Soundings: Autobiographical Reckonings

Johannes Klabbers

    Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review


    I made art for twenty years, but I am new to autobiography studies. I kept being struck by how what I was reading about autobiography is equally applicable to how I thought about my art making. For example, Carolyn Heilbrun: 'Autobiography is not the story of a life; it is the recreation or the discovery of one. In writing or experience, we discover what it was, and in the writing create the pattern we seem to have lived. Simply put, autobiography is a reckoning.'1Art too is a reckoning.In Two Lives, her biography of the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Janet Malcolm refers to Stein 'brilliantly solving' the 'koan of autobiography.'2 A koan is a seemingly nonsensical problem or question on which a Zen Buddhist monk meditates in order to achieve enlightenment. What I found remarkable here is that art too'in particular the act of art making'is in one sense also a koan, and one of the problems encountered in solving this particular koan is the same: How does one go about documenting the self or ego and the effect of time or duration on the self or ego? Are some kinds of art making therefore inevitably also an autobiographical act?In 2002 I was commissioned to create an experimental sound work by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for its Listening Room radio programme. Originally conceived as a sound installation for the cellar of the Centraal Museum in the city of my birth, which contains a thousand year old ship, the work explores sound as a medium for narrating inner and outer subjective experience and the translation of identity, language, and landscape, using found sounds and field recordings from journeys between Australia and the Netherlands over a twenty year period.Notes1. Barbara Steiner and Jun Yang. Art Works: Autobiography. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004: 94.2. Janet Malcolm. Two Lives. Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2007: 13.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationIABA 2008
    Subtitle of host publicationLife writing and translations
    EditorsCraig Howes
    Place of PublicationHawaii, USA
    PublisherUniversity of Hawaii
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 2008
    EventBiennial Conference of the International Auto/Biographical Association (IABA) - Center for Biographical Research - University of Hawai'i at M'noa - Honolulu - Hawai'i, New Zealand
    Duration: 23 Jun 200826 Jun 2008


    ConferenceBiennial Conference of the International Auto/Biographical Association (IABA)
    Country/TerritoryNew Zealand


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