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On the materiality of the human voice: from intimate bodily effusions to political-public manifestations

Artists: Lior Waterman, Chaya Hazan, Haviv Kaptzon

The Mouthful is the instrument of gut feelings, the wound at the center of the face, the paralyzing muteness that strikes the absent scream. The exhibition centers on speech, from the moment of the appearance of the human voice, its evolution into language over thousands of years, and its possible futures considering speaking machines. The works touch on the nature of producing voices: the substances and bodily cavities that make speaking the main medium among humans.

Taking a large leap, the exhibition moves from the material aspects of the voice toward an exploration of the state of the single voice, which over the past years has been eroded, treated with suspicion and distrust — especially public and political rhetoric. Our feeling that behind every public figure stands a crew of speechwriters, media specialists, and publicists makes our relations with elected public figures seem more and more like that we have with commercial companies. Along with attempts to establish an inoffensive language, public and political discourse has become more crude, racist, and partisan. This atmosphere of suppression is inflating new bubbles of taboos.

In parallel, our interaction with speaking machines is fast becoming ordinary. We tend to treat machines as singular identities (usually women, usually young). We know this figure has no mother or father but scores of parents who envisaged it and operate it. These are figures with language but no mouth; figures made from many voices but no resonating cavities. Behind these smart machines are anonymous individuals, small links that gather (knowingly or forcefully) into “crowd wisdom”. This exhibition attempts to undo the crowd, reverse the gaze, and turn it back from the general to the particular.

The crisis to which the exhibition refers highlights the urgency to turn our attention to the single human voice. The essence of the artistic act is in the decree of one individual who addresses other singles. This exhibition attends to “one,” yet this is a one whose consciousness is that of a multitude: be it as a human who is part of nature, be it their fertile collaboration with machines, or be it the multifarious internal, contradictory, voices that exist within them.

Haviv Kaptzon, The Naked Astronaut, 2023
Video mapping on a wall and three screens, 17 min

The artists, and the works on display

Lior Waterman is presenting a set of sculptures that feature hybrids of coil and shell-like forms along with ceramic ears all embedded within industrial cleaning trollies. The main substance in the arrangement is soil in various forms: crude mud and ceramics, some burned and glazed as sanitary fixtures, are piled on the industrial plastic trolley which is meant to carry cleaning solvents and waste. The sculptures are machines, bodies, or beings of sorts and they communicate among themselves via sound waves: one sculpture functions as a radio that transmits a frequency received by the other two. The emanating sound was recorded by a real human being who is trying, contra-machina, to imitate contemporary talking voice software.

Two works by Chaya Hazan perceive speech as physical material. The video Bad Breath centers on a one-woman show given by a dramatic actor to a bored, indifferent audience. The performance begins with the actress apologizing for having bad breath, which she hopes to refresh by talking. Later, she gets carried away by a childhood memory which reveals the presence of another identity within her: her voice speaks from two sources – her mouth and her stomach. The work alludes to the relation between the source of the voice and its content and confronts the emotional speech that comes from the stomach with the narrative speech that comes from the mouth, as an allegory of current political rhetoric and its methods of constructing truth.

Another work by Hazan in collaboration with Uri Tuchman, Love Letter from the Speechwriter to the Politician’s Mouth, is an erotic love letter to the organs that participate in the production of the voice of the politician for whom the speechwriter works. The writer describes his adoration and passion for the bodily organs and substances that convey his words: the lips, saliva, lungs, vocal cords, and diaphragm. Underlying this is a dependency between the writer and the politician, and the intimate bond between the writing hand and the speaking mouth.

Haviv Kaptzon is presenting the video The Naked Astronaut recalling the story of the hyoid bone (tongue bone) which serves as archaeological proof to the time in which early humans began using language. The move from voice to complex language symbolizes the separation of humans from the animal kingdom. As in previous works by Kaptzon, he strives toward the core of humanity: looking back to archeology and forward to the speaking machine, trying to find in their midst that which makes us human. The title of the work is from a text by William S. Burroughs who describes language as a virus people carry in their bodies.

Other exhibitions

To Catch a Fleeting Moment: 150 Years of Impressionism
Muhammad Abo Salme: Cascade
War and Peace – 50 Years of the Jerusalem Print Workshop
Hold Everything Dear