Tenderpixel is a gem of a gallery, tucked away amongst independent bookshops in a pedestrian street, a stones-throw from the casinos of Leicester Square and providing much needed respite from the tourist traps.
Their current exhibition presents work by five artists, of whom only one counts English as her native language. Relying heavily on video works, the two adjacent galleries are filled with a cacophony of sounds and languages, both visual and oral, often incomprehensible and yet they beg to be translated.
Artist Iñaki Garmendia invited a Tawainese punk-rock band to phonetically perform songs by bands from the Basque Radical Rock scene of the 80s. Spoken by less than a million people, Basque is one of the oldest languages known and yet there are no Basque monoglots today, with the consequence that the speakers have a strong Spanish accent, making it sound like a harsher version of Castilian. The band is shown playing on a purpose-built stage in an art gallery, thus reiterating that we’re not just watching a bad version of MTV. Whether it’s the language or the punk sounds, it certainly makes for unnerving listening.
Of a similar vein but in the gallery next door is Tacones (in the making) by Monica Restrepo, a film that looks at that which is lost in translation. Restrepo recreates scenes from a Colombian salsa film of little acclaim that was lost and disappeared, where friends read out the dialogues to a mismatched soundtrack. The visual language is in occasion similar to a Mexican telenovela (soap opera) in the over-emphasised enunciation of key phrases, however the sudden cuts and the confusion of times resemble an incomplete conversation. To the film’s detriment it feels very much “in the making”, in the sense that we’re watching an ongoing rehearsal for a low-budget production.
Downstairs, Katarina Zdeljar’s video shows a speech therapist from Birmingham trying to teach an accent removal class for immigrants in Received Pronunciation (also known as the Queen’s English). The irony is not lost on the artist and she has managed to transform a slightly absurd event to the point where the repetitive sounds of the therapist become a lulling and reassuring noise. There is also a slight sexual connotation in the framing of the film, the close up of the mouth, the repetitive hand movements. With a touch of comedy, it speaks of the power relations between speakers, in particular when speaking in a language that is not yours.
Artist Anna Barham has a work on display in each gallery, both playing with the structure of language and words. Starting from the phrase “Return to Leptis Magna”, Barham’s written piece consists of intricate textual ramifications built through anagrams. The video, on the other hand, is an animation in continuous movement utilising a similar strategy, as if she was trying to explore how the iterations are read in different media. The writing, which could easily be confused for a drawing, somehow works better both visually and contextually. There is time to look at the permutations, the anagrams are given time and space, and the viewer is asked to engage with them in an intimate room.
The pieces are all in direct dialogue so it is surprising that there is only one commissioned work, by artist Olivier Castel. Interestingly it is the one that feels slightly out of place within the exhibition. Nonetheless, this is a well-curated exhibition that draws the viewer into unknown territory. Who knew Basque punk-rock would sound so unnerving? The exhibition exists in a space outside of language, like an exercise in translation gone awry.