Sonia Boyce at the PHI Foundation | Find your voice

The PHI Foundation is now presenting, and all summer long, the work of Sonia Boyce, who won an award at the Venice Biennale. We asked the artist how to approach this intriguing work.


Posted at 1:03 a.m.

Updated at 9:00 a.m.

“It takes a little while,” confides Sonia Boyce, without hesitation.

You should therefore not rush by the PHI Foundation, to see – but above all to hear – Feeling Her Way.

“Some will do it,” says the artist who does not want to give instructions to visitors.

Do it for her: take the time, be open.

Because if you just pass through the three rooms, you will only hear sound, women’s voices superimposed and creating a cacophony that is not necessarily pleasant.

“People end up sitting down and wondering: what is going on here? », continues the artist.

Sonia Boyce is an important figure in contemporary British art. His voice is powerful. She holds the Black Artists Chair in Art and Design at the University of the Arts London. In 2022, she won the Golden Lion for best international participation at the Venice Biennale with Feeling Her Way. It is this installation that is presented to the PHI Foundation. And in which you have to spend some time.

If only to find yourself. The artist has purposely placed a lot of gold leaf veneer there which will reflect the visitor’s image, provided he sees it. It’s part of the experience: Sonia Boyce wants to provoke this introspection, not easy when you hear the sounds springing from all sides. Nothing is innocent here.

Feeling Her Way occupies three spaces at the PHI Foundation. The first presents a vocal improvisation session of four singers who had never met before. In addition to the four screens which show the artists individually, there are two others which present an improvisation by one of them, Tanita Tikaram – this singer who made the world dance at the end of the 1980s with the very suave ballad Twist in My Sobriety.

The singers who participated in the project called for more direction. However, the idea was precisely to have few. To find your voice. “We then wanted to see how it would go,” explains Sonia Boyce. We wanted to see if it was going to be interesting or not, but they were free to do what they wanted. »

Total freedom had to be tamed by the participants.

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PHOTO FRANÇOIS ROY, THE PRESS

Sonia Boyce

If we said to children: “Here is a space where you can play”, they would understand straight away. But adults find it much more difficult to have this space to play.

Sonia Boyce

Additional challenge: “We told them that they didn’t have to make beautiful sounds,” explains Sonia Boyce. For a woman who is in the music industry, not making beautiful sounds is a powerful statement. » In another room, we present a recording where the Swedish singer Sofia Jernberg does vocal experimentation. “We wonder what she’s doing,” notes Sonia Boyce, who was present in Montreal for the opening of the exhibition and who still gets a thrill listening to Sofia Jernberg. “It’s extraordinary, what she does. »

All the voices, all female, blend together differently, at different times in the experience. Hence the importance of taking the time and not visiting the exhibition on a migraine day.

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PHOTO FRANÇOIS ROY, THE PRESS

The vocal improvisation session brought together Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth MBE, Sofia Jernberg and Tanita Tikaram.

Between the two rooms, a smaller space, The Gold Room, which brings together albums by musicians, without the possibility of listening, however. “Visitors understand that it’s about music and singers,” explains Sonia Boyce. The fact that they can connect with these singers is a key. »

And always, sounds in the background, close enough to create confusion and require effort on the part of whoever wants to do it.

“I wanted their voices and their songs, their talents to take us to the stomach, to the guts,” explains Sonia Boyce. Do not see it as a cerebral design; I want the audience to feel it. »

Feeling Her Way, at the PHI Foundation, until September 8, 2024

Visit the exhibition page

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