AudioVision in the Middle Ages: Sainte-Foy at Conques
January 24 – March 17, 2023
Curated by Bissera V. Pentcheva
Stanford Art Gallery

All exhibition photographs courtesy of Susana Barron

Medieval art is silent in modern times. Often displayed in sterile museum galleries, it is presented without any analysis of the intended envelope of sound, chant, prayer, and recitation. Stripped of this aural atmosphere, these objects have lost the power to signify and to elicit affect. This exhibition, in response, restores aspects of the original soundscape to explore the inherent connections between chant and image in medieval times. It is the first to engage medieval art from the perspective of AudioVision, the simultaneous flow of visual and auditory stimuli (Chion 1994; Pentcheva 2022a). The focus is on the ninth-century golden statue and reliquary of Sainte-Foy at Conques in Occitania, France, and the traditions of its eleventh-century public worship.  

This exhibition and accompanying documentary film explore how the combination of glittering material splendor and music were integral to a viewer’s experience of the divine at Conques. This sensorial immersion attuned the participants to the ephemeral presence of Sainte-Foy and invited the faithful to consider the very structure of time and the world itself. Three concepts are selected here to guide the modern audience into medieval AudioVision: that liturgical music changes the perception of time from linear to spiral, thus giving a taste of the eternal; that the aural and the visual are perceptually and semantically entwined; and that chant draws attention to things that remain otherwise invisible.