Foley Objects

2013, Series of 26 photographs, 38 x 38cm, archival pigment print, framed
“In 1956 René Magritte declared “a thing which is present can be invisible, hidden by what it shows.” It is an aphorism that perfectly sums up the work of Jonna Kina. The series Foley Objects presents about thirty objects –everyday things for the most part – in an equal number of photos, each accompanied by a short caption. At first blush, the latter seems to bear no relation to the image associated with it, conjuring up an atmosphere of surrealist weirdness.Then, little by little, it dawns on the viewer that the phrase relates to the sound made by the object depicted. Once this principle is grasped, perusing this gallery of images becomes not only disconcerting but fun too. And it is not long before one catches oneself hearing photos.In audiovisual parlance, the term “Foley” designates sound effect added to a movie at post-production. The noise of footsteps, of a door slamming, of a piece of paper being screwed up – the types of sound not easily recorded during the shoot. The Finnish artist organizes photographs of the objects used by technicians to reproduce these sounds into a typology. Yet this arrangement quickly appears as more than a mere nomenclature, since, above and beyond its purely documentary approach, the series offers a veritable experience of synaesthesia that requires us to reflect on our perceptions and on the limits of the text-image relationship.”
-Lydia Dorner, Curator, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne



Objects and Sounds, installation view, curated by Manuela Pacella, Fondazione Pastificio Cerere, Rome, Italy, 2019 (photo by: Andrea Veneri)

Foley Objects, Installation view, Mänttä Art Festival, Finland 2013



Here are things, in a nutshell. While working on her own two-channel video, artist Jonna Kina got really interested in sound, especially the convincing, yet entirely simulated, sound effects made by Foley artists using their eclectic, at times eccentric and ingenious, objects and contraptions. These sounds are recorded and then added to various media, meticulously syncing with the action, and we hear them all the time—in films and videos, on television shows, in computer games and advertisements—although we rarely register them as fabrications. Expert Foley artists are conjurers; they are sonic wizards. They can make a bicycle lock sound like a shotgun, kitchen utensils in a metal box sound like a regal crown, potato flour in a sack sound like crunching snow, a plastic water gun sound like a fart, and a child’s rubber glove sound like beating wings (all of which appear in Kina’s enthralling photographic series Foley Objects). Kina sought out these Foley artists (the term Foley comes from the American Jack Foley, who pioneered sound effects for radio shows and, later, for films with the advent of “talkies”) and was riveted by their devices: five balloons that perfectly mimic pigeons, aluminum foil that perfectly simulates crackling fire. It’s these devices, these tools of the trade, that Kina lovingly photographed back in her studio, and in a singular manner yielding images that are altogether entrancing. Each vivid object is positioned in the center of the frame and appears to inhabit a void. Some are obvious (a coiled belt, rope, a spatula). Others are wacky and baffling (a metal trolley, with two wheels and an outsize clothespin, which makes the sound of a bed). No context is provided other than a small caption at the bottom (sometimes a single word) referring to the sound produced by the Foley artist, and this juxtaposition of image and text is oftentimes jarring and hilarious. You look at a pineapple and read “Dinosaur skin.” You look at a measuring tape and read “Stormy weather.” This seems absurd, until you realize that this pineapple and this measuring tape were utilized—somehow—to make sounds effectively resembling those of dinosaur skin and a storm.

On one level Jonna Kina’s series constitutes straightforward, stick to the facts documentary, an archive of the sundry objects employed by the Foley wizards, an investigation and revelation of the mysterious, behind-the-scenes physical things they use to produce sounds, purporting to be “real,” that we hear all the time—basically an archive of the hidden, physical facts behind the aural fiction. On another level—and this is really the brilliance of Kina’s series—the humble objects in her photographs have an evocative, even magical power, especially in conjunction with the captions. Some look playful and exuberant, almost like toys, for instance a broken candleholder used to produce the sound of a tray full of dishes. Others look curiously stately and reverential, even a child’s red rubber glove (Wings) and a silver key fob imitating a horse’s bit (Armor). All look wonderfully sculptural; Kina teases out this found sculptural quality in her photographs. In Kina’s photographs these sound-producing objects are also strikingly mute, which deflects attention from the actual sound they produce to potential sound, or sound you imagine. While you are given cues as to which sounds (wind, clock, armor, dog, spaceship door) every viewer will have a different imagination of them. This helps to make Kina’s relatively small photographs seem even more personal and intimate. They enter through your eyes and take up reverberating residence in your particular mind and psyche. Some of the objects look worn and distressed (the dented and punctured metal canister in Empty space, the sagging sack in Snow, the broken cymbal, with attached paper tissue, in Bathroom) yet also stalwart, and proud, even noble. Without getting too anthropomorphic, you just sense that these objects (all of which have been handled and used by Foley artists) somehow connect with us, with our aspirations and longing, our frailty and hopes. Despite their humdrum conditions they want to do something great. They want to transcend, however temporarily and briefly, their mundane status. That crinkled aluminum foil wants to be fire. (Stretching upwards from the box it even looks a bit like a flame rising from a log.) Those five dear balloons (and this object really seems like a creature, at once inquisitive and ungainly) want to be pigeons, and to fly.

I have looked at these photographs for a long time, and the more that I do, the more I want to keep looking. Kina’s precise, rigorously composed photographs are fundamentally generous, and they have secrets, which only patient attention reveals. Humdrum cultural and domestic objects connect with elemental forces like wind and waves, snow and storms. Familiar objects are given a new purpose and identity and invested with a fresh visual poetry. Surprises abound. Foley artists transform these objects into marvelous sounds. Jonna Kina transforms them again into quietly marvelous, deeply compelling images.

Gregory Volk is a New York-based art critic and freelance curator. He writes regularly for Art in America, and his articles and reviews have also appeared in many other publications, including Parkett and Sculpture.