Artists’ research group The Disembodied Voice was established by Karin Kihlberg and Reuben Henry in October 2014. The group’s aim is to broadly explore relationships between the disembodied voice and visual culture, and is made up of Kihlberg and Henry, Maia Conran, Patrick Coyle and Karen Di Franco – practitioners who work across art, film, curating, archiving, performance and writing.
The Disembodied Voice acts a framework to investigate these connections, both through group workshops and public presentations. Research projects have involved meeting with Dr Stephen Dance, an acoustic research scientist, at London South Bank University’s anechoic chamber. Ideas developed from workshops and discussions manifest through public events, most recently for Man Made Structures and The Disembodied Voice, X Marks The Bokship at Matt’s Gallery, where several works in progress connecting the voice with architecture and objects were presented as a screening and seminar.
Helena Haimes: So, Karin, what made you and Reuben choose the disembodied voice as a research theme?
Karin Kihlberg: It’s something that we’ve covered in our practice over quite a long period of time (the duo have experimented with narration extensively in their moving image and performance work.) And it just so happened that we were invited by Vision Forum in Sweden to initiate a project – they run several nodes throughout the world. Then we thought that it would be really interesting to focus on one part of our practice, to take one aspect of it and develop it from there.
HH: Why did you choose to focus on the voice in particular?
KK: We thought it was a really complex theme that could be challenged and investigated a lot more. We’ve been at the Jan Van Eyck Academie for a couple of years, where one of the advising researchers was Mladan Dolar, who’s done lots of writing on the voice. So, it was haunting us but we hadn’t quite had the opportunity to properly explore it.
HH: How would you say the Disembodied Voice manifests itself in your individual practices?
KK: We work a lot with video and use voiceover as a way of telling stories, so it was a very straightforward entry point for us.
Reuben Henry: We’ve been working a lot with voiceover and moving image, and have become more and more engaged in how the voice and image develop in relation to one-another, rather than voice being placed over image in the classic narrative sense. The image in our work is treated often as a kind of internal image which is summoned by spoken language, a kind of associative symbiosis where images fall out of the mouth along with the words. So the idea of a narrator, who we don’t see, connects to the viewer not just through the voice but revealing themselves through the images that, beyond their control, are popping up on the screen.
Karen Di Franco: I have more of a curatorial rather than an artistic practice. I work a lot with archives, of artists or organisations, so my relationship to the disembodied voice tends to anchor itself around exploring documents, and the individual or collaborative voices that occur through the process of documentation. That could be looking at documentation of practice or correspondence, anything that occurs while exploring archives.
I’ve also recently got a commission to make a radio broadcast for Modulations, connected to Resonance FM. It directly addresses the idea of the disembodied voice and it’s forced me to produce content in a way that’s connected and will involve the group.
Maia Conran: Like Karin and Reuben, I’m interested in the disembodied voice relative to film – the role of the narrator and how that’s positioned in relation to the screen. I also look at it in terms of digital technology and the internet – things like Skype, or even computer voices and how they’re now used within software, or within structures that we interact with every day. I want to bring those two things together somehow, maybe working with the idea of the voice of the inanimate object, which I suppose would relate to the internet of things…
Patrick Coyle: Initially, I felt The Disembodied Voice to be a pertinent lens through which to view my practice because of my regular use of the format of ‘a reading’, considering the idea that any scripted text is a disembodied voice to some extent. In more recent performances The Disembodied Voice takes on added meaning through my lack of physical presence, such as the events at Danielle Arnaud, where I sent a series of recordings of myself humming in different places.
HH: Patrick, how do you find it working with the group remotely from the States?
PC: From my perspective it’s been a good experience working within the added constraints of physical distance and different time zones. For example, coordinating a performance over Skype from the US that responded to the presentations and informal comments of the other members and invited guests over the course of a day-long event in London (Man Made Structures and The Disembodied Voice).