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Art Culture

‘In Another Tongue’

This article was originally submitted on the 15th March

Review of ‘In Another Tongue’, event at the Talbot Rice Gallery, 3rd March

‘Such ordinary events are poems in another tongue and no translation possible’

 – David Malouf

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In Another Tongue was posited as a ‘creative response’ to Angelica Mesiti’s Exhibition In the Round, which has been on show at Talbot Rice Gallery for the past five months. A selection of speakers from diverse disciplines across the university, as well as the musical group Musicians in Exile, were invited to reflect on themes and thoughts aroused by the exhibition. The event aimed to be ‘an expansive, thought-provoking evening, exploring the limits of what it means to communicate’.

In the Round combines sound and video installations with artefacts from the University of Edinburgh collection, which resonate together in a uniquely immersive experience. The exhibition is centred around three major video installations which take the viewer on a visual, auditory, and physical journey. Human voices singing at 220 hertz mimic the way trees communicate underground, immigrant musicians perform their cultural heritage in a new context, and protestors perform resistance in the halls of democracy. Accompanied by over 50 items from the university collection, including meteorites, musical scores, and a marble landscape, visitors are confronted with complex ideas about planetary life cycles, colonialism, and democracy.

These challenging concepts of Mesiti’s stimulated In Another Tongue, an evening created in collaboration by Talbot Rice Gallery and Laura Harris. Captivating academic speakers from the university elaborated on a number of topics, from the biology of sound to the politics of migration. It was fascinating to see that the exhibition could inspire such a wide diversity of responses, and in turn these talks encouraged attendees to see the artworks in a refreshing new light.

Particularly intriguing was a performance from Charlotte Bosseaux, with the help of translators Rosalee Ross and Frankie Hemery. The senior lecturer in Translation Studies read aloud a story, originally written in Croatian, which had been translated twice into French, once by somebody who knew the story, and once by somebody who didn’t. While Bosseaux read the story, which details a woman’s journey to leaving an abusive relationship, her colleagues interjected at points where their translations differed from the original, resulting in a performance which revealed the complexities and subjectivity of words in translation.

The most poignant reaction to the exhibition came from Merhawi Haile, who came to the UK from Eritrea as an asylum seeker in 2015. In conversation with Georgia Cole, who works with Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers, Merhawi discussed his personal reaction to Mesiti’s exhibition. He had been particularly moved by Mohammed Lamourie’s performance as part of the installation Citizen’s Band, a partially blind musician who sings traditional Algerian songs, accompanied by his Casio keyboard, on the Paris metro. The songs are in Arabic, and are by the popular Raï musician Cheb Hasani, who was assassinated in the 1990s. Mohammed’s audience on the metro, who cannot understand the lyrics and do not know the history of the music, remain largely unengaged with his performance. Merhawi relates this to his own experience of leaving his home to come to a new country, not speaking a word of English. He speaks of feeling extremely lonely, isolated, and at times even suicidal. However, like Mohammad, he found his own method of non-verbal communication: Mohammad chose to play music, while Merhawi chose to play football.Tying this wonderful evening together with a series of beautiful musical reflections from Musicians in Exile, a Glasgow based group of asylum-seeking refugee musicians, who are united with Mesiti in their aim to ‘use the universal language of music to communicate, bridge cultural and language barriers’. The group sang a combination of original songs and covers in Farsi, English, Hindi Urdu, and Italian, accompanied by a range of instruments, from cello and guitar to setar and tabla. These beautiful sounds rang through the colonnaded hall of Edinburgh University’s Playfair Library, reminiscent of the reverberations of In the Round which fill Talbot Rice.

Image courtesy of <p&p>photo on Flickr