Banner image: still from 'Pulse,' Alicia Radage (2021). Watch the film below.

Read the previous blog in Alicia's series

Since late last year, we have been supporting artist Alicia Radage in the development of their Arts Council-funded project which has since evolved into an online group exhibition of Neurodiverse artists, Encountering A New Normal, in addition to individual works emerging from their own practice. Through research and creative experimentation, Alicia is currently exploring the potential relationship between Shamanism and Neurodiversity. This is the third and final text in a series of blogs titled 'Beyond human.' 

Accessing my sense of sound has been a process of trusting, training, and unlearning. For years, I’ve felt blocked around sound. I trained in Theatre and when I started making performance art, I felt a huge sense of imposter syndrome as most of my peers had come from a Fine Art background.

Consequently, I focused for years on flexing and strengthening my visual and action-based lexicon. I poured all of my energy into the images and kinaesthetic urges that flooded by body. I honed them and nurtured them above all else. 

In the process of creating performances for camera or pieces for video art, if the sound was too tinny or amplified background noise irrelevant to the action, I would just cut the sound and the finished piece would be silent.

My Shamanic work is emboldening and rejuvenating all of my senses. Many agree that as humans we prioritise our sense of sight and quite often the other five senses play supporting roles. When practicing Shamanic Journeying, where you enter Shamanic Realms with your Shamanic self (essentially your spiritual self), I have been conducting some journeys through sound, redirecting my senses to focus on listening. I will walk in the direction of falling water or lapping waves, listen to the different sounds made by different plants when blowing in the wind, listen closely to the breathing of the animals I meet.

Audio describing and captioning actions I intended for the interpretation of the intuitive senses presented a complex challenge.

Through my training and mentoring with Shape, we looked at how to translate visual work for visually impaired audiences. As part of my current Arts Council England project, which focuses on the relationship between Shamanism and Neurodiversity, I put together an online exhibition of a network 17 Neurodivergent artists, entitled ‘Encountering A New Normal.’ As a group, the artists decided to co-author Audio Descriptions (ADs) for each of the artworks.

These ADs were a combination of a description and exploration of the artwork, with some of the artists choosing to interpret the visual work poetically and others describing it as literally as possible. Even with this latter option, it became apparent that description cannot escape subjectivity. When one artist embarked upon describing an artwork literally, it became apparent that another’s eyes were drawn to different elements and frames of reference.

An example of this was Ash McNaughton’s ‘CLVCL,’ which shows a section of the body in the centre of the shot, from the upper chest to the top of the neck. Some people began their description with the colour of the background, others with the apparent gender of the body, others with the muscles they could see that were tensed.

Throughout this process, I have been mentored by Victoria Gray. When discussing a poetic text based on my Shamanic Journeys, Victoria asked me whether she could read my words out loud to me. I heard how they had resonated within Victoria and then ricocheted back out again to resonate within me. I heard them rounded and sculpted with the brewing ebb and flow of her North East accent. I heard them nuanced in an unexpected and entirely familiar way. I heard them again and for the first time.  

Victoria asked me whether I would ever speak my own text in my performances. We discussed my block around sound and how the written word felt safer. With the spoken word we give away our feelings, histories, and our persuasions. We give more access to our authentic selves, our authentic voice.

As a performance artist in lockdown, I started making more video art. The first piece I made was around the Shamanic Drum. The sound became the forefront of the work, with the visual enhancing it - a first for me! (See below for the full video). I, thus, began to actively think about how I could use sound and what it could do as an autonomous element in a work. I started to actively tune my attention into searching for sounds around me. I started to work with my friend Jasper Llewellyn, a performance artist and musician, on listening, improvising through sound, finding the sounds and resonances of certain materials and actions, and playing with proximity, rhythm, and atmosphere. 

Audio description:

Jasper prompted me to start making ‘sound collages’; taking recordings of everyday and manipulated sounds, placing them together and playing around with speed, pitch, tempo, overlaps. I play with the sounds until it feels right to me, until it conjures up a sense which reflects, harmonises with, changes the direction of the visual. In this, I am trusting in my own subjective experience and trusting that it will resonate with another body. 

I have also been practicing singing in my journeys; listening to Human Ancestors that I meet in Shamanic Realms and singing in chorus with them as a mode of communication, storytelling, and healing. This process feels very liberating but also very exposing when bringing it back here and weaving it into my work.

Accessing this sense of sound felt connected to creating accessible resources for my work in and of itself. I was giving access to experiences I’d had on Shamanic journeys which were private. Thinking about access in these terms felt conflicting. We think about access as something necessary in a neurotypical, ableist world. I was making work with access in the forefront of my mind and yet realising I was a private person who wanted to restrict access to myself and my work. I was finding making my work accessible exposing; having to explain what was happening visually in audio descriptions; having to explain what was happening sonically with captions. 

I started to realise that through my artwork I had cultivated a coded language to communicate experiences which I found hard to put into words and which I found hard to share with others. This coded language also served to avoid exposing myself; it kept a part of me back whilst expressing the seemingly inexpressible.  

Audio describing and captioning actions I intended for the interpretation of the intuitive senses presented a complex challenge. Accessibility felt like I was handing over the terms of engagement to the audience. I am working towards what accessibility can look like in light of these feelings.

The process of finding my sense of sound again has been and still is a long, frustrating, but exciting journey! I will be releasing a long form audio collage of the sounds and recordings I have been making through the process.