Taloi Havini’s first sonic work dunks the listener in an ocean of sound
At Ocean Space in Venice, Papua New Guinea-born artist Taloi Havini explores ecological conservation and the indigenous history of Oceania in her first sound work, coinciding with the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale
Answer to the Call is Taloi Havini’s first sound work. As an artist who usually works with film, installation and photography, this is a departure, but one that is attuned to the crux of her artistic practice.
In this site-specific installation staged at Ocean Space, and coinciding with the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, Havini looks at the indigenous history of Oceania. She draws attention to sites and practices suppressed by the process of first contact and colonisation, explores the good and the bad of what that brought with it.
These are themes that have long shaped the artist’s work. Iterations of her piece Habitat, which looks at our relationship with the ocean and its changing ecosystems, conflict, the politics of location and Indigenous knowledge systems, were exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo in 2017, and at Artspace in Sydney in 2020. ‘I have a practice based on making immersive experiences [that are] site-specific and draw on ideas of inheritance, intergenerational knowledge, and the way we are connected to environments and habitats,’ she explains.
Her new 22-channel work Answer to the Call has been made and staged to interact with the architecture of the Chiesa di San Lorenzo, a ninth-century church in Venice, Italy, home to TBA21-Academy’s Ocean Space. The work combines the hydrophone recordings of sonic mapping taken while aboard a research vessel called Falkor, ocean travelling chants, and an instrumental composition by musician Ben Hakalitz, who, like Havini, hails from Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.
Havini was aboard Falkor for three weeks, as part of the Schmidt Ocean Institute artist-at-sea programme, when inspiration for Answer the Call struck. The vessel was exploring the conservation and mapping of the Australian Great Barrier Reef. Havini realised that the scientific techniques she witnessed during her residency bore similarities to traditional Bougainville practices.
The resulting work combines traditional indigenous and contemporary scientific methods to create an experience that almost holds the listener in sound. Based on call and response, the audio collage wraps listeners in a mixture of pan pipes, drumming and underwater field recordings, built on a foundation of winds that vibrate through the central platform. Standing at the centre of this aquamarine platform is both meditative and awakening as the physicality of the wind and sonar combines with the recordings layered over it.
‘This was made specifically for Ocean Space; the architecture of the space is kind of awe-inspiring in terms of scale and the human body experience, much like the ocean’s expanse and depth,’ explains the artist.
The work is amplified by the acoustics of Chiesa di San Lorenzo, facilitating the deep listening exercise intended by the work. As the sound intensifies, along with its meditative quality, Answer to the Call invites its audience to contemplate the dialogue between science and art, the traditional and the contemporary.
‘Within the sonic installation are textures of all kinds of sounds that relate to activities that take you on a journey across the oceans and below sea-level, right down to the twilight zone, and then back up into the atmosphere – it’s all about the interconnectedness of ocean/life systems,’ Havini explains.
Answer to the Call is part of Havini’s six-month collaboration with collection and academy TBA21, titled ‘The Soul Expanding Ocean #1: Taloi Havini’. The project, which highlights the need to protect and conserve the world’s oceans, is co-produced with non-profit research organisation Schmidt Ocean Institute. §