MI artworks at the Wellcome Collection

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This is a Voice at the Wellcome Collection until 17 July.

The Wellcome Collection always takes a a novel approach to educating us by including moving image artworks in their exhibitions often located at differing points on the artistic/documentary spectrum. This is a Voice covers both scientific and aesthetic understandings of vocalisation in all its forms. It could easily take 3-4 hours to absorb all its subtleties but if you just want to focus on the MI artworks these are my highlights.

Asta Groting, The Inner Voice, 16 years, 1999-2015

The standout work in this exhibition. It explores the role of the internal and external voice in reassuring us in times of crisis . An intense, poignant and thought provoking film that uses a script devised by Groting and records performances in 1999 and 2015 by her collaborator, the native American ventriloquist, Buddy Big Mountain, being counselled by his dummy. Groting has sculpted a latex babushka-style dummy with a headscarf and a bold, frank face. She is given the role of a calm and wise mentor responding warmly to the ventriloquist’s angst. We know that this is illusory but we do not entirely suspend our disbelief and are compelled to perceive the process as self analysis. There is a deep level of irony (but also profundity) in watching a ventriloquist voice the comforting tones of his dummy while his face expresses his troubled emotions. I’m left pondering the value of a comforting voice in our heads when  self doubt descends on us. Self talk of this type is one of the key CBT techniques for treating depression but I’m not sure that the tone of voice you “hear” has been given much attention. The artist’s website, astagroeting.de , gives access to many of her videos including this one.

Marcus Coates, Dawn Chorus , 2007

I came out of this multi screen video installation  intrigued by Marcus Coates’  belief in humans’ affinity with birds. We are initially surrounded by individuals many of whom appear resting in contemplation.  One by one they burst into sporadic birdsong and then sink back into repose. We are in the midst of a diverse group of people role-playing the bird’s dawn chorus.

I first encountered him in  a video as a  lone West Ham supporter in the wilds of  Epping Forest chanting at full throttle.  His performance videos have seen him inhabiting a bird persona cloaked in a mass of feathers. It sounds strange but ultimately he is celebrating our common ancestry  with these indefatigable yet vulnerable creatures.

Chris Chapman, Voice and Identity, 2016 

This was fascinating. A trans-man and a trans-woman alternately describe straight to camera the changes in voice required to make a convincing transition from one gender to the other. They are full of humour about the stereotypical conventions that they are impelled to observe. Makes you think about  where our voices come from; are they learnt or inherited?

Meredith Monk, Dolmen Music, 1981.

The vocal sounds produced here are like no other I’d heard before. It is an excerpt from a video available on Youtube which records a complete performance of this remarkable work. She orchestrates the five voices and a cello like a string ensemble and the performers’ interactions are complemented by the visual cues they give each other. It was a revelation to hear what can happen when the voice becomes released from the conventions of classical choral technique. You realise how Bjork got her inspiration.

Erik Bunger, The Allens, 2004

With the Brexit vote this work has added significance. We see Woody Allen delivering a typical monologue to camera but his own voice is interleaved with dubbed versions in a range of European languages sometimes simultaneously. Through this multi-linguistic cacophony, Woody Allen’s idiosyncratic personality can still be acutely perceived…


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