Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 2nd October 2016

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London exhibition showcases language as art

Languitecture exhibition features works of seven different practitioners at London’s P21 Gallery.


Qarnas calligraphy by Eduardo Suarez and Rawan Serhan

Iman Issa’s proposal for a crystal building.

London - Shapes, objects, colours and sounds interact in a fascinating way to showcase language as art at the Languitecture exhibition featuring the work of seven different practitioners at London’s P21 Gallery.

Roberto Abuin, Joe Hornby, Nadine Hattom, Marco Pando, Lisa Premke, Rawan Serhan and Eduardo Suarez explored the interconnections of their mother-tongues – Arabic, English, Spanish and German – through artwork.

Premke learned Spanish as it was spoken in South America. “The ‘s’ sound is very dominant in original Spanish so when I heard the original language I realised that in South America it was transformed into something totally different,” Premke said. She created a kinetic sculpture of paint brushes that turn and make the ‘s’ sound, while standing on an Arabic carpet.

“The carpet is very much related to Arab culture as Arabic has influenced the Spanish language. It took a long time to find materials to do visually what I wanted to do sonically,” Premke said.

She studied architecture and fine arts at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and started to correlate architecture and sound.

Languitecture is the brainchild of Serhan, the event curator and who said he has been fascinated by the sounds of different languages.

“I was visiting Lisa Premke in Berlin and we were discussing the atmosphere in the world with the migration of people and how whole cultures connect or clash and how language can contribute to this atmosphere of clashes and connections between them,” Serhan explained.

“Language is not very often explored by art and I thought it would be interesting to express language as another media of art.”

Serhan and Premke decided to invite artists from different media to put together the exhibition, which focused on the migration between the four languages they selected. “It was important to have a wide variety of skills to explore because every artist would be representing a certain identity or a certain culture,” Serhan said.

It was agreed that each artist would produce an original piece relating to at least two different languages using different media. The original work would then be passed on to the next artist who would produce another art work inspired by the original.

Iraqi-born Australian visual artist Nadine Hattom’s installation Had I Not Been Awake was a result of her contemplation of her connection to English and Arabic.

“I felt it was somehow embodied in my relationship with my grandfather,” Hattom said. “Growing up in Australia, I refused to speak Arabic for fear of being different. Many years later, as my grandfather was dying, I flew from Europe where I had come to live, back to Australia and read to him the (Seamus Heaney) poem Had I not been awake in English. He passed away that very day.

“Part of the poem read: ‘Had I not been awake, I would have missed it, A wind that rose and whirled.’ Its verses evoked thoughts about where the wind might have originated. Could it have travelled all the way from the Sahara?” she asked.

The installation consists of a mountain range made from a photograph of the Atlas mountains, a neon light script reading Had I not been awake in Hattom’s handwriting, a steel wire extending out of a small dune of sand to a flap-like positioning of a photograph of the Sahara desert taken in a hazy, golden light.

“These elements represent a tension between words and languages: what carried one world and its words into the other, unexpectedly forming a part of it,” Hattom explained.

From Hattom’s original piece, Premke gathered that language travels and transforms the landscape. For her installation, she used the photograph of the mountain to work with and created a mechanism with a sheet of paper that slowly rises to form a mountain with a white snow peak. When it flattens out, the drawing of a mountainscape can be seen.

Hornby used Premke’s high-mountain, low-mountain installation to explore the idea of a place being named with sounds that directly describe their form, evolving into nouns with the same meaning. “This resonates with my interest in the change of language over time, which can be seen as a progression or erosion depending on the perspective,” he said.

He created a slide film showing an ice cube symbolising the mountain melting into a pool of water.

Suarez and Serhan produced Qarnas, a calligraphy of an imagined merger between Spanish and Arabic inspired by the architecture and urban fabric of Andalusia in southern Spain. The letters take the shape of columns, arches, porticos and other forms of architectural ornamentation found in Andalusia and the sound piece is made up of multiple voices that reflect a layered identity illustrating the rich texture of a multicultural world.

Languitecture is scheduled to run through October 30th at the P21 Gallery in London.