Exhibition notes for Arlington Arts Centre 14th January 2017
Audiovisability is a ‘visual music’ art form created by myself, Ruth Montgomery – a professional musician with profound hearing loss. It is a unique project that draws together music and deafness through the expertise and individual experiences of a number of hearing and Deaf professionals.
In the first year I set up Audiovisability in 2016 with the theme of ‘The Elements of Music’ became everybody’s project, where I rely on their expertise, ideas and contribution to the visual music arts.
‘The Elements of Music’ involves 16 British Deaf artists across a number of disciplines including photography, sculpting, acting, textiles, and musical composition. It leads the spectator through a thoughtful and deeply integrated arts experience, portraying music in a visually compelling and refreshingly humanistic way.
The name ‘Audiovisability’ is derived from three separate words: ‘audio’ (sound/music), ‘vision’, and ‘ability’. Generally, society perceives Deaf people as having an ‘audio disability’; however, Audiovisability highlights that Deaf people are able to listen to, appreciate, and interpret music, particularly through its inherently visual nature.
The exhibition turns conventional understanding of music on its head; the focus is not on sound, but on music’s real and interpreted visual nature. The exhibition is broken up into a number of standalone projects, each isolating and interpreting one particular element of music. Each project also features a different technique or discipline to complement the topic at hand. For example, sculpting, as seen in Harmony I, can bring musical texture to life, whilst painting, such as that from Dynamics I and Dynamics II, can illustrate tonal colour and rhythmic pattern.
Also featured in the exhibition are new and extended elements of music – most notably, the integration of Deaf Culture and its language (British Sign Language (BSL)) with the musical world. Like music, BSL has repetition, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and metre. They can both be fluid or detached and loud or quiet, and both feature physical placement. Just like spoken language, I believe that visual language can enhance the musical experience. BSL can be seen throughout the exhibition, particularly in Composition I – of the Amsden’s Yorkshire Suite by Danny Lane which injects society’s attitudes to deafness, and Composition II ‘The Twilight Thief’ by 11 year old Layla, and ‘Interpretation I’ Score for BSL, flute and voice by Deaf television and stage actress, Sophie Stone.
Added to the exhibition are pieces of work by students at Mary Hare School. These are the outcome of Audiovisability’s educational workshops held at the school in November 2016. During the workshops, the students explored the ways in which music is a visual as well as auditory art form, including how it can portray emotion, colour, or even tell a story.
Beyond isolating and illustrating the individual elements of music, Audiovisability brings a sense of individuality to the viewer, challenging their own perceptions. Each work of art is truly unique, combining the project itself with the artist’s own perceptions, ideas, and life experiences. Audiovisability highlights the huge level of diversity in the Deaf world by bringing together different levels of hearing loss, two different languages (spoken and visual), and a range of art disciplines. Finally, it highlights that deaf people have the ability to not only hear music, but to appreciate, interpret, and love it.
Here are some images below summarising music and visual arts experiments for Audiovisability. (2016 – 2017).