MUMA – new exhibition: Language Is a River

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muma new exhibition: language is a river
Archie Barry Scaffolding (Preface) 2021 single-channel 4K video, stereo sound; 11 minutes 20 seconds 3D modelling: Savannah Fleming 3D animation: Ben Jones Courtesy of the artist

I’ve always wanted to find someone who has forgotten their language to have a good conversation with. I want to know what the body of such a person is like. Shen Xin (Commerce des Esprits, 2018)

mumas new exhibition: language is a river
Wu Tsang Duilian 2016 single-channel video with surround sound; 26 minutes 16 seconds M+, Hong Kong. Images courtesy of the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

Language is the medium that brings people together, but is there more to it than meets the ear? 

Language Is a River presents film and dialogue-based works by a group of international and Australian artists exploring human communication through a spectrum of play, power and connection. Departing from the idea that an accomplished swimmer forgets the water they are in, the exhibition reflects on our immersion in language and its role in producing a self.

Language Is a River opens at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) 27 November 2021 – 15 January 2022. 

This is the Australian premiere of works by Shen Xin and Charlotte Prodger.  Other featured artists include: Akil Ahamat, Archie Barry, Sarah Rodigari and Wu Tsang. Four poems by First Nation writer, Ellen van Neerven start the conversation in this exhibition. 

Curated by MUMA’s Senior Curator, Hannah Mathews, and MUMA’s Curator (Research), Melissa Ratliff.

Language is what defines us and our world. The exhibition poses the question: what if we tuned our attention to the language we use, and used it to write ourselves differently? What can be gained, beyond practical purposes, when this crucial system of communication is used creatively and consciously? For all it does to connect individuals, language also blunts with use and repetition – it can smooth over difference and, with frequent use, become unfeeling. It is endlessly subject to interpretation and misinterpretation. 

muma – new exhibition: language is a river
Sarah Rodigari Tidal Piece 2021 artist’s pages Courtesy of the artist

NSW-based artist, Akil Ahamat is a multidisciplinary artist whose work draws upon their own online experiences to consider the physical and social isolation that often governs the shaping of identity in a contemporary context. In this exhibition, their videos combine ASMR-style narration, poetry and pop cultural texts. Archie Barry is a Melbourne-based artist whose practice spans performance, video, music composition and writing. Exploring themes of personhood, embodiment, gender and surveillance, their new video for this exhibition imagines a future generation of children who use singing to communicate.

Charlotte Prodger is a Glasgow-based artist who works with moving image, printed image, sculpture and writing. Her interests in queer identity, landscape, language, technology and time unfold through the artist’s Turner Prize-winning video, BRIDGIT, 2016, presented in the exhibition.

Sarah Rodigari is a Sydney-based artist who produces text-based performances and installations that process situations using observation, dialogue and humour. Rodigari’s new audio installation Towards an Affective Measure, 2021, developed from the series of walking conversations the artist undertook with accounting academics while on residency with Monash Business School. 

Shen Xin is a Minnesota and London-based artist who creates films, video installations and performative events that examine how emotion, judgement and ethics circulate through individual and collective subjects. Commerce des Esprits, 2018, combines personal and philosophical reflections on language and translation across four video channels. Wu Tsang is a Zurich-based artist and filmmaker whose films and sculptures draw on performance and documentary making to explore hidden histories, community-building and new possibilities for performance and translation. The film Duilian, 2016, portrays a relationship between two nineteenth-century Chinese women through the translation and re-enactment of their remaining correspondence.

New commissions by Archie Barry and Sarah Rodigari supported by MUMA Contemporaries. Archie Barry’s work has also been supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.


Please note MUMA’s extended opening dates over the summer.

Language Is a River opens 27 November 2021 – 15 January 2022 at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Ground Floor, Building F, Monash University, Caulfield Campus, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East. monash.edu/muma/