Jennifer Walshe on art, the voice and fictional history

Jennifer Walshe on art, the voice and fictional history

We called Jennifer Walshe for a discussion about her thoughts on the human voice, fictional context, research in relation to art and what the audience can expect from her performance at Atalante on October 6th.

The voice is an important part of the art that you make. How come?
I grew up in Ireland where we have a strong oral culture. People love to talk, and they love to tell stories, elaborating on the smallest details and nuances, also when it comes to the most mundane occurrences like going to the post office. So to me, telling stories is an integral part of who I am.

Also, from a bigger perspective, the voice is central to us as human beings. It is a core part of our culture and history and also how we navigate in the world. There is so much inherent information in the voice, so many layers that you could never get from, for instance, a violin. And today, in addition to our own voices, we also have voice technology solutions like Siri where we’re actually using our voices to control technology.

Your projects Grúpat and Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde are ”fictional” projects, where you’ve invented persons or historical events. What role does fictional context and narrative play in your art?
My work with both Grúpat and the Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde is about dreaming up new histories, rooted in actual facts and event. To dream up things that we wish would have happened as a way of making a better and more humane future.

Take for instance Dada. Why is there no history of Irish Dadaism? My take on this is that there simply wasn’t any people doing Dadaism, perhaps because Dada was mainly a “trend” within the middle classes, and Ireland was an over-all working class country where the middle-class that existed didn’t have enough money to create or be part of the Dada movement. So my idea, which feeds into the historical documents is that, if there had been any artists working with Dadaism, they would have been employed by Guinness, who at the time had the best labor laws in Europe. This would have given them the financial means needed to be a part of this movement. This is of course fiction. But it’s fiction based on actual historical facts, so it’s plausible fiction.

We live in strange times. Post fact, fake news times where people are revising history on a daily basis. But we have to keep in mind it’s a two-way street. On the one side we have the holocaust revisionists and the likes, and at the other side we have people finding new evidence of medieval people of color, people that have previously been overlooked. My feel is that today we have the opportunity to actually examine parts of history that’s often been misinterpreted. Or to shine a light on events where people have been misrepresented, offering a revised and perhaps more true image of the past.

It guess with this kind of approach, you’d have to do quite a lot of research?
Actual research was crucial when creating the historical documents, although I can’t claim any academic level on the research I do, it’s basically just me playing around. But for the historical documents I had to find out if someone had actually created Dada works in Ireland and if so where? Because to me it’s about positioning fictional data in an actual context. And this research is basically me trying to find a crack in reality where I can press in and add my own data, my thoughts and ideas.

And the thing is, once you start burrowing in, you find that reality is almost always stranger than fiction. For instance I found that between 1972-74, the British army did a SYOPS (Security Operating Procedure) campaign where they were trying to link terrorism to black magic and Satanism. What they did was plant stories in the newspapers and created fake black magic mass sites in order to scare people off from terrorism. So naturally, in the historical documents I claimed that noise music had been part of these rituals and that therefore, noise music was in fact invented in Ireland.

So, what can the audience expect from your performance during the GAS-festival on Saturday?
At the moment I’m very interested in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and as a part of this we have developed a neural network, that’s generated by an AI system. What I’ve then done is feed various kind of information, like stuff from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website and the voices of for example James brown and Britney Spears, into this. During the concert I will also ask the audience to participate and help further feed into this neural network, and in so, making also them a part of it.

I will also present the piece IS IT COOL TO TRY HARD NOW? (2017) for voice, film and electronics. The piece was originally commissioned by Moving on Music with funds provided by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Read more about Jennifer Walshe here:

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Since 2011, Dag is one of three the co-owners of Gothenburg based production company Producentbyrån. Producentbyrån is a team of producers and project managers working with various artists, companies, festivals, conferences and projects in performing arts, both in Sweden and internationally. Dag has a background as a sound technician and also works as a composer and musician for separate works, film and performing arts productions. Dag works with the GAS-Festival’s communication and graphic design.