Review: Body of Voice

Naomi Blacklock: Body of Voice
22 March- 8 April 2017
Cut Thumb Laundry
Level 2, Gallery 2 Metro Arts

Words by Sarah Thomson

The first thing that strikes the visitor to Naomi Blacklock’s Body of Voice is the earthy smell that fills the room- the smell of fresh dirt- immediately transporting one from the gallery to some damp forest floor in a dark part of the world. A red neon X on the ceiling produces an eerie, otherworldly glow and a low atmospheric groaning and droning can be faintly heard.

A shallow pile of dirt on the floor surrounds a round pool of what is water, but in the darkness of the room appears to be some never-ending black hole. The neon cross on the ceiling is mirrored in the surface and trembles as the water vibrates. I’m told to put my ear to the pool and listen to it. As if some sentient being is trying to communicate something to us through this portal in the floor. As hard as you try you cannot make out what these ghoulish voices are trying to say, like spirits stuck in some purgatory, in-between world.

After this initial viewing, I visited again to see Blacklock perform in the space. The grumbling, haunting tension that pervaded my initial experiences of the work were violently brought bubbling to the surface through Blacklock’s powerful manipulation of sound and her own voice. Blacklock sat on a second circle of dirt, bare-foot with a round mirror between her legs. She ritualistically grasped at the dirt and let it fall through her fingers onto the mirror, evoking a kind of shamanistic ceremony and slamming her hands on the mirror with increasing ferocity. She used effect pedals and a microphone to create a looping, haunting soundscape and a contact microphone to amplify the sound of the trickling dirt onto the mirror punctuated by the sound of her hands hitting the surface. Sighs and whispers were brought to a crescendo of bloodcurdling screams that produced an unavoidable, visceral reaction of discomfort, verging on distress. Blacklock appeared to conjure and embody the voices of those who have disrupted the status quo and suffered throughout history, namely ‘wild woman archetypes such as sirens, witches and banshees.’1

The raw violence of the female scream stirs some primal empathy, especially as a woman. It made me realise how rarely I hear real, horrifying screams other than in movies or television shows and how truly confronting it can be, slicing through the niceties of polite society and daring to bare all. Blacklock lends her voice to those who are not present, her voice possessing a collective distress that seems eternal and greater than that of one individual. It evokes the violent ends of women being burnt at the stake, of the victims of slander, gossip, superstition, fear, prejudice, bigotry and pervasive sexism throughout time.

Naomi Blacklock is a Brisbane-based artist working primarily with sound installation and performance. Her practice addresses the ‘significance of disruptive feminist voices and reimagines intersectional identities in contemporary art practice through the figure of a “witch” as Other.’2

Naomi Blacklock Body of Voice runs until April 8

1Naomi Blacklock, “About”

2Cut Thumb Laundry “Body of Voice: Naomi Blacklock”