THIS IS A VOICE Curator's Introduction

Article

We inhabit a world full of voices. Our lives play out to a soundtrack of whispers, screams, commands, laughter and songs. A cry announces our first entry into the world, and the voice emerging from inside us acts as an indicator of physical and emotional health. The result of a sophisticated synchronisation between our respiratory and digestive systems, voices can also arise from other sources, such as spiritual guides, the subconscious, or machines that mimic speech. Elusive, immaterial, yet infinitely textured, our voices can fill large spaces or be lost completely.

'THIS IS A VOICE' traces the material quality of the voice by looking inside vocal tracts, restless minds and speech devices, in order to understand its complex psychological and physiological origins. While dominant theories have traditionally focused on linguistics, here the spotlight is cast on the meaning and emotions conveyed through prosody – the patterns of rhythm, stress and intonation. Non-verbal forms of communication are emphasised, revealing the power of the voice before and beyond words.

The exhibition begins with the embodied voice, its evolutionary and social origins, and ends within the contemporary realm of disembodied voices, where machines talk back to us, sometimes with uncanny feeling. Along the way it explores how the unique grain of our voice locates us socially, geographically and psychologically and how the voice can be dramatically altered with treatment and training. The show draws on varied experimental forms of singing and animal mimicry, including live vocalisations, and culminates with an invitation to donate your own voice to an ever-increasing chorus.

Designed as an acoustic journey, or series of soundings, the exhibition brings together a wide range of works by contemporary artists and vocalists, punctuated by paintings, manuscripts, medical illustrations and anthropological research. Philosopher Mladen Dolar writes: ‘The voice is elusive, always changing, becoming, elapsing, with unclear contours’. THIS IS A VOICE is an attempt to find the shapes taken by this mysterious and flexible creature.

Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz
Curator, Wellcome Collection

Part of THIS IS A VOICE