When is Now? - Vladan Radovanović's Voice from the Loudspeaker

July 05, 2020 | Anna Zielazny

After the pandemic lockdown, OKNA - Espaço Cultural slowly opened its doors to the public. This cultural space is starting with chamber events when one video piece is projected. The OKNA gallery, located in Porto, focuses on modern and contemporary art from Central-Eastern Europe.

Last weekend, OKNA displayed a piece by Yugoslavian artist Vladan Radovanović - Voice from the Loudspeaker (1973). According to the curators, this event was called a listening session. Voice from the Loudspeaker was created in cooperation with Australian-born saxophonist Paul Pignon, who translated and read the text of Radovanović.

In the small room, with only four chairs on which visitors can sit to enjoy the work, the words that are said in the recording are displayed on the wall. This special arrangement of the gallery space gives an intimate feeling that helps to immerse into the words. The "listening" lasts about 4 minutes. As the name of this piece suggests, visitors can hear the voice coming from the loudspeaker. It is a male voice, speaking in English. 

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Radovanović seems to question the medium itself. By the conceptual text that is read by Paul Pignon, the artist highlights the duality of the medium, in this case recording. He says: "This voice is in you. This voice is in the loudspeaker". This suggests that the medium itself cannot exist without the listener, even though "This voice came to being before you hear it". Even though the voice is recorded, it couldn't exist before without the speaker and now it can exist without a listener.

The reflection about the existence of the voice from the speaker can be connotated with the idea of subjective idealism. This doctrine has its roots in Buddhist Yogachara but was popularized in the 18th century by George Berkley. According to this principle, reality is completely dependent on the mind of the subject who is perceiving it. Radovanović considers the existence of the voice, space and listener, with his words highlighting the dependence of the work of art, artist and recipient. They all depend on each other. Their separate existence can be questions and considering them as separate realities changes the meaning of the words in the loudspeaker.

The artist called the time when this work was created Projectism: "Projectism was characterized by the use of a linguistic medium but not in the literary sense; by self-consideration and the consideration of different problems concerning perception, apperception, time and space".

Tapes can be connoted as carriers of memories. "I have to be here while being here. I don't have to be here while being here" - By these words, Radovanović questions the presence of the artist in the piece of art itself. On one hand, he was the one that created the voice; on the other, his presence, after creation, is not essential for the art to exist. Even though we hear the voice from the loudspeaker, this voice, even though it "belongs" to the person who said it, is no longer connected to him.

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Radovanović also reflects on the topic of time. He seems to ask when is now. The now is so fleeting that it is almost impossible to catch. For sure, it cannot be caught in semantics, as even the shorter word or letter is prolonged in time and, before we process it, it will already be part of the past. "I can't say Now fast enough to be exactly now". The perception of the time is questioned. Even though the words from the loudspeaker were "now" at some particular point, for the viewer they are recorded words. They are not said "now" but can be heard at a particular moment, which gives them a new "now". When an artist says "I shall record", the words will be in the same moment present, past and future.

Because of the description of the changes that are happening in the room in which the artwork is recorded as well as outside of that space, Radovanović informs us that time never stops, but rather constantly changes everything. Even though we can focus on understanding now, we won't be able to catch it.

As Radovanović's work was created in Yugoslavia in the '70s, the tapes can be also associated with the wiretappings of the socialistic government. In this context, Radovanović's work can be read as a reflection on the credibility of the words that were recorded.

Entering the room with Voice from the Loudspeaker, the viewer enters an artistic Sophie's World which exists in reality only while listening and interacting with the viewer. The rest of its existence is just subjective.

(Photos courtesy of OKNA - Espaço Cultural)

I'm a polish art historian, specialized in Eastern European art. Currently, I am living in Porto, Portugal. I am a creative writer and the author of SlowMotionTravels blog.

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