Speech Sounds - VISUAL

VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art &
The George Bernard Shaw Theatre

Speech Sounds

Curated by Iarlaith Ni Fhearois

09 Jun - 21 Aug 2022

Gallery Opening Hours
Tues-Sat 11am-5.30pm & Sun 2-5pm

Admission: Free

Talking Hands Emanuel 1
Emanuel Almborg, still from Talking Hands/Говорящие руки, 2016, 48 min

Speech Sounds - Artworks 2022

Curated by Iarlaith Ni Fhearois

Titled after a short story by sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, Speech Sounds is an exhibition that considers communication, language, and the body. Butler’s story takes place in the aftermath of a global pandemic - that has left most of the survivors without the ability to speak, read, or write - and the resulting collapse of society. The story presents a problematic view of the creative adaptability of human communication.  

Working in the legacy of the world-building of Octavia Butler, the artworks in the exhibition reckon with narratives of disability and access, the relationship between humans and ecology, the languages of love and loss, with a world beyond, of living and imagined languages, connecting with ancestors, the material of words, and a dialogue with history. 

The body is a central concern in the exhibition, as a site where language is produced and acted upon. In Frank Wasser’s Work in Relapse the artist pairs a photograph taken by his hospital bed with a towel taken from the hospital embroidered with the words ‘Hospital Property.’ In the 1987 work Cutting the Ties that Bind (Heroes), Mary Duffy’s images and text explores the disabling experience of both societal and self-imposed limitations on the disabled person and the challenges for everyone of self-representation. In Non-Verbal 1, 2 & 3 by Bridget O’Gorman mimics prescription medicine labels, prescribing the scream, giving voice to the intelligibility of the body in pain. 

Taking a protest by Deaf students as its starting point, Receiver by Jenny Brady explores Deaf history through a heated phone call, reflecting on the Milan Conference of 1880, which led to the ban on sign language in Deaf schools. In Emanuel Almborg's film Talking Hands the history and ideas around the Zagorsk school for deaf-blind children near Moscow in the 1960s and 70s are explored. These works explore the languages, cultures, histories and acts of resistance by Deaf people, in the struggle for language rights and liberation.

The written word leaves a residue on the body in a temporary tattoo by Francis Whorrall-Campbell featuring a playful quote of learning and failure. Brian Teeling's human scale prints feature phrases taken from JG Ballard's sci-fi novel Concrete Island. Teeling uses words with bodily connotations, giving a weight and fleshy immediacy to the written word. In SAMRAA, Dita Hashi pulls from the archive of Arabic popular music, to evoke the historical and social meanings of an Arabic term with racial and gendered designations, demonstrating the gendered and racial mark language embodies. 

The ways we connect back to the past and to ancestors is explored by Maïa Nunes, using interviews with their aunt, archival material and music to uncover histories of slavery and migration in the Caribbean. Referencing ritual practices Kumbirai Mukumbe imagines in Pre-Anatopia the body in-between this time and the next, reaching out to convene with those who’ve come before. In an embroidered kneeling cushion, Matt Smith evokes the bond between a Cardinal and his male lover in life and death through this symbolically charged object.

Jonah King and Sue Huang virtual reality installation, Honey Fungus takes us on a bodily experience of the connections between humans and greater ecosystems through fungal networks and a queer erotics. This connection of a queer sensibility to the environment is shared in Jennifer Mehigan poster series, FUSHIA JUBILEE, depicting erotic scenes in bucolic surroundings. On the fictional asteroid 7052 Octaviabutler, Ebun Sodipo takes us on a journey through the stars in an interactive digital star map, imagining the stars as an archive for trans history, revealing the knowledge and an interchange with the non-human.

The work in this exhibition invites us to sit with the various languages of the body, the history they hold, and the power it allows us to imagine and create new worlds. 

The works presented here have been selected through Carlow Arts Festival and VISUAL’s annual open submission ARTWORKS 2022; from the Arts Council Collection; and by invitation as part of Ni Fhearois's curatorial residency at VISUAL Carlow.


Emanuel Almborg, Jenny Brady, Once We Were Islands, Paul Hallahan, Dita Hashi, Austin Hearne, Vishal Kumaraswamy, Bridget O’Gorman, Eoin O’Malley, Kinnari Saraiya, Matt Smith, Brian Teeling, Frank Wasser, Francis Whorrall-Campbell


Mary Duffy, Maia Nunes, Jonah King and Sue Huang, Ebun Sodipo, Marielle MacLeman, Kumbirai Makumbe, Jennifer Mehigan


Eleanor Duffin