Art Installations Sound

Self-Portrait: a performance-installation

Self-Portrait is a series of performance rituals that create space for attention to what is within and between our bodies.


Riven Ratanavanh


Simone Salvo


Self-Portrait is a series of performance-installations that create space for amplified presence and listening.   Presented as a durational performance, I perform while in a trance. During this, I attempt to merge with the earth. I hold and am held by earth. In doing so, attempt to also hold every body I’ve ever lived in, every body the earth has been, and every body the earth has held.   This work is a reflection on what it means to be trans and queer in the Asian diaspora at this moment in time: what it means to be connected through space and time, as well as to embrace otherness as a tactic of survival.   The installation consists of a living sound system: transducers are mounted into floors and walls, turning the entire space into a speaker. Visitors can hear sound as well as feel it in their bodies. Microphones amplify sounds of breathing and send them reverberating through the room.   In this system, an emergent soundscape emerges from feedback loops that travel to/through and from bodies, objects, and spaces. Everyone who enters the space becomes a part of the system, receiving, transmitting, and affecting sound.   Performed for 3 hours each day, visitors can enter and leave as they please. Each hour, I am joined by a friend for a brief, improvised duet of sound and presence. Sometimes we hum, sometimes we just breathe together.    


This piece emerged from a combination of research, experimentation, and subconscious excavation. In the course of this investigation I researched how sound and light has the power to shift and heighten attention, influence how we experience embodiment, and help us to imagine how we can sense and relate differently. Coming to find that sound is touch, I posit that we are always already touching. In this way we are porous, and we’re all different kinds of feedback loops for each other. The set elements emerged from images that came to me in dreams during this intensive process of research and experimentation. My thinking has been heavily influenced by Sarah Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology and Michel Chion's, Sound, An Acoulogical Treatise. Reading about the different ways in which hierarchies have been given to bodies as well as sound, I found a desire to shift what we deem worthy of attention. Here, I use sound and light to heighten attention to the minutiae of the embodied.    

Technical Details

The installation contains a system of microphones and transducers, which turn walls and floors of the space into speakers. They emit sound and vibration that visitors can both hear and feel. A contact microphone amplifies the sounds of my breath, while another microphone amplifies the sounds of my movements. Self-Portrait I (prayer) took place in NYU’s Media Commons at 370 Jay Street on November 21 and 22, 2022. Self-Portrait II (earth/body) took place at All Street Gallery in the East Village from April 9 to April 12, 2023. More than 20 people attended the performances in November, and over 60 attended the performances in April.