«Ce qu'on ne peut pas dire, il ne faut surtout pas le taire, mais l'écrire »
("What cannot be said above all must not be silenced but written")
Jacques Derrida, 1995, "Points . .: Interviews, 1974-1994"
/ _______ / is the fruit of a continuous dialogue between artist Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos and curator Azad Asifovich. Their meeting revolves around their shared astonishment towards French language - its phonetics, and its writing. Inspired by the texts of Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Derrida, the exhibition turns words into plain objects - images and sounds - before meaning is assigned to them and questions the influence our post-Internet era has on this dialectic between writing and speaking.
The exhibition challenges the way in which we grasp and often transcend the inherited border between spoken and written language. Flags, neon, marble plates, sound and video works come together to invite the viewer to mourn the ambiguity of such an origin. The artist appropriates and diverts language tools such as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) or the text-to-speach software of her cellphone to highlight the disconnect between so sound of a word and the image formed by the string of letters that compose it; a discrepancy that transcends French language and can be found in most idioms that has both an oral and a written form. Thru the materiality of the works, the artist captures the temporal and kinesthetic functions of language.
All around the exhibition space, the flags of the body of works Sound wave present familiar French words displayed in their phonetic form using in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) making along the way any mute letters, double consonants and other spelling exceptions so common to French written language disappear. By choosing the advertising manner as her medium, Kosmatopoulos gives the works an indicative, banal, even advertising dimension with a simple and direct message that should allow any audience to grab it instantly. But, paradoxically enough, by lightening the words from any superfluous character in an attempt to bring image and sound closer and make the message as universal as possible, the artist created more complexity. Freed from any superfluous character, these series of letters often become incomprehensible to most francophones, so used to recognize the word by the image the letters that compose it form.
The series of videos on iPhones from the body of works Texte en français come as a respond to the flags.
This time, Kosmatopoulos took the exact same thirteen words and wrote them in latin alphabet in any possible letter combination she could imagine to recreate its spoken sound. She used and misused all the strict rules of French spelling to create a multiplicity of images that would preserve the unicity of the sound and asked the text-to-speech functionality of her phone to "read" the text obtained. The videos are a screen recording of the performance of the phone repeating over and over the same correct pronunciation of the word while scrolling the myriad of visually and orthographically false manifestations of it. Unlike us, the program follows the rules of phonetics and not spelling: it does not try to visually recognize words or care if they are spelt right, but rather utters the sound of each letter that compose them to make us hear them right. Transcending the variety and apparent absurdity of the spellings, it is the sound this time that emancipates from the image.
At the back of the space is Lettre anonyme, a large text in neon that takes a romantic sentence drawn from ancient love letters, and exposes it in bright white letters to the public, turning this intimate one-on-one written communication into a direct frontal message to the audience. The message itself, while sounding very romantic at first, becomes frightfully cold and generic when read literally today, questioning the role of our physical voice in modern human communication thru the different levels of reading that one can have of the sentence.
The marble plate /a/ located near the entrance/exit of the galerie act both as an prologue and an epilogue to this journey thru language. On it is engraved the French set expression "la main à la bouche" ("the hand to the mouth"), or perhaps "la main a la bouche" ("the hand has the mouth"), since the grave accent on the "à" has been scratched, vandalized. While the sound of the expression stays the same, the simple act of removing the grave accent from the letter in its written form transforms the preposition "to" into the verb "has", giving the hand an authoritative relationship over the mouth. The hand has been for a long time a supplement to the mouth in direct human communication thru the none verbal body language it allows but, these days, the hand increasingly HAS the mouth as it has become the main channel to express our digital voice. Thru out the exhibition, we are invited to mourn the ambiguity of such an origin.