Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner riffs on the opening of the ICA's newest exhibition, Queer Voice. Be one of the first to see the show when its run begins tonight at 6:00 p.m. with a free opening reception.

Street: What is the “queer voice”?

Ingrid Schaffner: Queer Voice is an exhibition of voice as a material in contemporary art. What one hears in the voices on view sounds queer both in terms of gender and simply sounding strange. On view are audio and video works, as well as scripts. The scripts function in the context of the show like drawings that show the construction of the queer voice on paper. To read [the scripts] is to hear the queer voice in your own mind.

Street: How are video and sound works referencing the queer voice inherently different than paintings and sculptures that deal with queer issues?

IS: The exhibition space is very empty. It’s paradoxical that something as immaterial as a voice would need so much room, but the show is a proposition to listen; it is queer in itself that you would go to a museum and listen.

Street: Is the queer always necessarily tied to sexuality?

IS: No! But the queer voice in terms of gender is emphasized [in the exhibition]; men sound like women, women sound like men. Identities shift and sound unstable, changeable within a single body. Affected voices, often elements of drag, can disguise, confuse or declare gender.

Street: Where did the idea for the show come from? Was there a particular body of work that inspired you to begin work on it?

IS: The show is a response to experiencing Kalup Linzy and Ryan Trecartin’s work in and around the same time — what I heard was arresting. In their works, the voice is disembodied from the visual and is extremely constructed; it made me think of voice as a substance.

Street: This show spans generations. How do you observe the manifestation of the queer voice changing across time?

IS: The show is a genealogy that works backwards from a current generation of artists, harkens to artists from the '60s such as Andy Warhol and Jack Smith and references artists like John Kelly as a generation in between them. There is an interesting shift from Smith’s work in New York’s East Village of the '60s, to Laurie Anderson, whose work “Superman” was an MTV video, allowing the queer voice to crossover into popular culture where it seems to resonate today.

Street: Why should Penn students come to the exhibition?

IS: Because of all that one may hear that will sound familiar. In Ryan Trecartin’s work, someone is speaking like they would on Twitter or MySpace. Kalup Linzy’s characters come straight from soap operas and Sharon Hayes uses a normal voice to talk about queer love. There is something to be heard in the campiness­ — they are echoes of mass culture and how present and multiple the queer voice is in it. Penn recently made national news for offering coverage for gender reassignment surgery on its insurance. I think that the show signals that the queer voice sounds like a new normal.