In Conversation, or Call and Response: Hanna Tuulikki and Sarah Hardie

This article is from 2015

In Conversation, or Call and Response: Hanna Tuulikki and Sarah Hardie

Photo: Robin Gillanders

The artist and the artist / musician talk about their Edinburgh Art Festival shows

Sarah Hardie is an artist, art writer and curator, specialising in the human voice. Artist, composer and vocalist Hanna Tuulikki works across a range of visual and audio forms, with a focus on the voice as a means to build worlds out of sound. Here they talk about their respective performances, songs for someone who isn't there and SING SIGN.

Sarah Hardie: It seems we are very interested in call and response, but we actually work with this form in different ways: your commission for the Edinburgh Art Festival, SING SIGN: a close duet, captures a longed for reciprocity which I find our moment of promised connectivity (eg. social media) often actually fails to deliver, whereas mine, songs for someone who isn’t there, is very interested in the call and (lack of) response, a failed reciprocity, a violent silence …

Hanna Tuulikki: Interesting connection. Within SING SIGN: a close duet, there is call and response, but the relationship shifts with neither vocalist dominating the ‘call’. As male and female performers, we seek ‘common ground’ – Daniel Padden and I, with our different pitched voices, have to stretch to meet within a shared vocal range. Similarly the piece strives for equality between sound and gesture as forms of expression. In terms of call-response as performance, in my work the audience encounters a formal exchange, a duet. In yours, they seem part of the exchange. Do the vocalists in your performance call out to the audience?

SH: Yes, my work generally calls out to an imagined or lost ‘someone’, which is each member of the audience and none of them simultaneously. Ed Atkins, David Austen, Crispin Best and Marco Godoy’s works presented in songs for someone who isn’t there, alongside my guiding work of song, can each be read as a ‘lullaby’ to someone who isn’t there – by ‘lullaby’ I mean a way of understanding oneself as alone. I’m testing the ground between the singer and the ‘someone’ – asking ‘someone’ to sing back, playing out the inevitable failed promise of reciprocity. Singing in public space is a rupture though, and I think there’s hope in that bravery to make noise.

I find it interesting that through the straight-on camera view of both performers in SING SIGN, the audience becomes the intermediary; a third silent performer in the duet – or trio then.
songs for someone who isn’t there sees song as a kind of (dead-end) pathway to reach the lost ‘someone’. I wanted to ask you about this idea of song as pathway in relation to SING SIGN.

HT: Quite literally, my score derives from pathways, from a 1765 Edinburgh street map. The wordless melody splits between the singers in accordance with the ‘closes’ branching off the Royal Mile. Adopting BSL, the choreography translates street names into gesture.

Like you, I’m interested in paths – closes – as metaphors of connection and separation. Embodied in SING SIGN is a reflection on language. The meaning of singing and signing may appear ‘closed’ to the other, yet inspired by the beauty of baroque dance suites, these forms grow ‘closer’, in a kind of wordless poem or spoken dance, of signing voices and singing hands.

Sarah Hardie, songs for someone who isn’t there, Old College, 650 9746, 1 Aug, 9pm and 10pm, free.
Hanna Tuulikki, SING SIGN: a close duet, Gladstone’s Land, 226 5856, until 30 Aug (live performances, Fountain Close, 8, 15, 29 Aug), free,

Songs for someone who isn't there

Project curated by artist Sarah Hardie, featuring work by Ed Atkins, David Austen, Crispin Best, Marco Godoy and Hardie herself, exploring the silence of the human voice in public places. Meet on the corner of Chambers Street and West College Street.

Hanna Tuulikki: Sing Sign – A Close Duet

Playing with the acoustic possibilities of architecture, artist and composer Tuulikki has created another intriguing work, this time within the mediaeval confines of Edinburgh’s historic closes.