“How the scheme works: The pharmacy staff will ask you for basic details about yourself, including initials, date of birth, gender, ethnic origin and the first half of your postcode. Please remember to give the same information each time you visit the pharmacy. You do not need to give any further personal details that could identify you. All information is entirely confidential and is not passed to anyone else and cannot be used to identify you.”
Words fail me is a newly commissioned project initiated by artist Adam Gallagher, working in collaboration with a series of invited artists, writers, academics and musicians exploring how art is reckoned by language, and how its objects are spoken to or about. The project will take the form of a continually expanding and shifting multi-authored exhibition and events programme, with collaborators invited to explore and reconfigure a sculptural landscape created as a frame for the project by Gallagher. Featuring collaborators including Curtly Thomas and Nikhil Vettukattil, with more to be announced, the project intends to construct its meaning out of multiple voices, asking how various competing, contradictory processes and materials succeed and fail to unite.
The project takes as its starting point a series of newly commissioned sculptural reclaimings of porcelain figures originally made by Royal Doulton, a British ceramics manufacturer established in 1815, specialising in tableware and collectables. The sculptures directly reference the flambe glaze, a technical innovation introduced by the company in 1904 that incorporates copper, giving porcelain a rich deep red colour.
The method was originally discovered during the Ming dynasty in China, probably during the 16th century, although high-fire reduction glazes have existed there for over 1000 years. This project re-purposes a moment in the history of a British company to develop a set of terms and concepts that begin a dialogue with the other collaborators – how do we provoke these historical processes and representations and, how do we resist and destroy their symbolic and artefactual presences and reiteration that continue to define culture and transform them for our own use.
Looking at ways in which language is instrumentalised and weaponised when applied to art – and how the art object in turn is seemingly outperformed, deformed and reformed – each of the collaborators and responders will seek to challenge the experience of the exhibition, manipulating language through visual, experiential, performative and written modes of communication.
The sculptures function as foils and as prompts to allow for a generative, antagonistic and counteractive mode of exhibition making, with collaborators invited to preach to them, to hate them, and to convert them as they see fit. Through this open structure, Words fail me seeks to create a space for dialogue where a diversity of responses compete or combine to create meaning as well as taking a critical look at the value of coherence. Refusing the notion of an exhibition as a fixed moment, here the project space aims to become a site for learning and for growth, for readings and misreadings, a testing ground to create new shared languages and registers.
Words fails me is supported by Tower Hamlets Council.