The Welcome Collection hosted an exhibition entitled ‘This Is A Voice”, which was something like a retrospective for the capacity of human speech. The large space tackled many facets of speech, through the lenses of anthropology, linguistics, sociology, psychology, medicine and art practice.
The entire space had been carefully constructed with sound and acoustics in mind, from acoustic foam panelling, similar to that of a recording studio, to directional parabolic speakers that offered to ‘shower’ the listener with sound.
Something I’ve always been fascinated with accents, and the sociology surrounding it.
As the promo for a linked discussion entitled ‘What Does Your Voice Say About You’ puts it:
“Your voice is unique. As soon as you open your mouth to speak you reveal something deeply personal about yourself – your biology, status, geography and state of mind. Join us for a discussion on the relationship between the voice and identity.”
– The Welcome Collection website
I think voice is far more revealing and interesting a thing to focus on, especially with someone you don’t know, than say clothing, or even perhaps race (although race and voice often have a complex and multi-faceted relationship). I’m careful here not to overstate this, but accent for me can be suggestive (not authoritative) of the location of the formative years of childhood, both geographically and socially, class and background – revealing often more than the speaker intends.
Convergence and Divergence come to mind here, wherein a speaker tries to ally themselves to or distinguish themselves from whomever they’re talking to, but this is only within bounds. There are markers of accent which are undisguisable.
A piece which particularly fascinated me was ‘Emily’ by Danica Dakić which showed a young girl being given British Sign Language elocution lessons, with the voice of a middle-aged woman (off-screen) pushing her to hold tension in her fingers, and be precise about her movements – all in an effort to be more readily understood.
What was incredible about this was that previously I had held BSL and elocution in two very separate categories in my mind: though of course, it makes sense that as part of BSL education, something like elocution would be involved.
Another piece involved a mid 20s MtF (Male to Female) Trans Woman talked about trying to develop a vocal patterns that presented more readily as female – accompanied by a physician suggesting that this was a common experience among Trans Women, much more so than Trans Men, as Trans Men’s voices are in partly transformed by the Testosterone that many choose to take.
What I got from this:
- This exhibition spoke to the breadth and power of speech and recorded sound, both as a rich area of linguistic and sociological exploration, but also for the purposes of contemporary fine art practice.
- It also was very helpful to see how the various spaces had been constructed and curated, and as I work towards installing my final show, I can and am referring back to some of the techniques used in ‘This Is A Voice’.