They Took to Their Voices
4 May - 30 May 1997
An enigmatic figure in New Zealand video art, Lionel Budd installs his work in a space originally set aside as a lift shaft, though never used as one. Budd's choice of space reflects his perennial interest in things neglected, discarded, and non-functional. The installation’s centrepiece is an old black-and-white surveillance monitor suspended at head height from a galvanised pipe. On it, we see bumpy, degraded, looped footage of a woman's head. The image is both recorded and live: a closed-circuit surveillance camera upstairs is trained on a video monitor that screens a tape prepared earlier. The eerie, disembodied vocal of Verdi's Requiem plays distorted over a crappy speaker. They Took to Their Voices exemplifies Budd's preference for noise over signal, and his penchant for exceeding a clear logic. In an interview the artist explains: 'It is important to break habits, to break expectations, to break common ways of thinking. If you look at religious rituals in traditional societies—fire walking for example—they are often connected with some direct kind of physical effect on the body. They are physical experiences that push you to the limits.'
Interview with Lionel Budd and Bob Leonard
LB. ... Exactly!
BL. Is that really important?
LB. Yes! And when I finally started working with the medium, which again seems almost entirely intellectual, but is in fact a very physical medium, I realised that I was relating more to my voices than to my intuition.
BL. So what changes when other people enter that space?
LB. Some lady once came up to me in one of the lectures I gave in Christchurch. She introduced me to her husband, and he said that in one of my pieces... he held her hand when it was dark, and she was a little frightened, and he put his arm around her, and then they started kissing, and then they got married three months later! Functional art you know!
BL. But all this becomes very physiological...
LB. So... it is important to break habits, to break expectations, to break common ways of thinking. If you look at religious rituals in traditional societies - fire walking for example - they are often connected with some direct kind of physical effect on the body. They are physical experiences that push you to the limits, and the change is not that you're suddenly able to walk on fire, but rather, your inner being is changed, your inner self is changed.
BL. So there is a connection between the physical, and the internal, metaphysical psychological dimension?
BL. Has this piece changed in its process of evolution, or are you very near where you started in your original proposal?
LB. No, I've actually moved away from the proposal quite a bit. I don't think in spirit, but in form, yes. And that's kind of a wonderful thing about the creative process. It's about change.
BL. A process after my own heart!