by Thea Hartman
Although we have been telling you about how much there is to see at John Hansard Gallery and teased you with a few snippets of what the new exhibitions within the Spring Season have to offer, we thought it’s high time we introduced these exciting events while also answering a question that I know I had been wondering about before this job illuminated me: what is the link between the gallery and University of Southampton?
The internationally renowned John Hansard Gallery (JHG) is part of University of Southampton, aiming to provide a platform for a variety of exciting contemporary artists, events and community-based research projects. Our lecturers themselves collaborate with the gallery to explore and develop ideas they have been interested in for their research in ways that go beyond academic articles – across departments, across disciplines, and across media.
One such example is one of the three current exhibitions at JHG, Many voices, all of them loved (1 February – 11 April), curated by Dr Sarah Hayden, a lecturer in the Department of English whose background is in experimental writing and the relationship between literature and visual art. The link between her research and JHG seems intuitive enough. However, the journey from her research to Many voices is much more intricate than that – so intricate that I spoke to Dr Hayden herself about it to understand it fully.
Many voices is part of the two-year project Voices in the Gallery, developed by Dr Hayden to explore how the voice operates in contemporary art. Her research, so far culminating with the carefully curated exhibition, beautifully encompasses how much more the voice represents than just people talking.
“In the works brought into conversation here, the voice is made present as rhythm, as visible pattern, and as carrier of meaning that extends form, and extends speech”, Dr Hayden explains. “The works gathered together in Many voices invite us to reflect on some huge themes: migration, displacement, legacies of colonialism, climate crisis, bio-surveillance, disability, and the role of art in resistance.”
Many Voices came out of a place of curiosity. Dr Hayden’s perception of the meaning of voice was widened by paying attention to it; and with this exhibition, she opens up the idea of voice to the Southampton audience:
“I noticed how often I was listening to voices in exhibitions—particularly in video art and installation. I wanted to understand how the presentation of the artist’s writing as an audio track rather than, say, on a wall, changed how audiences experienced the text. I was also interested in how artists were departing from the traditional format of the voiceover as we know it from documentary film and TV, and in how they were pushing vocality in a range of other directions, for purposes other than description or explanation.”
Artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Kader Attia, Willem de Rooij, Laure Prouvost, Liza Sylvestre and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa all work with voice in different ways to explore a variety of themes; a voice can be a dog’s howl, a name on a screen, a person with auditory difficulties subtitling a film, a voice-over that seems to have little to do with the visual sequence of a short film.
As Dr Priti Mishra expertly summarises it, the idea of voice has a lot to say about power dynamics: “Sarah’s exhibition has enabled us to think about the ways in which dominant power is being contested by artists from different subject positions.”
Alongside her Many Voices exhibition, Dr Hayden has also worked in collaboration with Dr Priti Mishra in the Department of History, and Dr Eleanor K. Jones of Modern Languages and Linguistics, on a public programme devised to generate conversation around the themes of colonialism and its representations, as well as how states manage people by managing their voices: whose voices are being heard first, or at all?
The programme of events, entitled Interruptions/Disruptions, consists of two strands of workshops: Interruptions workshops are led by various guests with various perspectives on the aforementioned themes, whilst Disruptions is a set of creative writing workshops led by the writer-in-residence for Many voices Nisha Ramayya.
Dr Mishra and Dr Jones ellaborate on the importance of the public programme experienced alongside the exhibition:
“We’ve recently seen a resurgence of eugenics in mainstream UK politics, an increased glorification of our colonial past and present combined with a denial of its most brutal aspects, and continued inaction on climate, so talking about these things is more important than ever – and it’s also important for us to talk about creative ways to resist them, and learn from people who have been doing so for a long time. We hope our programme can offer the space for this creativity!”
Many voices and Interruptions/Disruptions have a lot to offer to any audience, especially students. Not only do they tackle themes relevant to our political climate, they also help us to think about concepts we are familiar with and which we may have studied in a completely new setting, or, if you are not a frequent gallery-goer, in a completely new place as well.
It’s true, the thought of going to a gallery can be quite daunting for some people, but the colourful sign at the entrance of John Hansard Gallery is more persuasive than I could ever be: “You belong here.”
For a list of events, times, and sign-ups head to the John Hansard Gallery website: www.jhg.art.