Tessie Word | Convergence

Tessie Word found herself trapped on the Oregon coast in a storm while talking to people about what it would be like if a tsunami hit the disaster-prone area. It’s a compelling irony. The radioesque work is grounded in stormy aurality, as well as vocalized stories and song; when the piece appears in installation settings, subtle, slightly manipulated storm footage accompanies the sound art.

The sound in all its imagined, roiling turbulence buoys Convergence. It particularly resonates for those of us who live in the tsunami zone in North America along the Pacific Ocean. It’s here that we turn toward disaster: we re-orient to it daily. This is simply a microcosm of the world. The woven strands of stories allow us to hear how others accept the fragility along the Oregon coast. The potential for upheaval is constant in a changing world, one in imminent environmental collapse. Listen with eyes closed; a wallop occurs as stories quietly unravel.

The form of this sound work is oscillating, too: rogue waves, surf froth and radio blips and transmissions tumble into a composite. Overlaying voices and stories, water and rain, sirens, breathing and broadcasts weave together and not always rhythmically—more like a swell and then a pummeling. An originally composed traditional folk song frames the stories of fear and experienced realities. It feels both sad and safe. It’s a simple song that whispers. Contrasted with the tumult of tsunami sirens and heavy riffs of drums and guitars, this is a scary piece to hear. And we must listen.

Convergence, Tessie Word, 2014

With nostalgia and sadness driving much of her work, Tessie Word stands before a community that could suddenly be wiped out. The artist grew up along the coast and is familiar with devastating possibilities. If we believed it would happen, none of us would live here. A woman in the piece reiterates: ” … none of us would live here. …” Allowing something to disarrange implies an intact consciousness.

… Things may fall apart, may not come together. But in artistic practice, there’s a chance it will. Painful places are silent places, but artistry opposes this silence. It’s not always welcomed, but that’s the purpose of being an artist. …

Throughout Convergence, geography as malleable, liminal space prevails. Oral storytelling entertains universal fears: a water monster’s skin inundates canoes, swallows fisherman, pushes fish into a cave. These kinds of narratives bridge experiences from 315 years ago to yesterday. We look to the graphs and our beloved technology and the machines. But still, the only plausible escape plan along the coast is to run away from a wall of water.

Tessie Word suggests that using her voice—in song only—for this project parallels this vulnerability of geography and her own emotional sense of self. It resonates with the fragility not only of a potential loss of a community of people, but also the broader invitation to look at the place where one resides, perhaps loves, and see it as being under immediate assault. Solastalgia compels us to look at the wasted, the broken—evocatively. Gaze deeply at it; look at its beauty. See it, too, because it could disappear.

Listen to Tessie Word’s approach to creating Convergence.
[Sonic portrait produced by Joan Schuman, 2015]

Tessie Word also works in video, including her 2013 The Pillars in Our Midst.

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