“How would it sound if my skin turned to bark?” This question acted as a Dog Star for New-York based Polish intermedia artist Monika Weiss (b.1964 in Warsaw) in the creation of Metamorphosis/Dafne (Nirbhaya) (2021), a sound composition devoted to the victims of gendered violence. The work is inspired by the poetic and violent myth of the nymph Daphne, who escaped rape by self-transformation into a tree. Currently on display as part of the Sleepless in Warsaw exhibit at A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, the piece is the only sound work present in this historical and present day feminist exhibition of Polish and Ukrainian artists. The setup for Metamorphosis/Dafne (Nirbhaya) is simple and profound – a piano bench with headphones, facing a blank wall in the corner with a few subtle listening suggestions.
Daphne's story is reflected in the five-movement work by a series of sonic transformations, some audible and others process oriented. The first four movements are based on recordings of Weiss playing improvisations on piano, the recordings of which have been transformed into electronic sound. Without the brief gallery description, one would never guess that these electronics originated from the piano. The fifth movement features voices singing microtonal vowels that invoke sensations of prayer; in this movement the voices and electronics exist independently and also merge into each other seamlessly. Since the piece is constantly playing in loop as an installation, the order in which the movements are heard is determined by when in the cycle the listener sits down.
There’s something so physically soothing and regenerative about the sonic landscape, partially due to the consistent beating and balance of high and low pitch registers. I felt the recurring desire to shut my eyes, my shoulders dropping, and the beginning of a gentle rocking motion in my spine. The sounds are enveloping, well panned and the volume in the headphones is encompassing without being uncomfortably loud. This primal desire to go inward danced with the innate vulnerability of being physically cornered, eyes shut with my back to people in the gallery.
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