Jessie Lumb, Brad Lay and Philip Gibson
21 May to 8 June 2018
SASA Gallery, University of South Australia

Sometimes I want art to speak to me very quietly. To tell me something small and important. Intimately, urgently, funnily, like a friend telling a good story that rises and falls pulling oddness and truths together.

Chuchotage is a method of simultaneous translation where the translator translates sotto voce to an individual or small group. Chuchotage is whispering in French and we find whispering’s origin in old English closely akin to the Old Norse hvīsla, to whistle. To whisper the dictionary says is to ‘substitute breath for phonation’. The breath of whispering infiltrates this small, very strong show that recasts communications in unexpected ways, finding new forms in which to speak.

Chuchotage is a murmuration of communication in sound, colour, of sensory whispering, murmuring, text and image, the susurration of the written word in our reading mind and the forms of coloured music without sound bind this collection together in a quiet communion.

The intimate connections and binding thread of physical correspondence, letters, exotic aerogrammes, postcards, the physicality, duration and freedom of handwritten communications is the stuff of Jessie Lumb’s work. Correspondence is lightly attached to the walls or collected on a pale shelf, this tenuous attachment highlighting the mobility of the written and travelling word.

rainbow coloured letters
Dear Zayn, your post is like rainbows in my letter box (2018) Jessie Lumb

A rainbow coloured set of letters is loosely stacked, Dear Zayn, your post is like rainbows in my letterbox, aerogrammes from her grandmother, Too many words for a text message, overlap, chatty and loving, a continuing dialogue unbroken by the physical separation of each letter. A pair of fine blue pencil drawings Envelope Drawings, reproduce the space and shape of the interior of a torn open envelope, their transparency and use of the negative space playing with the presence/absence inherent in the act of writing to someone (I write with you in mind but you are not here). The onion skin lightness of aerogrammes and post it notes shift in small wafts of air creating a wordy breeze.

Directions for Birdsong (2018) Brad Lay

Brad Lay’s sound and video installations take native birdsong as their utterance, those complicated calls that are often negated to noise or just ignored. In A Clumsy 4am Lullaby for Little Corellas (with Passing Truck, Dying Moth and Feeding Bats) the unlovely pre dawn cries of massed corellas provide the base notes for a clunky, plunky, music box-y lullaby. The kind made by the desperate sleepless. Two prints of the sound waves heard and a photograph of a Little Corella are box mounted and butted together next to headphones, a museological style presentation that lends a faux seriousness to this light hearted work.

In Last Drinks for Lorikeets, Lay takes his recordings of drunken Lorikeets and slows them down almost to the speed of human speech. Sounding like raucous nightclub patrons they are set against a cool jazz improvisation with high hat cymbal and snare drum. In the same boxed presentation as Clumsy Lullaby… the innocent mounted image of the Lorikeet belies their loutish behaviour.

Lay’s three screen video installation Directions for Birdsong, takes the phonetic guides for birdsong identification, those obscure written descriptions of what a bird sounds like and places these on mobile traffic signs on roadsides. The signs scroll through these sometimes incomprehensible vocalisations-as- text; ‘a distinctive drawn out mournful now’, ‘with a rising inflection’, ‘high whistle titch- u- wip’. In various locations, cars pass by, someone tows their boat, the sterile displacement of wildness and real habitat that is manufactured ‘water frontage’ points to the continuing elision of birds from our consciousness. The lightness, charm and humour of these works makes us pay new regard to these complicated and ceaselessly communicative creatures that luckily, still surround us.

Directions for Birdsong (2018) Brad Lay

The breath of air that moves letters against a wall and propels birdsong makes music too. A wall of perforated Pianola rolls- that always recall computer punch cards because they are too a mathematical code- create music as air passes through their holes. Here they hang silently, a response to the soft shapes and colour of Philip Gibson’s large single screen video Spectroscopic Music Part 3.

Except that here the breath of air as sound is translated into colour. In Gibson’s video small discs of soft colour stand in for musical notes that appear, blend, persist and fade making a silent music of time, form and colour. Duration, colour and movement form rhythms that resonate in the mind so that colour and time can be ‘heard’. There is an expansive quietude in this piece that rewards simple sitting and watching without analysis, a small meditative episode in one’s day.

There must be a word, a linguistic term for when you receive communication in an unexpected form, as silent music, as birdsong in words or a letter in the envelope’s internal space.

Intimate, slightly off kilter, the works of Chuchotage complement and enrich each other, shifting things sideways so that, translating one thing into another becomes a whispered truth.

Installation images authors and used with permission of SASA Gallery