Solid Promises

South Africa has a complicated history which seems to move imperceptibly slowly before suddenly taking an unexpected jump. These historical leaps are often directly caused by the words of a single, powerful individual. The idea that the act of speech, of simply vibrating air with the larynx, can alter the lives of millions of people has become increasingly troubling to me.

This series of plates captures a few of those vibrations in a way that represents the potential repercussions they can have – by setting them, permanently, in concrete. Through experimentation with cement, foam, water, dye, salt, and fibers, a method was discovered which allowed speech to be recorded in an unconventional way. Dyes and other solid particles are placed in a thin formwork over a speaker, and recorded speech is played at maximum volume through the system. The unique vibrations caused by each voice, recording method, and even breathing pattern disperses and vibrates the particles in a unique way, creating a singular imprint of each voice and event. A mix of cement, super-plasticizer and water is carefully added, absorbing and encasing the solids.

Finally, all soluble and soft elements are washed out to reveal the hardened concrete record. The speeches recorded include Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia Trial, the announcement of an independent South Africa by Harold Macmillan, and F.W. de Klerk’s unbanning of the ANC and release of political prisoners, including Mandela himself. Speeches were chosen as watershed moments in and of themsevles or as representing the voice of a person who may still have outsized power over the fate of others in this country.

While the recorded speeches are still available to us all as sound or video clips, we also see their traces in every bit of the physical world surrounding us. At a point in history where we may be tempted to believe that technology and democracy have given all a voice, this work reminds us that some voices still reach further, change more deeply, and reverberate longer than all others.


Completed: 2019

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