Kristin Oppenheim

USA (1959). Lives and works in New York.

Sail on Sailor, 1994
Audio installation, 17’ 30’’

“Who sails the ocean? So many oceans. Sail on, sail on, sailor.” Kristin Oppenheim’s sound installation borrows some of the lyrics from the Beach Boys’ single Sail on, Sailor (1973). The artist’s voice is naked, without accompaniment, repeating a handful of phrases in a loop. Singing a capella, she recites the chorus over and over, creating an atmosphere of relaxation and hypnosis.

Oppenheim’s almost-minimalist, hybrid installations combine sound, photography, and painting, seeking to dramatize personal experience and memory. She uses her melancholy and mysterious voice to fabricate a particular emotional climate. Her sound pieces, almost like soundtracks, offer the audience dense layers of sound and special effects—the spoken word, thunder, raindrops—both to build and to blur the narrative impulse.

Oppenheim stands among audiovisual artists that use the human voice as a means of experimentation. This interest shown by visual artists in the human voice dates back to phonetic Dada poetry and post-World War II poésie sonore. According to the critic Jonathan Griffin: “What is most perplexing about the work is that in its spare specificity it constantly suggests connections waiting to be made and riddles to be solved.”