A self-described “destination for the incurably curious,” the Wellcome Collection has always successfully blended the scientific with the artistic, feeding those with a shared appetite for factual knowledge and artistic impressionism.
Curated by Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, “This is a Voice” investigates each and every facet of what creates our voice. It explores the importance of pitch, rhythm, tone and volume and how all these factors contribute to generating an essential part of our personal identities, and how we use our voices to express and communicate those around us.
Located on the ground floor of the Wellcome Collection near Euston, Muñoz’s This is a Voice is an immersive experience that compels you to explore your own voice, convincing you to collaborate with those around to get to grips with the similarities and differences in the personal instrument we’ve all used from birth. Almost all investigations into the formation of the voice have come from the perspective of linguistics; this is where Muñoz’s exhibit takes a unique stance. The exhibit looks at the psychology and emotions behind the words that we say, revealing that the intentions and feelings that lie behind the words we use are prevalent in our voice even before we are finished speaking.
Beginning with the embodied voice, the start of the exhibition searches for the cultural staple behind our voice that locates us geographically and socially, outlining how these factors are adopted in the stages of our infancy. It progresses on from this exploring the instrumental functions of our voices and the discoveries we have made thus far in vocal production. One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is the material provided on polyphonic overtone singing and Castrato voice, both of which possess a thoroughly interesting history and explanation.
Video displays organised around the exhibition illustrate how we are able to sing more than one note simultaneously in song, how we harmonise with others and how it is possible to retain the pure tones of our infant voice. Educational and artistic, the exhibition ends with an option to reflect on your own voice. A sound booth stands in the centre of the room towards the end of the tour where you can record your voice and loop it back. Using all the information imparted to you on the tour, this last display leaves you to reflect on the abilities of your own voice after learning about our capabilities.
Despite advertising itself as a fully interactive exhibit, This is a Voice relies heavily on the literature that is provided before entering the exhibition. The booklet, which you can pick up upon entering the exhibit, is a more extensive accompaniment to the descriptions provided underneath each display, allowing those more interested in the science behind the art to educate themselves. However, without reading the literature a lot of the displays will not make much sense. Although This is a Voice is an exhibit to experience, not research, an essential part in understanding the exhibition comes from reading this literature, which you can do after, or better yet on your second visit.
For the chance to separate yourself from London’s loud landscape, set aside an hour or two and visit the Wellcome Collection this week to enter into an insulated labyrinth full of people discovering the importance behind an instrument we use every day.
The Wellcome Collection has also organised for a different artist each week to perform live vocal arrangements in the main gallery space between 12 and 12:20 to greater understand the mechanics of vocal production.
WEEKLY SCHEDULE (subject to change)
03–08 May MARCUS COATES
10–15 May DAVID TOOP
17–22 May PHIL MINTON
24–29 May JAMES PLATT (Jette Parker Young Artist, Royal Opera House)
31 May–05 June SAM BELINFANTE
07–12 June JAMES WILKES
14–19 June To be announced
21–26 June ELAINE MITCHENER and DAM VAN HUYNH
28 June–03 July EMMA SMITH
05–10 July EMMA SMITH
12–17 July MIKHAIL KARIKIS
A list of the artists displayed at the exhibition can be found on the Wellcome Collection website here: http://wellcomecollection.org/thisisavoice.
Words and photography by Joshua Gill