Research Project

2008 - 2013

John Wynne

Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, and a Fieldtrip Grant from the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, shared with Linguist Tyler Peterson, University of Arizona,

This project began with a fieldtrip to record speakers of the endangered indigenous language Gitxsanimaax on the Kispiox reserve in northern British Columbia, Canada. The methodology built on Wynne’s ‘click-languages’ project in the Kalahari, working collaboratively with linguists with a history of community involvement, making high-quality recordings for their research, for his own research and creative practice, and for local and international archives.

The immersive installation Anspayaxw uses photography, voice and environmental recordings. Photographs taken by Wynne and artist Denise Hawrysio were digitally manipulated by Wynne and printed onto bespoke speaker panels: each photograph becomes a flat loudspeaker, an independent sound source reproducing one of 12 audio channels.

Anspayaxw was first shown as part of the exhibition Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures at the Museum of Anthropology (MoA), Vancouver, in 2010, which attracted 115,831 visitors. It also showed at the Ksan Cultural Centre in Gitxsan territory in 2011, in San Francisco as part of the American Anthropological Association Conference 2012, and as a solo exhibition at MoA’s Satellite Gallery 2013 and at the Surrey Art Gallery in 2015. To coincide with the 2013 exhibition, Wynne collaborated with linguist Tyler Peterson and anthropologist Kate Hennessey (Simon Fraser University) to organise an interdisciplinary symposium, Problematizing Research on Endangered Languages: Indigeneity, Community, and Creative Practice. Hosted by MoA, this was a series of presentations, performances, and roundtable discussions with artists, community members and academics.

“Academic and sound artist John Wynne provides an excellent example of a creative practice of 'responsible engagement with other cultures' in his sound-animated photographs of speakers of endangered languages Hearing Voices. Here the artist avoids a facile politics of alterity - what art critic Hal Foster denounced as over-identification turning into appropriation of the other - by using a number of devices that 'frame the framer'. This reveals the asymmetries and the fraught politics at work in representation and, crucially, provides some contextualization, a feature usually absent in relational art.” Chiara de Cesari, from a review of the book Between Art and Anthropology in Journal of Museum Ethnography (2012)

Anspayaxw is cited in The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages (2011). Wynne’s own writings about his research process include To Play or Not to Play, in Playing with Words, CRiSAP (2008), Hearing Faces, Seeing Voices: Sound Art, Experimentalism and the Ethnographic Gaze in Between Art and Anthropology (2010), Anspayaxw in Hlysnan: The notion and politics of listening (2013), and > image > memory > sound > text in The Routledge Companion to Sounding Art (2017).

Commissions drawing on the research materials include The True Language, BBC Radio 4 (2012) and a sound piece Kispiox for the Sounds (Extra)Ordinary exhibition Halifax, Canada, 2012, which was widely broadcast across Canada.

Read more about Anspyaxw, and see interviews with John about the project, on his website:


Images by Scott Massey

Research Links: