Departing from the idea that seeing is believing and moving toward the theories that Virginia Woolf and Susan Sontag espoused that visuals often mislead if not outright lead to complacency and even engender disaster, this project aims to “see” visuals from recent and ongoing wars without looking. The aim here is not to call out particular places or photographers, but to do the opposite, to somehow neutralize the terror inherent in a war photograph becoming a market commodity, and a work of art. Like Woolf and Sontag in their books, Roxanne Varzi believes it necessary to describe, but not to show, war photographs in order to understand and respect the power they hold. Most photographs taken of people in the public sphere are of suffering and most of that suffering is manmade. Leaving a notebook for the audience to comment on allows us to determine how iconic these particular photographs have become in the past few years, if at all? Do the observers recognize them, even in their most muted form–metaphor? What can we sense about mortality and morality –about war when we allow ourselves to be blinded? When we are forced to listen and imagine? When we stop privileging visuality and heighten our sense of sound? Can it tame the violence of the art? Can blindness lead us to a new kind of vision that would open a space for peace, love and beauty? This sound work will loop through a history of the present moment to bring us back to our originary question: is seeing believing? Perhaps the greatest pinnacle of vision resides in blindness. Just as the loudest message is born in silence.
The Whole World Blind is a self-contained sound performance for SoundWalk 2011 by: Roxanne Varzi, Narrator, text, research and concept Vincent Olivieri, Sound Design. This work is a self-contained sound performance that involves the audience member blindfolding him or herself, then putting on headphones connected to an mp3 player and listening to the narrative loop of a “museum curator” who offers to describe, for our blinded audience, a show she has done on war photography. The curator describes the images as she advances through them on a slide projector, demarcated by the mechanical sound of the projector advancing. The images she has chosen are from prestigious shows of Western war photographers since 2001 when the United States went to war against the Middle East. Interspersed throughout the descriptions of the photographs are meditative breaks with the same narrator, now recorded in a quiet and intimate studio setting, giving the listener meditative suggestions and breaks from the “visual noise” of war. Varzi has seen these photographs in galleries, and has studied them as an anthropologist. In keeping with the ethnographic aspects of the project listeners are asked to comment in a notebook, particularly about the experience of being blindfolded, and whether they can identify any of the photographs.
The Whole World Blind comes out of work as an anthropologist of war and as a visual anthropologist. Her previous ethnographic work has mainly focused on Iran and has resulted in her book, Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran was published in 2006 by Duke University Press and her film, Plastic Flowers Never Die, which is distributed through DER. Roxanne Varzi is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Film & Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine. This is her first sound installation.
For The Whole World Blind Vincent Olivieri creates the aural world through a series of meticulously staged and layered binaural recordings. The binaural recordings will enable verisimilitude for the audience, who experience the sound through headphones. Through carefully crafted aural events (recorded at prestigious art galleries in the Los Angeles area), Olivieri’s sound will underscore the emotional and psychological significance of Varzi’s text.