With faith in public and private institutions at an all-time low, what kinds of speakers are likely to win trust, acquire authority, and mobilize audiences? How do we recognize ourselves in the routines of comedians, reports of journalists, appeals of activists, manifestos of tech entrepreneurs, and formulas of TED Talks? “Parts of Speech,” an exhibition on public speech organized by Triple Canopy and Public Fiction with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, responds to these questions with a series of experimental lectures by Steffani Jemison, Hari Kunzru, Tomeka Reid, Astra Taylor, Christopher Kulendran Thomas, and Julio Torres. From January 22 until June 9, the lectures will be delivered at sites of assembly throughout Chicago and artworks chosen in response will be on view at the museum.
Reflecting on the onset of the so-called post-truth era, and the accelerating diffusion and displacement of authority, we might get nostalgic for a world in which accredited intellectuals make sense of everything before an antique podium on the occasion of a vaunted lecture series. Indeed, the famous annual lectures named after Sir John Reith, Charles Eliot Norton, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Locke, et al provide a sense of widespread support for the cultivation of knowledge and the dissemination of complicated ideas to all citizens, with rational debate to follow. But they also call attention to the voices that were deemed to be too strident, impolitic, or uncouth to resound from such a platform. They remind us that the public sphere has always been a byword for the delineation between acceptable and unacceptable ideas, those who are called upon to speak and those who are obliged to listen.
For “Parts of Speech,” artists, filmmakers, comedians, novelists, and musicians will freely interpret the form of the lecture in order to address the use of language and media to mold opinion, forge intimacy, marshal authority, and orchestrate movements. Meanwhile, video works by Rami George, Liz Magic Laser, Nicole Miller, Rodney McMillian, and the Videofreex, as well as a commissioned performance by David Levine, will be on view in the Commons, the MCA’s space for art and civic engagement. Like the lectures, these artworks are manifestations of public speech. Together, they will test the vocabularies and tactics that entice and persuade, or provoke and alienate, audiences. And they will ask how the speakers and audiences that are typically excluded by cultural institutions and the news media might actually gain definition and force as a consequence.
“Parts of Speech” is being published by Triple Canopy as a series that will eventually include the components of the exhibition as well as edited transcripts of the lectures and videos composed from the documentation. [Since the publication of this page, the online works adapted from the lectures have been published.] The series is one cornerstone of a forthcoming issue, Two Ears and One Mouth, that examines how we speak and listen and who has the right and capacity to be heard. (The other is the series Omniaudience, which considers the role of listening.)
To read more about “Parts of Speech,” visit the pages devoted to each lecture:
- Astra Taylor (February 15)
- Hari Kunzru (March 12)
- Steffani Jemison (April 26)
- Tomeka Reid (May 17)
- Christopher Kulendran Thomas (May 21)
- Julio Torres (May 24)
Parts of Speech is made possible in part through the generous support of the Stolbun Collection and Karyn Kohl and Silas Dilworth. Triple Canopy has received additional support for Two Ears One Mouth from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston; the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; the Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the New York State Council on the Arts; and the Opaline Fund of the Jewish Community Endowment Federation and Endowment Fund.