Doing Words with Things is a simultaneous collaborative performance between a sculptor and a signer of British Sign Language. Through the performance a wire construction is gradually produced in time with descriptions and instructions of its production in BSL. Because of the highly detailed work involved in the construction, the signs used to describe and instruct are heavily ‘onomatopoeic’, resulting in a near-symmetrical performance which is half within language and half outside.
The piece results from much research into the forms and grammatical structures of BSL, including taking an introductory course and assessed practical exam in the language in 2010. Some notes extracted from my research are here and here.
I originally devised the piece as commission for the London Word Festival 2011, for which it was first performed on 19 April 2011 at Rich Mix in London by Deaf actor Alex Nowak and myself. I redeveloped the piece for performance at Tate Britain on 22 October 2011, and invited BSL poets Richard Carter and Paul Scott to perform the piece in five galleries throughout the museum.
This video shows a rehearsal at Rich Mix. The images below show the Tate Britain performance, including one of the scrunched-up conversations the poets left behind.