: the space between
Our friends Irene Noy & Michaela Zöschg of The Courtauld Institute are running a research forum series called Art History and Sound. Though not focusing only on early art and music, this series shares many lines of inquiry with our own project, and we were keen to learn what they have been up to. We exchanged a Q&A with them to find out a little more about their project, copied below. Do check out their next event here!!
Of particular relevance to our audience, however, is their event on Thursday, 21 Nov at the Courtauld Institute featuring Professor Deborah Howard (University of Cambridge) on Architecture and Music in Renaissance Venice. Her lecture explores the relationship between innovations in architecture and musical composition in Renaissance Venice. It seeks to show how the soundscape of a church interior was as important as the formal and liturgical aspects of the design. Details of this event can be found here: Architecture & Music in Renaissance Venice
Alright! On to the interview!
1. What prompted you to establish the Art History and Sound project?
In May 2011, The Courtauld Institute of Art hosted a symposium titled Performing Art History. We decided to test the ground by writing and presenting an experimental paper together that connected our common interest in sound and visual arts. Although we come from two diametrically opposed periods of art historical research, i.e. we work on medieval and contemporary art respectively, our collaboration was a very fruitful and nourishing process. We found a range of linking points between our research projects and a range of methodological issues we both had to deal with when thinking about sound. This prompted us to facilitate the workshop series ‘The Listening Art Historian: Art History and Sound’, where other researchers concerned with similar issues would be able to meet and exchange ideas.
2. What were the responses to you starting it?
The initial responses we received from the Research Forum, our supervisors, and the academic staff proved to be extremely supportive and positive. The biggest surprise for us were the 52 international applications we received – not only by art historians, but also by art practitioners, musicologists and researchers working in other related fields. Their proposals and different takes on the subject really showed that we seem to have hit a nerve within the art historical community and beyond. The much-evoked ‘aural turn’ within the humanities seems indeed have taken place already.
3. Who actually responded most positively to the project once it was up and running? different to what you expected etc?
After each workshop we received a couple of emails from those who attended the workshops. Those messages were incredibly encouraging, as people said that the workshops made them ‘look’ differently at the art works they examine. These workshops prompted its participants to think about the sonorous in their own research, in spite of not necessarily examining these aspects until now. In addition, all our speakers gave us very supportive feedback emphasising how rare the framework, which addresses sound and art history, still is. So we guess that our target audience – art historians working in all periods and interested in all aspects of sound – responded most positively to our endeavour.
4. Has your project taken any unexpected directions?
We brought a very clearly defined set of questions and problems to the table, which turned out to be a reliable guideline for the whole project. Throughout our workshop series, we pretty much continued to explore those initial topics and themes from various angles, without shifting in very different or unexpected directions.
5. What do you feel the most valuable thing you’ve got from it has been so far?
There are several points which are relevant in this instance, and it is difficult to say which one of them is the most valuable. Firstly, cross-period and cross-media collaboration, conversation and discussion proved to be an exceptionally valuable process. Secondly, we realised that every art historian, be it working on the soundscape of 16th-century architecture or thinking about 20th-century sound art, basically struggles with the same methodological questions. This was most encouraging. Thirdly, we learned about an incredibly vast range of topics existing in art history that relate to sound; from the exploration of the noise of fans in impressionist paintings to the silences of 19th-century Paris captured in photography and the relationship between British art education in the 1960s to the aesthetics of pop bands such as Roxy Music. What we’ve learned from all of these is to understand and appreciate the various approaches researchers take in order to tackle the methodological challenges, depending on aspects such as period and media, when examining the connection between the senses of sight and hearing within art history.