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Andrew Harwood

An Interview with Aleks Slota: Language is a Shell Game

by RM Vaughan on June 9, 2017
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Years ago, if you read Derrida, Lacan and their fellow travelers and then came to the conclusion that language is inherently unreliable, you were considered at best pretentious and at worst mentally ill. Here, for instance, is Lacan on one of the various, maddeningly indirect ways in which words acquire meaning, or a lack thereof: “… insofar as it forms part of language, the signifier is a sign which refers to another sign, which is as such structured to signify the absence of another sign …”. Um, yeah, exactly. Language is a shell game.

Now, in the post-truth era, all that giddy philosophizing (presented in a style as nutty as the ideas it proffered) suddenly rings true. Hell, it clangs. The relationship between words and their assigned meaning(s), never all that comfortable in the first place, now strikes us as illusory, if not deceitful. You can’t trust your own reading glasses.

Multimedia artist Aleks Slota’s latest works ask a further question: if all of the above is true, how can you trust an artist?

A Berlin-based Polish-American, Slota has built a career out of being, in the larger and best sense of the modifier (signifier?) an irritant, or “irritainer” as the Canadian artist Andrew Harwood coined; an artist who puts his audience’s his own comfort aside in pursuit of new, less easy revelations. His performances typically involve acts of endurance, for both artist and witness, and no end of noise.

But in his latest projects are markedly more pensive. We met for a chat at Berlin’s Ex Girlfriend Gallery on the final day of his understated exhibition of text works It Happened Here. And a few weeks before our get together, Slota presented Meat Puppet at the Berlin literary centre Lettretage – a concise performance wherein he attempted to verbalize into sense a word salad derived from President Trump’s barking. Better him than us.

Slota’s new works acknowledge the simple fact that we are all part of the now-heightened language/meaning problem, because unless you’re a hermit you too are contributing to the constant cross-talk and, by extension, the reduction of words to mere noise. There is no getting away from the collapse of the familiar formula of words = distinct (or at least agreed upon) meaning. We burned that barn down. Nor is it useful to simply blame this slippery slope on Trump and his imitators and not acknowledge our own complicity. Slota wants us, instead, to own the chaos.

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