This exhibition is devoted to language and alarm—perhaps the poetics of alarm—and to contemporary art practices that employ sign and sound systems, at once writing, resisting, and voicing the visual field. As contemporary artists move toward language—poetry, sound practices, sign-making, publishing, oracular performance both embodied and disembodied, poetics both human and nonhuman—their resulting works trace and break, in significant ways, the border between language as a visual art practice and language as a literary one. Thus, SIREN features contemporary artists and poets of various generations whose productions employ or address the idea of voice (as sign, image, instrument, contaminate, shelter, speaker or receiver) and circulate fluently between form and field. For these and so many artists, the mouth is simply (never so simply) an opening from which to begin.
Sirens are alarms: they signal harm. In the ancient world, sirens were figured as women (part bird or part fish but all witch) whose seductive song was an invitation to self-harm. Their song had sailors forget their homes, honor, language, and sense of self, leaving them to waste away in exile. Both siren songs, ancient and nascent, remain in the realm of danger, then. Still, if our conceptions of sirens have changed, our notions of control have not. We would still like to save ourselves in every instance; we would still like to get home, sweet song or not. Yet, instructively, in the original Greek of the Odyssey, of the Sirens who sang to Odysseus and his crew, Homer indicated no body but a voice. The seduction the Sirens offered was purely cognitive. The technology of this voice was some “honeyed song,” emitted as if from a speaker over land across water indicating other nonnegotiable borders: between exile and home, foreign and familiar, female and male, nonhuman and human, danger and safety, language as noise and language as linguistic meaning, language as transgression. These borders were an ideology of enforced binaries, and fundamentally unjust and untrue. But poetry is politics, always. Either body or all sound, though, our Siren might be prosthetic and/or symbiotic, at once an ecosystem and an elegy—that is, an extension of ourselves and ideologies into other receiving bodies.
SIREN (some poetics) examines what lies beyond such borders and binaries, exploring the technology of the voice in its myriad incarnations, recurrent art-historical iterations, and present aesthetic and political meanings. The exhibition will examine the Siren as a figure of myth, mouth, earth, sound, silence, alarm, poetry, bacteria, hyphae, and as a kind of technology: of gender, sound, poetry, machine, fiction. Moving away from the cool, clinical, conceptual and mostly two-dimensional exhibitions that have so often stood for language as a visual-art practice, in which the white cube stands in for the pale page, SIREN will be situated in the earth and its ecosystems, exploring both human and nonhuman forms of poetics and language-making, from fungal networks to gut bacteria. No body but a voice, as the ancients might have said, a kind of alarm for those bound for and to a language-strewn future.
The show is prefaced, in the months leading up to the opening, by The Noon Sirens, an online public program curated by Hana Noorali and Lynton Talbot that takes its title from the titular global standard of testing all alarm sirens at 12 hundred hours. An extensive publication will follow the exhibition.
This exhibition is organized by poet and editor Quinn Latimer.