There’s absolutely no denying that women have notoriously been excluded from the arts for centuries, and sound art, though a newer, avant-garde practice, is no exception.
Only 13.7 percent of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America were categorized as female, according to a study by Artnet Analytics and Maastricht University, one of the largest studies on gender discrimination in the cultural industries.
But the tide is slowly turning: feminist efforts have been translating into increased championing and representation of women artists across galleries, museums, and art fairs, as well as much-deserved entries into auction catalogues. After being named and shamed, large institutions are now taking deliberate action to improve.
To the Guerilla Girls reading this: no, women no longer have to be naked to get into the Met but they certainly have to gnaw their way in. In celebration of women (including all who identify with that term), we look at female sound artists from around the world who have been, well… making noise (and while we’re at it, most of whom will be staging global exhibitions to see in 2022).
Christine Sun Kim
Christine Sun Kim (b. 1980), explores how sound operates in society in relation to her deafness. “I often employ my own voice in my work. I can feel it inside of my body, and in this way it is accessible to me,” she wrote for her artist profile as part of the group show Soundings: A Contemporary Score at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Her audio work One Week of Lullabies for Roux (2018), on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., was the first acquisition of sound art to make it to the museum’s permanent collection and features eight of the artist’s friends singing lullabies for Kim’s hearing child, following the artist’s strict score instructions:
Length can be as short or as long as you like.
No lyrics, no speech.
A greater emphasis should be placed on low frequencies.
Will be played on repeat at normal or low volume.
Will be used to encourage my baby to sleep between 19:00 and 20:00.
Write a short description of your lullaby.
Oslo-based artist Camille Norment (b. 1970) uses “the notion of cultural psychoacoustics” as a guiding framework in her practice. She represented Norway at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 with Rapture, a solo exhibition at the Nordic Pavilion (alone and without Sweden and Finland) that explored the relationship between the human body and sound. The pavilion featured a composition by a chorus of twelve voices as well as a performance by her ensemble, the Camille Norment Trio, using a rare 18th-century glass instrument, the armonica. Her new site-specific installations at Dia Chelsea in New York, titled Flexus (ongoing until January 2023), are part of our 30 Global Sound Art Exhibitions to See in 2022.
According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, only 29 percent of the winners of the Turner Prize—one of the most prominent visual art awards dedicated to artists born in or based in Great Britain—have been women. Scottish artist Susan Philipsz (b. 1965) is part of this cohort and made sound art history when she won the award in 2010 for her sound installation Lowlands Away, initially commissioned for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and featuring herself singing a Scottish lament (in her “untrained” voice). The artist frequently relies on her own voice in her work, and her 2019 site-specific work for the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, Too Much I Once Lamented is part of our 7 Recent Works of Sound Art to Explore.
Canadian artist Janet Cardiff (b. 1957) tends to operate as part of a duo along with her partner, George Bures Miller. Both independently and together, they’ve produced sound installations and have pioneered the “audio walk”, or soundwalk, format. The artists represented Canada at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001 where they received the Premio Speciale and the Benesse Prize. Those in or visiting New York City can experience Cardiff’s freely-available 35-minute audio walk Her Long Black Hair while strolling through Central Park, pretending to be that mysterious black-haired woman.
Anne Le Troter
Anne Le Troter’s (b. 1985) first major institutional solo show Bulleted List at Palais de Tokyo in 2017 featured a sound piece with telephone interviewers, or political pollsters, laid out like an opera. For her 2019 commission for the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, the Villa Kujoyama 2021 residency programme laureate developed a piece with audio samples she collected from a US-based cryobank. “I arrange ‘language blocks’ one after the other, reworking them, using the constraints of each phrase: duration, tone, and breathing.” In 2021, she secured the ADAGP-Bétonsalon grant which culminated in a solo exhibition at Bétonsalon, Paris with thousands of photographs by Marc Vaux transformed into a sound archive.
Trained as a classical violinist, Laurie Anderson (b. 1947) is works in multimedia—performance, music, sculpture, and video—and has invented several instruments across her five-decade career. Her Self-Playing Violin (1974) features a hidden speaker tucked inside a violin playing pre-recorded music to allow for one-person duets. In 2021-2022, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden presented her largest-ever US solo show including a series of live performances.
Jennie C. Jones
In February 2022, Jennie C. Jones’ solo show at the Guggenheim Museum New York opened with 20 new works created specifically for the architectural layout of the Frank Lloyd Wright space. Many of the works utilize architectural felt and acoustic panels to create “active surfaces” that absorb sound. “Jones channels in her hybrid objects a legacy of radical Black sonic practitioners who negotiated twentieth-century social experience with compositions that could be powerfully expressive in their embrace of opacity,” explained the exhibition text.
Brooklyn-based artist and composer Marina Rosenfeld (b. 1968) explores acoustic architecture and forms of participation in her work and has staged works for the musicians Okkyung Lee, Marino Formenti, and Annette Henry (Warrior Q). In 2021, she had a solo show at Kunsthaus Baselland in Basel, Switzerland with works “revisiting the traces” of her early all-female orchestras. Her long-running project Deathstar began with a solo exhibition at Portikus Frankfurt with a five-hour performance by pianist Marino Formenti in 2017, later culminating in a double album in 2020.
Cover Credit: Paul Zinken/dpa picture alliance/Alamy Live News
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Writer: Bana Bissat
Bana Bissat is a Milan-based writer who reports on sound art for Sound of Life. She has written for Flash Art, Lampoon, and Cultured. @banabissat