Monash University
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The tip of two tongues: the dialectics of the voice in art

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posted on 2017-03-02, 23:35 authored by Schmidt, Simone Bianca
This thesis is concerned with an analysis of the voice in art. To approach the voice as a materiality – as sound – in art expands the discourses of art history, particularly those concerned with communication, subjectivity and embodiment. Until very recently, the voice in art has been muted by art history’s ocularcentricism and linguistic bias. In order to address this lacuna, I revise art from the twentieth century from the perspective of voice understood as a materiality. This revision that is more so an initial listening provides a foundation for my analysis of contemporary works. The conceptual frame of this thesis has been developed from a survey of the voice in art and research into critical theory on voice. This theory, particularly psychoanalytical theory, but also that of Giorgio Agamben and Adriana Cavarero, locates the voice as a dialectical medium. Aristotle’s distinction between phone (voice as sound) and phone semantike (voice as logos) provides the foundation for this theory’s approach to the voice in relation to two intimately related dialectics: sound and sense, and body and language. These dialectics are critical to my thesis. In my survey I discerned key themes emerge that speak to how the voice functions in art. I understand these themes by way of four dialectics. These dialectics include: sound and sense, self and other, body and technology, and repetition and difference. The thesis includes four sets of case studies that I have analyzed by way of these four dialectics. But where relevant I relate each case study to all the dialectics that inform the thesis. The selected case studies are drawn from the diverse practices of sound poetry, performance, video and installation throughout the last century. Despite the diversity of these practices’ approach to the voice, I connect them by way of key conceptual threads. My approach to the voice as a dialectical medium is informed by the theory of Julia Kristeva who allows the two positions of the dialectic to remain in tension with each other while mutually affective in what she understands as the material process of a relation. Following from this, I approach the voice as a transformative medium that intersects the two positions of a relation, but is neither of these positions. Like the tip of two tongues the voice is a liminal register that marks both differentiation and non-differentiation in the dialectical relation. This thesis demonstrates that an analysis of the voice in art contributes knowledge to our understanding of communication, subjectivity and embodiment. Attention to the voice in art expands the discourses of art history and reveals the voice as a most vital and critical medium in art practice.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Luke Morgan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Fine Art


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture