On Language

A little while ago I came across an interview with Rosalee Goldberg, queen of performance art, she was talking about text and poetry, and the audience that witness both, “some love language in itself, and some the written word. Theres’ a language that is read aloud and there’s a language that’s listened to. There’s language in the mouth. Language that’ is tasted. language on a wall, language in space […]”.

For some reason I’ve been having problems articulating what I what to say lately and so I thought it might be interesting to write about language. This quote alone made me want to add to the lists of types of languages there might be.
Firstly, it made me think of Tim Etchells, from the performance group Forced Entertainment, who wrote about his process, in the essay, On Performance Writing. * He too, has a list of texts (which in this context could be interchangeable with language). His list starts with,
” 1. A text to be whispered by the bedside of a sleeping child
2. A text to be yelled aloud by a single performer in a car park at dawn
3. A text to be left on the ansaphone of strangers.
4. A text to be spoken while fucking secretly the partner of a good friend
5. A text for a megaphone
6. A text to be used as a weapon “
The list of texts continues, each in a way, a recipe for a new performance, a new way of creating, through language.
 Forced Entertinment’s performance work in general uses language to confuse or make the audience define their own context for what they are experiencing- and it is often very contradictory. For example, in Emmanuel Enchanted every performer has multiple signs announcing their characters, such as A DRUNK MAN SHOUTING AT THE MOON, QUEEN OF NOTHING, LINDA ( OUT OF LUCK), or simply LIAR. Part of the performance was “the act of arranging and rearranging units of infomation, be they textual, visual or spatial so that new patterns, implied narratives and meanings [could] emerge,”* the signs clashing, or having nothing to do with the language the performers were saying. Language that is slippery, Language which contradicts itself. 
Their work has a quality of secret diary entries that are said aloud, particularly in Club of No Regrets, in which one performer is lost in the woods, talking to herself- language not meant to be heard by another human being- there’s a confessional quality to it . Another two performers are bound and gagged, while interrogated, and a series of telegrams. Language that only emerges under duress.
It also made me think of Mel Boucher, still currently at the Jewish Museum in New York. His paintings are thesaurus entries, language that’s in pieces and needs to be put together to be fully understood. 2014-08-02 16.38.45
He also has a series of ‘portraits’ made of compositions of text- visual text.
His one of Eva Hesse takes the structure of one of her words and uses it to create a visual framework for the language.  Language that is defined as a composition, Language in a visual cage.
Unknown    12
This in turn lead me to look at the Ruth and Martin Sack near archive for visual and concrete poetry.
How do you define visual and concrete poetry? 
Wikipedia, says ” Visual poetry is poetry or art in which the visual arrangement of text, images and symbols is important in conveying the intended effect of the work. Confusingly, it is sometimes referred to as concrete poetry, a term that predates visual poetry.”** Often it’s referred to as text- based art.
In this archive, I came across Jeremy Adler, whose words are truly Language as painting, language as another layer, another varnish, another wash of colour, that adds texture, but not necessarily understanding.
Language torn, damaged. Language as a fragment. Language to be whispered in the wind.
I realzised that is something I’m quite interested in my own work, language as a clueLanguage as a series of dots waiting to be connected. Language that is mutable depending on the audience-  that means something to one person and completely something else to another.
Language that you follow like marked trees up a mountain.
Language where the signifier might not create the sign, undependable language.
This idea reminds me of a book, The Raw Shark Texts by Stephan Hall, a novel in which the protagonist is forced to somehow turn a bottle filled with scraps of paper, on which the word ‘water’ is written on each, into water to be able to swim in it.
Language that you have to believe in with every ounce of your being for it to become true. Language you can swim in.
Isn’t that Salmon Rushdie’s Sea of stories? It was one of my favorite books as a child. Salty tales, morals, fables, myths, fairytales, old wives stories, all muddling in the vastness of the ocean of the stream of stories,
“… it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one … currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity. [Each] coloured strand … contained a single tale. [The Ocean held] all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented. The Ocean of the Stream of Stories was in fact the biggest library in the universe.”***
 Language that drips through your fingers, language to swim in, language that nourishes.
And then there’s always those words that colour everything around them, or those words so ripe they burst into flavour and contaminate everything around them. Language as a pigment, a soothing elixir. The greats- Shakespeare, T.S Elliot surely are elixirs, Roselee Goldberg’s Language to be tasted.
I think I’m fascinated because I sometimes lack the ability to create meaning out of the string of words that foams at my mouth.  Language like a pinned butterfly, that never really wanted to be caught in the first place.  We dubbed them ‘word days’ in college. If people knew me well, they could figure out the dots, connect the thoughts. Because sometimes it was a more painful process than not. They still occur when I’m stressed, tired, or just feeling nervous. I just live with them. And my sign? THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SAY WHAT SHE WAS FEELING.
See Language as a confession. Language that paralyzes.
* From Certain Fragments by Tim Etchells
*** pg. 71. Haroun and The Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
for more on Rosalee Goldberg see

About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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