Viral Silence

Viral Silence: Community Portraits in Response to COVID-19

Viral Silence is a statewide collaborative community commissioning and virtual touring program that captures community experiences and responses to COVID-19. Three commissioned Illinois artists/teams will collaborate within their communities to create and present sound compositions and workshops in venues in the three communities. Virtual audiences will be able to experience each artwork where it was created, via accessible, simultaneous streaming. Artists were commissioned in fall 2020, the project kickoff meeting was in January 2021 and commissioned artists will work with their communities from February through May, with all three projects presented in June. The result will be three collaborative processes and compelling community portraits that will help to heal and bind communities around memory, loss and rediscovery.

Creative artists and the cultural sector have been especially adversely affected economically by the pandemic. Viral Silence strives to address the needs of these accomplished individual artists and offer hope and support to a wide and diverse audience of viewers who mourn the closure of cultural and performance institutions. The project’s collaborative creative processes will help to heal and bind communities around these participatory artworks, and voices, sounds, communities, and ideas lost to the pandemic will be given new presence and life.

Viral Silence commissions audio works from three sound artists from different regions of Illinois. Three socially distanced local presentations will be simultaneously streamed to create a virtual tour so off-site audiences can experience each artwork within the environment where it was created. Artists will collect materials within their community, including recorded and live music, soundscapes, interviews, poetry, etc. and create original sound/performance works designed to convey the local, collective response to COVID-19. The result will be three collaborative works that will help to heal and bind communities around memory, loss and rediscovery.

Commissioned Artists and Communities

Allen MooreAllen Moore with the Auburn Gresham 21st Ward, Block Club 21 Community Garden

Allen Moore is a Black American Interdisciplinary Painter, Experimental Sound Artist, Educator, Youth Mentor and Curator born and raised in the Historic Village of Robbins IL. His work examines both visual and experimental music, emphasizing the importance of nurturing the Black Imagination with social representation and converses with the signifiers of African American and popular culture, bringing to view the underlying themes of racial, emotional and socioeconomic conditions. Moore has exhibited and performed across Chicago and the greater Midwest, including exhibitions Experimental Sound Studio, Elastic Arts, Threewalls, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago. His work is featured in the Netflix Original Series “ Easy ” Seasons 1 and 2.

Project Description

Allen Moore’s commission has roots in the summer of 2020 with the creation of a weekly community member centered artist/volunteer-based initiative to create and cultivate the community garden located at 86th and Loomis. In collaboration with Kweli Kwaza, president of club 21 (21st ward) Block club in Auburn Gresham, and with a rotating group of artists, we are organizing outdoor, socially distanced workshops in response to the crippling blank of the pandemic.

For Allen’s Viral Silence commission, he will continue to work with community members to maintain the garden, facilitate DIY workshops based on art and music, and use artifacts and materials generated during community workshops and weekly gardening sessions to create and stream a live performance in June 2021.

Honna VeerkampHonna Veerkamp and Jay Needham with Carbondale Community Arts

Honna Veerkamp is a community-oriented artist and educator. Her specialties include audio and video documentary, painting, and socially engaged art. Honna’s work explores natural and human-made environments and celebrates creative resistance—from tiny interventions to grassroots social justice movements, and the stories in between. Honna earned a Media Arts MFA at Southern Illinois University in 2015 and a diploma in Audio Engineering at the Institute for Audio Research in 2002. She was a CAT fellow in 2017-2018 and currently serves on the alumni advisory board.  She has taught audio, video, writing, and fine art at university and community settings.

Jay NeedhamJay Needham is an artist, musician, writer-editor and cultural producer who utilizes multiple creative platforms to produce his works, many of which have a focus on sound and site specific field research. As a hearing-divergent person, Needham makes work that often involves sensing and experiencing sound across many modalities. His sound art, works for radio, visual art, performances and installations have appeared at museums, festivals and on the airwaves, worldwide. Needham is the founding co-editor of Resonance: The Journal of Sound and Culture, published by The University of California Press. He is a Professor in the Department of Radio, Television and Digital Media at Southern Illinois University and he received his MFA from The School of Art at California Institute of the Arts.

Project Description

Adaptive Response is a work for micro-FM transmission and live performance that considers the ways werespond to an ever-shifting landscape of risk and adaptation during the pandemic. Drawing from regionally gathered, pre-recorded stories, live music and audience commentary, artists Jay Needham and Honna Veerkamp live-compose an evolving radiophonic stream. Designed to be performed in community parking lots, Adaptive Response imagines the interiority of the automobile as a new space for socially distanced listening and isolated civic engagement. Listeners are invited to tune in locally on their car stereos or join virtually from anywhere in the world.

Expressive ResonanceExpressive Resonance (Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure & Keith Moore) with Champaign County youth and the Urbana Independent Media Center

Ja Nelle Davenport Pleasure is a poet, a recycle/up-cycle artist, fashion designer, dance instructor, and community-media maker, currently based in Champaign, Illinois. For the past 20 years I have gotten involved in making art by reusing and recycling what I already have in my possession. Through this, I have found a wonderful medium to turn trash into beautiful works of art. I use my gifts and talents in the literary world, as well as dance and fashion to bring people together to unleash their creative minds and think outside themselves, to encourage and support one another, and to build community. I am comical, silly, and I enjoy bringing people from all walks of life together to share, to explore, to uplift through art.

Keith Moore is a composer and sound artist, writer, curator, and community-media maker currently based in Urbana, Illinois. Keith uses the fields of acoustics and psychoacoustics to compose expressive and conceptually rich works that compel listeners to consider the beauty and breadth of perception itself. He has collaborated with numerous distinguished organizations such as musikFabrik WDR (Cologne), Ensemble de l’itinéraire (Paris), Ensemble Modern and the International Ensemble Modern Academy (Frankfurt), PRISM Quartet (NYC), Talujon Percussion (NYC), Ensemble 21 (NYC), and soloists including Tomas Bächli (Berlin), Karen Bentley Pollick (CO), Kevin Boyer (London), Maja Cerar (NYC), Juliana Snapper (LA), Taimur Sullivan (Chicago) and Kelland Thomas (Hoboken). In addition to creating original compositions Keith Moore pursues his research through writing, performance, curating and teaching.

In their artistic duo Expressive Resonance Ja Nelle and Keith draw on word and sound and a dizzying array of collaborators from throughout their community to reflect on everyday experience bringing people from all walks of life together to share, to explore, and to uplift through art.

Project Description

Keith and Ja Nelle first began working together as part of a team of curators for the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center’s weekly livestream series “Sounds Like Community.” SLC was the IMC’s first major response to the pandemic. The program launched on April 2nd, 2020, just seventeen days after the statewide shutdown ordered by Illinois State Governor J.B. Pritzker on March 16, 2020. “Sounds Like Community” continues to provide a virtual space for local artists and activists to meet at the same hour, and same day, of each week—Wednesdays at 7pm—to share memories, performances, and new propositions with their community amidst a still unfolding pandemic.

With their Viral Silence commission, Ja Nelle and Keith draw on their experience as curators of “Sounds Like Community” and invite community artists and activists to create short reflections on the ever-developing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in greater Urbana-Champaign, reflecting on what was lost to time, what was shared anew amidst the struggle, and what hopes and fears figure prominently on the horizon of the community. In June, Champaign County: March 2020 and Counting… will be presented as a radio play, with written and recorded word, sound, and performance by Champaign County youth and other community members; and it will be used as the springboard for socially distanced discussions and workshops with various communities active at the IMC throughout the summer of 2021. Ultimately a process will begin, such that one testimony inspires the next, creating a growing body of stories that will be projected through the various media of the IMC including: the IMC newspaper “The Public i”; the IMC radio station WRFU; the IMC Internet livestream “Sounds Like Community”; and the IMC television broadcast “VVAM!”, which is produced in collaboration with Urbana Public Television (UPTV).

All three of the Viral Silence commissions will be presented on “Sounds Like Community.” Join us online to experience the project this summer, Wednesday at 7pm: www.ucimc.org/slc