Arts & Culture

New student installation shares thousand voices

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, April 5, 2010

Over 500 individuals’ responses to the question “How are you?” coupled with dialogue and interviewers’ explanations, radiate from speakers within wooden poles in the audio collage “A Thousand Voices.”

First formulated in September 2009, the idea for “A Thousand Voices” developed over several months with the help of a Creative Arts Council grant, said Iona Juncan ’11, president and artistic director of Listening

LabOratory, a student group focused on creating audio performance and radio theater. The project was installed in two sites on campus, initially in the upstairs space at Production Workshop Feb. 26–27 and then in the Lyman Hall breezeway March 7–21.

“We wanted to give voice to a thousand people in the community and beyond,” Juncan said. 

The simple question “How are you?” is “a mode of engaging with people and approaching people, rather than saying, ‘what is your state of mind at this time?’ — which might be a bit off-putting,” Juncan said. 

People walk into a space such as the breezeway and do not expect to become immersed in something of this sort, she added.

According to Juncan, the project had three primary goals: to provide people with the opportunity to express themselves during the difficult financial crisis, to restore meaning to an overused and meaningless question and, lastly, to create an animated, interactive living space — a concept inspired by artists of the Russian revolution, who converted public spaces into performance sites.

Listening LabOratory members interviewed individuals in a variety of settings. They sought out subjects on campus and in places such as Providence senior homes, airports and students’ hometowns during breaks, also incorporating foreign languages, Juncan said. And whenever interviewers asked the question, they insisted on a truthful answer, she added. 

There have been eight performance events organized around the installation — the final one as part of the interdisciplinary Arts in the One World Festival March 20. 

Each performance “sought to transform spectators into active listeners and to give them a chance to participate in the community of voices,” wrote Quyen Ngo ’12, the group’s coordinator of communications, in an e-mail to The Herald. 

“I don’t usually know what’s going on, but it is really interesting. I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Johnson and Wales University freshman Gincy Jacobs after being guided through the installation at the March 20 event. 

Juncan said she and her collaborators believe the installation is “raising awareness that we overemphasize visual universe over the oral universe, which is even richer, and the consequence of that is not listening actively to people and communication.”  

In the future, Listening LabOratory hopes to reach new types of audiences, such as the visually impaired, Juncan said. 

“A Thousand Voices” also will appear at the Megapolis Audio Festival in Baltimore, May 14–16. 

The festival’s goal is “to bring people from different disciplines who use audio really as the primary component” of their work, said Justin Grotelueschen, the festival’s managing director.

Alongside the work of over 60 artists from across the world, “this particular installation, I think, will be one of the more challenging installations,” he said, adding that one of its best features is its ability to engage the audience. 

But Listening LabOratory’s work on the installation is not complete. The group plans to increase the number of perspectives represented in the piece and to “keep adding to the community” of voices through more interviews, Juncan said.

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