Poet, critic, and former Harriet blogger Thom Donovan has recently written about an exhibition, How To Do Things With Words, curated by Melanie Crean, which features art engaging with the politics of language. According to Donovan:

The works displayed in Crean’s exhibition explore the possibilities of art to organize our senses of world making and both civic and social responsibilities. Though many of the works in the show involve images and sounds, spoken and written language is central to how they function to engage their audience/participants.

The resonance of these concerns with those in the poetry world offers more proof (as if we needed it) that the various arts are engaged in a sort of collective conversation about the contemporary. There is language, and there is war - and there is the intersection between language and war. Furthermore, the focus on language in this exhibition illustrates once again how words are a fundamental material of contemporary art. Donovan writes about Crean’s own video work:

Focusing on linguistic acquisition and Jean Piaget’s theories of early childhood development, in the video Crean demonstrates how her son’s imagination of war changes throughout the course of the interviews. In the scores, a series of scrolls reading from left-to-right across a full wall of the gallery translate video footage of her son’s infant development into musical notation, kinetic drawings, and a series of Muybridge-like stills. As she writes of Music for Shiloh in the catalogue to the exhibition, the work is intended to explore “the process of learning to walk, speak, and express desire (and thus become an independent political subject), and the nature of breaking down information into an archive.”

Originally Published: December 1st, 2010