Hearing the pain of others: Engineering affect and empathy through the soundscapes of This Song is For ... (2019) and Love Story (2017)



Sound studies, affect, emotion, empathy, voice, This Song is For ... (2019), Love Story (2017)


While there is a solid and growing literature on audiences’ affective and empathic responses to visual art, visual culture, and the mass media more generally, less attention has been given to how voice might play a central role in such experiences. In this article I explore two artworks that utilised voice to solicit particular responses from their audiences. The artworks, This Song is For ... (2019) by Gabrielle Goliath and Love Story (2017) by Candice Breitz, are analysed here through the lenses of affect and empathy, particularly as they intersect with voice studies. I begin by problematising these concepts and exploring the ways in which they have been theorised in art history, cultural and media studies, philosophy, and psychology. A careful negotiation between these theoretical perspectives allows me to construct a theoretical framework through which to analyse the intensely overwhelming responses the artworks elicited by paying particular attention to the effects of their soundscapes. I conclude that through the clever choreography of voice and image, both artworks constructed and manipulated their audiences in significant ways. By inviting their audiences on a critical journey, an encounter with these artworks may have led to a profoundly transformed understanding of the experiences of people who have suffered as a result of sexual abuse and various other traumas, such as oppression and displacement.