With a healthy disregard for institutional boundaries between the disciplines, Michael Hanna’s practice draws heavily on research and into psychology and linguistics as well as his sculpture education at Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Ulster. Using speech patterns, ‘impossible sounds mechanically produced’, looped breathing cycles, physical prayers and mantras - amongst other experiments - he makes work that can also exist as cultural linguistic research and experimental music often in collaboration with sound engineers and linguists. His ‘Mouth Tank’ Acoustic installation (300 x 240 x 300cm) is a chamber created to simulate the experience of listening to speech from inside the mouth. In his oral environment, the viewer is swallowed in a soundproof foam-lined former septic tank with 4 speakers integrated into the walls and a subwoofer in the seat, and invited to experience being inside a mouth...
‘Relearning to Speak is a 'scientific and cultural mapping of the mouth considering the ‘physical requirements of the body to create speech’. What inspired the project?
When I discovered that different speech sounds were produced in different parts of the mouth, I immediately knew it was something that would be interesting to explore sculpturally. This led to the production a body of work which included the creation of phonetic patterns that would take predictable journeys through the mouth, and ultimately to the creation of Mouth Tank.
What's the experience of being inside ‘Mouth Tank’ like?
The installation gives the physical sensation of movement of sound through the body. With the viewer experiencing the contradictions of the wetness of mouth versus the dryness of chamber, and entering something alien to experience something entirely personal.
What was important about immersing people in a giant acoustic mouth replica?
Mouth Tank was manifested as a closed environment for practical reasons: I needed to have full control over what the viewer could hear, feel and sense. When viewers enter the tank, they notice a dramatic dampening of the external acoustic environment. I tend to spend a little too much time in there during installation.
What do you frequently find that you return to in your practice?
I tend to revisit materials that appear in my work - foam, rubber, and plastics. Typically, these materials have an important practical application, but also possess interesting qualities that can be brought out in non-practical usage.
The aesthetic is quite science / sci-fi, is that something you're into?
More the Industrial or utilitarian nature of science than sci-fi, but occasionally there is some overlap both ways.
What's your everyday inspiration?
It comes from behaviour rather than introspection. Its less about ‘how I feel’ – and more about how I and other people behave.
Do you do lots of research? What's the best piece of geeky info you found?
I’m always searching for experiments and studies that manifest themselves visually in the real world, this quote is probably a good example of that:
“A psychologist at a girl’s college asked the members of his class to compliment any girl wearing red. Within a week the cafeteria was a blaze of red. None of the girls were aware of being influenced, although they did notice that the atmosphere was more friendly.”
– W. Lambert Gardiner, Psychology: A Story of a Search, 1970
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Previous winners of the Converse Emerging Art Award include Gabrielle Beverage in 2011 who has since seen all her work bought by the Saatchi Gallery, whilst Richard Parry was commissioned at Venice Biennale, and Levack and Lewandowski saw three shows and performances in 2013.