TO SPEAK WITHOUT SPEAKING

An artistic investigation of the ways in which we respond—or have trouble responding—to collective trauma.

The year 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have been catastrophic: the world economy crashed, wildfires spread uncontrollably, there was political unrest, and human health was under attack by a pandemic. The year was unlike any other precisely because a health pandemic and multiple crises in the economy, society, culture and climate were all happening at the same time. In fact, when trying to describe what we have experienced, we may find ourselves stuck. We struggle to coherently express the events of this collectively traumatic year, and articulate the impacts they have had on us individually and as a global whole.

This kind of speechlessness—as illustrated in Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk’s bestselling book, The Body Keeps The Score—is also known as alexithymia. Though the exact causes are still unclear, this phenomenon appears when people are unable to identify, articulate, and work through their feelings. In specific instances, there is difficulty in processing internal emotions in relation to external situations. When reflecting upon the year that we have all lived through, we might be able to draw similarities to the symptoms of alexithymia: connecting, verbalizing and even translating the year’s external landscape with our inner one prove to be complicated tasks. But perhaps it is in this confusing moment where the visual arts can translate what we have trouble saying.

 

With Being Scene 2021 scheduled exactly a year from when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, it became all the more necessary to look back at the year 2020 in both a pragmatic, and a sensitive and introspective way. To Speak Without Speaking thus acutely responds to the tumultuous past year. Yet rather than proposing a theme that orbits around the pandemic, the exhibition  encourages us to think through the different ways in which we respond, or have trouble responding, to the many deep-rooted scars that have resurfaced as a result of the health crisis, as well as the fluctuating meanings of normality. Unveiling new artworks created by Workman artists Mei Chan-Long, Jenny Chen, claro cosco, Heather Fulton, Eduardo Hatch, Paula John, Rick Miller, David Constantino Salazar, Laura Shintani, Apanaki Temitayo, V Vallières, and claude wittmann, Workman Arts  has commissioned these artists to uniquely respond to the theme in their own “words,” illustrating the many individual experiences of this global trauma.

 

This idea of “visual translation” that exists both within the context of the global situation and in curatorial methodology has pushed the artists, the Workman Arts team, and me to question our understanding of the status quo in light of our no-longer-normal reality. Working closely with the artists, videographer Lulu Wei, and web designers Co-Effect, this virtual exhibition is both a guided experience and a nod to experimentation within these bizarre and highly sensitive times.