Against Ordinary Language

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Sarah Browne, From Vinegar into Plastic, HD video, 8 minutes, 2017. Produced during the screening programme and residency Against Ordinary Language at Tate Liverpool, curated by Mike Birchall, 2017.

This one week project at Tate Exchange, Liverpool took its title from an essay of the same name by Kathy Acker. In this essay, Acker – known for her feminist & queer approach to literature and for her appropriation of existing language in particular – attempts to find words to talk about her experience of bodybuilding, in a gym. She describes the gym as a 'geography of no language' as the bodies that work there tend to be vocal without being verbally articulate:

 I am in the gym three out of every four days. What happens there? What does language look like in this place? According to cliché, athletes are stupid. Meaning: they are inarticulate... but my experience when I am in the gym is that I am immersed in a rich and complex world.

Historically the gymnasium has also been a space of education and philosophy as well as physical skilling. This sense of possibility and challenge is activated in the Tate Exchange space with the creation of a gym-like environment that includes a series of sculptures that can be touched and handled. Suggesting gym equipment, therapeutic devices or disability aids, they have been produced to be used as training tools, even if their precise function is yet to be discovered. 

Much like a gym, the programme for the week’s activities is fixed. During the week, the artist has selected a series of artist films, one of which will be screened each day. These films explore language that is slippery and evading (or satirising) legality, or language that is embodied but not yet verbal. On Friday, Dr. Stuart Murray discusses approaches to encountering autism through a focus on the body, drawing from personal experience as well as academic research. Throughout the weekend, Sarah Browne worked with dance artist Leah Marojevic in the space, using the sculptures as a starting point to explore the relationship between language and learning, legality, sexuality and knowledge, creating new videos Foot Movie and From Vinegar into Plastic. 

Films by Sarah Browne, Imogen Stidworthy, Jenny Brady, Stuart Marshall and Neil Bartlett, Fearghus Ó Conchúir.

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Thanks to Marabouparken Konsthall & Fire Station Studios, Jenny Richards, Esther Eriksson, John Beattie, Ciarán Patterson and Lee Bury for their assistance with 3D fabrication. Supported by UCD Parity Studios in partnership with Create, Ireland’s national development agency for collaborative arts, and the Collaborative Arts Partnership Programme (CAPP) which is funded by Creative Europe.