Focus Artistic Research

Thou Shalt Not Speak

Project lead: Erik Bünger
Zentrum Fokus Forschung
Duration: 01.09.2021 - 31.08.2025
Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR 688 Programm zur Entwicklung und Erschließung der Künste (PEEK)
What is the relationship between voice-over and image? Does a voice-over give voice to the image? Does it help the image communicate something that images cannot communicate on their own? Common sense tells us that this is how voice-over functions. This artistic research project explores a line of thought that runs contrary to common sense. A voice-over functions – not by giving voice to the image – but by taking voice away. By speaking of the image, the voice-over commands the image to silence.
How can the voice-over speak of the image and in the same breath command the image to silence? To understand this, one must look upon how image and word are weighed against each other. Images are often assumed to speak a higher form of truth. According to a popular saying, they are “worth a thousand words”. What such a saying seems to imply is that images acquire their truthfulness by standing in direct opposition to speech. It is precisely because images do not speak that they are supposed to be able to say so much. It is as if the voice-over said to the image: 'You shall not speak. And therefore you shall speak a thousand times more!' It is as if the voice-over could call upon the higher truth spoken by images only by demanding that images stay silent.
The idea of the project is to see if it is possible to use this paradoxical logic against the voice-over. If the voice-over commands the image to silence, can this silence be mobilised against the voice-over? Can it become an obstacle to speech that blocks the voice-over from articulating what the image means?
The project invites a team of four artistic researchers to examine this question under three consecutive chapters: animal, image and voice. Starting by focusing on a body addressed by voice-over (animal), the research moves on to the medium that contains such a body (image) to finally end up at the very source of the voice-over itself (voice). By step by step zooming in on the bare minimal essentials that make voice-over possible, the investigation moves closer and closer to the source of the voice-over's power.

Central to the project is the wish to investigate whether the relationship between voice-over and image can shed light on the more general relationship between language and world. It is essential that the project does not end up becoming what it wants to critically attack: a singular voice that speaks authoritatively about the very way in which language commands experience. The project is therefore designed to actively encourage friction within the research team rather than consensus. The work produced by each researcher is supposed to respond critically to the work produced by every other researcher. The aim is not to come up with a joint set of strategies for how to counter the authority of voice-over but rather to set in motion a mode of using voice-over, which continuously destabilises this instrument.

Principal researcher: Erik Bünger
Co-researchers: Cordula Daus, Manuel Saiz & Sophie Reyer

Photo Credit: The Big Swallow, James Williamson, 1901