Contemporary practices of audiovisual appropriation in which a maker repurposes preexisting recordings of a subject in a way that allows the appropriationist to “speak through” that subject’s voice and body constitute an act of “archival ventriloquism.” When recorded subjects become – to a degree – ventriloquist dummies, they lose control over their own voices as they are “spoken through.” In some works of audiovisual appropriation, this is primarily a loss of control over signification through one’s voice. In these cases, the subject is made to “say” something he or she never said, or – more precisely – to signify something he or she never signified. In other cases, the subject’s voice is actually replaced or distorted; he or she loses control not simply of signification but of vocalization itself. In both cases, new “technovocalic” bodies are constituted – imaginary bodies that are nonetheless related to the real bodies of the recorded subjects. I want to suggest, however, that there is an ethical distinction to be made between technovocalic bodies that reveal their own technovocality and those that do not. When media technologies are used to obscure the fact that the relation between voice and body has been altered, both the recorded subject and the audience are opened up to an abusive form of media ventriloquism. Through the concepts of archival ventriloquism and technovocality, this talk explores several video works based around the image and voice of former U.S. President Barack Obama that emphasize the manipulation of his recorded voice – in relation to his imaged body – in order to articulate both the powerful critical and comedic potentials of this form of media ventriloquism, as well as its possible abuses.
Jaimie Baron is an Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She is the author of two books, The Archive Effect: Found Footage and the Audiovisual Experience of History (Routledge, 2014) and Reuse, Misuse, Abuse: The Ethics of Audiovisual Appropriation in the Digital Era (Rutgers, forthcoming 2020), and numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is the director of the Festival of (In)appropriation and co-editor of Docalogue.