João Penalva’s installation People on Air can be seen in the Corner Space of Galerie Thomas Schulte from February 18 to April 15. The nine meter high walls of the Corner Space have been painted red and have been decorated with a collage of black and white photographs which tell stories of sound artists working for radio in the 1940s and 1950s.
Paradoxically, what is at the heart of João Penalva’s installation People on Air is also what is absent from it – an entire kaleidoscope of sounds. The black-and-white photographs of the large wall collage in the Corner Space of Galerie Thomas Schulte show sound artists at work producing sound effects for radio programmes during the 1940s and 1950s. Short captions inside text boxes describe how a wide range of objects and substances were used to create a variety of sounds and noises. These were broadcast live as part of radio plays and programmes to create and enhance atmosphere and suspense, and help the audience visualise and follow the story.
In this installation Penalva addresses how stories come into being through our brains’ power to complement fragmented information, knowledge, and experience with our own memories in order to shape our narratives and truths. The way in which we as listeners are willing to accept a certain noise as real within a specific context has been described by art historian Pontus Kyander as follows:
“Does a sound created for an effect constitute a deceit? […] The whole question of truth becomes obsolete, as long as the sound seems consistent with whatever else we hear or see. […] Like a caricature, it picks out the easiest recognizable characteristics of a sound (real or imagined), simplifies the means of its reproduction and trusts our willingness to accept it as a replacement for reality. “
In the same way in which the People on Air used noise and sound to trigger mental images, Penalva manages to evoke an entire soundscape through image and text.
People on Air was commissioned by and first shown at the Trondheim Museum of Art in 2014.