Radio Hush Hush / 2020

No One Would Have Believed / Netwerk Aalst, Belgium / 2020-21

Radio Hush Hush is a collaborative radio format that narrates and performs fragmented knowledge of plant-based antifertility remedies, knowledge that has been disappearing through the ages due to broken chains of vocal transmission. The project investigates what still circulates in the form of folksongs, poems and hearsay, and recuperates information that lies inactive in the pages of old herbals. Radio Hush Hush will create and transmit – across a range of installations and experimental radio platforms – a muted chorus of female voices whispering one to another.

In this version shown at Netwerk Aalst, Radio Hush Hush is an installation of six wooden finch-cage ‘radios’. Each cage contains the voice of a woman singing, chanting, or whispering ancient plant contraceptive knowledge. As one piece ends another begins. Visitors need to move from birdcage to birdcage to hear the voices. The title refers to the clandestine nature of transmission of antifertility plant remedies as well as to the framing of the audiowork which mimics the format of secret numbers stations[1]. In Flanders these wooden finch cages are used in the ‘sport’ of vinkenzetting. In competition the finches must sing as frequently as possible and the number of calls is chalked onto a stick. Foreign birds, trapped or traded, must learn the local variant before they can compete. The bird making the largest number of calls wins. The cages are metaphorically rich in ideas of entrapment, forced assimilation and lost language, issues investigated in the larger project.

Radio Hush Hush aims to trigger forgotten memories, stories, folk-songs and know-how passed on by generations of mothers and grandmothers. It is hoped the audioworks that we will make out of old knowledge will slip into circulation as a revival of oral traditions in which women discretely shared knowledge important to their reproductive autonomy and well-being. The work is part of the the polyvocal Herball for a Midwife and is an ongoing project.

listen here

Involved in this version:

Concept, writing, composing: Wendy Morris, Mariske Broekmeyer

Voices: Michele Burgers (South Africa), Theresa Ferreiro (Spain), Brunilda Pali (Albania), Pieternel Vermoortel Belgium), Agnieszka Gratza (Poland), Renée Turner (Netherlands), Hendrike Scharmann (Germany), Nora El Arbi (Belgium), Alexandra Crouwers (Netherlands) / Curators: Laurens Dhaenens, Fernanda Pitta, Pieternel Vermoortel and Piet Mertens / Funding: Flanders State of the Art and Netwerk Aalst.

Chaffinch with ‘suskewiet’ flourish



[1] Numbers Stations are covert radio stations that broadcast coded messages to operatives in the field.