With the history-making announcement of the Golden Lions on Saturday, Sonia Boyce‘s work took center stage for the night in the art world, with her British Pavilion work Feeling Her Way earning the nod for best National Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. The work, which draws on a series of shifting, evolving audio and video pieces, is a powerful meditation on expression and collective experience in an increasingly challenging era.
Boyce’s work is simple in concept, bringing together video works featuring five female musicians (Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth MBE, Sofia Jernberg, Tanita Tikaram and composer Errollyn Wallen CBE), who were invited to improvise, interact and play with their voices. Collaboration and interaction are key, but the work does not merely rely on harmony, allowing the playful interpretations of the prompt, and the sheer range of the performer’s abilities to create densely layered, intricate walls of sound. Vocal trills, screeches, sustained notes and calls mix together with sung notes and melodies as the viewer wanders through the space, each video accompanied by shimmering embellishments and intricate, tessellating patterns that call attention to concert posters and other personal effects that root these performers in physical space.
But the show’s most powerful moment comes in the center room, where the performers are presented in a single video, meeting for the first time at Abbey Road Studios to perform together. The moment of physical encounter, making much of the distance and isolation of the past two years during Covid-19, functions on multiple levels as a reunion, bringing together both the bodies of citizens isolated by the pandemic, as well as the experiences and identities of the British cultural diaspora. Boyce’s work manages to speak, or rather, sing, on multiple levels, allowing these women a stage on which to create a fluid, shifting tapestry of experience that manages to address specific contexts and political histories, while extrapolating the sensations and affect of that concept towards a universal. Simultaneously expressing these specific contexts and addressing shared experience, Boyce opens up a space for reflection and empathy. In the landscape of 2022, few actions could feel more vital.
The show is on view through November 27th.
– D. Creahan
Sonia Boyce: Feeling Her Way [Exhibition Site]