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Auditory exhibition explores false perceptions of sound

Catch wind of ghostly whisperings piped through the lobby of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall Building until Sept. 16
June 11, 2018
Of all the hearers, installation view, by Steve Bates. | Courtesy of Paul Litherland/Studio Lux

If you catch wind of ghostly whisperings piped through the lobby of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall Building (H) this summer, you’re not alone.

The haunting noises are emanating from Of all the hearers, an art project by Steve Bates (MFA 10) that explores false perceptions of sound.

On view in the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery’s SIGHTINGS box until September 16, Of all the hearers is a new piece in Bates’s larger series, Black Seas.

Black Seas is influenced by historical and contemporary experiences of pathological and non-pathological auditory hallucination,” Bates writes in an artist statement.

“More specifically, I’m interested in the continuum between the two. Digging around where they may intersect, blur, overlap and differentiate.”

Of all the hearers is a bilingual reading of a letter by Sarah Jenkins, a 19th-century Boston woman, published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research in 1893.

Jenkins wrote of a strange sonic phenomenon she and her family experienced the night of a well-known musician’s funeral. An otherworldly burst of music was heard by Jenkins, her mother, two sisters and a friend.

Bates notes that Jenkins’s letter is part of a collection of stories on communication with the dead in the 19th-century. The letter contributes to a psychic movement that aimed to apply scientific methods to validate psychic and supernatural phenomena and transpose them into truth.

In addition to the recorded readings and a soundtrack, Bates’s installation consists of two bright yellow curtains hung in diagonal, evoking what Jenkins described in the letter as “a burst of sunshine in sound.” Two oscillating fans are hung between these curtains to create a constant blowing movement, as if the cube were haunted.

Katrie Chagnon, Max Stern Curator of Research at the gallery and programmer of the SIGHTINGS space, says she asked Bates to develop Of all the hearers specifically for the exhibition box after she learned how he addresses the notion of auditory hallucination.

“I first came across Steve’s research in the context of a studio visit during the summer of 2016,” Chagnon explains.

“I became immediately fascinated by the way he was approaching the subject of hallucination as a sound artist and musician — drawing on everything from horror literature, film and sound studies to cognitive science, medical history, telecommunications, philosophy, religion and mysticism.”

“I was particularly interested in how addressing this phenomenon in both a historical and contemporary perspective, as Steve does, can blur the distinctions between the normal and the pathological, interiority and exteriority.”

The 2017-18 edition of SIGHTINGS explores the area of psychopathologies, scrutinizing processes that disturb the contemporary psyche — be it individual or collective.

Chagnon says Bates was one of the first artists she invited to develop a project for the season, noting that all of the works presented in the space has to be specifically conceived for the box.

Of all of the hearers
is on view in the SIGHTINGS exhibition space, located in the lobby of the Henry F. Hall Building, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.


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