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Artwork copyright Lauri Chambers. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Mystical Language

“Words don’t express my meaning”
–Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music, 2HB

These artworks use words, or the absence of, to signify the power language has in human life. We carry words – our building blocks of communication – and take for granted these complex tools that we use every day. The complexity of meaning in each word means we are constantly making decisions that define what we are trying to communicate. With these limitations in consideration, we must constantly make statements that, through the translation of conversation, don’t make sense. There are so many obstacles to expressing our own ideas by stringing words together that, perhaps, make this task impossible.

Some of these works create alternate, visual languages, like late artist Richard C. Elliot’s reflective paintings. These visual languages illustrate what philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein describes as “things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.” Elliot said, “The more that I have explored geometric patterning, the more I have become convinced that there is a universal visual language that transcends both time and place."

Artist Jenny Holzer takes a different approach, displaying words as art. Her work asks the audience about their relationship with words and their meanings. 'Wisdom', by artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith views words as a survival tool for Native American culture—through words passed down by elders, their tribes can survive.

We all have a different relationship with language and meaning. Taking time to reflect on this all-encompassing aspect of human life can help us begin to define our realities and our relationships.

–Curated by Abby Dahlquist, ArtsWA My Public Art Portal Student Assistant and 2019 graduate of The Evergreen State College. (April 2019)