statement:
Activist art has come to signify a particular emphasis on appropriated aesthetic forms whose political content does the work of both cultural analysis and cultural action. The art collaboration Ultra-red propose a political-aesthetic project that reverses this model. If we understand organizing as the formal practices that build relationships out of which people compose an analysis and strategic actions, how might art contribute to and challenge those very processes? How might those processes already constitute aesthetic forms?
In the worlds of sound art and modern electronic music, Ultra-red pursue a fragile but dynamic exchange between art and political organizing. Founded in 1994 by two AIDS activists, Ultra-red have over the years expanded to include artists, researchers and organisers from different social movements including the struggles of migration, anti-racism, participatory community development, and the politics of HIV/AIDS.
Collectively, the group have produced radio broadcasts, performances, recordings, installations, texts and public space actions (ps/o). Exploring acoustic space as enunciative of social relations, Ultra-red take up the acoustic mapping of contested spaces and histories utilising sound-based research (termed Militant Sound Investigations) that directly engage the organizing and analyses of political struggles.
Ultra-red's ten associates in North America and Europe work within a variety of ambiences conducting Militant Sound Investigations of the spaces of needle exchange (Soundtrax, 1992 - 1996), public sex (Second Nature, 1995 - 1998), public housing (Structural Adjustments, 1997 - 2003), resistance to global capital (Value System, 1998 - 2003), labor (Social Factory, 1997 - 2002), education (School of Echoes, 2001 - Present), anti-racism and migration struggles (Surveying The Future, 2001 - Present), and HIV/AIDS (SILENT|LISTEN, 2005 - Present). The group also runs the fair-use online record label, Public Record.