Walking into the space of Untitled (red flame) at the Logan Center Exhibitions takes a bit of courage. Ahead of me is a dark sea with a glimmer of red and an echoing sound. The projection of sound and the gallery space taunt me as I brace myself and slowly tiptoe into the gallery. Every movement is followed by a pause before I take another step. I inch closer and closer toward the red glowing light. I wait for my eyes to adjust. A piercing sound fills the space.
A red spotlight from the floor shoots upward, illuminating three megaphones are attached to microphone stands at varying levels; another spotlight from the ceiling shines down toward the floor. Here in the center of the gallery is a hot flame, a red source of noise. It’s the heartbeat of the room.
Untitled (red flame) was created through a collection of voices Norment recorded during workshops with Chicago residents that focused on the performative voices, vocal expressions, and how these recordings can be manipulated. Norment artist works with sound, installation, sculpture, drawing, performance, and video. She is part of the Camille Norment Trio with Vegar Vårdal and Håvard Skaset where she sings and plays the glass armonica, electric guitar, and the Hardanger fiddle, a traditional Norwegian instrument. Norment started experimenting with sound in the 90s at Interval Research, a Palo Alto tech laboratory founded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and developer David Liddle that created consumer product applications and technology for the future (eventually going defunct in 2000).
Though she’s currently based in Oslo, she was born in Maryland, and investigates political and social histories while using sound as a vehicle to expand on her themes.
For example, in Untitled (red flame) the sound of the voices, amplified throughout the gallery, are a reflection of fire, linked to the Great Chicago Fire and Chicago’s 1960s race riots. The sound is angry as the swath of noise fills the gallery. The artist sonically experiments with the individual voices that she recorded from the workshops, combining them to start a conversation of something much larger and out of control, like the social and political history located here in Chicago itself.
Working with breaths, huffs, coughs, breaks in conversation, and your average human ums and ughs, Norment abstracted the sound of several individuals voices for the completed composition. The installation elicits a physical response: Throughout my experience, I raised my hands to shield my ears. There are several moments that resemble the sound of feedback. Long moments of high-pitched frequencies fill the gallery.
Although I know that the red flame represents Chicago’s dark history—the explosions of riots, violence, and segregation that still resonate within our city—I can’t help but hear the trickle of water. Each sound comes in a wave. The echo permeates my entire body as the subwoofers work their magic. I focus on the moment and try to meditate in the darkness. I attempt to break through the manipulation of sound and find the voices that Norment recorded, but she’s good at her craft and all I can make out are more crackles, waves, and hums. This battle I’m having with the overwhelming noise as the only one in the gallery resonates throughout the installation. The heat and the power of the red flame represent a wildfire, or a flood, as the heat and sound sweep away the gallery and all of those inside of it. v