III – Vocal Transfiguration

The co- in correspondence implies a partnership. It implies that in sending a letter, each party is responding or reacting together—the word is not concerned with who initiated the exchange. Each party, respectively, is responding.  A self-proclaimed artist, diarist, and correspondent, Nemerofsky Ramsay’s letters, serenades, and love notes bear the marks of past lovers and recall a history of partnership and loss. Marked by his distinctive handwriting, text-based elements in his installations often communicate didactic information or fragmented anecdotes, inserting the artist’s voice into the mind of the viewer.

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Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, The Last Song (2015). Text by Paul B. Preciado.

However in Sound Etiquette, the text-based component in the The Last Song reveals the voice of writer and philosopher Paul, B. Preciado, whose words are scrawled across the floor in gold. The text communicates an experience of discomfort, and is marked by multiple layers of translation and transcription, folding the artist’s hand into the voice of Preciado. Represented in the artist’s handwriting in its original French, it reads:

Cette voix sort comme un masque d’air qui viendrait de l’interieur. Je sens une vibration qui se propage dans ma gorge comme s’il s’agissait d’un enregistrement sortant par ma bouche, la transformant en un etrange megaphone. Je ne me reconnais pas.¹

The artist’s English translation maintains the individual meaning of each word, communicating Preciado’s word choice more than his idea:

This voice is released like a mask of air that comes from the interior. I feel a vibration that spreads in my throat as if it was a recording coming out of my mouth, transforming it into a strange megaphone. I do not recognize myself.

This was Preciado’s response when asked what was the most serious side effect from taking testosterone. Having been filtered by the artist, the thought maintains its coherence, without necessarily being legible. Dr. Jan Zwicky describes lyric as “thought in love with clarity, informed by the intuition of coherence; by a desire to respond to the preciousness of the world.”² Nemerofsky Ramsay uses text and lyric to represent trauma, memory, and song in a way that strives for wholeness, not comprehensibility.

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Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay,  The Last Song  (2015),  installation view.
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Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay,  The Last Song  (2015),  video still. Performed by Jose Navas, with the baritone voice of Arnout Lems and the soprano voice of Jakob Buschermöhle.

The video element of The Last Song shows a singer (played by Jose Navas) who performs a haunting aria and undergoes a vocal transfiguration. In a moment of confusion, fear, and perhaps curiousity, the performer’s adult baritone voice transforms into the fragile soprano voice of a boy. Throughout his practice, the artist examines the in-between spaces in voices, particularly in the gendered history of song, and draws attention to these tenuous moments of vocal breakage.

As it is presented in Sound Etiquette, the looped video is cushioned by several minutes of silence and darkness, in which Preciado’s gilded words are not visible. Quite literally, the performance represented in video sheds light on Preciado’s words in a way that reveals them in the exhibition, and illustrates the haunting strangeness of vocal dissonance. In keeping with Zwicky’s theory, the video becomes a witness to Preciado’s experience:

“To historicize atrocity, to turn memory of it into a story, is to insist that sense can be made of it, that it can be located in a causal order, and that by so locating it, we can come to terms with it. But this is not true. What makes atrocity atrocity is that it is outside the reach of acceptable causal stories. There is no sane ethos that can embrace it. Its memory, then, cannot be documented morally in narrative. Moral treatment of atrocity requires a lyric medium, witness rather than explanation. (W.G. Sebald.)”³


¹ Paul B. Preciado,  “Une Autre Voix,”  Libération,  October 23, 2015.
² Jan Zwicky,  Lyric Philosophy  (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press,  1992),  192.
³ Zwicky,  “Lyric, Narrative, Memory,”  A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory  (Kentville, NS:  Gaspereau Press,  2006),  99.