This Is a Voice at the Wellcome Collection
Reminding one of both the Science Museum’s enthusiastic desire to educate and the chilly intellectualism of a Westminster modern art gallery, This Is a Voice is an uncanny excursion into all things vocal. The sprawling size of this new public exhibition in the Wellcome Collection hosts an intimidating array of models, images and videos that to various extents unsettle and engage as visitors make their way slowly across the anhedonic, snaking white corridors. Whether it be human singers forming bird noises, a therapist massaging a patient’s throat to try to alleviate a trapped scream, a digital recreation of the (understandably) outlawed castrato singing voice, or a 1977 recording of Samuel Beckett’s Not I monologue with the camera solely focused on the actress’s disembodied mouth, there’s something to shake you out of your comfort zone. So it’s probably best not to take children to the exhibition; they may find it too unsettling and dense to enjoy – and many adults may sympathise.
Though the curators have of course provided a structure to the exhibition, it’s difficult to organise one’s impressions as there’s so much to take in. Broadly speaking, it consists of larger prominent video installations (such as the aforementioned Castrato piece by Imogen Stidoworthy), which skirt the line between art and science, with some, such as Sam Belinfante’s Focus, having only a tenuous link to the exhibition as a whole. Scattered alongside these are intriguing curios and memorabilia, such as a transcript of a speech by Helen Keller about vocal teaching, and well-known images like the iconic logo of HMV showing a beagle listening to a gramophone.
This Is a Voice aims to pin down the elusive, almost spiritual nature of the voice and highlight how it fundamental it is to determining our position in life, as well as how different life would be without it. The exhibition is best taken slowly and with a companion to talk over what you’re seeing, as after all there is very little on the cultural scene filled with as much scientific fact about such an alternately obscure and fundamentally important subject. It could prove to be that rare exhibition that rewards multiple visits.
This Is a Voice is at the Wellcome Collection from 14th April until 31st July 2016, for further information visit here.