Lend me your ears: “Word. Sound. Power.” at Tate Modern

Sound Art: the voice as protest tool and symbol of self.

An international collaboration between artists and curators in London and New Delhi culminates in an art exhibition focused on the human voice, titled “Word. Sound. Power.” at Tate Modern’s Project Space in London from 12 July to 3 November 2013.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, still from “Arise’, 2013. © photography Jonas Mortensen. Image courtesy the artist.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, still from “Arise’, 2013. Photography by Jonas Mortensen. Image courtesy the artist.

New Delhi’s Khoj International Artists’ Association, in curatorial collaboration with the Tate Modern in London, is hosting the exhibition “Word. Sound. Power.” Curated by Khoj’s resident curator Andi-Asmita Rangari and Tate’s Loren Hansi Momudu, the exhibition takes place at Project Space Gallery, Tate Modern, London from 12 July to 3 November 2013 and will then travel to Khoj Studios, S-7, Khirkee Extension from 10 January to 8 February 2014.

Exploring how the human voice in speech or song is either a tool of protest or sign of self, the curators chose artists who “elaborate on the dynamic created by the use of words in speech or text, sound as voice and sound as song, power as given and power as taken away” according to the curatorial statement.

Works in the exhibition include audio documentary, video, performance, text and sound. Poetry and song are also important aspects of voice, and works by “documentary and experimental filmmakers focus our attention to the inherent privilege in being allowed to voice dissent, reflected in cultural echoes – through art, music and poetry” state the curators.

ARTINFO posts a video interview with the two curators who discuss the various themes and meanings of the artworks.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan with Janna Ullrich, ‘Conflicted Phonemes’, 2012 (detail). Image courtesy the artists.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan with Janna Ullrich, ‘Conflicted Phonemes’, 2012 (detail). Image courtesy the artists.

Meet the Artists and their Works:

  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan‘s audio documentary The Whole Truth (2012) and voice maps, Conflicted Phonemes (2012) analyse the voice in regards to current immigration policies.
  • Caroline Bergvall creates text and sound pieces installed in physical spaces to explore the relationship between language and body.
  • Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen‘s commissioned documentary work: Arise and KEST (Keep Evans Safe Today) (2013), follows four marginalised teens in both London and New Delhi who struggle to have their voices heard.
  • Amar Kanwar is a radical filmmaker whose film A Night of Prophecy (2002) shows how music and poetry in India articulates the horrors of political oppression.
  • Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar‘s documentary film Saacha (The Loom) (2001) focuses on the renowned Dalit poet and political activist Narayan Surve, as he reminisces about Mumbai, the birthplace of the Indian textile industry.
  • Pallavi Paul’s films combine poetry and time travel to muse about history and knowledge.
  • Mithu Sen, an acclaimed Bengali poet based in English-speaking New Delhi, invites viewers to record her text to experience her feeling of linguistic displacement.
Amar Kanwar, still from ‘A Night of Prophecy’ 2002. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

Amar Kanwar, still from ‘A Night of Prophecy’ 2002. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

Khoj International Artists’ Association

The alternative art space Khoj International Artists’ Association, founded in 1997, promotes the work of experimental artists via programmes such as workshops, artist residencies, exhibitions, talks and community art projects. Over 200 Indian and 400 international artists have been engaged in projects at Khoj.

Interview with the co-curator

Khoj’s resident curator Andi-Asmita Rangari described the curatorial process and ‘voice’ with Art Radar via email.

Please describe the project. What were some of the challenges?

Initial talks began between the Director of Khoj Pooja Sood and Juliet Bingham, Curator at the Tate Modern, about possible collaboration in early 2012. The Project Space series at the Tate has engaged in such curatorial exchange collaborations with organisations from different parts of the world for a few years now. The Tate expressed interest in collaborating with Khoj too. The two curators were selected for the collaboration in early June 2012.

Two week curatorial residency periods were undertaken by each curator, Hansi at Khoj (early October 2012) and myself at Tate (December 2012) to explore and discuss possible thematics of interest to both. Several studio meetings with artists were organised during these visits and research towards developing the concept towards the exhibition was undertaken.

Following this, much of our (as co-curators) conversations, follow-ups and organising has been through endless emails, Skype chats and over the telephone. It was pretty intensive and energetic and a huge learning process working together across continents, adjusting to different time zones and larger organisational set-ups. Understanding diverse cultural backgrounds, experiences and ideas of each and putting these together towards a happy workable end for both curators was definitely as challenging as it was exciting. As would be expected when two completely unfamiliar individuals from different contexts and varied experiences, interests and modes of communication were suddenly put together to produce a fairly large scale collaborative work, over a considerable duration of time.

There were other stated guidelines to adhere to as per Tate’s Project Space Series policies such as incorporating existing works of artists as much as possible as against very few new commissions. Also, logistical issues at Khoj’s end with respect to the transport of artworks constrained the medium of works largely to the digital realm.

Amar Kanwar, still from ‘A Night of Prophecy’ 2002. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

Amar Kanwar, still from ‘A Night of Prophecy’ 2002. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

What is ‘voice’?

A self-aware mode of articulation? Or rather, a unique vantage point from which contradictions in language, politics and culture can be envisioned anew? Can ‘voice’ be the very arena within which notions of subject-hood, hegemony, truth and power can find themselves challenged and reconstituted?

Voices do not only exist within people, they extend and give meaning to places, moments in time and physical objects, suggesting that the idea of the voice, while often seen in conjunction with sound, speech and language may also thrive outside of it. This renders the possibility of re-imagining a new world, where not only distinct voices but ways of hearing and empathy can be nurtured. In such a world the voice may be a trace, a half-residue, of not only a resonant past but of an equally pulsating future.

Conceptually, “Word. Sound. Power.” encompasses all modes of articulation and is built on the terrain of license or silence. Anagrammatic to begin with, the letters stay the same but when rearranged form a new word, signifying the drastic opposite of the earlier formation. Such semiotic tension also inaugurates a field of meaning and play, a non-linear domain of expressive possibilities. The exhibition explores how this domain unfolds. Thematically, “Word. Sound. Power.” is about the poetics and politics of voice. The formation of an utterance in relation to the norm and how, in the process, a voice raised can also be understood as an act of poesies, a creative and aesthetic process that incorporates critique.

A particular concern that runs through the exhibition is to interrogate the inherent privilege in being allowed to voice dissent, reflected in cultural echoes—through art, music and poetry. “Word. Sound. Power.” is about articulation and questioning the ability to articulate. It is about the event that makes people take recourse to utterance. In this context, it is important to respect how intelligible silence, too, can be. A voice can be both raised and razed.

Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, Still from Saacha (The Loom) 2001. Image courtesy TATA Institute of Social Sciences.

Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, Still from ‘Saacha (The Loom)’ 2001. Image courtesy TATA Institute of Social Sciences.

Susan Kendzulak

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Related Topics: Indian artists, sound, London art events, India art events, documentary, film, globalisation of art

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