Voice~ Creature of Transition is an ideal conference for someone like myself to participate in as I am at once a creature of great transition and one whose work deals with questions of voice in transition. I was invited to participate in this amazing conference put on by an incredible institution called Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam as part of their annual gathering of interdisciplinary creators of content Studium Generale.
Internationally renowned London-based artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan was invited to curate a day for the conference which he titled The Right to Silence. His careful selection of participants from all corners of the earth from a wide variety of disciplines [artists, filmmaker, astrophysicist + choreographer, writers, anthropologist, law lecturer, activist] for the day was astounding and resulted in a fast-formed community of collaborators; we have all been in touch since the conference already and have not only formed friendships, but due to our cross-over interests, we are already planning projects together and asking one another for contributions to publications and participation in events! The Rietveld Academie's concept for the conference and as part of their overall mission in teaching and as an institution is to challenge boundaries and notions of what is expected - the conference broke so many rules and was anything but status quo! The presentations varied from performances to readings to screenings to exhibitions to conversations to record playing to game playing, there were plants on stage and throughout the audience, there were beanbags and couches scattered throughout the floor in front of the stage from where some presented changing the power dynamics between audience and presenter as well as the atmosphere in the Brakke Gronde theater. It was an amazing and revolutionary event that I feel unbelievably grateful to have taken part in! Their philosophy extended to the design of the programs, the food that we ate, the website, the dissemination of information, the hand-painted marquee, the student participation, the faculty-student relationships, and from what I've gathered to the classroom environments as well. The Rietveld Academie is challenging notions of the academy, of education, of art in every breath and it truly shows! All of the administration, faculty, students, and volunteers with whom I interacted were filled with a joie de vivre that was above and beyond that which I have ever been privy to! What a delight!!! Really happy to know that places like this exist and that I can be part of it in some small way.
I will summarize how the day went and will say that very very soon there will be videos up on the Studium Generale website that documented the day! In the meantime check out some pictures here and our bios here! We each spoke to a packed house!!! It was unbelievable! Also, check out my tweets and pics @OnLookFilms
The day started with Lawrence Abu Hamdan introducing the day's program and speaking about the accent tests that governments are conducting when interviewing refugees as they are seeking asylum. These tests can determine whether you are from where you say you are; if you claim you are Syrian and you happen to pronounce the word tomato in a Palestinian accent, you may be denied asylum! Read more at the Guardian. Lawrence continued by reading us our rights, those that are read when one is being arrested, questioning what it means to have the right to be silent and what it means to have that right taken away from us and how the utterance of one word can change the course of a life.
Ali Kaviani took us into a silent performance where questions of gravity were butted up against questions of confinement as we sat huddled together immobile in uncomfortable positions. Ali is involved in The Silent University which is an autonomous knowledge exchange platform by and for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Think about all of the Ukrainian, Syrian, Nigerian, Somali, Iraqi doctors and engineers who come here and drive taxis.
Niall Moore presented about the censorship that took place in Northern Ireland between 1988-1994 through clips from Danny Boyle and Alan Clarke's ELEPHANT, a film without dialogue that gets around the ban by being about the murders without talking about the murders! Niall also talked about the idea of the prosthetic voice: political figures were not allowed to talk about what was happening, so newscasters would interview them and then replace their voices with those of actors, airing lip-synced interviews and getting around the censorship that way!
Haytham El-Wardany & Maha Maamoun presented on their collaborations and individual projects. They read from their book The Middle Ear created as part of the Sharjah Art Foundation's Biennale 2011 - a project they began before the Egyptian Revolution wherein they were interested in questions of listening, being heard, relationships of power, agency. They continued to work together on multiple projects since the Revolution, including Haytham's book How To Disappear created in collaboration with Maha, who is one of the founding members of Cairo Image Collective, a contemporary art and culture space in Cairo. She also presented her video work created from YouTube videos she collected of people breaking into President Mubarak's office and various Ministries during the first days of the Revolution.
Noah Angell, a prominent artist based in London [originally from Durham, NC !! unplanned, unexpected, unbelieveable!!!] played records (on a record player) of ethnographic field recordings he has collected over the years from all over the world. His presentation brought up questions of ethical responsibility through the documentation of endangered traditions and rituals. When we document a sacred ritual, mediatize it, and disseminate it - what are we actually doing? Does it's sacredness remain in tact? Do we preserve this cultural manifestation or do we dilute it by bringing it to the outside world and then bringing the outside world to the site of the ritual? When a member of that community hears the recording, do they get transported or is it sacrilegious, does it matter, what matters, what is authentic?
Tom Rice gave an incredibly serious presentation with unbelievable amounts of levity! He used the stethoscope as a way into talking about the voice of the human body and the listening to the human body - the body speaks even when we can't, his work bridges Sound Studies, Anthropology, and Medicine. He also talked about his work on the relationship between water and music. I can't wait to read his book, and wish I could take one of his classes!!!
We then continued with a screening of Gregory Whitehead’s 1992 audio essay/documentary/fiction about the Institute of Screamscape Studies: The Pressures of the Unspeakable. I highly recommend a visit to the link, a cathartic experience of people screaming and speaking and screaming.
I, Anna Kipervaser, then presented on my work regarding the call for prayer in Cairo. I screened 25 minutes of my film currently in post-production and spoke about the inverse relationship between the legislation to silence 30,000 voices by replacing the individual muezzins [callers of prayer] by wireless receivers broadcasting a single muezzin's voice from a radio station AND the Egyptian Revolution wherein the goal was to replace a single voice with that of many. The footage I showed also demonstrated how individuals regained their agency after the revolution. The film will be out within the year! http://onlookfilms.com
Belgian artist and activist Kobe Mathys presented a legal dispute between Bette Midler and Mercury Sable over the use of her sound-alike voice in a commercial! The audience read parts of the findings from each of the court cases that ensued.
The day ended with Law Lecturer James Parker, based in Australia, presented his work on Simon Bikindi and the trial where he faced charges of his songs inciting genocide! The court papers revealed that music was not even considered, only lyrics, which was an interesting thing to consider alongside the big question of whether a song can inspire such hatred that would lead to genocide! While this proves the power of words, of voice, of one man, this is a really dark way to think about the human race and the ways in which our powers are used.
I am very excited to continue working with each of these magical individuals, and with the Rietveld Academie! This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life, and definitely one of the most rewarding experiences as part of my project on the call of the prayer. I am very excited to see where these relationships take me and my work!