115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Curating Absence: Sound and Silence in Luz María Sánchez’ 2487

Carolyn Schutten, University of California, Riverside

Emerging from beyond the U.S.-Mexico border fence, a single voice breaks silence and utters the names of 2,487 migrants who perished while endeavoring to traverse the United States-Mexico border. Luz María Sánchez, in her sound piece 2487, reanimates those who died, by naming them. Sánchez summons the voices of the dead and memorializes them, not through the wail of mourning but with measured silences, producing a darker kind of sonic seeking, as the listener waits for next name to be called. 

Proposal: 

Emerging from beyond the United States-Mexico border fence, from the din, the static and the music of what Josh Kun refers to as the “aural border,”a single voice breaks silence and utters the names of 2,487 migrants who perished while endeavoring to traverse the United States-Mexico border. Luz María Sánchez, in her sound piece 2487, reanimates those who died, by naming them. Sánchez summons the voices of the dead and memorializes them, not through the wail of mourning but with measured calm and clarity. Sánchez does not sing, nor does she introduce ambient sounds or field recordings. She merely speaks, projecting the names -- the unsounded voices of deceased emigrants -- through international fences and across the border. Sánchez’ voicing in 2487 can be seen as an act of defiance, or a performance of protest, as it trespasses political and geographic boundaries, engendering a kind of aural witnessing of some of the trauma and loss incurred in the migration experiences of the borderland. The names of those lost souls reverberate across time and space, echoing into far flung public places -- resounding. Sometimes frustratingly overlapped, the ear strains to decipher the names in 2487, searching for them. Overlong silences between names produce a darker kind of sonic seeking, a subtle anxiety and a tension in the body, as the listener waits for next name to be called. 2487 capitalizes on the transitory and subversive use of sound to encroach upon the public realm and considers, in particular, the audible voice as it calls and names, while noting the metaphorical voice of a marginalized -- now silenced – demographic and how that voice is deployed as sound diaspora in public space. Sánchez’ 2487 is part of a burgeoning impulse on the part of the public to memorialize the dead, to make grief and mourning public and collective, and to protest the political or social injustices of the loss. The production of an alternate soundscape through immersion deconstructs the listener’s present geographic and temporal position, interjecting a reconstructed aural history or experience. Immersion is also concomitantly personal and public. Brandon LaBelle argues that sound occurs among bodies and is never a private affair. This shared sonic experience is how Sánchez creates a public space for contemplation and remembering but also for dialogue and protest. Sánchez’ rational voice in 2487 is a sharp contrast to the wail of mourning or the gendered culture of mourning taken up by Marc Nichanian, who argues that the legacy of mourning is culturally borne on the shoulders of women, or are “gendered embodiments of mourning.” In an abrupt turn away from the Latina wail or culturally embedded notions of expressions of grief and melancholia, Sánchez rationally and methodically utters names, drawing on Northern traditions of restrained mourning as well as Latino customs of publically naming the dead. Sánchez’ work seems to draw upon Kun’s notions of the aural border but inverts it, gathering instead all of the silences that are constructed at the border and by the border. In contrast to the sonic din and melody of the borderland that Kun describes, Sánchez creates a “field of silence,” an aural absence. While 2487 contains a discrete number of voiced names locked into a particular place and time, Sánchez’ parcels of overlong silences produce spaces for an imagined untold number of present and future names and her sound art piece asks the listener to consider how many more will die in the landscape of the border

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