Mis/Communication Highlights Artists exploring the intersection of language and power


STONY BROOK, NY — Mis/Communication: Language and Power in Contemporary Art, an exhibition at Stony Brook University’s Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, explores the double bond of language: we need language to connect, but at the same time, language can make us feel isolated, broken, or unheard. Curator Amy Kahng brings together a diverse group of 15 international artists to explore how English and European languages ​​reify histories of colonial dominance, violence and extinction. The exhibition focuses on culturally adjacent languages ​​such as indigenous languages, American Sign Language (ASL) and AAVE (African American Vernacular English).

A central work is the video by Martine Syms Hints about the gesture (2014), in which a young performer repeats short expressions with accompanying body gestures, inspired by AAVE. Repetition removes these phrases from the context of the conversation and instead repeats them until they begin to lose their meaning. sentences like Talk right, stop itand check yourself, accompanied by a clap, a smack, or a hair swish, are caught in an arduous loop — much like AAVE’s intense cultural spread and its manifestation on social media platforms as GIFs and memes, making it vulnerable to appropriation. But the glitching effect of the loop intentionally misjudges meaning while refusing appropriation.

Martin Syms, Hints about the gesture (2014), single channel video, 10 minutes 30 seconds, loop (Courtesy of the artist and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Video Database, www.vdb.org.)

In the cooperation video tables and windows (2016) Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader alternately use ASL and body language to describe various objects. Based on a study that found that deaf students are more nuanced in describing objects in a room than hearing students, the work illustrates the complex and emotional communicative power of sign language. The play decenters the spoken word as the dominant language and presents sign language as a far more embodied and informed mode of expression.

Other works deal with indigenous and pictorial languages, like the series Connaissance du Monde (World Knowledge) (2011–14) by Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (aka Cheik Nadro), a painted set of cards intended to illustrate his native language, Bété, an oral language in Côte d’Ivoire that is on the brink of disappearance that was colonially enforced use of French. Conversely, Jisoo Chung and Kim Schoen question aspects of English and examine the dangers and pitfalls of speech recognition technology, or ‘academic speaking’. In Chung’s video Museum manners for Siri (2016), Apple’s speech recognition technology misunderstands the artist’s voice, revealing the AI’s implicit bias towards accented non-native English speakers. Her attempt to reenact the transcription results in a comically absurd performance. In Schoen’s video The horseshoe effect (2013), a seemingly scholarly lecture on objects in a well-known but unnamed museum, soon degenerates into nonsensical academic jargon, debunking the elitism and gatekeeping of academic rhetoric.

The exhibition champions many emerging and mid-career international artists, some of whom may yet to be recognized by major arts institutions there Her work defies some of the linguistic and cultural hierarchies that museums often uphold. It is significant that a university gallery should embrace these timely themes of colonialism, ableism, and Western supremacy as scholarship faces its own moment of reckoning. miss/communication holds a mirror up to the many blind spots of language and reflects on the cultural and political inequalities that shape them.

Installation view from Mis/Communication: Language and Power in Contemporary Art in the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, Stony Brook University. Pictured: Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Connaissance du Monde (World Knowledge) (2011–14) (courtesy Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, photo by Daqi Fang)
Han Yohan, Phallo Me ()“ (2017), single channel video, 7 minutes (courtesy the artist)

Mis/Communication: Language and Power in Contemporary Art continues through March 12 at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery (Staller Center for the Arts, Ground Floor, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York). The exhibition was curated by Amy Kahng.

A panel discussion will take place as part of the exhibition on March 9, advance registration required.


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