Lost For (Weighted) Words At Zabludowicz

Weighted Words @ Zabludowicz Collection – REVIEW

I have always been wary about the use of words in art. This philosophy follows the logic that art should be somehow supra-linguistic – that it should speak for itself within its intrinsic configuration, and that, if it needs words to elucidate its meaning, it must be failing to meet the brief in some fundamental way.

But Weighted Words – the new exhibition at the ever-surprising, ever-exciting Zabludowicz Collection – thoroughly debunks this worldview, presenting us with a set of artists interested in what words can do in their own right, rather than as incidental signposts to artistic meaning.

On the whole these artworks appropriate the practices of artistico-linguistic activity – literature, theatre etc – but pair them down to their basic elemental humour, melodrama, and evocative ambiguity. Mary Reid Kelley’s puniliscious black and white film, for example, ‘You Make Me Iliad’ masterfully traverses the epic literary tradition, presenting a cast of archetypical characters – the soldier, the whore etc (with their facial features exaggerated via heavy black make-up/markings, and their eyes obscured with boggling patches) – that linguistically spar in a mixture of poetic styles, from rhyming couplets to iambic pentameter. This is an exciting work that imagines a world in which poetic oration has become an exclusive currency, action replaced by statement – an amusing play on the buzz notion ‘speech act’.

With similar ribald pizzazz, Alexandre Singh’s ‘Dialogues of the Objects I-V’ essentially presents a series of plays, with 15 different objects acting as the protagonists, as they rotate across three pedestals, and engage in hilariously scripted dialogue with one another. In one configuration, for instance, the Hourglass dramatically welcomes the defunct Sat-nav and Box of Matches to the Kingdom of Death, to have their hearts weighed against the Feather of Truth. But, while the hysterical Sat-nav tremulously complies, savvy-New-Yorker Box of Matches talks Hourglass out of passing Judgement, shifting guilt for Cigarette-related cancer deaths (as the lighter), to the Cigarettes (for tasting so good), to Mankind (for liking smoke curling down to the lungs), to the Gods themselves (for making life so damn hard); ‘Nowadays everything’s so relative; it’s not like Antiquity when things were clear-cut’.

Another highlight are the films of cult icon Ryan Trecartin – ‘that hilarious fun guy’ (as one acquaintance would have it) –, which are set for full-scale screenings during the course of the exhibition (29 March, 26 April, 8 June), but are otherwise represented on iPads and in script form, watchable and readable while lounging on huge bean bags in the main gallery space. These are works in the grips of a terrifyingly delicious freneticism, with manic actors delivering their lines with pantomime intensity, restlessly filmed, and chopped into frenzy at the editor’s desk. Densely-packed narratives emerge from the delirium – of big-brother style reality TV set-ups, of aspiring girl groups etc – but how long will the sane viewer cope?

Crucially, Weighted Words draws out the very real ambiguity of textual communication, pointing to the gaping interpretive divide between the signifier (word) and the signified (object), whereby a link exists only thanks to vaguely mutual mental sign-systems between communicators, rather than an intrinsic quality. In other words, these artworks use text not as a limiting principle – as an element to fix meaning –, but as an explosive one; ballooning meaning to encompass infinite shades. Words Thomas Keane © 2012 ArtLyst

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