April 11, 2016 - Wellcome Collection - THIS IS A VOICE
April 11, 2016

Wellcome Collection

Courtesy Wellcome Collection.

April 14–July 31, 2016

Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
United Kingdom


Touring to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), Sydney in 2017. Featured contemporary artists and vocalists include Laurie Anderson, Joan La Barbara, Anna Barham, Sam Belinfante, Erik Bünger, Henri Chopin, Marcus Coates, Steven Cottingham, Enrico David, Danica Dakić, Jochen Gerz, Asta Gröting, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Mathew Herbert, Mikhail Karikis, Meredith Monk, Emma Smith, Imogen Stidworthy, Gregory Whitehead and Katarina Zdjelar.

THIS IS A VOICE traces the material quality of the voice by looking inside vocal tracts, restless minds and speech devices, in order to understand its complex psychological and physiological origins. While dominant theories have traditionally focused on linguistics, here the spotlight is cast on the meaning and emotions conveyed through prosody—the patterns of rhythm, stress and intonation. Non-verbal forms of communication are emphasised, revealing the power of the voice before and beyond words.

Designed as an acoustic journey, or series of soundings, the exhibition brings together a wide range of works by contemporary artists and vocalists, punctuated by paintings, manuscripts, medical illustrations and anthropological research. The exhibition begins with the embodied voice, its evolutionary and social origins, and ends within the contemporary realm of disembodied voices, where machines talk back to us, sometimes with uncanny feeling. Along the way it explores how the unique grain of our voice locates us socially, geographically and psychologically and how the voice can be dramatically altered with treatment and training. The show draws on varied experimental forms of singing and animal mimicry, including "Voicings" daily programme of live vocalisations in the gallery space. 

Curator Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz said: “The voice is one of our key identifying features; most of us use it daily and spontaneously, however its nature is far more abstract. It originates within us, both bodily and inside our minds, but voices can also seemingly come from nowhere, making it a deeply absorbing topic for vocalists, anthropologists, artists, scientists and philosophers alike. Focusing on non-linguistic and experimental uses of the voice, this highly performative exhibition is an attempt to find the shapes taken by this elusive and flexible creature.”

Emma Smith’s 5Hz invites visitors to learn and rehearse a new language grounded in rhythm. Mikhail Karikis’s work investigates the physical extremes of vocal production by enacting vocalisations at various moments. In Danica Dakic’s film a young deaf girl learns to refine the "elocution" of her gestures. Sam Belinfante’s Focus presents a vocalist preparing her voice before a performance, revealing how different physical techniques affect her sound. Imogen Stidworthy’s Castrato layers three vocal types—treble, soprano and countertenor—to engineer the sound of a voice that no longer exists. Meanwhile Katarina Zdjelar’s The perfect sound observes a language coach and his student, a migrant worker, learning to remove his accent.

Commissioned in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, Matthew Herbert’s Chorus asks visitors to sing a single note to add to a chorus of voices, forming an ever-expanding sound installation that plays in the exhibition and online.

Vocal performer and composer Joan La Barbara will be performing at Café Oto, London on April 16.  

THIS IS A VOICE is curated by Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, with 3D exhibition design by PLAID and graphics by Europa and Lindsay Pentelow. Touring to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), Sydney in 2017.

Wellcome Collection is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The newly expanded venue offers visitors contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, lively public events, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, a café, a shop, a restaurant and conference facilities as well as publications, tours, a book prize, international and digital projects.


Wellcome Collection
  • Share
Click to subscribe to e-flux and be the first to receive the latest news on international exhibitions and all e-flux related announcements
Subscribe to e-flux
Be the first to receive the latest news on international exhibitions and all e-flux related announcements.
Subscribe to architecture
Explore the most recent content from e-flux architecture and urbanism
Subscribe to e-flux programs
Keep up-to-date on all upcoming talks, screenings, and exhibitions at e-flux in New York