Multi-disciplinary artist Ven Voisey explores how humans are losing their voices in a world of ever-developing and readily accessible technologies.
As published on ArtsCultureBeat.com on December 4, 2013 [a student-run site as part of the M.A. Arts & Culture concentration at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism]
Ven Voisey’s fuzzy voice is interrupted by cracks and static as it resonates from a small hand-held recorder. The sound made its way into the recorder via an even tinier smartphone speaker during a late-night phone interview. The multi-disciplinary artist is describing how he thinks new technologies are affecting the way humans communicate.
“We keep developing these things, and in certain ways it becomes more and more difficult to relate to each other,” he says. “We live in a completely very, very mediated, filtered culture and it’s all of our own making.”
Developing from his background in electronic music and composition, much of Voisey’s work explores the possibilities—or impossibilities—of translation in a world of ever-developing, readily accessible recording technology. He is interested not only in how these machines have transformed over time, but how their increased availability has altered how we interact with each other. “Looking at the evolution of that,” Voisey explains, “it’s a nice kind of synopsis of looking at how we ourselves have evolved.”
Voisey’s exhibitions are often compared with the work of the Canadian husband-wife duo Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, who have made a name for themselves creating aural-visual art installations around the world. In this same vein, Voisey’s most recent show, Unfinished Animal, at the Roswell Museum & Art Center in New Mexico this past August and September, combined sculpture, painting, and sound to create a single, unified experience. Taking up one corner of the gallery was a sound-sculpture installation called “A Ceremonial Instrument,” described by the artist as a reflection on how humans are losing their voices.
At first glance, “A Ceremonial Instrument” looks like a miniature Ferris wheel constructed from simple wooden beams and pallets. But upon closer inspection, one sees that nine large cassette players are attached to each corner of the wheel, each containing a loop cassette with a simple recorded drum pulse. Insert a quarter, and the wheel slowly spins and the tapes play an overlapping, endless cycle of beats. This piece is what Voisey calls one of his “Ouroboro machines,” referring to the ancient symbol of a serpent eating its own tail. These “machines” deal with cyclical, self-destructive mediums and practices—in this case, the tape loop. “I like the idea of taking these symbolic structures and looking at mediums that perhaps echo that,” he explains.
In choosing to use tape recorders, Voisey also wanted to add to the layers of familiarity in the structure. First, the observer inserts a quarter to enact the machine’s movements, which triggers a micro controller that then turns the rickety wooden structure and sets off the tape cassettes. The resulting sound of the drumbeats is so obscured by the flurry of mechanical activity that it is all but lost to the viewer, becoming merely another layer in the machine.
Voisey compares an “Ouroboro machine” like “A Ceremonial Instrument” to the act of taking a piece of ourselves and placing it outside of ourselves to observe it, much like his own voice in the recorder. “I think [this practice] is an interesting phenomenon, I think it changes the way that we view ourselves and the way that we view our own mortality,” he says, “not only voice recordings but video and certainly now bits of our identity with things like Facebook and stuff.” How far do we need to rebuild ourselves outside of ourselves, as Voisey puts it, before our messages, and identities, are completely lost?