River Encalada Bullock

Position title: Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2017-2018)

Art History, UW-Madison


Listening to Contemporary Art: Vocality as a Technology of Relation

My dissertation research extends directly from my commitment to the museum and gallery as spaces that can activate conversations between multiple and diverse publics, and become vehicles for transformative contact through social encounters with difference. I shift attention in contemporary art criticism to works of art that ask us to listen just as much as they ask us to look. This call to listen is crucial to the ethical and political aims of art of women and artists of color (beginning with the pivotal work of Adrian Piper, Ana Mendieta, and Pauline Oliveros in the 1970s) who take advantage of the space of the gallery and museum to alter sensory dynamics as a way of changing social power relations. Rather than recovering vocality as an object, this study joins a swell in scholarship that offers a reading of voice and vocality as practice and as verb, that even if previously unheard is a materially vibrational practice that haunts, calls upon, and positions the spectator-as-listener. The methodological and theoretical implications of this study unsettle categorical and medium specific divisions of sound art, instead leaving an open imperative to listen to that which may not be easily audible.As such, this project engages photography, video, film, and sound works to bring the history and theory of photography into critical tension with the fields of sound and new media studies.

River Encalada Bullock is a writer, curator, and PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at UW-Madison. River’s dissertation, “Listening to Contemporary Art: Vocality as a Technology of Relation” attends to artworks that call for a tactics of listening across the disciplinary intersections of Art History and Visual Studies, Sound Studies, and Cultural Studies. River’s recent curatorial projects include “Word is Bond” (The Curatorial Lab, 2014) which showcased the work of contemporary artists who use words and sound to configure narrative, material repetition, and queered tradition. River has guest curated exhibitions at Milwaukee Art Museum, Center for Creative Photography, Phoenix Art Museum, and the Chazen Museum of Art. River received a BFA in Photography from Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and an MA in Art History from the University of Arizona.