Transformation spaces


Aleksandra Shestakova

Text in Russian



“The world is governed by images,”[1]Vilem Flusser wrote about a quarter of century ago. He described a world in which everything happened simply to be filmed and broadcasted.  The speed of image broadcasting and the quantity of images have increased with time. A war and a football game gather similar audiences in front of the TV screen. Nowadays one can witness a protest, a performance or the concert of a pop star without leaving the couch.

At the exhibition by Alice Kern one can observe the inadequacy of the visible. On the first floor of the exhibition space the viewer encounters the material consequences of events that happened (or did not happen) sometime in the past. The Exerciser-activator was probably used to separate the voice from the body, while The Sieve-stand was used to filter sound flows. However one can’t measure the efficiency of those devices. The Preventative panels were supposed to stop overheated voices and were even burned through by the sound flows. Whether the holes were actually made by the voice, the viewer can only judge by the form of the sound burns.

The screens, which are supposed to hide something from curious gazes, simply dramatize the concealment: the exhibition space is transformed and becomes an equal actor that creates uncertainty along with objects and sounds. The visible confuses the viewer more than it explains anything. This resembles the way some media-environments function: inside them everything that can be seen or read operates based on the creation of special effects or the maniupulation of the viewer’s attention. The replication of this approach in the artistic space allows not to ”tear the veil”, but to weave it more closely[2].

Two voice-cooling devices – the Voicecooler and the Deformating- box – are supposed to cool the sounds that reach the viewer’s ears from behind the screens. However one can never be sure whether voices are being cooled or not. The voice acquires the characteristics of temperature and becomes an acting substance.

At the end of the XIX century, voices started to be perceived apart from the speaker. In the novels of that time the voice was given a magical illusionary force[3]. The writers’ imagination was defined by new technical inventions that made it possible to record and to transmit voices. In the beginning of the XX century haunting ghostly voices started to sound in the movies. In the middle of the XX century the broadcasted voice started to make whole nations lose their minds[4]. Later the technical voice transformed from a weapon into an element of the everyday life. Nowadays it can be impossible to guess whether a robot or a human is speaking. The recorded and the broadcasted voice always exist on the edge of the technical and the human. Too many changes and encounters with noise happen before the recorded voice reaches anyone’s ears.

Sound is a plastic material for the construction of imaginary spaces[5]. When one hears the sound of applause, she can easily imagine the form of the hall where an unseen show is happening.  At the “Voice cooling tests” exhibition one of the voices instructs the viewer to sharply turn left. It’s hard to tell by the way it sounds who or what is speaking — it is also hard to tell whether a woman or a phonogram is singing from behind the screen.

The means of voice recording not only change the imagination, but also scientific knowledge[6]. One of the methods that contemporary astronomy uses is catching radiowaves of objects that are invisible to the human eye, and after that turning the unseen into the heard. Sometimes one can hear information singing from behind the screen. The voices that were recorded in the crowd, as well as other voices that can be heard at the exhibition, do not belong to anyone who was speaking. The also do not belong to any of the possible collective identities.

None of the objects can be thought of from a functional perspective: it's impossible to define whether they are working or not and what it means “to work” in their case. All of them are something: a screen, a mouthpiece, a refrigerator detail. At the same time they are not devices in the common sense – they are instead “instruments for the invisible”. They are the opposite of radars. A radar is an invisible weapon that makes something invisible visible. The voice cooling weapons are too big for their alleged functions, and unlike radars they ally with the invisible, rather than reveal it.

Devices, sounds and space interact to create an environment[7]in which none of the elements has a fixed identity and everything is transforming. The practice of construction of environments of instability creates an anxious observer. Outside the exhibition space the anxiety of the subject is always historic: it is caused by the peculiarities of social relations. In the “Voice cooling tests” project the observer’s anxiety results from the relationships of the elements of the environment she gets into. Thus, the model for the creation of one of the most important psychological conditions for modernity is reproduced.

Translated by Aleksandra Shestakova 
Translation edited by Noah Sneider 



[1] Flusser V. Into the universe of technical images (Trans. Nancy Ann Roth). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2011
[2] Same
[3] The novels «The Future Eve» and «The Carpatian Castle» describe women's voices, separated from the bodies, which haunted men-characters
[4]  Булгакова О. Голос как культурный феномен. Новое литературное обозрение. М. 2015
[5] Сафонов Н. Резонансное (и) пневматическое: к политике шума. СПб., 2017
[6] Yulia Ivashkina from the […]Labs (Sergey Voldykov, Yulia Ivashkina, Sergey Ogurtsov) spoke about the influence of means of sound recording on the ways of knowledge production in the interview recorded on 29.09.2017
[7]  Огурцов С. Нейротекст или практика выращивания невозможных тел // Aroundart.org. 2016 (http://aroundart.org/2016/12/27/book-suslova-01-nejrotekst/)