Susannah Stark Agora Of Cynics 2017  Lilt Twang Tremor At Cca Glasgow  Photography By Alan Dimmick Enlarge
Susannah Stark, Agora of Cynics, 2017. Lilt, Twang, Tremor at CCA Glasgow. Photography by Alan Dimmick

For Lilt, Twang, Tremor, CCA presents the intersecting work of three contemporary artists who each position the human voice as a central concern and medium. The main galleries are divided into discrete territories where each artist’s work is encountered in sequence. In CCA2 we meet Hanna Tuulikki’s immersive audio visual installations and visual score drawings; then in CCA1, a constellation of pieces by Susannah Stark; followed by works by Sarah Rose, also in the main space. A dual-screen film installation of Tuulikki’s ‘SING-SIGN: a close duet’ (2015) appears in a darkened addendum to the rear gallery.

Despite the thematic connection of ‘utterance’ the three practices are radically different in approach and aesthetic. To begin with Tuulikki, we are presented with precise visual and acoustic abundance as the artist’s voice is woven throughout her investigations of landscape, place, time and ecology. In ‘Away With The Birds’ (2010-2015), and ‘Cloud-Cuckoo-Island’ (2016), both beautifully filmed and audio recorded, Tuulikki’s training in composition and song allow her to emit wild and ambitious vocal offerings which swoop and dive in mimetic relation to birdsong. ‘Cloud-Cuckoo-Island’ uses ritual and folklore as a structure of articulation; in a film of the piece the artist appears in a moss-woven wig and beard to sing the part of Mad Sweeney as a vocal improvisation. As she sings to wordless exhaustion, we see a considered relationship between thresholds of self and non-self; music and sound; utterance and communication, and the voice as a meeting point between internal and external landscapes. This sequence of thresholds and boundaries is continued and expanded in ‘SING-SIGN: a close duet’, where Tuulikki’s exploration is framed in an urban context, but succeeds in establishing these ongoing concerns with lyricism and rigour.

Hanna Tuulikki Cloud Cuckoo Island 2016  Lilt Twang Tremor At Cca Glasgow  Photography By Alan Dimmick Enlarge
Hanna Tuulikki, cloud-cuckoo-island, 2016. Lilt, Twang, Tremor at CCA Glasgow. Photography by Alan Dimmick

The transition to Susannah Stark’s work is an abrupt one, as the mode of address seems to belong to another language altogether. ‘Agora of Cynics’ (2017) interrogates the voice as a mechanism of power, where sagging fabric columns and a disembodied, perturbing vocal soundscape (produced with Donald Hayden) describe the agora, a disorientated and contested public space in ancient Greece. The digital prints that form the surface of Stark’s proximate agora structure give the columns bizarre parodic faces, gazing back at the viewer with glazed cartoon eyes. These faces, we are told, reference a text by Peter Sloterdijk that examines the friction between decorum and emotion, cheekiness and reserve. Indisputably, they also appear to embody the ‘flattening’ of individual voices within material and cultural public space. 

Sarah Rose Installation View Lilt Twang Tremor At Cca Glasgow  Photography By Alan Dimmick Enlarge
Sarah Rose, installation view, Lilt, Twang, Tremor at CCA Glasgow. Photography by Alan Dimmick

Sarah Rose’s approach for Lilt, Twang, Tremor has been to foreground the role of the voice in the construction of prejudice, bias, and re-presentation. The ‘Rumour’ series (2017) results from the artist asking others to respond to images she describes to them. Artist Scott Rogers has created a series of assemblages in response to Rose’s description of an 1892 Punch cartoon (itself a response to the then-contentious ‘Plumage Bill’ legislation). Curator Mason Lever-Yap with artist Alexia Mitchell have responded to Rose’s description of a photograph of Jane Jacobs’ 1961 tape action demolition protest. Their reply is the screening of the 1971 film Glasgow 1980, in which a future version of the city is imagined and described through plummy early 1970s voiceover narration. A single hard copy of the Verso report The Right To The City accompanies the screening, comprising contemporary essays on the city’s evolution, problematics, and condition. If these elements sound disparate, it is because they are. Necessarily so, as Rose’s critique seems to be that the voice is a fallible method of communication, vulnerable to silencing and misrepresentation, even as it gives verbal shape to new and unexpected images.

 Sociologist and writer Lewis Hyde has indelibly linked the practices of art making and making connections through speech. ‘Our word ‘art’’, writes Hyde, ‘comes from an ancient root [ar] that means ‘to join’ and ‘to make.’’ The word ‘articulate’, meaning clarity and precision in speech, comes from this same root. In Trickster Makes This World (1998), Hyde expands this idea with the notion that ‘In human speech, the tongue and the lips are the organs of articulation. They do the joint-work in a stream of sound.’[1]

 That utterance is a form of connection-making between the self and the world returns us to Tuulikki’s often wordless practice, which seems to teeter at this very brink. To address the power of this most human of activities—and to acknowledge, as this exhibition does, the role the voice plays in shaping and inhabiting place—is both timely and important. In doing so, however, we must surely strive to retain the joys of both aurality and orality. As the whispered /muttered text of Susannah Stark’s ‘Searchlights’ (2017) reminds us: “we’re alive we’re alive we’re alive”.


[1] Lewis Hyde. Trickster Makes This World. Canongate Books. 1998. Pp 254-255

Ruth Barker is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. Her interests include ideas of myth, psychoanalysis, connectivity and finitude. Ruth has a PhD from Newcastle University, and is represented by the Agency gallery, London