Slade School of Fine Art

The Slade Research Centre on Woburn Square hosted a colourful festival last week centered on the voice both as medium and subject matter, culminating with the last night’s impressive stream of performances. Curated by Neil Luck and Sam Belinfante from ARCO collective, a group of artists and musicians exploring new approaches to composition, improvisation, and performance art, the show presented over 50 artists from all fields of contemporary art, from the traditional art object to video installations and interdisciplinary practices, all invoking the enchanting power of the vocal instrument. I stumbled across the weird and wonderful: Umi-Baden Powell’s Chess Piece, a hand-crafted glass chess board hanging over an horizontal video screen whose mirror-like illusion reflected naked players blowing the chess pieces with air pipes; Kathryn Faulkner’s Cymaglyph of my voice, an anemone-like print of her vibratory membrane,  and Tessa Power’s Adam and Luan Song, an hilarious video of a man and a dog howling in tandem. However, the highlights of the show proved to be the incredible roll-out of performances throughout the evening that drew the crowd in and out of the rooms as they enfolded. This was a performance in itself. One of my favourites were Brace, Brace, Brace by Kristin Sherman, an air hostess cum conductor of a singing choir crouched in the emergency position, coincidentally occuring on the very same day that Captain Chesley Sullenburger landed his airliner on the Hudson river; Another great piece was Nick Laessing’s Voice Figures: under the influence of JUICE ensemble’s vocal chords, drops of gouache and powder sprinkled on giant eardrums started to expand, swirl and bubble away, creating fascinating patterns that were simultaneously projected on the wall; and Chant, the communal, om-ing experience led by Kathryn Faulkner made the room and the audience’s guts resonate in harmonious sonic waves and prompted a participant to whisper to me at the end: ‘relational aesthetics?’.

On my departure, I joined the little crowd waiting for the lift and as the door opened a strident, cacophonic noise came out: I was standing at the threshold of Lina Lapelyte’s installation Chorusing and got sandwiched between a microphone (outside), a speaker (inside) and their unbearable feedback loop. I rapidly climbed in and as the door closed, the feedback faded into a calmer symphony of footsteps, probably coming from the exhibition rooms that had been rigged with microphones. As the lift descended and the transmission from above weakened, the sound of the footsteps stuttered, broke up and disappeared in a final gasp, leaving the loud, vocal discourses of the space above echoing in my head.