Of the many Research Forum talks I attended Spring semester, I found Irene Noy’s ‘Why Only Look? Aural and Visual Representation of Female Identity in West Germany’ to be one of the most engaging and eye opening. As the title suggests, Noy encouraged those of us in the audience to not only look but also listen—that is, to audio work that seamlessly accompanied her visual presentation, as well as to the words of her talk.
I came to Noy’s talk with a fairly thorough knowledge of the geographical region and time period, as well as an interest in gender studies, yet Noy’s topic was still completely unfamiliar to me. It was a welcome reminder of just how vast and complex the discipline of art history is. While I found her talk compelling on an intellectual level, it also made me realize, on a more personal level, where I had become complacent with my own knowledge, and reminded me that there are further artists, perspectives, and even media to discover.
Noy’s talk concerned female artists creating artwork at the crossroads of aural and visual art in West Germany, working at the time of the rise of second wave feminism. Particularly intriguing to me was Noy’s presentation of sound art in relation to visual art: the possibility of shared compositional processes, as well as their differently gendered aspects—for example, the electronic implements used in recording and playing sound as being aggressively masculine. I had never before considered the possible dichotomy between aural and visual art (with one occupying space and one occupying time), though Noy presents this dichotomy as false.
I am grateful to Noy for introducing me to the work of Mary Bauermeister, which I found incredibly compelling and promptly investigated further after the talk. Bauermeister, an artist connected with Fluxus, is best known for her ‘lens boxes’ of layered glass that magnify and distort the textured surface below. They simultaneously seem delicate and dangerous, and draw the viewer’s attention to the optical devices improving and modifying our perception of the visual, perhaps parallel to the electrical devices used to create and record sound. Noy emphasized the connection between Bauermeister’s visual compositions and her understanding of musical composition; an important example being her joint show with Karlheinz Stockhausen, in which her visual works were paired with his sound compositions, allowing for a dialogue between the two.