“Audio Tour” is the contemplative wonderland where artist Britni Bicknaver portrays the Contemporary Arts Center. Bicknaver, a seventh-generation Cincinnatian, has been frequenting the CAC since age 14, marveling at the work within its walls. For her University of Cincinnati MFA thesis she created an audible masterwork in homage to the space—one that the museum singled-out with high honor. “Audio Tour,” once a thesis, is now available at the CAC indefinitely.

In covert, playful fashion, Bicknaver disguises her piece as a standard museum audio tour—visitors receive headphones, an information card and media player. But all convention ends there. The artist takes listeners on a 32-minute dreamlike ride through every nook and cranny of the CAC—zooming in and zooming out—meticulously uncovering the history of the museum, offering up philosophical musings and interpreting the story of Cincinnati itself.

Bicknaver composed original music for each track, and sings in her entrancing alto voice. She gives special attention to world-renowned CAC architect Zaha Hadid, chanting her name, and weaving the designer’s involvement into her work of art.

How did your relationship with Cincinnati shape the content for Audio Tour?

Cincinnati has always had this mythos for me. The Contemporary Arts center is unequivocally tied to the land on which it sits. I wanted to portray that in “Audio Tour.”

You historically worked in other mediums. How did you begin working with sound?

I entered grad school as a sculpture major, but my work felt empty. After watching Laurie Anderson perform, and encouraged by professors Mark Harris and Vickie Daiello, I knew I wanted to make music. I changed course. My dad is a musician, and he guided me.

Any colorful moments from creating “Audio Tour?”

For one of the tracks, I counted every functional object at the CAC. I went into offices and counted trashcans, computers and staplers, standing over the staff as they worked. That was pretty funny. I’m also a stutterer, and sometimes recording, I just couldn’t get a specific word out, which made for a humorous editing process.

When did you get the idea for “Audio Tour?”

I was initially interested in writing a pop song for my thesis. Pop music is way more popular than visual art with the masses, and I liked the idea of a visual artist writing a pop song. I wanted to be a punk. But our thesis show was at the CAC, so I began thinking of how to incorporate sound in the museum. Similar to a pop song, a museum audio tour is a popular medium with the masses, but with it, I was additionally able to blur the line between utilitarianism and art.

What’s next?

I’m still working in sound and thinking about video. I want to continue teaching. I really enjoy doing it.


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