I remove a painting of the bust of a Native American woman from a pillowcase and prop it on an open Macbook oriented towards the audience. I sit down, facing the painting, and begin very quietly humming the melody to a folk song. After some minutes a synthesized voice from the laptop intones scraps of a dialogue, calling out to and implicating the viewers in their passivity: “…Heavy space here, don’t you think, you looking with me. You giving me voice. You grant me this, yes. You come. You come for me. You come heavy. A heavy space to come for. Coming here…” The voice ends and the room resumes its quiet. I place the painting in the pillowcase.
My orientation and pacing fosters a confrontational and contemplative space with the painting. It is out of context, smuggled in a bag and propped awkwardly and mute. The hymnal humming marks the space as reverent, the almost inaudible volume amplifying the rustles and inadvertent noises of the audience. With the interruption of the synthesized voice the strategy of careful straining as a mode of ethical approach to a problematic image begins to erode: the grain of synthesized speech points to the prop of the laptop rather than the folksy amateur canvas.
The painting is mute as ever while the computer’s voice reflects back the dream that a dialogue with the painting could be established. The following and concluding silence carries the same acoustic quality as the earlier reverence but now the straining is retrospective: rather than opening an approach towards a just relation with the painting, the silence points to the moments of disjuncture: the painting and the obscured laptop screen, the humming and synthesized speech, the silence and silence. This work attempts to complicate the binary of speaking and not-speaking and the conflation of carefulness and justness through the staging of deliberate interruption by quiet means.