CLIP ONE: two synchronised video sequences from the installation.
Installation with sound and video. Two 14” synchronised DVD sequences, colour, stereo; 20” DVD subtitle sequence; 10” audio CD - all English spoken.
Parabolic dish 1.5m diameter, parabolic focusing loudspeaker, tripods, three loudspeakers, two Hantarex cubic monitors, white blackout cloth.
The Whisper Heard, originally commissioned by Matts Gallery, London in 2003, is a sculptural installation of video, sound and objects in a specially adapted architecture. It centres on the spoken word in relation to different notions of meaning and communication. Sounds and images are configured into three acoustic zones in the gallery, focused and reflected through the space via loudspeakers and a parabolic dish.
The artist worked closely with two people that deal with language in very different ways. Tony O’Donnell has aphasia, a condition following a stroke that affects the language faculty of the brain. Severin Domela, aged three, is in the process of learning to speak. As neither participant is able to read or write, their relationship with words is primarily oral.
In The Whisper Heard, the participants respond to a narration of chapter twenty-eight of Jules Vernes’ novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Here, the main character awakens from unconsciousness having lost his companions in a maze of underground tunnels. Alone in silence and darkness, he rapidly loses all sense of relation to the outside world and his trust in his senses. Eventually, the faint echo of his Uncle’s voice restores his sense of orientation and light. He sets off in the direction of the sound but falls down a hole, and is again knocked unconscious.
When listening to the tale, Tony voices his thoughts as he searches to locate meaning for the words he hears. He grasps the ideas of the narrative in mental images, but not the individual semantic expression. For him, bringing these ideas back into language means finding words again in an elliptical process of searching and translation. Severin repeats what he hears, engaging when he can with linguistic meaning and when he cannot, focusing on the sonic, formal, musical or rythmic qualities of the sound. He, like Tony, speaks ‘a narration which is never allowed to reach its destination’ (Rosalind Krauss). In The Whisper Heard, the affirming power of the narrative is diverted as language is brought into a realm of uncertainty. The spoken word is dismembered; sound, image and linguistic meaning are pulled apart. As the participants work through the text, a new form of grammar comes into operation through the grain and sounds of the voice making shapes and the visual gestures of hands making images.