OFF. The Alchemy of a Deep Listening

Place: Espacio de Cultura Contemporánea (Contemporary Culture Center), ECCO Paseo Carlos III, 5. Cadiz

Date: November 12, 2021- February 13, 2022.

Schedule: Monday- Saturday, 11 am to 9 p.
Sundays and bank holidays 11 am to 3 pm.

Curated by: Anne-Françoise Raskin & Maite Barrera Villarías.

Management and technical production: Raluca Dumitrescu.

Off. The Alchemy of a Deep Listening is an artistic research project that examines listening processes from a relational and multidisciplinary point of view, analyzing the distinctive features and predicaments that deaf people face in a phonocentrical context.

The artist, Juan Isaac Silva (Cadiz, 1979) based on his own experiences as an oralist deaf person, proposes different notions of hearing and listening and invites the community to participate in the exhibition through works that may seem not only revealing if not even violent/disturbing both with people with auditory functional diversity and to hearing ones.

The title of the show represents a dichotomy between what is off/ the silence and what is on/ what we can hear, what we can perceive and it references not only a singular type of listening, from only one hearing device, from deep within the cochlea but also figuratively from his inner, experimental world.

In OFF..., Silva plays with both learned and unlearned linguistic structures and concepts, such as annotations and his own “cochlear music”. He reveals the beauty and uncertainty of silence and that of the imagined or improvised sound both in his compositions and in his visual and auditory interventions (Speaker, Intervention on Vowels or I can hear, but I cannot listen).

The artist makes us question ideas of inclusiveness through sculptural installations that pose contradictions of ethics and aesthetics (In-clusive Furniture/ Ex-clusive Registers). He plays with our auditory and tactile perceptions in Concert for Stairs and denounces the invisibility while at the same time vindicating the voice of deaf people in Deaf Confessions and Deaf Project, where through collective participation he builds and shares a silenced discourse.

Silva proposes a processual and open methodology, where the artworks as they dialogue with the visiting public, or connected to the virtual network will be a source to the participatory process itself, that will be built throughout the exhibition, until February 13th, 2022. Rooms 8, 9, 10, and 11 in the Contemporary Culture Center (ECCO) will be showing the artist ́s largest and most relevant solo exhibition to date, where, thanks to the organization and collaboration of several institutions, such as Cadiz City Council, the Once Foundation and the sponsorship of the Unicaja Foundation, we can see a show that on its own brings us closer to a latent reality, indicative of a continually shifting present. In parallel to the exhibition, workshops will be held in January 2022, together with the curators Maite Barrera Villarías and Anne-Françoise Raskin, where they will explore the topic of cochlear and non-cochlear listening.

The curators ́ participation is a personal collaboration commitment that came from the artist himself. Anne-Françoise Raskin, has a degree in Philosophy, was a Sound-In curator (the sound art collection section of the Estampa Fair), director of several pedagogical contemporary art programs (like PIMA, Introduction to the Art Market Program), editor to Continta Me Tienes (in charge of the collection specialized in art). Raskin also worked in the artistic section of the Casa Velazquez, a French public institution in Madrid and a reference art residency program, currently, she is the vice-president of AMEE (The Association of Electroacoustic Music and Sound Art in Spain).

Maite Barrera Villarías has a degree in Art History from the Autonomous University of Madrid and started specializing in gender issues while under scholarship at the University of Amsterdam. She has been a professor of the History of Photography at the Madrid head office of the University of New York, combining research with the publishing world. She published texts on photography and gender, curated the VII Biennial of Contemporary Art of the ONCE Foundation, and is currently working on the VIII edition, dedicated to women artists, which will be presented in November 2022.

Juan Isaac Silva. Cadiz, Spain (1979)

Multidisciplinary artist. Has a degree in painting from the University of Fine Art of Seville. In 2011 began his interest in listening and sound as a result of his hearing recovery after receiving a cochlear implant, twenty-seven years after having lost his hearing at the age of three. From Re-encounters on the Rooftops (2011), his first sound work, made in the place where he spent his early childhood before losing his hearing, to Deaf Confessions (2021), relational piece in which he invites deaf people to become a part of his process of revindication, as invisible persons, through audio confessions installed in a nineteenth-century confessional. Juan Isaac Silva has made his search for the meaning of listening, a field of experimentation of his work, paying special attention to the human voice, the sound content of words, and the automatisms of hearing. His simultaneous belonging to both worlds pushes him to explore the particular richness of the visual experience of the deaf world and the sutles ways in which the visual and the audible interrelate.

Among his exhibitions and sound interventions, stand out: his participation in the VII International Biennial of Contemporary Art of the ONCE Foundation (Centro Centro, Madrid, 2018), “Cochlear” solo exhibition, Rivadavia Hall (Cadiz, 2017), the 20th edition of “Containers: _ Art and Action” (Seville, 2017), “Here come the Barbarians. The Future, like many times before..., ends up arriving”, The Center for Arts (Seville, 2012), “Essay on a cochlear listening”, Águila Museum (Madrid, 2020), “OFF. The Alchemy of a Deep Listening” Contemporary Culture Center, ECCO (Cadiz, 2021).

Being in turn granted scholarships and awards for his work with the programme for new creators of the Association of Electroacoustic Music and Sound Art in Spain (AMEE) in 2018 and the III “Encontro Artistas Novos”, City of Culture, Santiago de Compostela, 2013. Currently, he combines his work as an artist, as a teacher at the Cadiz School of Art, and the co-direction of CAI Projects A.I.R., artist-in-residence program in Cadiz, that he runs with the cultural agent, Raluca Dumitrescu.



Sound Anatomy

What does it mean to listen? What does listening entail?

Is it possible to learn how to listen? Can a deaf person teach us to listen differently?

The fourteen artworks that Juan Isaac Silva presents in this exhibition invite us to ponder on these issues.

I can hear, but I cannot listen, Silva reminds us. He lost his hearing at the early age of three and recovered it almost three decades later through a cochlear implant, which now allows him to examine reality in a different way to what is usually established as “normal”.

These “others” forms of listening also generate community, and Juan Isaac Silva celebrates it by sharing recordings with us- in Vowels #2 or by etching grooves of voices on a vinyl record - of some weaned and seldom disturbing voices, who remind us that sometimes speaking can mean different things.

Those acts of speaking also materialize in Speaker, which conglomerates forgotten, muffed, muted, voices. Its membrane vibrates in contact with air to open a space that does not differentiate between categories that unwrap in Silva ́s work (sounds, music, voices, singing, noise, and even silence).

What does the inner voice of a person who cannot hear, sound like? We can approximate an answer by listening to Deaf Confessions, a piece that transforms a confessional into a resounding eardrum. Or by imagining the creaks of some deafened pieces of furniture on the floor of a bourgeois room.

To Silva, all sounds have something eerie. Appearances that get diluted, traces of things that happened somewhere else, otherwise. Like those steps which cannot be heard on some equally dematerialized stairs, those seashells which remind us of the sounds of intrauterine life, or those images moved by air that no longer whisper.

And in between, language. The dance between signifiers throws into the game hammers, anvils, and stirrups which we no longer know if they ́re objects or words (written, spoken). Silva shouts at us in all directions: Deaf people with hearing aids are the only ones who can disconnect without abandoning a place.

This exhibition invites us to connect in a different manner -one that we can still call listening - with this place and with the people who surround us.

Anne-Françoise Raskin

From a noble Spaniard who perceived sound with his eyes.

This perfect clickbait was written by Sir Kenelm Digby in 1651 and is one of the first mentions to Luis de Velasco, son of the Constable of Castille, deaf since childhood and one of the true students of Juan de Pablo Bonet, and at the same time one of the pioneers in the education of deaf people and codifier of the Spanish manual alphabet. In the short chapter that he dedicates to him, Digby seems to realize for the first time what we now call intermodality, the reality that the physical experience of simultaneous sensorial stimuli, which we perceive as unitary, is actually received through various channels, and he focuses with awe in the extraordinary visual development of deaf people. Digby ́s text is remarkable for various reasons, not least because, faced with writing tentatively about things that weren't even named at the time, he chose to do so by marveling at them.



The absence of hearing, even if complete, does not equal the loss of sound. Locked in a narrow concept of what it means to hear, we forget its vibratory nature and therefore the reality that our entire body is affected by it, as for its visually perceptible effects. Defining it more broadly, hearing means learning the world's vibration through those means that are within our reach. Works like those of Juan Isaac Silva destabilize our notions of hearing and listening because they question how we are accustomed to hearing and listening. The deaf poet and performer Aaron Williamson coined precisely the concept of “Deaf Gain” to counter “hearing loss” and therefore emphasize the advantages of occupying a different acoustic landscape. The atypical experience of a universal phenomenon can result in isolation or can become a place of resistance that can in turn generate new knowledge.

Some of the artworks present in the exhibition were made in a previous stage- although reinterpreted from the current moment of his artistic evolution. Works such as I can hear but I cannot listen, or Vowels, which merge pedagogical and artistical methodologies about the personal process of finding oneself in a new acoustic landscape, the one opened up by a cochlear implant for a person who lost his hearing in his childhood. The newest pieces Juan Isaac Silva created for this exhibition broaden his field of work and focus on the cultural signifiers of sound and the reality of the deaf experience, implanted or not, in a hearing world.

The deaf experience, however so little homogeneous like the hearing one, and its relations with tradition and deaf history are seemingly complex. Nonetheless, everyone, oralists, sign language users, or bilinguals, implanted or not, share the reality of living in a society, not only predominantly hearing but also extremely phonocentric. A society that favors auditory communication to the point that, it not only hinders the education and everyday life of deaf people, but it also impregnates our entire language with expressions that encode the deaf experience as a deficient one, identifying silence with isolation, hearing with understanding and voice with identity.

We must dismiss hearing people's belief that deafness equals silence and afterward restore the concept of silence. A collaborative work like The Deaf Project (in the lines of “the scandal of using voice by deaf artists'' that Michael Davidson refers to) not only revindicates the beauty and particular texture of “the deaf voice”, and the traces that some of them bear due to imposition and violence, but they question their identification with silence, with absence and oppression (silence, being silenced) and correlatively of the voice and the spoken word, with public existence (rising the voice, giving voice to). The strategy of contradiction, between what is visible and what is being heard, silence and noise, can be constantly found at the core of these works, in some, such as Concert for Stairs rooted in personal experience, and in others such as *Deaf Confessions or in *In- clusive Furniture and *Ex-clusive Registers in dialogue with contexts, both in the origins of the imposition of orality to deaf people within the frameworks of their status related interests (where we can also find reference to the learning of foreign “sound etiquette norms” to which the deaf artist Christine Sun Kim alludes to) as well in the needs of the hearing culture of understanding silence as privacy, like in the case of Deaf Confessions. We must not forget that Yebra ́s manual alphabet was justified precisely from its usefulness to enable the confessions of deaf people with the necessary discretion. All these works by Juan Isaac Silva speak about the politics of sound, who can possess it, who can use it, and who can speak about it.

Maite Barrera Villarías


Hear (Conjugations)

Polyptych, 100 x 70 cm, 8 Units Laminated vinyl print on PVC

I can hear, but I cannot listen (Present indicative of the verb to hear)

Performative audio installation
TV 50”, black and white, with sound. Microphone. Black velvet attached to a wooden panel 300 x 200 x 30 cm. Variable duration (ongoing collaborative piece).

Vowels #2

Audio intervention on “Vowels, 2013”
Duration: 1’23”.
Gold 24kl, 5 audio pen drives, wood. Headphones.

Courtesy of Ana de Alvear Collection.


Sound - video installation.

Duration: 1’00”

ROOM 9.1_

Concert for Stairs

Audio. Duration: 1’30”.

Sculpture, Galician pinewood, 120 x 120 x100 cm.
Black velvet attached to a wooden panel, 300 x 200 x 30 cm

ROOM 9.2_

In – clusive furniture

Sculpture installation.
Variable dimensions.
Mahogany, blue velvet, rubber, felt, and polyester.

Ex – clusive Register #1

130 x 81 cm
Graphite, conté stick, and pastel

Linen mounted on a wooden frame.

Ex – clusive Register #2

195 x 130 cm
Graphite, conté stick, and pastel

Linen mounted on a wooden frame.

ROOM 10_


Video-projection in 3 simultaneous channels Duration: 4’30” (Loop)

... The Place

4000 x 150 cm (2 walls)
Black silicate painting on a white wall.

Hammer, Anvil and Stirrup

98 x 48 x 48 cm
Iron, brass, wood, glass and black velvet.

Courtesy of the ONCE Foundation Collection

Intra- cochlea (Uterine) # 1

Sound Installation
Audio recorded on a doppler
and placed inside a seashell.
The duration varies according to the gestational week.

ROOM 11_

Deaf Project



12 inch LP - vinyl disk PRM 33
Duration 4’54 “

A collaborative audio piece made possible
by the generous participation of 100 deaf persons.

Engraved marble
45 x 45 x 3 cm. 30 Ø


Neon lights, color: cold white

Variable dimensions.

Deaf Confessions

Audio. 2 channels
Pinewood, enamel and blue velvet.

Dimensions: 240 x 180 x 110 cm.

Collaborative sound project
where deaf people or their relatives
have a platform to give voice
and share their invisibility.
The audio record is open for participation to the public, the instructions can be found on the website:

All audio are recorded and documented until the end of the exhibition and are to be reproduced in the confessional and on the website.