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Sounding Selves hears you loud and clear 

Listen up at the Dalhousie Art Gallery

click to enlarge Jani Ruscica, Batbox/Beatbox, 2007, video still from a two-channel video installation. Images courtesy of the artist. Photo © Jani Ruscica
  • Jani Ruscica, Batbox/Beatbox, 2007, video still from a two-channel video installation. Images courtesy of the artist. Photo © Jani Ruscica

“I’d read a book by R. Murray Schafer called The Tuning of the World, and I started thinking about how we live in a world where we’ve always had recordings spanning decades or recordings from all over the world. It’s amazing to think about living in a time when they didn’t exist,” says Sounding Selves curator Heather Anderson. The exhibit opens Thursday, May 17, 8pm at the Dalhousie Art Gallery (running to July 8) and focuses on our interaction with sound. Anderson has curated a group of video artists with pieces challenging how we listen and interpret what we hear.

Finnish artist Jani Ruscica’s two pieces, a video installation Batbox/Beatbox and a performance/installation piece Variations on a theme - duet for greater horseshoe bat and beatboxer, look at how we navigate our surroundings through sound. For the “Batbox” component, Ruscica talked to a bat researcher and “Beatbox” was made in New York with the help of beatboxers. The videos play in a call and response style, eventually interacting with each other when Ruscica played the beatboxers an interpretation of the bats’ call and asked them to improvise a beat. But recorded material, as compelling as it is, often has nothing on a live performance. For the opening reception, musicians Lukas Pearse and Geordie Haley will interpret a score made from Ruscica’s work.

Anri Sala’s video installation, Làk-kat (one of three pieces in the exhibition on loan from the National Gallery of Canada) looks at language acquisition by showing Senegalese children learning Wolof words. “You get a sense of the musicality of language and also how the words lose their meaning when repeated,” says Anderson. “When you learn a new language, you’re brought into a new set of values. It’s poetic and political.” In that same vein is Jana Sterbak's video installation Declaration, featuring a couple of amazing chairs and a reading of that French Revolution classic, the hit of 1789, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Some of the sounds in the gallery invade the space more fully, like Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay's audio installation The Return. Every 10 minutes, a recording of a remarkably high male voice will have you eyeing the exits and saying your final “I love yous” as the voice interprets an emergency siren. Nemerofsky Ramsay has chosen a singer from the Vienna Boys’ Choir, and is attempting to involve other angelic male voices, Sigur RósJónsi, Morten Harket of A-ha, Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons.

Need a break from the noise? Antonia Hirsch's video installation Tacet (Anthems of the Member Nations of the North American Free Trade Agreement: Canada, United States of America, Mexican United States) features “conductors sight reading musical scores of national anthems, but you don’t actually hear it,” says Anderson. “In terms of sound it’s a subtle piece—you hear the rustling of their clothing, the turning of a page, an intake of breath. Because it’s silent you pick up on the way the way a conductor picks up on a stately measure of an anthem.”

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