I enjoy singing little rhythms I make up, I often whistle and I talk to myself out loud without realising, I have a tendency to mimic accents I’m exposed to over a relatively short period of time and I talk so much that I often suffer from throat infections when meeting new people. I had never thought of the sociological, anthropological and psychological implications of all of these small, mundane facts about myself until I had the chance to see the Wellcome Collections early summer exhibition ‘THIS IS A VOICE.’
My lasting impression of this show is one of refreshment. Finally, an exhibition that does not showcase an array of impressive (to come by) artworks under the guise of education, instead THIS IS A VOICE has education, realisation and appreciation as its core intention for the viewers. The spectrum of objects, images and experiences, curated by the talented Barbara Rodriguez Munoz, guides viewers section by section through a journey that explores the origins, uses and afflictions of the voice and much more. The highlights of this show, of which there are many, were installations by Macus Coates and Imogen Stidworthy, documentary work from Louis Sarno and Katarina Zdjelar along with the specimen of Marianne Harland’s larynx and trachea affected by tuberculosis.
Marcus Coates’ installation ‘Dawn Chorus’ is one of the first works in the exhibition and it successfully transforms viewers from talkative gallery goers into experience absorbing subjects. Visitors unsuspectingly enter a dark space with multiple monitors situated at different heights enclosing them into a mysterious centre. Disorientated by the transition into darkness, at first it seems that the installations audio is coming from another part of the exhibition as the bird song is so disconnected from the glitch-y mundane, human, scenes being shown on the screens that separate the dark. In fact, the birdsong is coming from the performers occupying each banal landscape inside the screens, highlighting the eerie similarity between the vocal capabilities of birds and humans.
Unlike most large-scale exhibitions, all sound and video work were kept to manageable lengths (excluding Ted Kotcheffs 90 minute film; The human voice). Living in an era where 10-second videos and gifs litter our social home pages and 30-second adverts dominate our TV screens, it is not surprising that our attention spans have been ruined. This is something that I think all galleries should be aware of, no matter what the subject of the exhibit. Most importantly, what this visually hungry populous wants is the whole experience, from start to finish, right now, or nothing at all. This is something that ‘THIS IS A VOICE’ accommodated, with most looping clips being only 2-3 minutes long, making difficult to comprehend ideas much easier to access and swallow.
The programme that accompanied the exhibition is also something worth a honourable mention. Containing all the introductions to each of the exhibitions sections, images and useful descriptions of every piece, the programme allows visitors to engage fully in the experience of the exhibition rather than feel the need to take pictures or notes, because everything is already recorded for us in the best possible quality.
For me, this is what every exhibition should be about; using an array of objects and images to penetrate a single subject. Art works cannot be solely responsible for doing this as they are often subjective, instead artworks should be used to show how scientific fact and experience can be interpreted and shared with an audience. Informative, exciting and relevant to every soul on earth, ‘This is a voice’ taught me; how the voice originally evolved ‘for the purpose of song and social bonding rather than for information exchange’, that accents can be removed and manipulated, about the voice in my head that translates symbols into sounds, and a whole new language.