Viral Silence

Viral Silence is a curated audio series that captures local experiences and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project commissions audio works from three sound artists representing different regions of Illinois, with Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio providing studio and technical support. Each artist will integrate historical intersections between specific locations and communities with instances of unheard voices or activities identified by local community members. The collected audio will include materials found or accumulated in those local communities: documentary recordings, broadcasts, soundscapes, interviews with residents—voices silenced, communities forgotten, words lost, sounds reconstructed. The artists will determine the format and contents, incorporating whatever else might be required to convey the local, collective response to COVID-19. The result will be three compelling portraits of Illinois persons, communities, or places that not only capture their subjects but will encourage others to provide their own creative works, all of which will be curated and accumulated in NON:onLINE and NON:op’s pages for Viral Silence.

Intended Audience

The NON:onLINE user base already includes persons who have attended previous programs and some additional supporters. We will also engage our increasingly larger social media audiences including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. We are just now hiring a social media specialist to promote NON:onLINE and our digital programing. As with our performances and programming, our rapidly expanding campaign on social media is intended to target especially underrepresented communities and individuals. We will be able to build on our existing audience base as well, since Viral Silence extends and enhances the overall objective of our long range, virtual, participatory projects: to bring to light lost, unheard, or neglected voices. The audience will be further enhanced with broadcasts at WRFU 104.5 in Urbana and at college radio stations in Chicago and the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center YouTube Channel (Sounds Live Community live stream) and by outreach in the local communities, implemented in conjunction with the commissioned artists. The partnership with the Experimental Sound Studio, as well as the Media Justice Network with whom the Independent Media Center’s is affiliated, will enable us to reach additional audience members that are currently outside our network.

Project Outcomes

NON:op has undertaken numerous participatory projects built around audience participation and featuring discussion-centered components tied to urgent, socially relevant issues. Our FEED Salons explicitly embody this approach, and our HPSCHD@50 interactive performative installation included a historically focused panel discussion about the social consequences of this iconic work. Similarly, both Coming Together and Blood Lines program featured formal discussion, film, and storytellers who addressed urgent social questions. Viral Silence carries this tradition of programming forward in the new environment thrust upon us by the pandemic. Its “venue” is NON:onLINE, which permits web-based programming that allows us to continue to solicit creative participation from our audiences. However, instead of “real” (non-distanced) participation, we are looking to build an equivalent “virtual” activity.

The outcomes are multiple. Creative artists have been especially adversely affected economically by the pandemic, and this project provides three such artists with an appropriate fee at a time of need. The creative process those artists undertake will help to heal and bind the communities in which they live. The works they create will offer hope and support to a wide and diverse audience of viewers who mourn the closure of cultural and performance institutions. Lost and or neglected voices, sounds, communities, and ideas will be given new presence and life. And, in the long view, the representations of memory, loss, and rediscovery will serve as models for contributions to NON:op’s future Memory Project programming.

Commissioned Artists

Norman Long, Southeast Chicago

Norman Long is a sound artist/designer/composer based in Chicago whose current work focuses on sound art production within the larger context of landscape. His practice offers a space to consider our relationship to sound via social and ecological structures, our interiority, and to affirm our existence.

Honna Veerkam, East St Louis/ Cahokia Mounds

Honna Veerkamp is a community-oriented artist, documentarian, and educator based in St. Louis, MO. Her specialties include radio, sound art, experimental video, painting, and installation, and she is particularly interested in the overlaps of these genres. 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.

Keith Moore/Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure with the youth of the Urbana Independent Media Center