But for its vibrations, sound is intangible. Yet Paige Naylor (MFA 2022) uses sound to embody absence. Last autumn, Naylor installed an unassuming white mailbox with the word “Ghostmail” painted in black along its flank. The installation, a part of the Terrain Biennial hosted by Hyde Park Art Center, gathers physical recordings of the dead.
“Ghostmail” reacted to the last year of collective loss, a trauma that Naylor knows acutely. Naylor’s art has provided a way to grieve the loss of her partner in October 2020. Throughout the last many months of making, she has asked herself, “how can I approach this in a way that feels healthy?” The experience has given Naylor an unprecedented gratitude for life. The bittersweet gift of her partner’s loss is a sensitivity to the ubiquitous nature of beauty.
Voice propels Naylor’s pieces. Trained as a vocal major as an undergraduate, Naylor speaks, whispers, sings, and makes other vocalizations not easily characterized beyond “weird” in her sound work. With distortions, Naylor alternately conceals and reveals the meaning of the words. Sometimes clarity will be granted by ravenous repetition. Sometimes meaning is consumed by aquatic electrification.
The tech that enables the warping is often concealed. While Naylor loves the tech-y aspect of sound, such conversations about gear can devolve into a “boys’ club.” Naylor prefers her undistracted listeners sit with a poem and its transformations. By concealing the tech, listeners digest the repetition in time to hear the words fall apart with a final round of sonic buckling.
In “Vox Effusis Vol. 4,” a part of The Quarantine Concerts curated by sound faculty Lou Mallozzi, Naylor mixes her spoken poems out of frame. Bathed in saturated, monochromatic hues, her face and a microphone constitute the visual of the live YouTube performance. The voice is the instrument, which is extended by the electronics. She reacts to her voice and the effects in real time, wringing her vocal cords or swiveling a dial on the mixing board. Naylor sympathizes with the experience of cyborgs. Indeed, in the frame of the video, the microphone seems to exist in place of her mouth.
Naylor furthers the concealment of tech in “Shhh,” a sound piece presented at Joe B Art Center’s semi-annual sound festival, Waveforms. With a curtain, Naylor obscured herself and the sound equipment; she snaked out headphones to the public. The piece opens with a lick that resembles sinking into restless hypnosis. In the second person, Naylor whispers confidentially; she is patiently telling secrets. “I want to curate the experience of crying to increase the quantity of tears” Naylor says in the piece, “to experience feeling at its full capacity.” Bereft of tech, listeners are immersed in socio-emotional ripples.
Discovery of the psychological approach to sound happened more than two years ago while Naylor worked with the experimental pop opera, The Near Misses, after her undergraduate education. While doing tech, songwriting, and performance, Naylor also conducted interviews with women who had almost died from various causes: assault, suicide, brain aneurysms, and the van that drove through counter-protestors at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right Rally.” Naylor, a native of rural Virginia, made her way to Chicago in 2019 for this program.
Inspired by the possibilities of sound beyond composition, Naylor stretches her voice. Like many SAIC graduate students, the name of her home department — MFA Sound — does not capture the extent of Naylor’s practice. Performance, installation, archival work, and education make up the circumference of her work. As she heals and processes, Naylor transmits her sensitivity for beauty in a prolific practice.
More of Paige Naylor’s work is available at www.paigenaylor.art. She will be exhibiting at IMPACT on March 5 and 6 at 33 E. Washington.