Rewind: The Voice

Muntean & Rosenblum, Untitled (Certain Impressions Are So Vague) 2003. Courtesy the artist

By Juliana Engberg

Robyn Archer’s third and final Melbourne International Arts Festival 2004 was organized under the theme of VOICE, completing her trilogy of ideas TEXT, BODY, VOICE.  As we had done for the previous two festivals, ACCA responded by providing a focus on this thematic emphasis.

Voice was an inspiring concentration to bring to visual arts.  As curator of the Visual Art Programs, I assembled a group of projects that brought attention to the uses of the human sounds and words created by visual artists.

I commissioned a sound installation from Australian composer David Chesworth and artist Sonia Leber, which eventuated in a howling, demonic, uncanny subterranean situation in the public toilets located on Gordon Reserve, Melbourne.  The Gordon Assumption, as it was titled, featured a recorded chorus of voices performing the Shepard’s Tones of infinitely rising and falling notes.  This eerie sound, and weird green glow, combined the sacred with the profane, producing a kind of inhabitation of spirits and poltergeists.  Very funny.

Shirin Neshat Turbulent, 1998. Courtesy the artist

At ACCA the festival program included a reprise of Jude Walton’s early performance Opera, No Hope No Reason with slide installations by Ian de Gruchy, music by Walton and Hartley Newman, and libretto written by Walton and artist John Barbour.  The ACCA program also included a suite of works by Austrian artists Muntean and Rosenblum – Being in and out of love too many times itself makes you harder to love – which concentrated on the ennui of youth in text and figurative paintings, and a video piece featuring a coral work by Alessandro Scarletti. 

American based, Iranian artist, Shirin Neshat’s iconic work Turbulent, featured the amazing vocalisations of Iranian throat singer Sussan Deyhim and Kurdish/Iranian singer Youssefi Azari in a duel of gender, culture and belief.  Projected on two massive suspended screens in ACCA’s largest gallery, Turbulent was mesmerizing and powerful.


Jude Walton: No Hope, No Reason, performance documentation, ACCA, 2004. Courtesy ACCA Archive

The festival program also included Janet Cardiff’s iconic sculptural sound work, the Forty Part Motet.  The large space of ACCA was the perfect setting for this work comprising 40 standing speakers and sound. Each speaker was a surrogate body for a single singer.  The audience could engage with each voice, from the chatter of the pre-rehearsal moments to the individually sung notes.  Together the voices built to a crescendo of celestial intensity, only to stop abruptly at the height of its power, leaving the audience stranded, seemingly mid air, bereft of the soothing descent.

Cardiff’s project became a kind of cult presentation with some members of the public visiting  every day, bringing sheet music, lying on the couch provided – a constant stream of people engaging with this memorable work.  There was much crying and equal feelings of ecstasy. 

Rebecca Coates was the project curator for Forty Part Motet and Muntean and Rosenblum, and Geraldine Barlow and Angela Brophy coordinated the Neshat, Chesworth and Leber and Walton projects.

Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet, installation view, ACCA, 2004. Courtesy ACCA Archive

Shirin Neshat: Turbulent
8 October –12 October 2004

Jude Walton: No Hope, No Reason
8 October –12 October 2004

Janet Cardiff:  Forty-Part Motet
16 October –12 December 2004

Muntean/Rosenblum: Being in and out of love too many times itself makes you harder to love
16 October –12 December 2004

Juliana Engberg is the Artistic Director of ACCA.