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Emergency Noises

Sound Art and Gender

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Irene Noy

Art history traditionally concentrates on the visual. Sound has either been ignored or has been appreciated in a highly selective manner within a different discipline: music. This book is about recent attempts by artists trained in (West) Germany to provoke listening experiences to awaken the senses. Their work is revolutionary in artistic terms and in what it reveals about human relations, especially concerning issues of gender.

The main focus of the book is to explore a gendered reading of the unity between the visual and the aural, a strand most prominently expressed within sound art in the period from the beginning of the 1960s to the 1980s. The book juxtaposes sources that have not been considered in conjunction with each other before and questions sound art’s premise: is it a separate field or a novel way of understanding art? The study also opens up sound art to gender considerations, asking if the genre possesses the capacity to disrupt conventional, gendered role models and facilitate alternative possibilities of self-definition and agency across genders. Emergency Noises brings to light the work of underrepresented female artists and explores new intersections of sound, art and gender.

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Preface

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Traditionally, art history has concentrated on the visual, while sound – which is perceived in a different way – has either had a highly selective appreciation in a different discipline, music, or been ignored altogether. This book is about recent attempts by artists trained in (West) Germany to provoke listening experiences – to awaken the ear. Their work is revolutionary, in artistic terms and in what it reveals about human relations, especially those where there are issues of gender.1

My own enchantment with senses other than sight has been a constant companion in my journey as an art historian. For me, the parameters of art history expanded from it being a purely visual discipline to one that was aural and, later, fully sensorial, during a time when I lived in Canada. There, I came across the World Soundscape Project in Vancouver, which had been making an impact since at least the 1970s. Its work made me realise that I could greatly benefit from opening my ears as well as my eyes. On returning to Bonn, in Germany, I researched art perception in art museums and chose Tate Modern – and specifically the grand space of the Turbine Hall – as one of my main case studies. A fascination with art practices and institutions consciously experimenting with sensorial perception was also fuelled by the professional involvement I had with institutions outside academia. As I worked, among others, at the Bonn Museum of Modern ← xix | xx → Art, the Kölnischer Kunstverein and the...

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