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A Word on a Tree Like a Body as a Thing

Federica Bueti »

Participating artists:

Kaya Behkalam
Olivia Dunbar
Sarah Forrest
Mariam Ghani
Rana Hamadeh
Jillian Mayer
Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere
Anne Waldman

How do we tell stories? How does a word become a thing that becomes a lemon tree? And how is knowledge created and shared? The project A Word on a Tree Like a Body as a Thing looks at storytelling and writing, the use of knowledge and the production of discourses in current artistic practices. Artists are storytellers, but of another kind. They explore the possibilities of using language, written and spoken, as the material and site on which to build a new grammar of relationship, to grapple with the materiality of signs, sample narratives and unsettle conventions of how meaning is made and a story is told.

The artists’ works featured in this project make use of language in which the music of things always resounds, waiting for us to hear it, with our bodies, ears, nostrils, breasts, skin. Personal experiences rather than preconceived theories, impressions and imagination instead of normative discourses, listening rather than speaking, and observing and reading in slow motion versus accelerated consumption of information are some of the qualities that emerge from their works.

To tell a story is not only to construct meaning and interpret reality. It is also a way of creating a space for encounters to happen, for a new story to emerge and memories to overlap; a world in which things can be smelt and touched. Whether in the streets of Austin (Texas), Cairo, Kabul or Kassel, in the space of the web, Youtube, on a page or in the lyrics of a song, these encounters – between the real and fictitious facts, places, ideas, words – give a particular smell and substance to the different stories collected.

Each story is a fragment and trace of these encounters: between women of different backgrounds, class and generations in the compelling poem Fast Speaking Woman by the American poet Anne Waldman; between the souls and destiny of two cities, Kabul and Kassel, and their respective histories of collapse and destruction as narrated by Mariam Ghani in her video A Brief History of Collapses (2011); between a post-revolutionary Cairo landscape and its inhabitants’ dreams in Kaya Behkalam’s video Excursions in the Dark (2011); between past, present and future in a fictitious encounter between a grandmother and her unborn grandchild in Jillian Mayer’s video I am your Grandma (2011); between politics, community activism, cultural engagement and music in the project performance by Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere We need a theory to continue (2008), featured here as a sound piece; between desires, individual and collective agency, and the poetic power of a glitch in the video and accompanying poem Death Effects by Olivia Dunbar; between the facticity of things and the imagined, and surreal, between the creator and the viewer in Sarah Forrest’s video Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence (2012) and between different moments in history, different definitions of “resistance” and revolution discussed by Rana Hamadeh in De Contagione et Contagiosis Morbis or, the dictator's clinic her allegorical reading of the plagues of Athens. The text was commissioned by …ment journal on the occasion of the issue “Move...ment” on language and protest, in collaboration with Book Works, and is republished and updated here.

The project A Word on a Tree Like a Body as a Thing gathers the works of artists who understand and use language as live material rather than as a solidified form. And it reflects on the porosity and potentiality of language in unmaking norms, dogmas and conventions, while looking at the other possible ways of activating spaces, rearticulating memories and telling stories in a way and style that makes words jump off the page into a story that can be felt and visualised.

Supported by:

ERSTE Foundation
Stadt Wien - Kulturabteilung MA 7
MA 7 - Interkulturelle und Internationale Aktivitäten
Stadt Wien - Film, Kino, Neue Medien

kind support provided by:

Italian Cultural Institute / Istituto Italiano di Cultura

Collaboration with:

Istanbul Bilgi University
Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen, Innsbruck

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