Words fail me is a site specific installation conceived by artist Adam Gallagher in collaboration Curtly Thomas and Nikhil Vettukattil. The project takes the form of a multi-authored exhibition and events programme, exploring how how art is reckoned by language, and how its objects are spoken to or about.
The project takes as its starting point a series of newly commissioned sculptural reproductions of porcelain figurines originally made by Royal Doulton, a British ceramics manufacturer established in 1815, specialising in tableware and collectables.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 created in China during the 16th century. Doulton copied 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 prompts for an antagonistic and counteractive mode of exhibition making. A soundscape by Thomas explores the culture and ideology of carnival, seeking to overwhelming the sculptures, testing them and the audiences identifications and approximations. Installed works by Nikhil Vettukattil 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.
The exhibition includes text contributions by writer Ari Skanda and an accompanying public programme of performative and conversational contributions by artist Ruth Angel Edwards. 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.
The exhibition has been made possible with support from Tower Hamlets Council and Sunshine International Arts.