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Seen and Not Seen, installation view. Photo: Alan Dimmick. Courtesy CCA Glasgow

The intimate proximity of Catherine Street’s voice as it inhabits Alex Hetherington’s 16mm compositions in their films ‘Idle Work’, ‘Women’s Studies Vol. 2’ and ‘The Experience of the Unseen Listener’ (all 2021-2022) is one of the first things I note when visiting Seen and Not Seen. Each utterance provokes a kind of hospitality between ear and eye. That is, hospitality with all its elegant embraces and attendant frictions, here made tonal in Catherine’s recital. Roland Barthes says of close-up speech in cinema that the recording is throwing, so to speak, the anonymous body of the actor in my ear. [1] In the amber-tinted architecture of the exhibition space, I feel not as though I’m now hosting this body, but that the mouth of the voice is hosting me.

In this suite of films ideas bubble like infections, leaping from act to act, casting their premonitions. They lap in language and return in images of gold leaf, the muted hum of insects, a portrait of a figure. In one scene, we are shown a wasp’s nest. The small grey cluster of hexagons is held delicately by a hand, just in view, rotating it, putting it on display. I remember that wasps build their dwellings by chewing bits of wooden and papery matter, turning it to pulp in their mouths, which they cough up into shell-like, repeating structures. Here, there is a sentiment of the encounter with the almost forensic gaze of Alex’s camera across these surfaces where the ‘study’ takes on a metaphoric quality within which language as a tool might be put into question.

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Alex Hetherington and Catherine Street, ‘Women’s Studies Vol. 2’ (still), 2021—2022. 16mm transferred to video. Courtesy the artists

In ‘Women’s Studies’ (2021-2022), which sits apart from the others, Catherine’s voice proposes: Speaking is a common project, or is language the wrong tool for an extrusion of consciousness into the world? And then we hear a resounding UUUUUUUUUH leap through the air, bleeding, as sound often does, across the exhibition’s varying chambers. A prelude to our later encounter with ‘BOB’ (2016-2020), Scott Caruth’s film contribution to the show. I wonder how it is that when asked to sing back a particular note, we choose a U sound rather than that devotional invocation, the O. I try it later at home and realise that it’s to do with stamina.

By Catherine’s voice, I mean this is not not Catherine Street the artist, but Catherine riding the figure of Tiresias, blind prophet of Thebes who spent seven years as a woman. A transformation triggered by their striking of two copulating snakes with a stick. Thinking about the heady symbolism here, I am reminded of Anne Carson’s suggestion that when Eve was supposedly coaxed by a snake to bite that fated apple, it was simply because Eve was bored [2] of Adam’s incessant desire to put a name to everything. Again, I hear: is language the wrong tool for an extrusion of consciousness into the world?

Scott Caruth, ‘BOB’ (still), 2016-2020. 16mm transferred to video. Courtesy the artist

In Scott Caruth’s film ‘BOB,’ we are played the result of a cameraless experiment he conducted at Pipeworks Gay Sauna in Glasgow. The film crafts a sensual historiography from Scott’s reel of 16mm film as it is enlivened by light, heat and moisture, translating the architecture of the sauna into blooming and virulent blues, shifting bursts of red and ochre, a green like algae, soft pinks, purples and fleeting hints of a scratch which tells us about the film in contact with the artist’s careful hand as it feeds the reel. Like the hospitality felt in the closeness of Catherine’s voice, I feel myself enveloped by these commodious expressions of contact as a sensorial measurement.

As the footage rolls, we listen in on (at first remote) conversations Scott has recorded with Bob where he’s being coached to sing a long note for Bob’s collection. When taught how to prepare for singing in such a way, I was told you should tilt your head back as though taking a drink, mouth poised elliptical. Drinking in all of the room and sending it down to the base of your lungs, letting it rest just atop the belly before willing yourself up through the mouth. Scott’s voice wanes as his breath eventually runs out. In his instructions, Bob tweaks Scott’s pitch until he gets the strongest, longest arch of sound. A well built bridge. In ‘BOB’ we experience the motions of an incidental archive, softly erotic, as he shares his collection of men’s voices while Scott prepares his own contribution. On listening back, Bob later says of the remote quality of that first recording: it drowns itself out, that’s why I wanted to do it in person with you.

Scott Caruth, ‘BOB’ (still), 2016-2020. 16mm transferred to video. Courtesy the artist

In an essay on the relationship between artists and ACT UP activists Zoe Leonard and David Wojnarowicz, Shannan L. Hayes and Max Symuleski craft a theory of the couple form, offering a space they refer to as the ‘counterprivate’ in dialogue with Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner’s notion of the ‘counterpublic’. For Hayes and Symuleski, this affectively affirming framework of collective worldmaking that is articulated in the notion of queer counterpublics calls our attention to the way intimacy may be a political affect when performed outside of the couple form. However, it is the counterprivate which offered to Leonard and Wojnarowicz a needed space for indetermination, doubt, curiosity and beauty in the face of both hegemonic cultural values outside of the collective and the normative impulses internal to ACT UP. [3] It is this notion of the counterprivate couple form (in the broadest sense), and with it the necessary space for doubt and poetics made articulate, which rings a quiet bell among the collaborative tendency of each of these works.

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Alex Hetherington and Catherine Street, ‘Women’s Studies’(still), 2021—2022. 16mm transferred to video. Courtesy the artists

Taking the show’s title Seen and Not Seen as a propositional entry point, I’m reminded of those contingent, relational bonds between friends, lovers or collaborators which forge private spheres while co-composing public forms. In one interlude, Catherine Street tells us that she would ask questions and provide answers later. This studious question making is the mouthy rehearsal alive in the becoming of a relation between two (or more) points. A dialogic rapport between bodies in the coupling sense of the duet. Later, she tells us My name is Catherine Street and I have been asked to tell you who I am. In this breath, I hear the tonal hesitation held in the ‘yes’ of collaboration as she cites a request from a ‘he’, who we can only glean to be Alex Hetherington, while his camera sets its sights on her performance. At once, glittering, she touches her face delicately, trying to remember the outline she is and asks is it possible to discover that you are someone other than you are?

In another scene, we find the artist behind their camera. Recorded in a mirror, Alex works his hand in choreographic motions. I’m reminded by this that these appendages are at once tools with which to labour, and at others are sensual, expressive armatures. And sometimes, they are both. Watching Alex’s presence as his hand-work accumulates in repeat exposures, when cut against the temper of the filmic gaze on Catherine’s performance, reminds me of the story of Apelles, who would install unfinished paintings in the window of his shop front studio and hide behind them all day listening to the responses and critiques of passersby. That evening he would make changes to the paintings and place them back in the window for the next day’s airing.

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Alex Hetherington and Catherine Street, ‘Women’s Studies’ (still), 2021—2022. 16mm transferred to video. Courtesy the artists

This exchange between artist, audience and the matter between them performs a constant revision, a magical variation invoked by repetitions and referential gestures. This referential tendency folds across a series of additional monitors, one placed between the two more traditional cinema spaces where we encounter a flicker film presented as a ‘prologue’. A ferny spike and a furling petal, drooping, stuck for a moment. In the entrance a sort of slideshow is presented asOuttakes’ (2021-2022). Some shots are overlaid or doubled, some perfectly preserved. A dance of flowers, bones, x-ray outlines, a stage set. These are silent studies. A process of making, of craft and the stitching of time. These kinds of revisions, as re-inscriptions of process, are integral to Seen and Not Seen, where the camera is a stand-in for the eye. A contact lens. Which for Bob is an ear, attuned to pitch.

We are reminded how the necessary care taken in Scott’s work in the sauna entailed removing the mechanism (the lens) that decodes sensuous information into images made public. This was done to preserve the necessary anonymity of the space and its visitors. What the imprint on celluloid gives us, as a document of Pipeworks in its blooms, fluid slippages and spectral delights, is reminiscent of that worldbuilding capacity described in the movements between counterprivate to counterpublic. So too, the photographic prints ‘Savoy, Ground Floor Men’s Toilets’ (2015-16) in deep blue, which record bathroom door inscriptions at the Savoy Centre, a once popular cruising spot. We read coded scrawls among a palimpsest of timely propositions and explicit graffiti. These images preserve the articulation of a culture, by which we mean motion, the doing before the erasure of regeneration which often means the stilling, taming, naming.

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Scott Caruth, ‘Savoy’, 2015. Photographic print. Courtesy the artist

A sensuous translational tinge speaks across the exhibition, wherein what we, an audience, are presented with are gently folding membranes weaved from registers of intimacy in motion, and inflected by textures of those performances of being public. That is, the shifting timbre between eavesdropping and the poetics of address, gently porous and pulsing. We hear it also in Scott and Bob’s conversations, which begin with the quality of the interview before giving way to a familiarity grown through collaboration. Bob says to Scott I kinda like…. exactly what you pointed out, you’re very perceptive before telling him why he enjoys collecting these recordings of men’s voices. He explains that, as a blind person, he is always relying on other people to do things for him, whereas this practice of recording these voices makes him happy because he knows that someone is doing something unusual at his instruction and, moreover, that they know this is bringing him joy. It’s a convivial exchange, a gift. We’re lucky when we hear some of his collection, Ivan, Xavier, and others unnamed. There is a hint of melancholy as Bob introduces one of the recordings: this will be their last note. It has such an operatic warble, a luscious vibrato, and I’m falling into throats again.

Scott Caruth, ‘BOB’ (still), 2016-2020. 16mm transferred to video. Courtesy the artist.


Jess Higgins is an artist and writer based in Glasgow.


Tender a response probes and parses the reciprocities that can be found, cultivated and rendered between art and writing—what art may lend to language and what happens when language leans into art. It is led by reviews editor-in-residence Sara O’Brien.


Alex Hetherington and Scott Caruth’s Seen and Not Seen, CCA, Glasgow. 3 Jun-16 July 2022


[1] Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. By Richard Miller (New York:Hill and Wang, 1975), p.67

[2] Anne Carson, ‘Variations on the Right to Remain Silent’, A Public Space, Issue 7, (2008)

[3] Shannan L. Hayes & Max Symuleski, ‘Counterpublic and counterprivate: Zoe Leonard, David Wojnarowicz, and the political aesthetics of intimacy’, Women & Performance, Volume 29, (2019), p.6