Emily Kennerk is an artist based in Indiana. She won a $5,000 grant at Pitch Night Indianapolis in 2015 to bring her work, "Whisper" to ArtPrize that year. She went on to take home the Time-Based Public Vote Award.
ArtPrize: Tell us about “Whisper” – what is the concept behind it?
Emily Kennerk: The simple response would be that the work explores the possibility that the most quiet things we think, visualize, speak, even inaudibly mumble can be the most powerful voice in our daily life.
Are there any projects you had participated in prior to this one that helped shape the way “Whisper” was executed?
As an artist I tend to work in series, and over the years I have found a recurring theme in the exploration of language and sound, and its impact.
I had the opportunity to learn about and experience how a blind person responds to and navigates space with sound. This experience led to the investigation and understanding of autonomic responses to sounds in my everyday life that I did not fully recognize. I began to notice, experience and understand sound in a different way. Sound as prompt, sound as object. These sounds can be from our environment as well as from ourselves; i.e an incessant shrill of a gaming machine, a prayer we recite repetitively daily, laugh tracks on the television, even yelling at a runaway dog (my Gus) in the deepest part of Death Valley.
ArtPrize visitors interacted with the work in a way you didn’t necessarily anticipate or intend. Tell me about that.
ArtPrize Seven was my first time attending the event, and it was an incredibly unique experience. I was amazed at how the city transformed into platform for art to be viewed, experienced and discussed pretty much everywhere, with everyone, at all the times. Creating that type of environment I believe encourages and opens the door for people to have no fear or reservations about approaching art.
During the exhibition, I had everything from an Opera singer perform, beatboxers testing the equipment’s limits, a comedian telling his jokes, and daily screams to thoughtful personal prayers. People whispered their hopes, their anger and goodbyes to the deceased, all very open, honest and fearless to share. As the artist, and more so as a human, I was incredibly moved and honored.
What was it like to realize that both visitors and art world pros were moved by your work? What do you think appealed to them?
I was not expecting the overwhelming response to "Whisper." The work was tucked away, in an office building that you really had to seek out to find. Due to the location and my opportunity to stay for the duration of the exhibit, I brought a stack of books thinking this could be a quiet and long month with the piece. About the third day, I remember riding my bike to the space and a line was forming down the block to see the piece. Initially, I don’t think I was able to process the appeal, I was too close. After countless conversations, observing interactions, and a few months to reflection on the experience, I realized it comes down the “humanness” of the work.
"Whisper" had the ability to reflect all of us collectively and the individual simultaneously.
One of the unique things about ArtPrize is the space created for artists and viewers to interact with each other during the event. What was it like being able to witness the public responding to your work?
ArtPrize creates an amazing platform for artist to create, exhibit and experience viewer interaction first hand. My introduction to ArtPrize was by applying to the Pitch Night grant program. The grant made it possible for me to financially afford and realize the production of "Whisper" at full scale, exhibit in a space that could house the work and the ability to stay the duration of the exhibit. As artists, we understand and consider the viewer while creating our works, but I did not fully understand nor was I prepared for the magnitude of the viewership at ArtPrize. To see thousands of people daily experience "Whisper," have a dialogue, openly engage and critique and revisit again and again was truly amazing and has since greatly influenced my work.
Is there an interaction with a viewer that sticks out in your head?
I have so many stories of interactions with people from my time at ArtPrize, and still get emails to this day! I am truly thankful for the experience. On the evening of one of the final days of ArtPrize, a group of people were standing off to the side watching the piece intently. A woman approached me and explained that her elderly mother, who had not left her home in several years, had requested to see "Whisper" after watching it on the news. She explained it was a very unexpected request and the entire family got together for the three-hour drive to witness the event. With the many generations of the family around her wheelchair, I adjusted the microphone for her, and she whispered perfectly. She said she wanted to see the power of her voice. It was very celebratory, and not a dry eye in the space. I learned so much about "Whisper" from the viewers.