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Curating Contemporary Art (MA)

Liza-Rose Burton

Notes on Play

For ‘Notes on Play’, multi-disciplinary artist Shenece Oretha was commissioned to make a new work in response to the ‘Playtimes’ collection within the British Library’s Sound Archive – a rich variety of recordings documenting the imaginative, subversive and interpretative nature of play. The project is in partnership with the British Library’s ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH) programme.

Using selected material from the sound archive as a starting point, ‘Notes on Play’ explores the politics of play, the creative capacities of active listening and the effects and meaning of the archival itself. The project offers an alternative means for a new or expanded audience to engage with the archive. 

Through the act of listening to the collection our personal memories of childhood playtime can be conjured, which – beyond mere nostalgia – creates a sense of liveliness and palpability to our own, unique archive of imagination. Actively listening to the archive is also a means to critically re-examine it, to be attentive to who or what is missing. The lack of racial diversity in the digitised sound collection, despite existing in a national archive, reminds us of the urgency to address what archives do and who they are for. With this in mind, ‘Notes on Play’ aims to encourage listening – as a methodology and as an active practice –  to be attentive not only towards what we can hear, but also towards what we cannot. Far from being static or passive, we understand the sound archive as a dynamic and active body that can be altered and reimagined, that can be a source for creativity – an artistic medium in itself that can be played with.

Curated by Mahamed Abdullahi, Maria Abramenko, Liza-Rose Burton, Rodrigo Chaveiro, Matilde Silva Fry, Kahyun Lee and Ruby Yang.

Liza-Rose Burton is an independent curator and writer based in London. After graduating from BA History of Art and Design, Liza studied curating at the RCA, in order to pivot between discourse and practice.

Coming from an academic background, Liza is attentive to how the curatorial might activate intersectional feminist theory. In particular, she is interested in using a curatorial lens to re-examine how emotions and vulnerability are understood, and how the affective labour of artists and curators is valued under patriarchal, and capitalist structures. As a feminist, Liza calls for a radical trust in vulnerability as a condition that refuses to be measured.

Her dissertation, In Defence of Vulnerability: Judgement as Performance from the Criminal Trial to The White Cube Gallery, explored how the criminal trial and the contemporary gallery are both sites of judgement, be it of people or art objects. Liza looked at how categorisation processes within these institutions, exploit practices of concealment, ritual, and performance to legitimate themselves. Critically assessing how the law and curating might overlap, she also considered both legal and curatorial discourses around vulnerability and gender.

For her Graduate Project, Notes on Play, Liza worked in collaboration with the British Library’s Sound Archives and commissioned artist Shenece Oretha to respond to the “Playtimes” collection.

Oretha’s online work, Possibilities, looked to active listening; Black joy; and the radical potential of play. Aiming to address the urgent need to disrupt the colonial violence of archiving practices, the project saw how playfulness can interrupt processes of categorisation within archives and beyond. These ideas were expanded on in the 'In Conversation with the Artist' event, which Liza co-hosted as a part of the public programme.

Liza has recently co-curated First Impressions, a group show of MA1 RCA sculpture students at Safehouse 1&2, Peckham. Bringing together artists who, due to the pandemic, had not previously met in a physical space, the show re-examined the idea of a first impression. Imagining the isolated conditions in which they were made, the exhibition aimed to draw upon the potential for art objects to 'impress' upon one another, and then situate them in their own social network.

This is a trailer of Shenece Oretha’s Possibilities which is a commissioned work for Notes on Play.