Laura Böök’s video installation The Group That Cannot Sing is an extended portrait and an “out of tune” choral work. In the gallery, the viewer encounters singers from a singing course who are first preparing for a show with vocal warm-ups and later sing together. Flowing melodic and polyphonic signing, along with coughing and blunders, surround the viewer. The work offers a respite from the ever-striving pursuit of perfection and provides an opportunity to reflect on the liberating potential of flaws, failure, and imperfection.
‘The group that cannot sing’ is also a popular singing course at Kalliola, a community college in Helsinki, which invites its participants to get to know their voice and discover the joy of singing. In the two-channel video work, singers facing the camera reveal their vulnerability to the audience, yet dynamically and humorously command the space. Böök herself participated in the group’s activities for one year, as an unskilled singer amongst others. At the heart of the recording are the breathing and sound exercises—exposing the raw and fragile vocals which are typically rehearsed behind the scenes.
In collaboration with sound designer Niklas Nybom, Böök creates a similar corporal and spatial experience in the gallery space, one that is naturally felt when surrounded by an en masse outpouring of sound. Singing without training or any command of the artistry requires throwing yourself in, and venturing into unknown territory. One’s fear and enthusiasm are simultaneously on display. The excitement presses the chest, causing the vocalisations to thin out. At times the boundaries of the physical person disappear—the singer is not sure whether the sound comes from themself or from outside their own body.
The video work and its dramaturgy are heavily based on Nybom’s soundscapes. In a parallel context, the work draws on the tradition of portraiture while expounding on it: by depicting singers, Böök explores the tensions between conscious posing and unconscious body language. These tensions are present in everyday life but are especially amplified in cinematic situations. The video’s subjects vacillate between playing to the camera or rebuffing its gaze and immersing themselves in the exercises. When singing to an audience, a person is the object of recognition in much the same way as in front of a camera. Böök is interested in everyday details that take on absurd tones when perceived out of context. In The Group That Cannot Sing, singing is both a natural and manufactured situation, one where filming brings its own layers of anxiety and resolve to the performance.
Laura Böök’s artistic work moves between visual art and film. Böök’s exhibition on view at Photographic Gallery Hippolyte is part of her master’s thesis, where she explores the relationship between documentary and staged images, the strangeness of ordinariness, and the fear of failure. Böök will graduate with a master’s degree in photography from Aalto University in 2020, where she has also studied documentary film. In 2014, Böök completed her BA (Honours) in Documentary Photography from the University of South Wales. She has participated in several solo and group exhibitions in Finland and abroad. cargocollective.com/laurabook
Director: Laura Böök | Cinematography: Laura Böök, Tomi Rislakki | Editing: Laura Böök | Sound design: Niklas Nybom | Choir leader: Ida Boucht | Singers: Saija Aalto, Hannele Forssell, Krista Heikkilä, Susanna Jaromaa, Tuula Leskelä, Kirsi Mäenpää, Pirkko Ogata, Outi Paulus, Marja Parviala and Sanni Virtanen
The exhibition is kindly supported by the Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Svenska kulturfonden, the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s Uusimaa Regional Fund and Konstsamfundet.
Helsingin Sanomat 29.5.2020
The Group That Cannot Sing
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte
Open: Tue-Fre 12-17, Sat-Sun 12-16
image: Laura Böök, still-image from The Group That Cannot Sing, 2020
installation images: Milla Talassalo