KCAI’s ‘Soundings’ Exhibit Constantly Transforms with Combination of Sound and Art

Photo by Paul Litherland.

Visitors who stop by the Kansas City Art Institute Gallery’s newest exhibit, Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts today, will have an almost entirely different experience than visitors who stop by the exhibition when it ends on October 30.

“You kind of have to visit multiple times to get the full experience,” says Michael Schonhoff, director of the KCAI Gallery. “It’s designed for returning to the space. If you want to get an even deep understanding of it, the exhibit is really generous that way.”

Part of a traveling exhibit hosted by Independent Curators International, KCAI is one of many sites on the Soundings tour, which is set to end in 2025. Curated by Candice Hopkins and Dylan Robinson, the exhibit invites artists, musicians, and viewers to ponder the question, “How can a score be a call and a tool for decolonization?”

With newly commissioned scores, performances, videos, sculptures, and sound by Indigenous and other artists, Soundings unfolds in its entirety in five stages at each location it visits, inviting local artists and musicians to provide their take on each artwork.

Photo by Paul Litherland. Courtesy of AEAC and ICI.

“Part of the hosting site’s task is to really connect with the Indigenous community that is here—historically and in the present,” Schonhoff says. “The welcoming piece for the show has these forms and translations. The task is to consider whose ancestral lands we’re on. Kansas City is a very complicated area, both for ancestral lands and for tribal nations that were either relocated here or moved through here.”

As viewers explore the exhibition, they’ll see historic scores and visual images interpreted with music and sounds grounded in concepts of Indigenous land and territory. In a five-part sequence, scores take the form of beadwork, videos, objects, graphic notation, historical belongings, and written instructions visitors interact with throughout the exhibition.

Repeat Soundings viewers will notice that some artifacts are gone, altered, or added to each artwork—some artworks have multiple parts, others change to an individual rhythm as the exhibition grows. Throughout the Soundings tour, change is consistent—even as the exhibit moves to a new location, it brings along new artworks completed by the former host site.

KCAI has commissioned local sound artist Taylor Jordan Riner to create the gallery’s addition to the exhibition. Riner, who is descended from the Pawnee tribe, is creating his final piece with sounds he collected while field recording areas—roads, trails, places of commerce—around the Kansas City region the Pawnee people traveled through while relocating from Nebraska to Oklahoma. With a microphone set up in KCAI Gallery while Soundings is on exhibit, Riner is also capturing sounds from the exhibition space to weave into the field recordings.

Working with local artists, Soundings curators, and his team at KCAI to add Kansas City’s touch to the exhibition has been one of the largest projects Schonoff has taken on at the KCAI Gallery.

Vancouver-based violinist/violist, composer and ethnomusicologist Parmela Attariwala performs Peter Morin’s score NDN Love Songs at Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

“This is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done,” Schonoff says. “Making the decision to do this was a decision, knowing what the exhibit needed, yet this is the perfect place to talk about this. I walked that path every day knowing that this may not happen, but it did. Kansas City has been so supportive—there’s a huge team around this campus and in the community that made this happen.”

Throughout the exhibition, the KCAI Gallery will host live performances by local artists of the scores part of the exhibition. The first performance was on August 18, when Schonhoff performed Do’-gah – I don’t know. The next performances include:

  • Friday, September 16: NDN Love Songs, score by Peter Morin, performed by Amado Espinoza.
  • Friday, September 23: Surrounded/Surrounding, score by Tania Willard, performed by KCAI Sound Art Collaborative.
  • Friday, September 30: Listener, performed by Kite.
  • Thursday, October 13: Surrounded/Surrounding, score by Tania Willard, performed by Bird Fleming and members of the Traditional Music Society.
  • Wednesday, October 26: American Ledger (no. 1), score by Raven Chacon, performed by ​​Paul Rudy with an ensemble of ten local musicians.
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