Various Artists: The Language of Things

About the Exhibition

“There is no event or thing in either animate or inanimate nature that does not in someway partake in language, for it is in the nature of each one to communicate its mental contents.”
-Walter Benjamin, ‘On language as Such and on the Language of Man’ (1916)

Language is not limited to the form of words. From the glow of a lamppost or the curve of a bench to a bird’s song, we are constantly in dialogue with what theorist Walter Benjamin called “the language of things.” This exhibition speaks to our innate attempts to understand and read patterns inherent in the world around us. The show features new and existing objects, a live artwork, sound installation, and poetry suggestive of different forms of coded communication—both manmade and natural—between a person and an object, among people and nature, or connecting people with one another.

A work by Tino Sehgal traverses the nature of personal encounters, while field recorder Chris Watson’s four-channel sound installation of flocking starlings calls attention to the perplexing matrix of information and signals that move rapidly through the flock. Nature’s coded language is also embodied in Carol Bove’s steel-beam sculpture, which supports a large block of petrified wood. Hannah Weiner’s poems, based on The International Code of Signals, disassemble the connections between symbol and word, while Adam Pendleton’s sculptural poem takes the form of an indecipherable code in large-scale concrete dots and dashes. In a new series of marble works, Claudia Comte plays with a similar staccato rhythm, along with the language of modernist abstraction, while Michael Dean’s concrete sculpture explores the conversion of language from word to form, taking its shape from the artist’s own writings remodelled into three-dimensional fonts.

Curated by Public Art Fund Associate Curator Emma Enderby with initial development by former Public Art Fund Curator Andria Hickey.



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Carol Bove
(b. 1971, Geneva, Switzerland)
Lingam, 2015
Petrified wood and steel
Courtesy the artist, Maccarone New York/Los Angeles and David Zwirner New York/London

A lingam is a symbolic object. Representing the Hindu God Shiva, these worshipped abstract phalluses are understood to possess mysterious and spiritual forces, allowing them to speak beyond their form. Carol Bove’s sculpture, with its seemingly floating block of petrified wood, speaks of this transformative phenomenon, one marked by time and nature—communicating the mystical power of an object.

Claudia Comte
(b. 1983, Lausanne, Switzerland)
The Italian Bunnies, 2016
Veined and polished marble
Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

This site-responsive installation speaks to Claudia Comte’s interest in repetition, patterns, and subtle variations of forms within her practice. The shapes of the individual sculptures reference the language of modernist abstraction, while also reading as cartoon-like figures, with each taking on its own character. Together they form an anthropomorphic family on the lawn.

Each bunny has it’s own name, relating to an historic Italian sculptor (left to right):
Guido (Italian Bunny 7)
Pietro (Italian Bunny 6)
Gian Lorenzo (Italian 2)
Leonardo (Italian Bunny 1)
Donatello (Italian Bunny 3)
Michelangelo (Italian Bunny 5)
Properzia (Italian Bunny 4)

Drawing provided by the artist.

Michael Dean
(b. 1977, Newcastle, UK)
4sho (Working Title), 2016
Concrete, reinforced
Courtesy the artist and Herald St, London

Michael Dean creates physical objects that originate from his own texts and designed typographies. While this ‘4’ shaped sculpture explores the conversion of language from word to form, no dictionary accompanies the work, allowing for an open-ended dialogue between object and interpreter.

Adam Pendleton
(b. 1984, Richmond, Virginia)
Untitled (code poem), 2016
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber

Adam Pendleton’s work often draws on language and the history of its use as an artistic medium. Influenced by Hannah Weiner’s Code Poems, this new sculpture referencing morse code takes the form of large-scale dots and dashes. However, the code is indecipherable, becoming an unknown poem of abstract patterns and concrete geometric forms, which presents the complexities of a universal translation and understanding.

Tino Sehgal
(b. 1976 London, England)
This You, 2006
Courtesy Jan Mot / Marian Goodman Gallery

Known for his “constructed situations” consisting of live encounters between people, Tino Sehgal presents This You (2006), the only live work of the exhibition and the only outdoor piece in this seminal artist’s oeuvre. The work, which traverses the nature of personal encounters and translation, is interpreted by a female vocalist on the park’s pathways.

This You is on view 7 days a week, sunrise to sunset.

Chris Watson
(b. 1953, Sheffield, UK)
Ring Angels, 2014
4-channel sound installation, duration 18:29
Courtesy the artist

This sound installation features the noise created when thousands of flocking starlings moving in close formation. It calls attention to the unknown matrix of information and signals that move rapidly through the flock and enable the fluidity of the starlings’ flight patterns—presenting the rhythms, timbre, and language of a world we live alongside yet can never fully experience.

The work’s title comes from a term used by the British government in the 1930s to describe a mysterious phenomenon recorded by radar, in which concentric patterns seemed to appear, as if out of nowhere. They feared enemy or even alien coded communications, but it was revealed years later to be the gathering of roosting starlings. The birds’ presence in the U.S. also has a history relating to language: a hundred starlings were released in Central Park in 1890 by European Shakespearian enthusiasts who intended to introduce all the species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to the country. The birds have since spread into the millions across the U.S.

Hannah Weiner
(b. 1928, Providence, RI; d. 1997, New York, NY)
Code Poems, 1968
First published by Open Source (1982)
Courtesy of Charles Bernstein for Hannah Weiner in trust

In the 1960s, renowned poet Hannah Weiner created a series of found poems using The International Code of Signals: morse code, semaphores, and maritime signal flags. For Weiner, these coded communications were unhindered by distance, origin, or language, allowing for a universal language of abstract visual and aural signs. These poems were first shown by Weiner as public performances in Central Park, with the poet hiring U.S. Coast Guardsmen to sign using flags, lights, and foghorns.

Read a letter by Weiner discussing her thoughts on the work here.

About the artists

Carol Bove (b. 1971, Geneva, Switzerland) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been the subject of several solo exhibitions, including at the Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Italy (2014); Henry Moore Institute, United Kingdom (2014); Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Belgium (2014); Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2013-2014); High Line, New York, NY (2013); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2010); Tate St. Ives, United Kingdom (2009); Horticultural Society of New York, NY (2009); Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX (2006); Kunsthalle Zürich, Switzerland (2004); Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, MA (2004); and the Kunstverein Hamburg, Germany (2003). Her work has been prominently featured in major group exhibitions, most recently in 2015 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY and Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh; along with the Honolulu Biennial, Rockaway Beach, New York, NY (2014); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Paris (2013); Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, OH (2013); Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2014); dOCUMENTA (13), Germany; Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City (2012); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA (2012); the 54th Venice Biennale (2011); The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2011); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY (2010); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2008); New Museum, New York, NY (2007); and MoMA PS1, New York, NY (2005). She is represented by David Zwirner Gallery, and Maccarone.

Claudia Comte (b. 1983, Lausanne, Switzerland) lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Her work has been the subject of several solo exhibitions, most recently at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne (2016); Galerie Art et Essai, France (2015); Milieu Galerie, Switzerland (2015); Haus Konstruktiv, Zürich (2014); Toshiba House, France (2013); Centre Pasquart, Switzerland (2013); Centre d’Art de Fribourg, Switzerland (2013); Summer Villa Extension, Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (2013); Tripode, France (2012); SALTS, Basel; Kunst am Bau, Etat de Vaud, Germany (2012); Gymnase d’Yverdon, Switzerland (2012); Institut suisse de Rome (2011); Milieu Gallery, Switzerland (2011); Fondation lausannoise pour l’art contemporain, Lausanne (2009); Musée Arlaud, Lausanne (2009); Bureau des vidéos, Le George, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2008); Vitrine du Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (2008); Standard deluxe, Lausanne (2007). Selected group exhibitions include Swiss Institute Contemporary Art, New York, NY (2015); Musee des Beaux-Arts, Switzerland (2015); Motiers, Switzerland (2015); Parc Domaine du Muy, France (2015); Bunk Club at Shanaynay, Paris (2015); SALTS, Switzerland (2015); Espace Arlaud, Lausanne (2015); Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts, France (2015); SALTS, Switzerland (2015); SALTS, Basel (2014); Eleonorenstrasse, Zürich (2014); Vevey, Switzerland (2014); triennale de sculpture Suisse, Switzerland (2014); Gstaad, Switzerland (2014); Forde, Geneva (2013); Fondation Ricard, France (2013); Telemark Contemporary Art Center, Norway (2013); Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland (2013); Aargauer Kunsthausm, Switzerland (2012); La Salle de Bain, Lyon (2012); Kunst Raum, Switzerland (2012); triennale de sculpture suisse, Switzerland; Istituto Svizzero di Roma (2010); Visarte Vaud, Parc de Mont Repos, Lausanne (2010); Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne (2011); Le CENTQUATRE, Paris (2010); Pauline’s, New York (2010); Mudac, Lausanne (2010). She is represented by Gladstone Gallery in New York and BolteLang in Zurich.

Michael Dean (b. 1977, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, United Kingdom) lives and works in London. Dean was nominated for the Turner Prize for his recent solo exhibition at South London Gallery (2016). Previous exhibitions include the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2016); de Appel arts centre, Amsterdam (2015); Extra City Kunstal, Belgium (2015); Kunst Forum Ludwig, Germany (2014), Henry Moore Institute, United Kingdom (2012); Park Night commission, Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, London (2011); and Nomas Foundation, Rome (2010). Dean has been included in recent group shows at The David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2015); CCC Strozzina, Florence (2015); Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2014); The Hayward Gallery, London (2014); Salzburger Kunstverein, Austria (2014); Whitechapel Gallery at The Gennadius Library, Athens (2014); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2013); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2012 and 2011); De Vleeshal, Netherlands (2011); Zabludowicz Collection, London (2011); and Kunsthalle Mulhouse, France (2010). He is represented by Herald St in London.

Adam Pendleton (b. 1984, Richmond, VA) lives and works in New York. Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (2016); Salina Art Center, Kansas, KS (2011); The Kitchen, New York, NY (2010); Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Canada (2010); Alberta College of Art and Design, Canada (2010); Kunstverein, Amsterdam (2009); de Appel Arts Center, Amsterdam (2009); Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, IN (2008); Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL (2004). Recent group exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO (2015); 56th Venice Biennale (2015); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MI (2014); Winter Palace and 21er Haus, Vienna (2014); Collection Lambert, France (2014); International Centre of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana; (2013); Contemporary Art Museum Houston, TX (2012); The Studio Museum, New York, NY (2012); The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2012); Museum of Contemporary art, Chicago, IL (2012); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Swiss Institute/Contemporary Art, New York, NY (2012); Public Art Fund at MetroTech Center, New York, NY (2011); Grimmuseum, Berlin (2011); Centre Pompidou-Metz, France (2010); MoMA PS1, New York, NY (2010); Centre d’Art Contemporain, La Synagogue de Delme, France (2010); Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin, TX (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH (2010); Tate Liverpool (2010). He is represented by Pace Gallery in New York, NY and London, and Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zürich.

Tino Sehgal (b. 1976, London) lives and works in Berlin. In 2013 Sehgal received the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Biennale and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Solo exhibitions of his works have been presented at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2015); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015); Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia (2015); Centro Cultural Banco de Brasil, São Paulo (2014); These Associations, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2014); Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal (2013); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2013); The Ullens Center, Beijing (2013); Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London (2012); Kunsternes Hus, Oslo (2011); Museum fu?r Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2011); Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2011); Goteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, Sweden (2011); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2010); CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA (2009); Kunsthaus Zu?rich and Haus Konstruktiv, Zu?rich (2009); Trussardi Foundation, Villa Reale, Milan (2008); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MI (2008); ICA, London (2007); MMK Frankfurt (2007); Wattis Institute, San Francisco, CA (2007). Group exhibitions include Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (2015); Twelfth Havana Biennial, Havana (2015); Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY (2015); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2014); Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery (2014); Architecture Biennale, Venice (2014); Museu Serralves – Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Portugal (2014); Kaldor Public Art Projects, Sydney (2013); 55th Venice Biennale (2013); Manchester International Festival (2013); Devi Foundation, New Delhi (2013); Curitiba Biennial for Contemporary Art, Brazil (2013); Documenta XIII, Germany (2012); WIELS, Brussels (2011); Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Florence (2011); Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf (2010); Pinchuk Art Centre, Kiev (2010); Hayward Gallery, London (2010), Haus der Kunst, Munich (2010); 4th Auckland Triennial, Kilowatt Stunden, Auckland (2010); Kunsthalle der Bunderrepublik, Bonn (2010). Sehgal is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery.

Chris Watson (b. 1953, Sheffield, United Kingdom) is one of the world’s leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena. With a passion for recording the wildlife sounds of animals, habitats, and atmospheres from around the world, Watson works as a sound recordist and composer. His post-production work has garnered him two BAFTA Awards for Best Factual Sound and he holds an honorary Doctorate of Technology from the University of the West of England and the University of The Arts in London. Watson received a Paul Hamlyn Composers Award in 2013, and has an extensive discography including In St. Cuthbert’s Time (2013), El Tren Fantasma (2011), Cima Verde (2008), Weather Report (2003), Outside the Circle of Fire (1998), and Stepping into the Dark (1996). In 2015, Watson exhibited Hy Brasil at Opera North, United Kingdom; Inside The Circle Of Fire – A Sheffield Sound Map, Millennium Gallery, United Kingdom; Hrafn for Forestry Commission and Jerwood Arts; and Soundscapes, National Gallery, London. His work has also been featured at the Serpentine Galleries Marathon, London (2014) and the Musée du Louvre, Paris (2010).

Experimental poet and performance artist Hannah Weiner (b.1928, Providence, RI; d. 1997, New York, NY) was part of the sixties New York avant-garde circle of poets, performance, and visual artists including David Antin, Scott Burton, Phillip Glass, Meredith Monk, John Perreault, Carolee Schneeman, and Andy Warhol. After studying at Radcliffe College, she composed her first book of poems entitled The Magritte Poems in 1966, followed by Code Poems, (1968) and The Fast (1970). In the 1970s and ‘80s she became part of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement and began her most well-known series, The Clairvoyant Journals (1974), followed by Little Books/Indians (Written 1977-80); Nijole’s House (1980); Spoke (1981); Sixteen (1982); Written In/The Zero One (1984); Weeks (1986); Silent Teachers/Remembered Sequel (1989-91); Page (1990); and We Speak Silent (1993-4). Throughout her career, Weiner staged various performances, first visualizing her writings by hiring U.S. Coast Guards to sign her Code Poems in Central Park using flags, lights, and foghorns, to later distributing free hotdogs in front of a hotdog stand called “Weiner’s Wieners.”