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Language Is a River

Saturday, 27 November 2021, 12–5pm

27 November – 18 December 2021
4–15 January 2022

Hannah Mathews and Melissa Ratliff

Akil Ahamat, Archie Barry, Charlotte Prodger, Sarah Rodigari, Shen Xin and Wu Tsang

What if we turned our attention to language and used it to write ourselves differently? While indispensable as a system of communication, language is a tool that blunts with use and repetition. In its naming function, it can smooth over difference and, with habitual practice, becomes invisible. It is regularly victim to interpretation and mistranslation, and perpetrates discrimination. Yet, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak reminds us, language is also where boundaries are dissolved: it is the presence of the other within the self. It authors its user, inasmuch as it is a means of rehearsing and creating both identity and power.

Language Is a River presents films and audio-based works by a group of international and Australian artists reflecting on immersion in language, and its role in producing self and society. Ranging from philosophical to theatrical, the works explore how language operates in and between meaning-making, reality, fiction, play, community building, narratives, translation, desire and becoming.

Access: The exhibition contains 7 video and audio works with image and sound components, and 1 ‘walking conversation’ with artist Sarah Rodigari conducted via mobile phone that begins at MUMA and goes to locations approx. 5, 80 and 200 metres from the call starting point (only in December 2021). Most works do not include English subtitles. Transcripts of the spoken narratives and scripts of works can be made available on request. Shen Xin’s work includes one channel with English subtitles and one with text typed in French and a spoken Mandarin audio track. Wu Tsang's soundtrack includes spoken dialogue in multiple languages used in Hong Kong as well as Chinese subtitles. Blind or low vision visitors may book in for an audio-described visit with MUMA staff.

Image: Wu Tsang, Duilian 2016 (production still), single-channel colour video with sound; 26 minutes. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin and M+, Hong Kong. Photo: Ringo Tang



New commissions supported by MUMA contemporaries. Archie Barry's Scaffolding (Preface), 2021, is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts.