Words fail me is a newly commissioned project initiated by artist Adam Gallagher working in collaboration with a group of artists, writers and musicians, exploring how art is reckoned by language, and how its objects are spoken to or about. The project takes the form of a 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.
The project takes as its starting point a series of newly commissioned sculptural reproductions of porcelain figurines originally made by Royal Doulton, a British ceramics manufacturer established in 1815, specialising in tableware and collectables. The sculptures, produced by Gallagher in conversation with Curtly Thomas, directly reference the flambe glaze, a technical innovation introduced by the company in 1904 that incorporates copper, giving porcelain a deep lustre red colour.
The method was originally discovered during the Ming dynasty in China during the 16th century. Doulton used this method to produce a number of collections, including those depicting figures and characters from outside of Europe in a clear example of Orientalism. Words fail me re-purposes this moment in the history of a British company to develop a set of terms and concepts that begin a dialogue with the project’s collaborators – asking to what extent we are able to provoke these historical processes and representations, and resist and destroy their symbolic and artefactual presence.
The sculptures function as foils and as prompts to allow for a generative, antagonistic and counteractive mode of exhibition making. A newly produced sound piece by Thomas and Gallagher plays throughout the space, overwhelming the sculptures, testing them and the audiences identifications and approximations. Together they have worked directly against the archetypes that are the sculptures, subverting them by introducing the culture and ideology of the carnival, playing with how power is performed and recognised.
Installed works by Nikhil Vettukattil – including a text commission to be introduced midway through the exhibition – seek to reframe the viewer’s experience and perspective of the exhibition. Taken as a whole, the dialogue between collaborators seek to present a conversation on how language can be instrumentalised and weaponised when applied to art.
An events programme featuring performative and conversational contributions from Ruth Angel Edwards, Curtly Thomas and Adam Gallagher will accompany the exhibition. Refusing the notion of an exhibition as a fixed moment, 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.
Adam would like to thank James Bunton, Ben Clarke and Dannie Russo for their conversation and support before and during the show as well as their help with making the sculptures and paintings.
Special thanks to Bianca Cedrone, Jazi Charbit, Esther Dillner, Cem Hamlacıbaşı, Ellie Higgins, Hannah Jose, Edwina Lowe, Matilda Liu, Tilly Shenstone, Georgina Rowlands, Carla Schöffel, Theola Sturridge and Patrycja Zarsaś for bringing it to life.