Tuesday 11th October, 2016

Tract & Touch unveil Curious Replicas

Yvon Bonenfant explains how you can style your own voice with Curious Replicas


What’s Curious Replicas all about…

Curious Replicas invites you to style your voice as easily as you style your hair. You add bounce, curl, frizz, wave, shine, and then puff up your voice’s body. You can shorten it like a barber or add jazzy extensions in our unusual voice salon. As you do this, you feel your voice caress your skin with changing qualities of vibration – like running your hand through your newly styled hair. Listen to your voice change on a phone receiver, or broadcast it through the room, or play in between – shy adults, mischievous teens and boisterous children can all enjoy. Your voice is reflected back to you – your new sonic self shimmers forth, as subtly, or as vibrantly, as you like. Part hairdressing station, part cockpit, part dressing table, and part studio, our intriguing console’s look and feel brings you inside the intimate world of the touch of your vocal stylings. It’s beautiful. It’s fun. And… it’s delightfully weird.

What did you use a starting point or inspiration for your project?

I’ve been working with ‘extended voice’ – doing things with the voice that we don’t usually do – for many years. Five years ago, I got really interested in *audience* voices. So many people are told their voices aren’t ‘beautiful enough’. Their voices are too high, too low, too raspy, too light, too … whatever. When they take singing lessons, they often then can’t conform to the very narrow expectations of a given singing style. But when they are allowed to explore their voices, explore the *territory* of their voices, and if they’re given the right tools, they can make sophisticated audiovisual art from a few utterances. We learned how this can work from our installation The Voice Trunk, which has seen more than a hundred thousand users. We wanted to apply these discoveries in new ways.

Can you describe what you hope visitors will experience or take away from it?

I want to create a new kind of space for visitors to wonder about their voices. To wonder how their voice works; to wonder about how they ‘style’ themselves with their voices; and to open up a space where they can play with their vocal identities.

What has been most challenging about working on your Southampton Fringe project?

Thinking carefully (and even doing user testing) about how Curious Replicas will invite people to use it: its visual, tactile and sonic characteristics have to entice, challenge, and excite.

What was your first exposure to art?

It depends what you mean by art. I grew up in small-town, rural, subarctic Canada. I loved going to museums when I was very small – these museums had huge murals and ‘stage sets’ of the flora and fauna of our region behind glass, like giant terrariums. This wasn’t art, but it was perhaps where my interest in setting up ‘environments’ began. I didn’t properly visit an art museum until I was sixteen.

Why do think it’s important to nurture contemporary and visual art in regions outside of London?

There are so many reasons, it’s hard to know where to begin. A thriving art culture means a thriving culture of exchange, where ideas, impulses, diversity and engagement with each other all matter. It also means challenging political systems to re-think their values from time to time. London is not the only area in need of this: we all need it.

What would your advice be to aspiring artists or curators?

There is nothing more dangerous than playing to applause.

What does Southampton mean to you? Do you have a favourite place or memory of the city?

Southampton has overlooked pockets and crannies that are really interesting to seek out and wander in. The city has a lot of potential. I am very attached to my chunk of my neighbourhood, Shirley: we can buy Portuguese coffee & pastry, kim chi, Malaysian takeway, and amazing Polish rye bread within a ten minute walk from our house. I am half Ukrainian and appreciate being able to buy fresh pierogies. We now have a beard barber. Shoreditch has arrived.

Apart from your own project of course, what other Southampton Fringe event will you be looking forward to and why?

There are too many really interesting ones to narrow down to just one. I’m eager to explore the really different styles of work that are being thought through. We have some very interesting, funny and magical art-thinkers here.

Finally what do you think the presence of British Art Show 8 and accompanying Southampton Fringe will mean for Southampton and its cultural scene? What does it mean for you?

Southampton has big, interested audiences for daring work that reaches wide publics in public space. People are really hungry for more. There are really interesting students coming out of local HE in the creative sector. I hope BAS8 & the Fringe really dynamise the sector and make it feel like a place full of opportunities for the young. I have been making work from the voice in various ways here in the UK for ten years, have toured to theatres, and had artworks shown in ten other countries, but this is the first time I am showing work in Southampton itself. I’m delighted by that. Tract and Touch was founded to broaden the scope and remit of my work, and to open out to collaborations with emerging and established artists who want to run their own directions with some of our concepts and technologies. I am hoping to partner to develop a trading arm for Tract and Touch, to help it raise funds, and to establish a real infrastructure here that can support other kinds of artistic activity than the established portfolio organisations do. Now is the time, and this is the place. The city feels ripe to open up and develop its creative sector.

Curious Replicas opens 18 Nov – 9 Dec at Central Library & City Art Gallery Lobby, find out more here.