a spoken introduction

I thought it could be helpful to introduce the day by briefly relaying a few aspects of my interest in voice and share some of my own questions or thoughts in relation to today’s themes to provide some context to the process and my rationale for organising this event.

As an artist primarily working with moving image in recent works, I’ve been considering the material use of video as a thinking process and its processes of production as sites transition, for voice and self.

In terms of voice, this appears in the unspeaking voices present in research-based moving image works, for example, those from archives, literature, through responses to other works or directly through research interviews (where these interviews are not presented in the final work). And that these voices become part of a conversation through the making rather than a singular voice present in the work, even if in the final work we do hear literally one voice. It’s not necessarily the utterance, the sound and content of what’s said that positions the voice but the methods of researching, enacting and re-telling that articulates the subject(s).  And further in their distribution as works are often screened in curated programmes, which give voice to each work individually, and collectively in their relationship to each other, and further in speaking for, or on behalf of, the curator.

How do we decipher these voices? Is it important to assign voices to individuals – isn’t this an important part of social responsibility?  Isn’t also crucial for a sense of personal well being that we know where the voices in our heads – the inner dialogues played out in our mind with others and ourselves – come from?  Mladen Dolar says of inner voice, ‘it is the epitome of a society that we carry with us and cannot get away from’.

So when voices become collectivised, through the processes of research and making, does it enable a work to take on a more authoritative role?  Does this become the powerful acousmatic voice, the voice that is heard without its source being seen. If we cannot assign or individualise a voice, is this the same as unseen?

In representing the voice of the maker in moving image work, beyond the subject / topic of the production, the notion of ‘voice as extension’ (of an individual) is stated simply in the Mary Ann Doane quote used on the flyer for this event ‘the voice appears to lend itself to hallucination, in particular the hallucination of power… effected by an extension of restructuration of the body’. In describing the voice in cinema in this way, she speaks of the capacity of voice to hold power over a space much greater than the physical reach of the body of its origin enabled by the voice as an extension of the body – a notion of subjecthood extending beyond the subject.

So the makers’ utilisation of the voices of others, which I would propose is often about harnessing information / a position rather than extracting these from a subject, can provide a protected route for the maker, one where methods of exposure, of confession, or expression, or intimacy can be achieved through the safety of another’s address.

Even a self-formed dialogue to camera or on-camera, for voice-over or voice-off, allows a process of alternate speech – one directed through the mute yet receptive camera – as a way for the maker to manifest another version of self. What freedom does the adaptation of another’s voice, this ventriloquism or ventriloquy of a subject, allow for the artist / maker? And in turn, does the work become a ventriloquial voice for the audience?  What do we want to tell ourselves (about what we believe and what we desire)?

Today begins with a screening programme curated by Ruth Noack, which examines subjectivity, subjection and the voice of the other, (approx. running time 70 mins). Dr. Susannah Thompson will then give a presentation ‘Speaking on Behalf of Others’, exploring voice in relation to class and representation, social knowledge and language, through examples in film and theatre. Artist Imogen Stidworthy will give a talk about her practice and her use of voice as a core material in her work, as ventriloquial voice, internalised voice, and the politics of language. Visual anthropologist Dr. Andrew Irving will share live-recordings from his research conducted on the streets of Edinburgh yesterday, aiming to access internal experience and inner-voice, and private experience in public space. The day ends with a plenary session as an open platform for discussion between contributors and attendees.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you to Ruth Noack, Imogen Stidworthy, Dr. Susannah Thompson, and Dr. Andrew Irving for their contribution, commitment and engagement with this project.  My sincere thanks also to Noe Mendelle, director of the Scottish Documentary Institute, and Benjamin Cook, director of LUX, without whose support the event would not have been possible. Thanks also to Diane Henderson and Edinburgh International Film Festival for their partnership in developing the event alongside their in-kind support. My thanks also to the Filmhouse and Traverse Theatre for hosting us today. Thanks finally to Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh for the financial support that made the event possible, and to my PhD supervisors, Dr. Sophia Lycouris, Stuart Bennett, and Prof. Andy Clark, and Chancellor’s Fellow Maria Fusco, for their conversation and encouragement in realising this project.

Many thanks for coming.
Lyndsay Mann