BARCELONA.- Sophie Whettnall (Brussels, 1973) is presenting a sound video-installation with her latest self-portrait, designed specifically for Explicit Silence and titled Excess of Yang. According to oriental philosophy, yin and yang is a concept based on the duality in everything that exists in the universe. In Chinese medicine, the symptoms of a nature that is excessively yang - a quality generically associated with action, movement, light and the male - can include stress, lack of sleep and fast, reckless driving.
On the basis of a diagnosis of an excess of yang by her doctor, Whettnall creates a passionate metaphor of her experience as a woman by using symbols for power and seduction associated with the male gender. To do this, she explores the frontiers of silence, venturing into a project that represents one step further in her dissection of the intimacy of her psyche and in her particular analysis of the mechanisms and contradictions implicit in the practice of art.
In the same way as in other self-portraits such as Shadow Boxing (2004) and Conversation Piece (2005), the artist reflects on the latent violence in the unknown, in what is hidden, concealed, reserved and retained. In Excess of Yang, she depicts herself as apparently polarised between the energy and power conferred by the ostentation of sound, speed and beauty, and the containment imposed by her own limitations. It is here that she shows us a form of silence, embodied in a paralysing violence, that points to the lack of definition of its limits and the disarming breadth of its potential. And it is this tension in all her self-portraits that enables Whettnall to communicate so well the silence that prevails present in her art; a silence that is often hard and dense and is radically opposite to noise and lies.
The title of this season's programme refers to a way of understanding silence that subverts the semantics of the term to turn it into a clamour. It also points to the deliberate, positive gesture that dissociates silence from abstraction to transform it into an action or a fact that is very close to renunciation but without giving in to it, that seeks to denote its presence and is content to watch itself from its own abyss. Thus conceived, silence functions as a metaphor for the paradigm shift, escaping from the often limiting meanings given to it by tradition and by cultural behaviour. It is a silence that adjoins words but does not oppose them, in the same way as it does not oppose sound, action, light or movement.
Silence is a phenomenon whose openly contradictory nature turns it into the paradox par excellence and into that slippery term regarding which Bataille wrote: "Of all words, it is the most poetic and the most perverse: it is itself the proof of its own death." As a consequence of this condition, silence is a chameleon-like concept, essentially polysemous and non-absolute, that transcends the merely physical or acoustic, and whose meaning varies radically depending on its context.
The search for silence, for "the furthest extension of that reluctance to communicate" that Susan Sontag wrote of, has been a constant premise in contemporary art ever since it focused on exploring its own limits. From Kasimir Malevich, Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein to James Lee Byars, Michael Asher, Robert Barry and Juan Muñoz, contemporary artists have postulated silence, reduction, nothingness, pause, absence, disappearance, invisibility, emptiness, non-action or renunciation, without having exhausted them. In art, silence is still today a frontier, an absolutely free territory, hardly explored and yet to be mapped.