PAMM (Pérez Art Museum Miami)Speechless
August 13, 2015 – February 21, 2016
Speechless is a multilayered exploration of how we are able or allowed to speak, for example but not exclusively, about the precarious state of the natural world. Can we speak about what needs to be known, discussed and disputed if words are missing, or even banned? How do we remember what gets lost? Part poetic gesture and radical expression, Speechless addresses the power of language within political contexts and our ability to understand and discuss environmental degradation. The work is inspired in part by recent debate in Florida's state government regarding the use of 'controversial' terms such as climate change and global warming; words that were banned from the official documents. What one is not able to speak about does not exist, or does it?
Speechless consists of a custom-built aviary, which houses four parrots that are taught to speak selected phrases from T.S. Elliot's seminal 1922 poem, The Waste Land, comparing landscape devastated by war to the ecological devastation and extinction of today. These fragmented sentences are performed as a sound piece that can be heard, at intervals, in the space. The aviary is furnished with a jumble of sculptural letters that appear in the terms global warming, climate change, and sustainability.
Speechless draws on the uncanny ability of parrots to learn to speak human speech as a way of exploring the Aristotelian notion that we are political animals,
constantly engaged in attempts to influence and govern one another. Historically, the human capacity for verbal language has been used as a point of separation between animals and ourselves. This separation has in turn helped to accelerate our exploitation of the natural world.
With the help of animals that potentially literally speak back to us, Bik Van der Pol envision a situation in which language serves as a bridge, to get a message across, and perhaps as a way to unite, rather than to divide, humans from animals, with hopes that this reunification may help us to address the urgent ecological crises that we face today.
Speechless is made in the context of PAMM's Researcher-in-Residence program, which provides a supportive context for research and an opportunity both to benefit from and stimulate South Florida's unique cultural resources, setting and community. Curator: René Morales. Breeder: Simbad's Birds and Pets. Voice performers: Rachel Carey, Susanna Browne, Vasiliki Sifostratoudaki, Mat Do, Natalia Sorzano and Manuel Segada. The parrots in this work, Cleo, David, Paco, Zach and Jany, are on loan to the museum. They were bred in captivity and regularly appear in a variety of public capacities, such as movies, commercials and public events. While at PAMM, their care is being managed by one of the nation’s leading avian veterinarians. Following the exhibition, they will be returned to their Miami home, where they will continue to live together.