25 May – 17 July 2011
For her second exhibition at Matt's Gallery, Imogen Stidworthy has developed a new work which focuses on the act of listening to reflect on how we locate ourselves and are positioned in social space. In (.) listening moves fluidly between a state of being and an act, between immersion in and scrutiny of people through their voices.
The installation organises the gallery into spaces related to the office and city streets through different forms of image, inviting the viewer to move through different places and subject positions. Subjective and political implications of the voice are reflected in the installation through the figure of Sacha van Loo, who is employed by Antwerp Police to analyse wiretap recordings. Having been blind since birth, for him the world is understood and pictured primarily through sound and his finely tuned listening connects him to others with unusual sensitivity; fluent in seven languages, he is able to recognise hundreds of different accents and dialects. In his job these powers are part of the bureaucratic process of determining guilt or innocence; sifting through scraps of language he decodes speech and designates voices, identities and intentions, blurring the borders between private and public space.
In the installation we hear the text-to-speech voice of Sacha's computer as he searches through files, the murmur of deciphering (screen 2, 3-channel audio), and passing voices which were recorded from his body as he walked through busy city streets (circular booth, 4-channel composition). City streets are seen in a 3D laser scan, a 'point cloud' of millions of positions in space giving a precise mapping of the terrain (screen 1). These use a technology based on sonar, a principle closer to hearing than to vision - a real-life fantasy of territorial knowledge.
A splinter of fiction enters this factual scenario in a passage from Solzhenitsin's novel In the First Circle. In the book a group of imprisoned Soviet scientists and linguists have been commanded by Stalin to develop two machines: a voice scrambler designed to turn sense into nonsense, to protect his personal telephone line, and a voice-printing machine to identify people through paper print-outs made from covert voice recordings.
At the heart of the work is a tension between observation and interpretation, detachment or immersion. Different forms of image which are made and perceived according to different paradigms, open out to a broader question regarding the nature of the image itself, which is present less as a given language than as a process of formation.