Back to Magazine

These Rotten Words

Rebecca Ackroyd, David Austen, Johann Arens, Anna Barham, Marie-Michelle Deschamps, Foundation Press, Anneke Kampman, Joanna Piotrowska & Devlin Shea. Curated by George Vasey.

18/03/2017 - 11/06/2017

These Rotten Words, Installation Views, Chapter Gallery, Cardiff, 2017. Photography credit: Jamie Woodley.


These Rotten Words

Rebecca Ackroyd, David Austen, Johann Arens, Anna Barham, Marie-Michelle Deschamps, Foundation Press, Anneke Kampman, Joanna Piotrowska and Devlin Shea

Curated by George Vasey

18.03.17 – 11.06.17

Encompassing photography, painting, sculpture, sound and moving image works, ‘These Rotten Words’ focuses on the physicality of textual, gestural and vocal forms of communication. Rottenness is defined as both bad and decayed and, in a world where public discourse has become increasingly dominated by divisive polemics, the exhibition embraces language that is more contingent and intimate. The artists call attention to the physical properties of communication: the mouth and the hand are inextricably linked and while the hand enables us to shape materials, the voice — and our use of language — offers a further tool to manipulate the world around us.

Words become disentangled from the author’s intention. Limbs float freely. Bodies are scaled up and down. The familiar and at hand becomes estranged and unknown. To rot is to decompose, offering an opportunity for reassembly. The artists in the exhibition suggest a form of renewal, probing the possibilities and limits of the body and its voice. Text can be a vehicle for melody as much as meaning. We may talk before we know exactly what we want to say. Speech is slippery, and intention is as much about inflection as content — all languages carry inefficiencies and lacuna.

Anna Barham presents a new, single-screen video exploring the cicada — an insect with tongue shaped wings that is primarily heard rather than seen, its distinctive rasp acting as a kind of sonic camouflage for other sounds. Marie-Michelle Deschamps and Anneke Kampman will each be producing a series of new sculptures and audio works that examine the sonic and acoustic properties of the voice. Kampman’s work, a kind of alternative audio guide, will provide a narrative through the exhibition. Devlin Shea, Rebecca Ackroyd and Joanna Piotrowska recall John Bulwer’s assertion that “gesture is the only language natural to the body,” each focusing on bodily gesture. David Austen will present a text painting alongside a series of figurative watercolours. Johann Arens’ sculptures promote tactile engagement, framing the spectator’s gestures alongside the other work on display.

Foundation Press is a platform for experimental publishing activity in Sunderland, creating workshops which function as live artworks, changing over the course of a set time-frame in response to open-ended pedagogical frameworks. During Experimentica, Foundation Press undertook a micro-residency in the gallery in collaboration with the Foundation Course at the University of Sunderland, taking as a departure point ‘The Colour Experiment’, a series of workshops ran by artist Tom Hudson at Cardiff School of Art in the late 1960s. Working outwards from documentation of these radical and performative workshops, a series of games, performances and graphic responses were played out within the exhibition. 

‘These Rotten Words’ was accompanied by a screening of artists’ films during Experimentica dealing with language, voice and gesture, including Cara Tolmie, Abri de Swardt, Anna Bunting-Branch and Rob Crosse.

Experimentica is Chapter’s annual festival of international live art. This year Experimentica is exploring ‘Secret Language’. The Festival runs from 29 March to 2 April, with the artist film screenings on Saturday 1 April at midday. For more information visit:

‘These Rotten Words’ continues on from a number of exhibitions curated by Vasey exploring ideas around intimacy, language and gesture including ‘A Small Hiccup,’ at Grand Union, Birmingham (2013) and ‘Emotional Resources’ at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2014).

Click here for a PDF version of These Rotten Words text by George Vasey