The Plague of Language - Dispatx Art Collective Summer 2006


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In proposing a theme for the fifth edition of Dispatx Art Collective we sought to investigate the nature of communication, encouraging consideration of its many forms and their incorporation into creative practices. To speak of The Plague of Language suggests an infectious, multiform phenomenon that is continually evolving. This diversity is reflected in the completed works as well as the varied approaches and interpretations made by each contributor.

Every project constitutes a reflection on the nature of language - whether as part of a study of linguistic cosmology within tribal societies, such as in Los Dioses producen signos pero (The Gods produce signs but) by Esteban Arias, or as a discussion on current research in evolutionary psychology as discussed at length in our interview with Harvard Professor Marc D Hauser.

Four key threads have emerged which draw the fifteen projects in this edition together. The first and perhaps most immediate interpretation of the theme revolves around the notion of corrupted language. In JH Prynne's A Quick Riposte to Handke's Dictum About War and Language, presented in this edition as part of a small collection chosen by the author entitled Three Pieces, he responds to the comment that ‘the first victim of war is language’ by saying:

"the idea that there is an innocent or unwounded condition for language in any of its historic or conceptual formalisations, from which at some determined point in war-like operations it can passively fall into victim-damage and victim-anguish, with all the pathos of a deflowered virgin or Congolese nun, is false and dangerous and absurd. "
Here, language is recognised as being complicit in all aspects of human character, influence and action - constructive and destructive - and any notion of its innocence is refuted. The degraded language of media, television and political manoeuvring is characterised as something against which poets may direct their effort, using the power of language in light of responsibility and truthfulness.

Quite another side of corruption - that arrived at through a graceful degradation of meaning arrived at through complexity - can be seen in Rod Mengham's prose poem Lady with Vermin. In its use of pun and wordplay, this work establishes another type of language complexity, one that seems to combine clear imagery with linguistic ‘raw data’. A collection of often absurd, compound phrases result in a text that can let you in or block off your entry almost simultaneously, leaving the reader unsure as to where any reading might begin or end - an unnerving and difficult experience. you know, the thing, a work by Australian composer Chris Mann, also plays with this sense of recognition and impenetrability. Vocal explorations laced with humour and purpose, which seem to emerge unfiltered from the unconscious, make oblique references to everyday speech, political jargon, regional dialect, as well as exploring the inherent musicality of speech.

The second key theme that we see in the edition might be characterised as that of adaptation or context. The Harvard College Professor and Professor of Psychology Marc D Hauser spoke with Dispatx Art Collective at length concerning the nature of language and a potential model for mental development consisting of simple but powerful mechanisms that provide for variation :

". . . ultimately, when researchers have gone deeply into specific aspects of that variation, what they ultimately uncover are very simple yet powerful mechanisms that can generate the variation. The specific range of variation you observe in any given environment is due to a process of selectional learning, in which experience tunes up the existing potential for variation that has been given by the biology. "
The idea of simple mechanisms being employed to drive the range of variation that we see in the expressed range of language can also be said to underpin a work such as Karin Horlbeck's Parallel, where unpredictable fluctuations between two described locations - staged almost as a contest between image and text - begin to question the descriptive power of both. The resultant impressions remain fleeting and inter-changeable, evading any definitive reading or stable foundation of description.

The darker, more harmful side of plague as a concept is dominant in what we see as the third major thread around which the collected works in this edition are organised - the body. The affinity between audition and utterance is clear in the work by Erica Duffy: Matters of Fluency. Her photographs document strange prosthetic contraptions that appear to form a supplement to the vocal mechanism whilst remaining inherently alien to it. The artist's experience as a person who stutters led her to become interested in examining the phenomena that interrupt the flow of communication between people. The objects concern a fascinating aspect of the speech chain: the feedback loop whereby one can listen to one's own voice - simultaneously conducted by air and bone, inside and outside the body.

The interactive narrative of Jason Nelson's Pandemic Rooms is equally disturbing. He makes parallels between the fear of disease and contagion with certain methods of information transfer - the mass media, internet viruses, societal decay - raising questions about how words and images are distributed into our daily lives, and the entropic progress of certain strands of communication.

The notion of translation, of contextual shift, can also be seen as a notion visible in many of the works in this edition. Ahí (There), a collaboration between Vanessa Oniboni and Diego Gutiérrez, explores language through deliberate contextual shifts - removing and re-setting selected texts in various urban locations. The resulting disembodied fragments of poetry begin to generate rich associative meaning, as well as conversely reasserting the independent, symbolic strength of language - highlighting how meaning is lost, preserved and transformed as a result of this physical translation.

Language - as corrupted medium of expression, as infectious spore - is central to all the different creative disciplines involved in this edition of Dispatx Art Collective. The peculiarities and complexities of personal and mutual understanding will continue to produce creative works of great interest and invention, and language will remain a uniquely powerful tool and fertile subject for the creative arts.

About Dispatx Art Collective:

Dispatx provides the tools of a social internet for the development and presentation of contemporary art and literature. Visitors are invited to interact with the artists via the online display of their working processes, and to create unique private collections of the finished works. Through this process we seek to establish a new curatorial discourse based on artistic working practices.

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