tue 18/06/2024

Sonia Boyce: Feeling Her Way, Turner Contemporary review - a feedback loop of musical union | reviews, news & interviews

Sonia Boyce: Feeling Her Way, Turner Contemporary review - a feedback loop of musical union

Sonia Boyce: Feeling Her Way, Turner Contemporary review - a feedback loop of musical union

The artist's award-winning Venice Biennale offering comes to Margate

"I'm here, you can't wish me away": the award-winning artist Sonia Boyce Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery. Photo: Parisa Taghizadeh

It’s 1986, and a young Sonia Boyce (main picture) speaks to poet and sculptor, Pitika Ntuli, about the "perpetual struggle to be heard and appreciated" as a Black woman who is an artist. "I’m here, you can’t wish me away," she responds with characteristic verve and fight.

Cut to 2023, to the UK debut of Boyce’s award-winning Venice Biennale installation Feeling Her Way, and the same concerns about visibility, audibility and laudability remain at the fore of her work – but with a golden, gleeful difference.

Spread across five adjoining rooms in the Turner Contemporary, Feeling Her Way gloriously immerses us in the sights, sounds and historic achievements of Black British female musicians (). We begin in the opening room, (pictured below) where four differently tinted HD screens feature the composer Errollyn Wallen and three intergenerational singers, Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth, Tanita Tikaram, upon whom Boyce focalises this multimedia explosion of an exposition. Guiding the women through vocal exercises, Wallen guides us too into a space as excitingly experimental and playful as the kaleidoscopic wallpapered room itself. Sitting on gold pyrite sculptural seats, where the aural and visual reflect and refract, we, the viewers-cum-auditors, become part of the vocalised fun, at once laughing and marvelling at the singers’ ingenious harmonic trills, runs, gestures and expressions.

Feeling Her Way featuring four performers - Errollyn Wallen, Tanita Tikaram, Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth – 2022 – © British Council (1)It is this experiential experiment – one where we’re invited to witness the vocal power, vulnerability and personality of all three women – that draws us deeper into the work and closer to those at the centre of it. Although recorded in the prestigiously removed setting of Abbey Road Studios, Boyce’s vibrant and vibrating spaces close around us, creating a sense of intimacy and community, connectivity and synergy – a literalised feedback loop of musical union. Photographic fragments (snapshots taken from the day of the recording) intersect with triangles of orange, pink, green and gold, tessellating outwards from each HD screen. Illustrative of sonic frequencies or the synesthetic and chromatic impressions evoked by sound, the wallpaper imitates the unregulated and freeing movement of song, chorically merging and melodically overlaying across time and space. In this specially designed paper, Boyce simultaneously amplifies and magnifies each singer’s performance, celebrating and commemorating their overall artistry through her own. Here, through shimmering walls, glitter-infused photography, glinting pyrite chairs and stunningly haunting vocalisations, the artist once again defiantly insists, “I’m here, you can’t wish me away.” (Pictured belowFeeling Her Way featuring performers Jacqui Dankworth and Sofia Jernberg).

Feeling Her Way featuring performers Jacqui Dankworth and Sofia Jernberg – 2022 – Image_ Cristiano Corte © British CouncilBut this is a show predominantly about "feeling". Boyce wants to move the viewer, to stir our senses and motivate us to consider how Black British female musicians are treated by the music industry and music lovers alike. Traversing the fourth room, where her decades-long archival project Devotional Collection (1999-present) is displayed against black-gold patterned walls, one has a sense of moving through the sacred annals of music history; of travelling back and forth across time and discovering a monument dedicated to Black British female musical talent. In this temple-like space, we nostalgically remember and relive the artistic output of Shirley Bassey, Polystyrene, Cleo Laine, Skin, Beverley Knight and many others. More than an animated archive, this is Boyce’s ode to Black British female artistry; an unceasing visual song expressed through her own characteristic love for collage, collecting and collaborating. And it is collaboration that brings us full circle: this archive, so devotedly and votively made, has involved the British public sending CDs, records and other memorabilia to Boyce, who in turn brings it to us in her collaboratively created exhibition. Drawing us in through sound, image and archive, Boyce encourages us, along with her singers, to feel our way through this process of celebration and commemoration; to intuitively appreciate and emotionally understand the valuable contribution Black British women musicians make to our everyday lives.

When watching the mighty Errollyn Wallen lead some of the UK’s greatest female musicians in a collective vocal interpretation of the phrase, "I am Queen", I can’t help but feel that though the "perpetual struggle to be heard and appreciated" remains real, through Boyce’s exceptional work it is one step closer to be fully, feelingly and beautifully realised. Feeling their way through the lyrical phrase, these Black British female singers, every bit the "Queens" of this show, shine.

We’re invited to witness the vocal power, vulnerability and personality of all three women


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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