Monday, 16 May 2011
CLARA URSITTI - Glasgow artist
Site Specific Intervention: Sound, actress, mask
Part of the Communication Suite, Site specific exhibition curated by Christine Borland in the Communications suite of Glasgow University Medical Building. Artists included: Douglas Gordon, Mark Dion, Cornelia Parker, Abramovich and Ulay, and Alistair McLennan
The communications suite is a series of paired rooms where medical students are trained in patient/doctor scenarios such as breaking bad news and so on. A pair consists of one room with a mock GP surgery with a hidden video camera and microphone , and another with a classroom where students can observe each other interacting with actresses who play patients via the live video link between the two rooms. For the exhibition, each artist was given a set of paired rooms to work with.
I worked with one of the actresses, Fiona Ormiston. She was in the GP surgery room, and the viewer might stumble upon her if they opened the door of the room. I asked her to learn the lines from an audio tape of a 1960s US military experiment where it was attempted to teach a dolphin to speak English.
She wore a latex dolphin mask that was constructed so that the mouth moved when she spoke. She spoke the lines of the trainer, Margaret Howe in the same North American accent as the original. She asks " How are you? " If you respond, she is instructed to not understand you and to continue repeating the sentence until you repeat her words in the same accent. Eventually she might say " English Peter, pronounce ". If you do finally do repeat her words, she says " Good Peter, take a fish ".
In the adjacent room, the original audio recording of 1960s experiment can be heard, whilst, the live video feed shows a blurred image of the actress with the dolphin mask next door, making it ambiguous as to whether the sound is a live feed or not.