Hey Joe, 1996

Media installation, Variable dimensions

Although the human voice had been absent from the visual arts for centuries, it has increasingly taken centre stage in some visual arts practices in recent decades. The history of this recovery of the human voice lies in Dadaist phonetic poetry and the poésie sonore of the years following the Second World War. This renewed interest has not only been encouraged by the reflections of theorists of the voice such as Roland Barthes, but also by new technological possibilities of reproduction and experimentation with the voice. Kristin Oppenheim’s visual and sound installations can be contextualised within this artistic context.

When Oppenheim began experimenting with a tape recorder in the early nineties, she noticed that her nostalgic, seductive voice was ideal for singing. Since then, she usually records herself in a recording studio in order to produce the tapes that she then uses in her installations. She generally recites a single line or phrase that she takes from popular music or writes herself, and repeats it over and over without musical accompaniment.

Using a minimalist visual language, Kristin Oppenheim dispenses with almost all images in order to emphasise the potential of the human voice, which takes on a physical and emotional presence. In Hey Joe, she uses the first line of a music track popularised by Jimi Hendrix during the years of the Vietnam war. The spectator hears a hypnotic, melancholic voice (the artist’s), which repeats: “Hey Joe, where’re you going with that gun in your hand?” Meanwhile, several spotlights on the ceiling project rays of light onto the floor of the empty room. The beams of light move around the space in an unpredictable dance, while the voice repeats the same text over and over, in a visual and auditory crescendo. At the beginning, the mood is reminiscent of the magic of fairytales, but the finale is threatening, and even prison-like.

Technical details

Original title:
Hey Joe
Registration number:
Oppenheim, Kristin
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium
Object type:
Media installation
Spotlight, loudspeakers, informatic system and sound recording, 2 min 15 s
Variable dimensions
Edition number:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium
© Kristin Oppenheim
It has accessibility resources:

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