Voice // Moment // Happening – a guest post by Hayley Alessi

Voice // Moment // Happening

Soapbox oratory…a practice that created its own legitimacy, built its own platform, metaphorically speaking, in the very act of speaking.  In a sense, then, whatever the props and wherever the setting, the precise and enduring instruction of soapboxing is the self-assumption of the right and authority to speak. (1) 


The Art Sheffield 2013 Zero Hours Festival explores ‘histories of labour, power and social change’ (2), and whilst watching Podium // Zero Hours on Saturday, I began thinking about the history of the phrase ‘getting on your soapbox.’  Its origins lie in protests against the suppression of the rights of working people, including the right of assembly, and Speakers’ Corner (3) in Hyde Park was created in 1872, in response to Chartists and Reform League demonstrations six years earlier, as a space to give a voice to ordinary people.  Something I think the event at Furnace Park did, both in form and content, with the diversity of topics under discussion and a podium made from wooden shipping pallets.

The audience were asked what the phrase ‘zero hours’ meant to us, and my own personal connotation around ‘zero’ was the shape of an open mouth ‘0’, something that happens when speaking.

To speak is to act, using the mouth, tongue and breath to create a movement of air which is transferred into sound.  It is a form of meaning making which carries the possibility of a listener, and promotes a dialogue, a conversation that exists beyond the utterance or event.  A happening.

Zero – ‘0’ – is also a gap or a space, where something can happen, and reminds me of a word I encountered recently:

kairosa propitious moment for decision or action, an opportunity. (4)

Greek, the opening through which an archer’s arrow has to pass

 And to me that seems to be what Furnace Park  represents, an opportunity/space for artists and others to intervene in a discursive place.

Hayley Alessi 2013


(1) Walker, T.U., ‘Mounting the Soapbox: Poetics, Rhetoric, and Labor at the Scene of Speaking’, Western Folklore, vol. 65, no. 1/2 (Winter-Spring, 2006).

(2) Art Sheffield 2013 guide. www.artsheffield.org

Hayley Alessi on Furnace Park // a performance project

perspective  /pr-spktv/ (noun) [1]

My introduction to Furnace Park was in December 2012, during a three-day workshop with Terry O’Connor on site-specific performance, as part of the Theatre and Performance MA.  The group of 12 were split into pairs, given an address, and instructed to find their own way there, taking photographs along the way to document the journey.  Unsurprisingly, for people unfamiliar with the city, quite a few of us got a little lost along the way.

  • (count noun) a view or prospect.

Once there we were unable to gain access to the site itself, so found ourselves exploring the immediate surroundings instead.  Looking through the photographs, and listening to the group’s initial impressions later, this struck me as a happy accident.  Focusing on the view through the perimeter fence gave us an entirely different viewpoint to any previous projects at Furnace Park, and the same aspect as any passer-by.  This made me think about Mark Augé’s notion of ‘non-places’[2], the places we transit without thinking,  communicating or forming any sense of attachment; and ways of reversing that.

  • (as modifier) the appearance of viewed objects with regard to their

relative position, distance from the viewer, etc.

Discussions about the area and how we could utilise it for performance were curious too, from feelings the journey there was a key part of the experience to thinking about ideas of non-performance.  A couple of people were concerned about the litter and the discarded condoms left behind by sex workers, even suggesting that we ‘tidy the place up’, a view swiftly rejected by the rest of the group who felt we had no right to encroach on the current users of the area.   But, the reaction that really captured my interest was that of the Slovenian member of the group, who I felt had also produced the most compositionally exciting photographs.  Her images, shot from a variety of angles – high to low, close-ups of the fence as well as glimpses of the space beyond – struck me as presenting a different outlook from everyone else.  The only person not from the U.K. or America, she seemed to look at the site without the hindrance of cultural or societal norms, giving her a fresh perspective.  And that was something we could incorporate into our piece.

  • a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something: a point of view.

Our final performance was a vocabulary of the everyday: using performative gestures and rotational spinning of perspectives.  It included found text, song, and the element of chance as we threw a dice between sections to decide which action we would undertake next.  We created a parallel indoor space, with the same dimensions as the site, and displayed our individual statements of intention, the texts used, photographs of our own journey to the site, and a map of the routes taken to get there.  In redefining our ways of seeing we were able to disrupt any preconceived notions about the site, in ourselves and the audience, allowing us the freedom to explore and re-imagine Furnace Park.

  • (mass noun)  true understanding of the relative importance of things.

The walker’s own ‘everyday’, their socio-political ‘positioning’ and spatial imagination are brought into the re-visioning of place. This is an engagement with what Lefebvre terms ‘lived space’ or what Soja prefers to term ‘Thirdspace’ (not unrelated to Babha’s use of the term ‘Third Space’) – both real and imaginary, metaphorical and material…The walker explores the interlocking identities of self, civil society and city, exploring their own relationship to place, finding the spaces where there is congruence or perhaps contradiction between these identities. Re-inventing them.[3]

Hayley Alessi 2013

Read more by Hayley Alessi here.

[1] http//www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition

[2] Mark Augé (1995) Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity London: Verso.

[3] Looking Forwards: Cities for People (Cathy Turner, 2004) http://www.walk21.com/conferences/copenhagen.asp