I want my sculptures to help liberate the voice and body to clamor, clatter, blast. —Elana Mann, Instruments of Accountability
Elana Mann’s Year of Wonders is part of a larger body of work—her sculptural folk instruments, or sono-sculptures—ongoing since 2014. As is common in her practice, and in the history of folk music, these instruments reflect the time period in which they are made. The works in Year of Wonders are born out of the nation’s unfolding political changes, passionate social movements, and the global coronavirus pandemic. They acknowledge the manifold obstacles to our ever-present desire as human beings to be together.
The exhibition is comprised of Mann’s Our work is never done (unfinished business) and Unidentified Bright Object 11–60. The pieces are intended for use in protest spaces, and although each instrument functions differently, they all prioritize a range of sounds and body types to amplify the human voice.
Our work is never done (unfinished business) is modeled on the “Mega-kazoo-horn” originally made by the legendary folk music figure Charles Chase. Chase was an active socialist and brought the instrument to local protests in his hometown of Claremont, CA, in the 1970s. The horn features six speaking tubes, rather than only one, therefore harnessing the power of the collective voice. Mann started the sculpture over a year ago, but in the social-distancing context of COVID-19, the object’s meaning and function have shifted. Rendered temporarily unusable as a musical instrument, it currently operates as more of symbol of collective action. Mann hopes to employ the horn in future demonstrations and marches when it is once again safe to share.
Unidentified Bright Object 11–60 consists of 50 rattles, each made with a distinct turned wood handle and a cast ceramic top containing loose, sound-making material. The ceramic tops are individually adorned with a variety of phrases, such as calls to action (e.g., “Say His Name/Say Her Name”), statements (“Maybe”), celebrations of the collective (“People Power”), or onomatopoeia (“SSSSSS”). Viewers may engage with the rattles however they wish, either visually or by touch.
The instruments in Year of Wonders invite viewers to contemplate the relationships between the individual and community, sound and silence, protest and performance, and how these dyads connect to resistance, equity, and social justice.
Photo Credit: Beth Devillier
3D Tour Capture: Chris Mills