Wurttembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart announces Acts of Voicing. On the Poetics and Politics of the Voice

Wurttembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart announces Acts of Voicing. On the Poetics and Politics of the Voice, on view October 13, 2012–January 13, 2013.

Acts of Voicing deals with the aesthetic, performative, and political significance of the voice from the vantage point of visual art, dance, performance, and theory. The exhibition centers on the agency and performativity of the voice. The aim is to examine the resistive the disciplined, and the disciplining voice—those voices that are heard and others that are not. Fighting to have one’s voice heard is as much of a topic as the power to silence someone or to force them to speak.

Acts of Voicing, which evinces specially designed exhibition architecture, not only exhibits works of more than 30 artists but is also conceived as a stage for performances, workshops, lectures, and screening programs. It embodies a series of process-related installations, which are expanded during the course of the exhibition and are thus perpetually shifting the overall scenario. In lieu of a static space, an ever-changing experiential space is engendered, through which the exhibition visitors advance along different planes, even physical ones. Both the exhibition choreography and the way it is displayed accommodate the performative character of the voice.

The political implications of the voice, as explored and questioned by Acts of Voicing—which still resound, for example, in the German words for parliament, suffrage, and voting—hark back to ancient Greece. Aristotle for instance differentiates between the bare voice, meaning the scream that can do little more than express desire and pain, and the meaning-producing voice, which may signify the just and unjust, the good and evil. This difference is—at least in the Occidental tradition of thought—constitutive of the distinction between human and animal, between bare life and political life: that is, between those excluded from the political community and those included.

For the French philosopher Jacques Rancière, in contrast, political agency—as well as aesthetic agency—consists in the constant challenging and redistribution of precisely that order which is responsible for certain voices being understood as speech and others only as screaming. The aim is to prize open the existing orders—whether of a sensate, societal, political, spatial, or aesthetic nature—and to introduce thereto foreign elements that had previously been excluded.

The voice residing both, the inside and the outside of the body, in general is indwelled by a foreign kernel. It seems, as Slavoj Žižek has noted, as though the voice had never completely belonged to the body of the speaker, as if a hint of ventriloquism were taking place while speaking.

Acts of Voicing traces this foreign kernel, that is, this paradox, of the voice—at once familiar and foreign, internalized and externalized, tied to and detached from the body (and words). For it is the gap between the own and the foreign, the inside and the outside voice, that unbolts the space of the political and poetical.

The exhibition is based on a cooperative relationship between the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, the Para/Site Art Space in Hong Kong, the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, and Căminul Cultural in Bucharest.

Works in the Exhibition (Selection)
The exhibition, which aspires neither to cyclopedic scope nor to homogeneous, self-contained discourse on the topic of the voice, revolves around various different overlaying, multivocal aspects

The Foreign Kernel of the Voice
There is hardly another work that has staged the “foreign kernel of the voice” as impressively as Samuel Beckett’s piece Not I, where an apparently discarnate, erratic mouth has been possessed by a voice. It incessantly produces speech that radically unsettles the familiar order of language and identity, body and voice. The corporeal and mediatic language experiments of Gary Hill and Karl Holmqvist likewise strive to agitate this order.

The Voice of the Other
The order that is responsible for certain voices being heard not as speech but as simple noise is particularly apparent in the history of a collection of voice recordings of the Namibian populace that were captured in 1931 by the German Hans Lichtenecker. For many years treated purely as sound samples, the recordings have only recently been translated through the efforts of the cultural scientist Anette Hoffmann. Finally it came to light that very poignant words were being addressed to the German people and government . . . Taking recourse to indigenous forms of knowledge, the artist Ines Doujak explores the language and operational character of textiles in her image and text montages. John Baldessari, in contrast, endeavors to teach a plant the alphabet in his “educational film.” The Occidental concept of knowledge and speech are thus taken to the point of absurdity.

Dissent and Disobedience
Exemplifying the appropriation and redistribution of public space are the actions by the Spanish artist José Peréz Ocaña, a protagonist of the nineteen-eighties queer underground scene in Barcelona—public actions resembling a mix of carnival, flamenco, and Catholic processions.

The Unspeakable
A variety of artists and choreographers involved in the exhibition are concerned with the articulation of “the unspeakable,” such as “angst” or death. In Anri Sala‘s video work Natural Mystic, for instance, we see and hear how a man is mimicking the sound of a Tomahawk missile in a penetrating way. And in Yang Zhenzhong‘s video piece I Will Die, we come to witness the dilemma inherent to saying the sentence “I will die” out loud.

Controlling and Disciplining the Voice
A speech therapist, like the one observed by Katarina Zdjelar in her video work The Perfect Sound, is responsible for dispelling foreign and aberrant qualities from speech. In contrast, the forensic analysis of voice and language circumscribed by Imogen Stidworthy in her multipart work (·) taps into precisely such foreign and aberrant facets of pronunciation. The focus here is not on the norm, but rather on the uniqueness of the voice.

The Power of Speech and Tirades
Touching on rhetorical tirades, as brought to bear in totalitarian societies, is Raša Todosijević‘s performance Was ist Kunst? (What is Art?), where the artist asks another person this particular question again and again. At the same time, the performance references interrogation techniques, that is, ways in which violence is deployed to make people talk. Mariam Ghani‘s installation The Trespassers likewise takes up the issue of interrogation—or rather, interrogation protocols—and studies their (re)translation back into spoken language. In his longstanding photo project Lectures/Seminars, Rainer Ganahl examines the exclusive spaces of academic speech, which in turn occasionally become disjointed in Jacques Lacan‘s only television appearance of 1974.

Kunstverein Stuttgart
Schlossplatz 2
D-70173 Stuttgart

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