Surprisingly, while historically art has rarely focused its attention on the body’s auditory perception, in this installation the sound represents the core of the work. Indeed, in the past this sense has been largely excluded from scrutiny, even though it has a crucial importance for the human body and represents a different way of reading the world around us. Very rarely has an entire narrative been created around it, its nature or its effects. Camille Norment, trained as a musician, a dancer and an artist with a rich multidisciplinary background, was invited by Katya Garcia-Anton, the curator of the Biennale Nordic Pavilion to investigate this neglected sonic aspect. The result of her work is the bold “Rapture” project that literally breaks free from its limits thanks to the sound that appears here almost as a tangible matter.
Approaching Norment’s artwork, one senses that something has happened. Broken glass and scattered window frames flanking the pavilion appear to have sustained a heavy blow. Inside, large sonic projectiles (boom microphones) emit a something of a choir. And every single shard of broken glass responds in vibrations to the angelic sound of the forbidden glass-harmonica instrument. The disturbing calm created by the installation also embodies a state of excitement, while the sound bursts one’s body and mind with the potential of rapture.
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Having only eight and a half months to come up with an idea and to complete it, the artist has chosen to investigate the effects of music, and to reflect how the body can be defined by sound. This is why Norment chose the glass-harmonica, a legendary instrument made of horizontally mounted bowls turned by means of a foot pedal and played by water-moistened fingers. Invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761, this unusual music instrument instead of producing pure tones makes characteristic visceral sounds.
Interestingly, although Franklin’s invention was derived from the Italian word “armonia”, which means “harmony”, it ultimately caused numerous controversies. When it was first created, it was loved and popular. Mozart was composing for it, and – due to its ethereal music – it was even used to hypnotize and excite females in healing sessions. Soon after, however, people started to doubt it because if an instrument can heal you, it can probably kill you too. At that time, rumors spread that the instrument causes madness in its listeners. As a consequence, it was banned and basically disappeared for nearly 200 years.
These doubts were most likely unfounded. What we can read between the lines, according to Norment, is that society was most likely afraid of exciting the female body, allowing them too much freedom and risking female arousal. Thus, in the past, the glass-harmonica’s sound could not pass beyond invisible social boundaries.
“Sound, by its nature, permeates borders – even invisible ones. Throughout history, fear has been associated with the paradoxical effects music has on the body and mind, and its power as a reward-giving de-centraliser of control. Recognized as capable of inducing states akin to sex and drugs, music is still seen by many in the world as an experience that should be controlled – especially in relation to the female body – and yet it is also increasingly used as a tool for control, especially under the justifications of war.”- states Norment on the OCA site.
Reflecting on the matter of limits and control, and transcending gender issues, Camille Norment envisioned the Pavilion itself as a body surrounded by an invisible yet impenetrable barrier made of glass windows. In her work of art, however, the glass-harmonica music sound – composed by Norment specifically for the “Rapture” – crashes any former boundaries. Wrested window frames and broken glass symbolically reflect the sonic shock to which the body of the pavilion was exposed. And what initially disquieted us appears now as an expression of freedom stating the body’s very existence.
+ Camille Norment
+ Venice Biennale
Images via Maria Novozhilova for Inhabitat