THIS IS A VOICE traces the material quality of the voice by looking inside vocal tracts, restless minds and speech devices, in order to understand its complex psychological and physiological origins. While dominant theories have traditionally focused on linguistics, here the spotlight is cast on the meaning and emotions conveyed through prosody—the patterns of rhythm, stress and intonation. Non-verbal forms of communication are emphasised, revealing the power of the voice before and beyond words.
Designed as an acoustic journey, or series of soundings, the exhibition brings together a wide range of works by contemporary artists and vocalists, punctuated by paintings, manuscripts, medical illustrations and anthropological research. The exhibition begins with the embodied voice, its evolutionary and social origins, and ends within the contemporary realm of disembodied voices, where machines talk back to us, sometimes with uncanny feeling. Along the way it explores how the unique grain of our voice locates us socially, geographically and psychologically and how the voice can be dramatically altered with treatment and training. The show draws on varied experimental forms of singing and animal mimicry, including “Voicings” daily programme of live vocalisations in the gallery space.
Curator Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz said: “The voice is one of our key identifying features; most of us use it daily and spontaneously, however its nature is far more abstract. It originates within us, both bodily and inside our minds, but voices can also seemingly come from nowhere, making it a deeply absorbing topic for vocalists, anthropologists, artists, scientists and philosophers alike. Focusing on non-linguistic and experimental uses of the voice, this highly performative exhibition is an attempt to find the shapes taken by this elusive and flexible creature.”
Emma Smith’s 5Hz invites visitors to learn and rehearse a new language grounded in rhythm. Mikhail Karikis’s work investigates the physical extremes of vocal production by enacting vocalisations at various moments. In Danica Dakic’s film a young deaf girl learns to refine the “elocution” of her gestures. Sam Belinfante’s Focus presents a vocalist preparing her voice before a performance, revealing how different physical techniques affect her sound. Imogen Stidworthy’s Castrato layers three vocal types—treble, soprano and countertenor—to engineer the sound of a voice that no longer exists. Meanwhile Katarina Zdjelar’s The perfect sound observes a language coach and his student, a migrant worker, learning to remove his accent. (from the press release)
THIS IS A VOICE, curated by Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz (3D exhibition design by PLAID and graphics by Europa and Lindsay Pentelow), Wellcome Collection, London, 14.04-31.07.2016
Touring to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), Sydney in 2017. Artistis and vocalists: Laurie Anderson, Joan La Barbara, Anna Barham, Sam Belinfante, Erik Bünger, Henri Chopin, Marcus Coates, Steven Cottingham, Enrico David, Danica Dakić, Jochen Gerz, Asta Gröting, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Mathew Herbert, Mikhail Karikis, Meredith Monk, Emma Smith, Imogen Stidworthy, Gregory Whitehead and Katarina Zdjelar. Commissioned in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, Matthew Herbert’s Chorus asks visitors to sing a single note to add to a chorus of voices, forming an ever-expanding sound installation that plays in the exhibition and online.
Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The newly expanded venue offers visitors contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, lively public events, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, a café, a shop, a restaurant and conference facilities as well as publications, tours, a book prize, international and digital projects.
images (cover 1) ‘The Allens, I Hereby Command You…’. Erik Bunger. Credit:Courtesy of the Artist (2) Imogen Stidworthy, Alex, 2001-2. Video still. Credit:Courtesy the artist, Matt’s Gallery, London and AKINCI, Amsterdam. (3) Emma Smith, 5Hz, 2015. Credit:Photography courtesy of Max McClure. (4) Mikhail Karikis, Sculpting Voice – A, (2010). Credit:Photograph Thierry Bal