verbal objects

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verbal objects

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In the work I call axial video there is a species I name “verbal objects”. It implicitly raises questions like: In what sense is a verbal construct an object? Do our verbal projections objectify reality more that subjectify it? Is language more like an object or a living organism? If the latter, is “understanding” language the truest or most powerful way of relating to it? In the video pair titled I Don’t Understand Language—a logic-challenging statement that some would classify as nonsense—the complexity of understanding in language shows up in singular ways, and the object status of verbal reality is axialized, freed-up in the core of speaking.

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I Don’t Understand Language [I] (2005) (15 min. 49 sec.) presents 9 year-old Marie Uridia, born in the Republic of Georgia and living in Barrytown, New York, saying “I don’t understand language” in English and in Georgian. The sentence, like the Liar’s Paradox (“This is a lie”), is self-negating, yet has a non-rational logic of its own, especially when spoken aloud by a person. The statement is replayed 12 more times (eventually going below the frame rate of 30/sec.), each slowed down by 10%, then to 5%, then to 1%. The original statement of approximately 6 seconds at a speed of 1% takes some 8 minutes. At what point does the statement cease to be perceived as language (whereupon it becomes “logically” true but incomprehensible)? Liminality: There are thresholds, for instance, where one unconsciously begins to supply the meaning to what is heard because one knows it already, or where one stops doing that because the sound is interesting or odd or menacingly animal-like, even verging into the non-terrestrial. At some point the face is more “linguistic” than the sound, perhaps increasingly, as qualities become visible only under the artificial condition of slow-motion with its eerie beauty. If you gaze into the eyes in the slower speeds, you can see something like preverbal brain activity communicating below the threshold of cognitive registration. There are evidently micro-mind-events we never “see,” although perhaps they are unconsciously registered by the brain of the observer only to come forward as language in states of stepped-up intensity. Here they are visible, and art shows us something about ourselves that is literally inaccessible otherwise. (Original video from 2001.)

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Saying Sappho (invocation) (2006) (2 min. 13 sec.) shows people attempting to say the name “Sappho,” the Ancient Greek lyric poet from Lesbos (circa 630-570 BC), the pronunciation of which is speculative (here based on information from Charles Stein, poet and translator of ancient Greek). Performers: Laura Chkhetiani, Susan Quasha, Anna San Millan, Charles Stein, Marie Uridia, Crispin Webb, Sherry Williams. [Dedicated to the memory of Crispin Webb, artist]

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Tell Tale Heart (verbal object 8) (2006) (2 min. 21 sec.) is an axial video of a Japanese woman (artist Chie Hasegawa-Hammons) attempting to pronounce the word “heart,” which does not match Japanese phonetics. The result axializes the English word by confusing it with near sound neighbors like “hurt,” “hard art,” etc., a tortuous texture of torturous process.

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I Don’t Understand Language [II] (2009) (6 min. 21. sec) with performers David Arner, Alan Baer, John Beaulieu, Jenny Fox, Jan Harrison, Alana Siegel, Charles Stein, and Sherry Williams, created for the occasion of “Talking Tongues and Other Organs,” a performance in Woodstock, New York, at the Kleinert Gallery, February 26th, 2009. The apparent nonsense of the statement uttered by eight adults (artists, poets, musicians, and an architect) is played out in various states of expression, performative of its own liminality between serious claim and absurdity—a sort of agonizing play as self-fulfilling prophecy. It holds us at the threshold between understanding language and the impossibility of language. Many voices saying what even one voice can’t entirely say. The words become a voiced site of physical interaction around a charged axis, belonging to all as much as any one, and therefore none. Trans-comprehensible language momentarily passing through, and possessing, eight people.

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