Seven artists in five blocks of time. One gathering after the other. Rotating through the space, drawing people into it, releasing them after the sound has ebbed. This project begins with three curatorial propositions, which are described below in order of occurrence. This is not a score, this is a list.
In China Miéville’s novel Embassytown, aliens and humans try to live together on a planet at the very edge of the immer, a substance that demarcates the known universe. The aliens speak in an untranslatable language, one absolutely without metaphor. Every word is spoken as testimony to an alien’s actual experience of the world—thus, for these creatures human speech strays too far from an expression of what is to be intelligible. It only becomes possible to communicate between species when empathically gifted children, who are raised from birth to think as one and elaborately trained in a multi-tone phonetics, speak separate registers of the alien tongue simultaneously. Two humans speak as one and together they embody the gap between The Real and Representation, and by embodying it as a pair they displace it somehow. In such a world, the voice must be a perfect mirror to its speaker(s)’s experience.
Also: One speaker of any pair who learns to speak the alien language cannot survive in any emotionally deep sense without their partner. If one dies the other is socio-psychically mutilated by the breach, because the breach avows the possibility of an interval between sound and the Real.
We were talking about language; Morris was talking about language and about the moment that it slips from its purely semiotic function and becomes violent. The moment the voice destroys the social being of another person, or causes that person, their body, and their speech to fall out of any meaningful form of recognition. Magical incantation, curses, accusations, hate speech. These kinds of words, when spoken, do not stay within the rhetorical bounds of rational discourse. They seek instead to explode the interval between any such discourse and violence.
But there is also song, Morris reminded us. Song is a form of speech the meaning of which cannot be reduced to whatever it happens to utter in language. The voice in song and the voice enraged and the voice enchanted, all of these are instances in which sound is profoundly in excess of its material sheaf, its rhetorical or phenomenological body. Further: in such moments the interval between the body and sound is so wide, so loud, that a blur appears at the seams of the structures that language makes.
A threshing floor is an imaginary place for me, like a planet at the edge of the universe. The use of it here as a metaphor for spatialized collective effort is not an attempt to romanticize agrarian labor, or to suggest that artists are workers in the same sense as were pre-industrial farmers and peasants. I borrow the idea with the understanding that I am mostly talking about a mythical, structural model, rather than a historical condition.
That said: I am interested in the idea of an exhibition as a space where work is done, where objects and bodies take their places together for a moment in order to do something, and then disperse. The threshing floor is an interesting model for this idea because although it was commonly held land each individual family brought their own grain to be threshed. It was not a strict rotation, since neighbors and allies would lend their bodies to one or the other’s threshing. So, this ground became a place to perform the complex socius of local politics. I would like an exhibition to be able to do this as well.
Natasha Marie Llorens is an independent curator and writer based in New York. Her most recent projects include "Frames of War," at Momenta Art in Bushwick. She teaches art history and theory at The Cooper Union and curating at Eugene Lang. She is a graduate of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Columbia University. Her academic research is focused on violence and representation in the 1970s and 1980s.
:Professor Rosalind C. Morris, lecturing during her seminar ACCUSATION, in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, spring 2014.
Image credit: Jules Gimbrone, Rooms, Junk, and Other Forces, 2015. Photo by Dorothée Thébert Filliger