In the final installment of The Noon Sirens, Johanna Hedva gives over their Scream Demo (2021), a vocal piece that casts the body and its voice as an expression of the pleasure of refusal. Recorded in Hedva’s apartment during lockdown, the five-minutes-long track is all voice, with minimal effects of reverb and delay. Layered into a sonic composition that moves through different registers, Scream Demo demonstrates Hedva’s range, technique, and stamina, as they swing between the antipodal styles of opera and P’ansori, pushing into the possibility of vocal cord damage. In making this edge legible, and sometimes taking the body beyond it with all the attendant possibility of failure, Hedva invokes an inversion of normative Western values around what a voice should, and should not, sound like—and ultimately, what it can be used for. Scream Demo is from a larger body of all-vocal work-in-progress that Hedva is currently making.
Influenced by vocal traditions such as Korean P’ansori singing, where contrary to established Western criteria, signs of vocal damage are not seen as evidence of the voice or performer ‘losing’ something but rather evidence of what the performer has gained, Scream Demo insists on an aesthetic that foregrounds the wear and tear of the body as it moves through time. Rather than a voice kept pure and empyreal as though untouched by time, it insists that this worn-down, used-up, broken, and breaking sound in a voice is what’s beautiful.
There is pleasure, there is thrill, in pushing the body ‘too far,’ in inflicting marks upon it that are permanent and being in charge of making these marks on one’s own flesh. The body in this way is not a passive intermediary that separates the self and the world but an agential convergence; a body that bears the scars of struggle, of life, of the domination and oppression in our world, but is also constitutive of other realities, other systems of value and meaning. What happens, what power is reclaimed, when a person commands the fate of their own materiality? When something called ugly or deviant or dangerous retorts, “actually, no, I’m beautiful, well, and good”?
For Hedva, bringing this reversal into the space of art and cultural institutions is to challenge ableist imperialisms that are endemic to such institutions. Far from just a symbolic gesture, situating the politics of refusal so viscerally in their own body, they work against the conditioning they have themselves received, and enact a rebellion of kinked pleasure, wild thrill, play, and fun. To hear a voice intentionally and consensually pushed to breaking insists on another type of engagement with what a body is for, how it is valued, where it can go.
This, in turn, is constitutive of a new set of values and criteria and could be understood as an undercommons at work. Fred Moten and Stefano Harney suggest an undercommons is not a place where we simply rebel and create critique—this antagonism would only serve to reify the dominant structures that produce the conditions we are protesting. Instead, an undercommons is a space and a time that is always already here. It is a space of commonality that does not seek to end the troubles we face but instead aims to end the world that could have imagined them in the first place. It frames, defines, and understands the world differently, according to a non-hegemonic system of values. A refusal of the very conditions within which we are inscribed is the establishment of another reality entirely—in the face of dominant categories and definitions, it simply says back, “no, I’m not that thing you say I am. I’m something else.”
–Lynton Talbot and Hana Noorali
Johanna Hedva is a Korean-American writer, artist, musician, and astrologer, who was raised in Los Angeles by a family of witches, and now lives in LA and Berlin. Hedva’s practice cooks magic, necromancy, and divination together with mystical states of fury and ecstasy. They are devoted to doom as a liberatory condition, deviant forms of knowledge, and the way in which a voice can unmake the world. There is always the body — its radical permeability, dependency, and consociation — but the task is how to eclipse it, how to nebulize it, and how to cope when this inevitably fails. Ultimately, Hedva’s work, no matter the genre, is different kinds of writing, whether it’s words on a page, screaming in a room, or dragging a hand through water.
Hedva is the author of Minerva the Miscarriage of the Brain (Sming Sming/Wolfman Books 2020), which collects a decade of work in poetry, plays, performances, and essays; and reached #2 on the Small Press Poetry Bestseller List. Their novel On Hell (Sator Press/Two Dollar Radio 2018), was named one of Dennis Cooper’s favorites of 2018. Their work has been shown in Berlin at Gropius Bau, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Klosterruine, and Institute of Cultural Inquiry; The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; Performance Space New York; Gyeongnam Art Museum in South Korea; the LA Architecture and Design Museum; and the Museum of Contemporary Art on the Moon. Hedva has written about the political and mystical capacities of Nine Inch Nails, Sunn O))), and Lightning Bolt; the legacy of Susan Sontag; Ancient Greek tragedies; and the revolutionary potential of illness.
Their writing has appeared in Triple Canopy, frieze, The White Review, Lithub, Die Zeit, and is anthologized in Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art. Their essay “Sick Woman Theory,” published in 2016 in Mask, has been translated into 10 languages, and their activism toward accessibility, as outlined in their Disability Access Rider, has been influential across a wide range of fields. Their next book, a novel called Your Love Is Not Good, will be published by And Other Stories Press in 2023.
Their album The Sun and the Moon was released in March 2019; two of its tracks were played on the moon. Their new LP, Black Moon Lilith in Pisces in the 4th House, a doom-metal guitar and voice performance influenced by Korean shamanist ritual, was released January 1, 2021 on crystalline morphologies and Sming Sming.