NOELLE MALINE : SOUND MAPS Written by Hillary Cline ~ NW Film Forum
Noelle Maline’s installation Sound Maps is inspired by a story told by her mother. As recounted by Noelle, her parents were traveling in Czechoslovakia in the late 70’s. Shortly after they arrived and en route from the airport to their hotel, the taxi driver firmly instructed her mother and father to only speak in whispers for the duration of their visit. As he explained, everything was bugged - - their hotel, the phone lines and, even the pipes running through.
In 1970, it would have been another nineteen years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The liberalization of Eastern Bloc was still a far off reality. In Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries, surveillance was woven into the fabric of everyday life and with deep psychological effects on people’s sense of freedom. During this time of history, the wall between East and West Germany came to symbolize the physical marker of the ‘Iron Curtain’ (later to be referred to as the ‘Wall of Shame’) blocking the movement of freedom. Czechoslovakia was one of several countries marked by Soviet occupation after World War II and, with restrictions on emigration throughout the Eastern Bloc.
Metaphorically behind this Iron Curtain, stories were shuffled through the invisible threads that linked the intellectual minds and spirits of those alive and deceased. While literally, stories and voices were captured in wires through the mechanisms that took tabs on people’s thoughts, whereabouts, affiliations and future plans. Emigration and defection was still an active threat to the powers that be and, with any fluid movement of freedom under strict watch.
Sound Maps touches this concept of freedom through references to different modes of communication, whether through stories secretly passed or layered in different planes of existence. While black ink is scribed over, across and in between faces and bodies captured within old black and white photographs, we understand that messages and information have been and are being passed. While images are frozen in time, the artist alludes to the idea that stories, voices and whispers are transmitted between tangible and intangible worlds. Similar to a secret agent collecting artifacts, a map of found images and pockets of objects builds a larger contextual story. We may not explicitly know the linear narrative, but we know the narrative is embedded within.
Interspersed throughout the installation, Maline’s larger collage and mixed-media works further illuminate and become anchor points where identity and mystery congeal as moments of creative discovery. Perhaps, we (as the viewer) stop to pay homage to a time in history when the movement of freedom was not accessible and, to the untold stories therein. Meanwhile, it may compel one to reflect on current cultural and political shifts that leave us questioning ‘freedom’ as a taught ideological point of departure and possible reunification, barrier and emigration, deflection and return.