Using storytelling and sound art to create meaning for audiences.
Posted on December 18, 2023 by Sandra Huffman
The VCCA Salon Series welcomed writer and storyteller Chisom Ogoke and artist Lina Zylla to the Sweet Briar campus on October 4. The monthly collaborative event with the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) provided an opportunity for these current Fellows in the VCCA artist residency program to share works that included storytelling through spoken words and sounds.
Chisom Ogoke is a Nigerian American writer who hails from Plano, Texas. During her visit to Sweet Briar, she gave a presentation in two parts; the first was an introduction to her work, and the second was a performance of an original story. Ogoke graduated in 2022 with an MFA in Creative Writing from Texas State University and—even more recently—returned from a ten-month independent study in Barbados through the U.S. Student Fulbright Program. During those ten months, she studied Bajan (BAY-JUN) and West African-influenced oral storytelling practices and techniques.
She explained that there were two main reasons she found herself in Barbados. First, since she had an idea for a novel set in Barbados, it made sense for her to gain experience while living there. Second, she realized that her writing voice and style had an oral quality to it, which she connected to her Nigerian-American background, most notably through the influence of her parents.
So, she started studying storytelling traditions from around the world. While in Barbados, she was able to take a workshop which brought in oral artists of various kinds. “All of them came to the class and shared their practices, strategies, as well as tips, and encouraged the art of the spoken word,” said Ogoke.
What she realized was that she could put her oral storytelling techniques together with these spoken word performance strategies and create a wide storytelling performance. “In reality,” she explained, “I took one of my short stories and revised and reformed it so I could memorize it and perform it out loud. I was able to share it in a classroom of 40 or so primary school children on my last day in Barbados and now, on my last day in Virginia, I will share it with you.” Ogoke then performed an original oral story and invited the audience to participate through the use of call-and-response storytelling patterns. This engaged the audience by making them a necessary part of the storytelling process.
Artist Lina Zylla then turned the audience’s attention to her experience as performance artist as she shared trailers from three of her recent installations. Zylla studied in Munich at the academy of fine arts, first painting and then sculpture, receiving her diploma in 2019. She then began working with different performances, connecting and reacting to the spaces around her in a visual-acoustic way that often took her off canvas and into the room itself using different materials, especially glass.
Her first trailer was of a work titled “Years.” This was a painterly acoustic work that resulted in creating a mural in the Werksviertel district of Munich. This piece was part of a larger exhibition in Werksviertel-Mitte titled “Spek/trum. The City as a Sounding Board,” which dealt with the relationship between people and the spaces surrounding them, using the interface between visual arts, sculpture, architecture, sound art and performance to answer questions about how humans resonate with these spaces.
The second trailer featured a very emotional piece called “I Silver All the Tiles” created in 2021 in the Haus der Kunst, a non-collecting museum in Munich devoted to contemporary art. Originally called the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art), the museum was the first major architectural project commissioned by the Nazis in 1933 and it included an air raid shelter in the basement. This is the “bunker” where Zylla created her work, intending to show the very tight room while trying to connect with “the war people are hiding there” through the use of sound and glass.
Zylla’s final trailer was a performance piece titled “Finding the Wind’s Direction” which she filmed and produced in Italy in 2021. For this work, Zylla explained how she was able to show both her connection to the painting and sound of her art while also connecting with an audience. For this, she created glassworks in an outdoor kiln and exhibited the pieces during the performance. Ultimately, this film was a unique experience because it took place outside, and also because it was a performance, or live act, first, and afterward it became a separate exhibition. As she described, “it was more like a documentary of my performance.”
Both Ogoke and Zylla took questions from the audience and mingled with guests after their presentations.
The next VCCA Salon will be announced soon. More information can be found here: VCCA Salon Series. These events are FREE and open to the public. If attending, please check in at the guard gate and let them know you are here for the event. SBC also offers campus wide FREE parking.