Slavs and Tatars

The Pure Tongue @ Galeria Arsenał reviewed

10 July 2015

As Greece defaults on its International Monetary Fund payment, The Pure Tongue group exhibition –curated by Agata Chinowska and running June 19 to August 20 –explores the currency of language in a globalised world at Galeria Arsenał in Białystok, Poland. It’s a show that features the work of eleven artists and collectives, including Piotr Bosacki, Little Warsaw and Ex-artists’ Collective among others, presenting speculative alphabets, a classroom, educational videos and sculptures articulating the complexities of communication and the unresolvable problem of engineering a single, unifying tongue –a “universal (perfect) language” –within that.

'The Pure Tongue' (2015) @ Galleria Arsenał. Exhibition view. Courtesy the gallery.
The Pure Tongue (2015) @ Galleria Arsenał. Exhibition view. Courtesy the gallery.

Given Białystok’s location at the birthplace of L. L. Zamenhof and thus the international auxiliary language of Esperanto, it’s a rather prescient theme to follow, particularly in terms of the corporatisation and cultural hegemony emergent in a modern Poland with its rapidly growing EU economy. There’s a briefcase full of banknotes in Daniel Salomon’s ‘Sennacia Banko’ (2008) –Esperanto for ‘Bank without Nation’ –installation in one room, Małgorzata Niedzielko’s replica ‘Tower of Babel’ (2015) –as in, the Biblical origins of a single tongue of a united humanity –in another. The accompanying room sheet references the potency of language as a political tool and its capacity for shaping the very way we think.

Perhaps, in an attempt to remedy the Babel myth’s “confusion of languages” that came to humanity as Divine punishment for its sins, Paulina Ołowska attempts an embodied written form in a selection of photos, presented grid-like in a white frame, of the artist posing as letters in ‘Alphabet’ (2005). Except that this very code contains the residue of the Roman Empire. The Slavs and Tatars’ ‘Larry nixed, Trachea trixed’ (2015) draws attention to this by its very presence, nearby and on the same wall, where toothy, seductive red lips screen-printed on steel articulate the Latin letters imposed on the Arabic speakers of Central Asia by the Bolsheviks.

A long-lashed blinking eye moves on a motion sensor in another Slavs and Tatars’ work, ‘Madame MMMorphologie’ (2013), in front of it. It’s embedded in a book named after the Sufi wise man-cum-fool Molla Nəsrəddin. It’s seductive pose stands on a pedestal, the sound of its mechanised movement mingling with Érik Bullot’s ‘Tongue Twisters’ (2011) playing from behind a black curtain in another room. It’s a video of word-games read by native speakers across languages –French, German, Italian, Japanese –that get progressively more difficult as one participant points out the chaos of variant pronunciation depending on the dialect. And while the apparent neutrality of Capital presents an easy answer to the problem of cultural diversity across countries (and their markets), all numbers are not created equal. Société Réaliste’s ‘A Proposal for a New Alphabetical Order Based on the Experanto Writing System and Pegged on the Euro Rates’ (2014) presents currencies in order of their economic value, and thus inequity against the Euro. The British pound, the Euro and Azerbaijiani Manat come up first, the Parguayan Guarani, Lao Kip and “NO CURRENCY” come last on a wall-hung enamel plate.

In a similar attempt at giving new meaning to existing languages, David Salomon also presents two videos on flat screens, one in Esperanto about Esperanto and the sexlife of snails and another about combustion being taught to children, also in Esperanto. Maybe, Ex-artists’ Collective’ ‘Shelter of Hope (Esperanto classroom)’ (2004), can offer an understanding in education. It’s a mixed media installation complete with desks, worksheets and chalk on a blackboard which translates to English as, “We are the future because we believe in the utopian!” If only it were that simple. **

Exhibition photos, top right.

The Pure Tongue group exhibition is on at Białystok’s Galeria Arsenał, running June 19 to August 20, 2015.

Header image: The Pure Tongue (2015) @ Galeria Arsenał. Exhibition view. Courtesy the gallery.

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Slavs & Tatars @ NYUAD, Feb 28 – Mar 31

26 February 2015

The NYUAD Art Gallery is bringing in a new major exhibition by art collective Slavs and Tatars, titled Mirrors for Princes and on view from February 28 through May 30, 2015.

The show is the collective’s most ambitious one to date, spreading over 650 square meters and three radically diverse environments. The exhibition and the book that accompanies it trace modern obsession with self-help to the medieval genre of political science – “mirrors for princes” like Machiavelli’s The Prince – in Muslim and Christian traditions.

The first of the exhibition’s environments is a five-channel audio installation portraying a series of mirrored speakers enact play excerpts from an 11th-century “mirror for prince” text in five different languages. The next environment is a “psychadelic” gallery featuring glowing, fetishistic sculptures focused around the notion of grooming, and the last is a serene reading room and tea house.

The accompanying book, published by JRP|Ringier and also titled Mirrors for Princes, is comprised of a hybrid of original art and scholarly research with a series of essays specially commissioned for the exhibition.

See the Slavs and Tatars exhibition page for details. **


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Slavs & Tatars: Seksmisja @ Kunsthalle Zurich, Aug 14

12 August 2014

Kunsthalle Zurich will be hosting a screening of the 1984 Polish sci-fi film Seksmisja as part of Slavs and Tatars Lektor project on August 14.

The artist group has taken over what will become the public library space of Kunsthalle Zurich for six months with a new version of their audio project Lektor, exploring the complexities and vagaries of language and translation through audio manipulation in the form of live translation.

The live voice-over (also known as the Gavrilov technique) is common in Eastern European television and cinema, and Slavs and Tatars uses the method in three screenings of screwball comedy films all live-interpreted to German, including that of Polish Seksmisja.

Directed and co-written by Polish-born Juliusz Machulski, the satirical sci-fi film tells the story of two time-travelling men striving for male liberation when threatened with sex-change in an oppressive, post-nuclear feminism society.

See the Kunsthalle Zurich event page for details. **

'Mother Tongues and Father Throats' by Slavs and Tatars. Installation view courtesy Kunsthalle Zurich.
‘Mother Tongues and Father Throats’ by Slavs and Tatars. Installation view courtesy Kunsthalle Zurich.
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Slavs and Tatars @ DMA, Jul 18 – Dec 14

14 July 2014

The Dallas Museum of Art will host an exhibition titled Concentrations 57: Slavs and Tatars by the Slavs and Tatars art collective that will run at the museum from July 18 to December 14. 

Founded in 2006, the globalised geopolitical Slavs and Tatars collective has made a career of shape-shifting and at times contradictory projects –how else to represent a volatile and irreconcilable world?

For their latest exhibition, the collective presents work from a new series titled Long Legged Linguistics, “an ongoing investigation of language as a source of political, metaphysical and even sexual emancipation”.

See the DMA exhibition page for details. **

"Love Letters, No. 3" by Slavs and Tatars. Image courtesy Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler.
“Love Letters, No. 3” by Slavs and Tatars. Image courtesy Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler.


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