Exquisite Corpse Sound Art Exhibition Soundfjord London

The exhibition Exquisite Corpse is the brainchild of Helen Frosi, Creative Director of Soundfjord, the UK’s first contemporary gallery devoted entirely to Sound Art, and which has been developing as a hub for events, research, development and mentoring in the sonic arts since 2009.

Exquisite Corpse employs a method used by the Surrealists, also used in the game ‘Consequences’. A single starting point, from a selection of Chilli – Taste, Ice – Touch, Walnut – Sight, Storm – Sound, Smoke  – Smell, was sent to Artist A, who wrote Sound Piece A in response. Soundfjord then sent Sound Piece A (without revealing its creator) to Artist B in the chain. This process was repeated a further 8 times. Soundfjord worked with a total of 50 artists, in 5 chains of 10 artists each, covering the 5 senses. The exhibition itself takes the form of a continuous broadcast, making its way through all 50 pieces of varying length, from seconds to 20 minutes.

It’s a neat idea which has generated a huge amount of material. A beautifully presented book contains descriptions written by each of the artists. It’s impossible to take on all the ideas in one sitting – the kind of thing you ‘d want to dip in and out of; several people I talked to preferred to listen simply without knowing anything about the pieces or artists at all. Visually, the exhibition is gentle and unassuming, laid out in a small white gallery space with two speakers and two chairs.

Exquisite Corpse also demonstrates the ease with which sound artists operate as a global community: it is relatively straightforward to put out an open call for works to be submitted via the internet – and hence the works in this exhibition have created some fascinating translations of ideas between cultures and methodologies.

I asked Helen Frosi to select two transitions involving four artists for this article. She spoke about the work of Eugenia Emets (Ukraine) & Debashis Sinha (Canada), and Rie Nakajima (Japan) &  Sid Volter (UK).

HF: Eugenia Emets was the first artist in the Taste chain. She received a string of small red chillis to work with. It was serendipitous that Eugenia received a stimulus that was close to her own creative practice – that of looking into the energy levels, vibrational materials and frequency of matter. Chillis, as Eugenia explains, have been used for centuries to heighten energy levels and awareness, or states of consciousness. Eugenia literally took in this inspiration by consuming the chillis one by one. The work itself is thus a physical and mental translation of the chemicals entering into and dissipating from her body – a ritual and a necessity.

DN: Debashis Sinha was then sent the work anonymously…

HF: Yes, he chose to look further into the notion of Taste and its associations, rather than solely listen to the previous work by Eugenia. Thinking about the tongue and its taboos, he was inspired to create a work referencing a story about the Hindu goddess Kali’s aggression and ultimate ignominy:

I became interested in the taboo of the tongue, as a sexual organ, as a purveyor of rebellion, as a gestural appendage of the body in general, one that is always with us but seldom seen and, when seen, is only seen in the context of primal expression: children stick out their tongues by instinct,  we use our tongues in sensual pleasures.  The tongue is both utterly mundane and a completely transcendental organ of our bodies, deeply connected to our hidden emotional secrets and desires.

Kali, the dark and fearsome goddess, goes on a berserk rampage, driven by bloodlust … her killing sparks a frenzy of destruction that threatens to destroy the three worlds.  Shiva realizes the only way to stop her is to place himself in her path. As her foot falls on his chest, a terrible and disrespectful act, she is brought back to reality and stopped in her tracks, and she bites her tongue in a gesture of shame and embarrassment. This expression is seen on countless images of the goddess around the Hindu world, and it is the one that brought me to the work I present here.” – Debashis Sinha.

DN: You began the chain of works on the theme of Touch by asking Rie Nakajima to think about ice. Rie said she simply went out and bought “a bag of ice from a shop and put it in glasses and simply observed the sounds and movement, and the experience became this sound.”

HF: Rie produced a work from the simple premise that the stimulus she received would directly influence the work she would create. From her simple concept, a complex work on a micro level was produced. A work that asks one to slow down, listen carefully, and to contemplate the complexities of ice and the temporal nature of its being.

DN: Rie’s work was then sent anonymously to Sid Volter who was suffering from a cold!

HF:  This certainly influenced the way he heard Rie’s work. Everything felt low-pitched and enclosed, and in his mind, he interpreted them as sounds inside the body: blood flowing through veins, the heart pumping… It began to rain as he listened, and Sid utilised high-pitched frequencies as a jolt away from the swimmy, sluggish feeling of illness and the bass notes heard on Rie’s recording. His use of high frequencies creates sensations that loop back to Rie’s piece and embraces the notion of Touch.

” I wanted to contrast with high frequency, opposed to the low frequency, while keeping the ‘illness’ feeling I had. A bit like when you touch something freezing cold, or the horrible over-sensitivity when you are ill, or a moment of calm, or even eating something menthol-like. Warm to cold, or both at once. Jerks, spasm, jumps. Your eardrums shuddering. A sharp sensation, hypersensitive to touch & temperature, ‘brain sparks’, shocks, as opposed to a dull ache. And then … peace.” – Sid Volter

Article & illustrations © Dody Nash 2011
Photography copyright belongs to the artists.

Unit 3b – Studio 28 | 28 Lawrence Road | N15 4ER
London, United Kingdom
13 April at 12:00 – 30 April at 18:00 (by appointment) +44 (0)20 8800 3024

Participating Artists:
Taste Eugenia Emets, Debashis Sinha, April Coker, Yann Novak, Ola Ståhl, Jeremy LeClair, Claudia Molitor, Scott Sherk, Wittwulf Y Malik, Amie Slavin
Touch Rie Nakajima, Sid Volter, Pablo Sans Almoguera, Stillborn With Apples, Peter Cudmore, Duncan McAfee, Song‐Ming Ang, Martin Clarke, Charlie Kerr, Jasmina Maschina,
Sound Ed Osborn, Felicity Ford, Richard Dawson, Hilda Daniel, Shelley Parker, Fabian Kesler, Dan Scott, Dennis Tan, Jack Harris, Joseph Young
Sight Café Concrete, Luc Messinezis, David Gunn with Guy Morgan, Robin Parmar, Diana Combo, Wolfgang Peter Menzel (Earwolf), Edwin Lo, Martin Williams, Daniel Contarelli (Lanark)
Smell Kevin Logan, Matthias Kispert, David Strang, Catherine Clover, Stephen Shiell, Wil Crisp, David van Dokkum, Justin Randolph Thompson, Ansuman Biswas, Jodi Rose