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The University of Southampton
EnglishPart of Humanities

Research project: Voices in the Gallery

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'Voices in the Gallery: Reading Unseen Texts' was an AHRC Leadership Fellowship project, led by Sarah Hayden. Over two years (2019-2021) Hayden worked in partnership with John Hansard Gallery and Nottingham Contemporary to explore contemporary art’s invisible (withheld) textuality, as it manifests in the voiceover and voiced writing.

The concept of voiceover is familiar from documentary film, but video, installation and new media artists are pushing the format in new and unexpected directions. Voices in the Gallery investigates voiceover as a phenomenon that exists simultaneously as art-form, literary genre and sonic intervention. This research project asks:

  • Why is the human voice so pervasive in contemporary art?
  • How do audiences engage with voiced writing?
  • How does vocalization affect our experience of language-driven artworks in the gallery?
  • How can we critically assess the literary and aesthetic features of a voiceover track?
  • How can galleries equip listeners to 'read aurally': to interpret vocalized text that remains unseen?

Alongside generating articles, essays, presentations and a monograph that is now in preparation, this project is yielding numerous non-academic outputs. Hayden curated the exhibition, Many voices, all of them loved, at John Hansard Gallery in spring 2020. This exhibition featured work by Emma Wolukau Wanambwa, Laure Prouvost, Kader Attia, Willem de Rooij, Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Liza Sylvestre. In autumn 2020, she guest-curated a voice-in-video strand, featuring Naeem Mohaiemen, Sam Keogh, Sophie Seita, Larry Achiampong and Patrick Staff, for the #WIP online exhibition produced by Queer Art Projects.

In 2019, she organised the Voicing the Political series of Study Sessions at Nottingham Contemporary and various public workshops on voice and a community audio installation at John Hansard Gallery.

Voices in the Gallery was funded by the AHRC Leadership Fellowships scheme ECR route: RCUK/UKRI Innovation Fellowships.

You can read more about the project and follow its further development here.

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