Murphy Canyon Choir

Posted by Giacomo Chaparro on November 9, 2011
Nov 092011

I really enjoy the text Realising Voices, reclaiming Power, The personal and collective potential of voice, as an example of a collective medium that include the experience of the personal and collective body through sound and voices as a powerful tools of exchange. After reading the text immediately came to my mind an experience a had in 2005 with an art piece or collaborative performance Murphy Canyon Choir in a military-housing complex in San Diego, when the Canadian artist Althea Thauberger work with eight military spouse to compose and perform a choral event.

“Her project Murphy Canyon Choir (2005) is especially revealing   in this respect. Commissioned by in Site, a binational network   that features works set in the region of San Diego and Tijuana, its   impoverished, cross-border counterpart, Thauberger proposed   to collaborate with families from San Diego’s huge military community.   Her proposal initially met with, she says, an “ambivalent   reaction”: inSite didn’t know how to position the project ideologically.   In her statement, Thauberger writes that Murphy Canyon   is the largest military-housing complex in the world, but the   city’s military population “remains quite invisible…especially to the educated and affluent.”

“Over a period of five months, Thauberger and a local choir   director and choral composer worked with eight military spouses   to compose an original repertoire of songs they then performed   in a school auditorium in Murphy Canyon. While the work was   in production, many of the women, all of whom were in their   20s, confided in Thauberger about the difficulty of being left to   raise children alone while their husbands were deployed overseas,   often to an uncertain fate. In spite of this, the women authored   songs that were sentimental and patriotic. Titles such as Wife of a   Hero, Waiting and The Story of Love give some indication of the   group’s collective view of their circumstances, as well as their   ideas about how their feelings should be properly expressed.   When an art audience from central San Diego was bused in for   the performance, two largely ideologically opposed worlds were   brought together, creating a dynamic, emotionally charged situation.   The idea that artworks can push boundaries is a commonplace—   if not a cliché—of the business, but Thauberger breached   tangible divisions by insisting on re-examining assumptions   about which communities are worthy of the art world’s attention.   As a result, the project helped to expand the two communities’ awareness of each other.”

“…Thauberger has said that she sees her work as creating “a situation   of witness.” It is a curious hope to have for art that implicates   the viewer morally in terms of a responsibility for what one   is looking at. This is true even as Thauberger’s chosen mode of   working, community collaboration, is on the leading edge of   contemporary art practice. This trend’s best-known exponents   are the British artists Phil Collins, Jeremy Deller and Gillian   Wearing and the Venezuelan artist   Javier Téllez, although their respective   practices are all quite different from one another.”

“…To dismiss her work on these terms, however, is to perpetuate   the idea that when it comes to self-representation, distinctions   between professional and amateur—and indeed between high and   low art—should be maintained. But look beyond the surface of   these works and the narratives informing the popular imagination   become apparent. These include not only aspirations to stardom,   but also assumptions about which occasions permit the expression   of true emotion, and what kind of sentiments are appropriate,   expected even, at those times. Viewers of Thauberger’s works   who balk at the stereotypical content of their performances   expose another set of stereotypes: the expectation that performers   should conform to mass media–fostered norms of what singers   should look and sound like. In this way, critics of Thauberger’s   work reveal themselves to be, like the girls in Songstress, utterly conventional in their desires.”“>