Helga Fassonaki, Oaxaca 2014
‘…one does not speak in a shell, one listens’ – (Patti Smith from poem ‘Conch’)
This project was inspired by Akio Suzuki’s ‘Listening Point’ project, Oto-Date, which I had the opportunity to experience under Suzuki and Aki Onda’s instruction during Field Studies 2014 in London. A group of us were given maps and told to find one or more ‘listening spots’ that we later shared with the group. No recorders, no instruments – our tools were our eyes and ears. Our ears like shells brought us closer to an audible landscape. Holy Conch was realized during a residency I did in Oaxaca, Mexico with a similar intention – through the minimal act of listening, allow the senses and mind to peel wide open. Upon arrival to Mexico, I was quickly roused by the many different sights and sounds coming from every direction – It was sensory overload times 100. I couldn’t focus on my intended project nor remain in my studio. I decided I needed to be immersed in the cityscape.
After giving into the vibrant distractions, I decided to use churches as my listening spaces to somewhat escape the loudness – from bands to rockets to dance classes to kids shouting to drum circles to the iconic gas truck that drives with a jingle much like an ice cream truck to a man yelling ‘aqua’ every hour everyday, etc. In contrast, I thought churches could act as spaces for inner-reflection – a solo dwelling place ideal for listening. I located 18 churches in the Central Oaxaca area and for the remaining duration of my residency I visited a few a day. Using each of these resonating chambers in essence as my work studio, I sat or stood underneath the dome ceilings or walked around the canals for as long as I felt like being there. I often returned to the same church but never quite had the same experience twice. These churches were never actually without sound. With their doors open and much noise bleeding through, the churches were like the holy filters of society. Sounds reflected, echoed, resonated, and transformed – yet there was silence in the form of stillness as separation from the outside world itself acted like a filter. But with the sound of church bells came a subtle reminder of the hierarchical shape present within – a cone shaped golden spiral one can both listen through and hide within.
With a map and my notes, I invite visitors to have their own listening experience of Holy Conch, Oaxaca.
I created a listening environment in which I improvised live with segments of recordings I made in the different Churches – a byproduct to share with an intimate audience. What fascinated me with the churches in Oaxaca was the underlying Pagan beliefs that were practiced before the Spanish arrived bringing over the Catholic religion (around 1521). Many Catholic churches were built right over Pagan shrines or sacred places. The chosen spots revealed the Pagans’ close relationship with nature and land.
In my alter creation I included raw materials symbolic of a kind of Pagan ritual integrated with a Baroque gold backdrop, an essence of my sensory experiences during holy conch. The creation of this new listening environment appeared to have meditative effects on the audience.