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_Languageless [txt]
ESSAI PUBLISHED IN SELÇUK ARTUT AB exhibition catalogue february 2010
Selcuk Artut Languageless

Selçuk Artut Languageless
by Anne-Laure Oberson

The spectator stands in front of a computer; equipped with a camera controlled by motion sensitive software, the monitor plays back stories when the viewer enters the camera’s field of vision. The zone has been divided in 9 sections each corresponding to one of the narrators. To hear a story the spectator has to face a particular narrator and stay in front of him, thus entering into a position similar to the position of the artist at the moment of recording. By moving to the left or right the spectator shifts between narrators and stories.

The pretext of the piece is the reading in Turkish – a language completely foreign to all participating narrators – of an unknown story and its interpretation in English – the language common to all of them – to the artist who listens and records each performance.
The recordings were then condensed or extended to 3 minutes, speeding or slowing the rate of speech of each narration, and finally both reading and interpretation were superimposed. Each resulting sound piece was then paired with the portrait of the narrator to be displayed on the monitor.

The layered and deformed sounds are barely intelligible to the listener, whether fluent in Turkish and/or English or not at all. Only words, fragments, can be grasped here and there, yet each story has a particular tone, mood and flow, making it easily identifiable, unique and personal. The result certainly reaches a level of language-less-ness but remains strongly communicative; something undeniably comes through the dense fabric of sounds to be expressed and transmitted on an intuitive and imaginary level.

The set-up of the installation does not allow accidental or casual listening to happen, the spectator has to make a decisive choice to step and stay in a particular position to hear a whole story.  He becomes a participant too. He is placed in a very interesting position of sustained concentration to listen to what sounds like gibber at first until gradually he can make some sense of it. The thinking process involves intense creative and cognitive activities to single out intelligible material, link elements together, within one narration and across the various stories, piece them together like in a mental literary puzzle and make up a story of one’s own.

These processes echo the ones the narrators went through to read out loud a text in a completely foreign language and come up with some interpretation of it. An exercise which requires the brain to stop relying on acquired automatism, assess each word by deciphering the handwriting, by making out letter combinations based on his own linguistic knowledge and by articulating them (not to mention that some combinations and series of combinations remain totally unknown, thus have to be invented), and finally invent a whole story taking clues from a text that resolutely remains mute or misleading at best. The story – revealed at a later stage to the participants but readily available to the spectators – is the archetypal Prince Frog by the Grimm’s brothers. The choice is not so innocent as it appropriately deals with questions of perception, judgment, deception and transformation. Even though it is not key in the entire process, it gives an interesting reference to the spectators.

The interactive installation Languageless marries simplicity, evidence, and extreme complexities in a play of double mirrors on one’s own communication ability, when all marks have been wiped away. One can’t help but feeling unsettled in contemplating the fragility of the learned systems we rely on and the open-ended possibilities of an heightened sense of creativity.

I have written this brief review from the rather unusual perspective of both a narrator and a spectator, a double position that has given me additional insights in understanding the mechanisms I have tried to share. Additionally I would like to reveal some extra information about the context in which this artwork has been produced, the last seminar of Selcuk Artut PhD course at the European Graduate School. Students, from all over the world, mostly all strangers to each other, and both isolated and confined on campus, were nearing completion of an intense 3 week period of study reaching a state of being between intellectual excitation and exhaustion. Fatigue is known to alter consciousness; it also hinders basic capacities either reducing or sometimes enhancing them briefly. When words most familiar become uncanny, as if they have been uttered one too many times, human interaction has to invent new forms of awareness.
Languageless is definitely engaging the participants to explore them.

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all material copyright anne-laure oberson unless stated otherwise