“hem hem” was a multi-media exhibition that staged the soundscape of vernacular urban Ho Chi Minh City (commonly called Saigon) in an attempt to “visualise the hearing”, to manifest the body of urban sounds and provoke reflections about the representations triggered by un/familiar sounds.
the exhibition comprised primarily a collection of sounds recorded at different times of the day and the week and in the various streets and alleyways of a defined area in the Binh Thanh district of Ho Chi Minh City.
with minimal editing, the recordings focus on specific sounds or atmospheres in order to render a realistic impression of the different elements composing the soundscape of Ho Chi Minh City and share the sense of place felt in these streets.
throughout the space, recordings were accompanied by drawings created by Georgia through experiential response to the sounds. the drawings were made using simple materials: charcoal, ink, oil paint, paper, digital compositions.
this exhibition was presented in december 2017 at Wut Tung Sat, Hong Kong, by artists in residence, Georgia and Myriem, as the outcome of a reflection on the importance of sounds in the making of sense of place.
sounds as a multi-faceted medium, analysable through a kaleidoscopic lens: physically, musically, artistically, biologically, socially…
sounds as an inclusive medium: when photography is restrictive, forcing everyone into a single point of view, sounds are including, inviting the spectator to engage – they do not require alienation to be understood; anyone can have a feeling for/from them; the connection to memories and emotions is direct. sounds can bring you anywhere without discrimination.
what do the ordinary noises and silences tell us about our cities?
how do they reflect about the liveability of our cities?
how can we integrate them in the design of our urban spaces, of our cities as they develop? And why is it important to listen to our city’s murmurations?
the study of soundscapes and of the link between places- culture-sounds is still very absent in the academic jargon, while dominant discourses in city-making frame sounds as negativities to be neutralised. yet, what most of the time results from public spaces clearing and noise-reduction policies is a collection of banalised spaces that sacrifices the lived for the representation… shaping boring cities.
yes, soundscapes help us identify places: they translate a set of values, a collective memory; they help us identify places that have life, they help us navigate the urban.
hence, seeing the city through the lens of its sounds is not only a case for a medium, it is for a vision of the city. within a context of sanitisation of public spaces, it is a bold claim for a sensitive approach that poses a city that talks to us through its buildings, rhythms, people.
decomposing a soundscape forces for an associated switching of lenses: instead of seeing streets and alleyways as traffic channels (as the dominant discourse imposes a conception of cities as a collection of flows and mega- infrastructures), we need to see them as places – places that are the product of social relations. despite their apparent “mess”, these streets are highly organised. from their layout to the activities they host, they were born out of pragmatic decisions made by city dwellers themselves.
they may seem very ordinary, mundane, yet they hold at their core functioning principles that are nowadays celebrated in urban studies: resourcefulness, adaptability, flexibility. people share very limited space over time, but demonstrate a daily-renewed capacity to innovate, find replacement solutions, condense space, smoothly transform uses multiple times over the course of the day.
consequently, the very social relations needed to ensure the good functioning of these spaces create a strong neighbourhood solidarity, a reinforced attachment of dwellers towards their alley and a sharp sense of place.
these spaces are a lesson of urbanism to functionalism aficionados: by catering for people’s needs, they, in fact,lay ground for a viable local economy. not only do people live, but they also work, play, rest, produce there, resolving many social and environmental issues associated with the modern-day metropolis. people are anchored in a place, in a culture, in an ecosystem and in life. this incremental city reminds us a forgotten yet fundamental principle: life can’t spring in cities with an alienated society.