Manchester Art Gallery: Sonia Boyce
I would like to start this off by addressing the ‘controversy’ surrounding Boyce’s removal of Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) by John William Waterhouse- why was this seen as controversial? It is not often that anyone, regardless if they are an artist or not get to decide on the curatorial aspects of classical paintings. We as the viewer, walk into these neoclassical institutions under a state of unconscious submission. We simply accept what is on display, and hardly feel the need to question it. There is already a large part of curatorship in which the power is placed into their hands, equipped with ethical and moral thinking there should not be a problem. However Boyce spotted a problem- therefore she corrected it. This is fantastic, as she is a woman of colour within a country of which she is a minority, thus giving the power to someone who would be less likely to get it. We should be able to accept change, within reason, and continually debate otherwise, how else do we learn?
For You, Only You (2007)
Initially the wall covering triptych of projected imagery of the interior of a cathedral evokes a sense of serenity to the viewer. This visual imagery of stationary sculpted figures with the audio of renaissance choir increases this atmosphere- and generally confuses the viewer. Depending on the time you arrive into the space, you might be faced with an unmoving trifecta of images with the choir (Alamire) to accompany it- and you may assume this is the entire piece and leave- it’s unfortunate if you do. Gently, the camera’s composition glides along the nave’s interior onto the first sign of the humans- a reason to connect the audio to the visual. Centrally, there is a male (Mikhail Karikis) standing looking down into the camera lens, displaying the subtleties of anxiety: perspiration; repetitive swallowing; widened eyes and a general instability within his posture. Automatically this induces secondary anxiety for him- why is he nervous? Is this acting on behalf of the video, or is it genuine? That’s the beauty of videography- the 4th wall is constantly within the forefront of our minds, analysing both the director’s motives and the performer’s intentions.
The choir that is soon positioned out is separated by half, and they both coincide with the male centrally positioned, almost as this is hinting that he is in fact the conductor. However, the choir begins to sing in a low, harmonic gestures with an increasing momentum of tone and volume. The artwork so far has displayed uniformity, until we get disturbed by what seems to be a shriek. A scream? Falsetto? You’re unsure at first, but you know it’s from the performer. You don’t expect this- it’s a hefty juxtaposition that disturbs our natural need to look for patterns of recognitions in everyday life. After a few minutes, you start to notice the sopranos within the choir start creating high pitched, short bursts of notes.
This is subtly placed, and you start to notice that now the choir is adjusting to this change, and copying it. When translated into societal terms, this is powerful. To me, the protagonist represents a general difference of opinion to the majority of people within a community. The difference of opinion is new that the community doesn’t really want to hear as they are happy in their traditionalist ways. Soon, the community starts to notice that the opinion is considerable- and that is where the changes start to happen.