30 November 2023

Throat

Michael Webster facilitates performances
via an architectural intervention

 

by Kate Mothes

In Sylva, North Carolina, the street level of a four-story former hotel is home to Western Carolina University’s LIVLAB Watershed Project Space, a collaborative, community-forward creative space. Its inaugural Watershed Visiting Artist, Michael Webster, envisioned a unique way of connecting what was happening inside the building to visitors and viewers outside. “I transformed the former hotel garage into a massive throat for the building, amplifying the voice of the individual to the scale of architecture,” the artist says. “Referencing a bodily orifice and acting as an acoustic amplifier, the structure mediates interactions between interior and exterior, performer and audience.”

For six hours one Saturday in April of last year, performers activated the installation through a variety of readings and performances ranging from the jaw harp to a manifesto about water to a tattoo gun hooked up to a microphone. “Sound is not only amplified outwards, but simultaneously, the sound is condensed to any listener who places their ear against the fulcrum,” Webster says. “We opened the project to the public to speak or listen to the street. A mother sang happy birthday to her 3-year-old daughter, a violin rehearsal became an impromptu concert, and many languages were spoken.”

Webster’s work often references ideas around place based on what he describes as each location’s “spatial identity that is always under negotiation by those who have a stake.” He continues:

When we speak about place, we often focus on the characteristics of a particular location as if they are etched in stone, rather than emerging from the machine of social power. For example, the popular term “place-making” is utilized in redevelopment schemes across the U.S. By the very use of the term place-making, it assumes that there are place-less locations, sites which have no prior spatial identity. The very act of designating a site as place-less disregards the histories of deep time, land rights, multi-species entanglement, homelessness, and other forms of being that often happen within these non-places. Place-making is often the displacement of these varied understandings from a site.

Webster views his work as a reflection of his own experiences, embracing a constant state of “becoming.” Sculptures and installations respond to the world around him. “I make the tools and processes of spatialization more visible, so we might better recognize the power dynamics involved in the construction of place.”

Find more on the artist’s website and Instagram.

All images © Michael Webster.

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