Arts & Culture
Sound Art Installation Gives a Political Scandal an Interactive Twist
Experience the Wall of Sound by WSK at Art Fair Philippines.
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As hundreds of visitors get in line to enter Art Fair Philippines, many expect to use their sense of sight to admire works of art. 

But a group called WSK—which takes its name from the Filipino word "wasak," which means "to destroy"—hopes to disrupt the norm and broaden the art experience by pulling in guests to experience their art via their sense of hearing.

Each piece in the show is part of a singular theme that centers around the Dovie Beams sex tapes, a scandal in the 1970s allegedly involving the nation's President. The artists sought to revive the past issue by creating works of art that stimulate the senses of sound, sight, and even touch. The collective worked with information from the transcripts of the tapes printed in a book called Lovey Dovie by Hermie Rotea. One of the artists, Tad Ermitaño, says the real scandal was the complete loss of the tapes, “In the age of the internet, it’s scandalous that not more than that has been found. It’s like tens of minutes of tapes and they’ve been effectively excised from history.”

The most visited feature of the exhibit is the Wall of Sound, which encloses the section. The outer walls are covered with metal sheets which react to the touch of flesh. Electronic sounds blare from the speakers attached to a corner of the wall.

Inside is Ermitaño’s robotic 3D reproduction of two floating heads on two screens, each muttering mechanical, unintelligible responses, which are actually the transcripts of the recordings in text-to-speech format.

Ermitaño says he was inspired by forensic medicine. “If only we could reconstitute the tape from scraps of evidence like how you reconstitute dinosaurs from the bones. I realized that although it would be a complete failure as a reconstitution, it would at least be funny with voices speaking really juicy lines and reciting stuff which isn’t meant to be recited.”

Ermitaño says the work led him to a deeper nuance of the human mind, “It started out with regrets on how you cannot reconstitute this tape and wound up being sort of a kind of like how the human minds would work as machines.”

Joyce Toh, curator of the Singapore Art Museum, says the installation is like technology in the Philippines. She says it’s low-tech, but the artists work with what they have.

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Erwin Romulo, who curated the installation, says he originally had no idea whether the whole project would push through because of the technical work involved in sound art. “It was tricky, which was nice. The chance of failure was great,” he says. The collective’s challenge was the collaboration of very different artists from different generations, using different kinds of technology. Romulo says “the real art was in the lab a month ago,” and that the result at the Art Fair is completely different from its original concept.

Romulo says his main goal was to create something fun, something that would attract the attention of the younger generation. And while you may need the artists to explain their work to fully understand why the woman, said to be nation's former First Lady, is peeking through the glass shutters, or why a tape recording of “Pamulinawen” is being played on loop, Romulo says, “the stuff is fun on its own.”

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Hannah Lazatin
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