The Dilemma of Language 2007
The Dilemma of Language is a feminist-informed installation-performance work that questions the nature of representation, specifically, the edges of what can be said and what can be understood with words. Language, in the form of words and linguistic structures, provides category and clarity to our perceptions, form and structure to our thoughts, and meaning to our raw experience. Yet language also limits what we can perceive and think. Through the use of live attendants, fiber media, and a repetitive process of inscribing and erasing, all placed within a domestically-reminiscent environment, my installation enacts this dilemma of language, as that which is both a necessary tool to convey one's experience and that which can elide a portion of that experience.
Language, its possibilities and its limitations are embedded within social discourse. Language allows us to name what we know; discourse is that which is deemed worthy of knowing. That which is omitted from discourse, and which is therefore outside of language, is Other. As articulated in the writings of post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida and psychoanalytic theorist Julia Kristeva, conceptions of Self and Other are informed and structured by the representational strategies of language. The two attendants in the installation, seated at opposite ends of an extended table with a clothesline dividing them, establish a dichotomy of Self and Other. One attendant makes representational stitches on multiple white silk squares, while the other utilizes bleach to burn away the stitches' silk foundation. These opposing tasks suggest repetitive domestic activities, yet they are framed as having singular importance within the installation. Like many feminist explorations, The Dilemma of Language seeks to illuminate an underlying power structure; similar to the works of installation artist Ann Hamilton, utilizes a ritualized, cumulative process to reveal that structure at work. The application of bleach to silk - an innately damaging practice - is intensified and deliberately exploited as a relational process. The relational dynamic between the pairs of attendants - working simultaneously, yet in isolation and in opposition - is also amplified because the surface content of language has been removed.
Through the juxtaposition of articulate and inarticulate presences, The Dilemma of Language makes visible a structural dynamic. The installation strips away words to put language on intimate yet public display, enacting processes and structures that are both inherent- ly flawed and essentially human.