Signs

SIGNS is an unprecedented look at how written and signed languages filter the emotional response to iconic artworks. Including artworks and written responses gives people a frame of reference to understand how reactions are filtered.

In this new body of work, Deaf attendees to the St John Deaf Club in Haringey, London were asked to sign reactions to selected seminal, emotive artworks in purely physical, visual sign language. The subjects of the films were then asked to write down as many or as few words connected to these replies as they like. Swatches from digital images of the selected artworks, the handwritten words, and photographs of other found material from the deaf club,where we filmed the series, were then collaged into and onto the films to form a series of moving image portraits in collage form. Cutting edge technology merges with the physicality of 35mm into an acute interrogation of medium, environment, and articulation.

"How faithfully can emotion and the external and internal landscapes be expressed via various communicative modalities? I believe this question becomes more relevant and urgent as communication metamorphoses rapidly in today's world and the physical realities of life become increasingly disconnected from language.

In this light, I am interested in investigating how my native signed languages contribute to and / or expand our sense of the world and of ourselves. How can the human body capture the intricacies of texture? Does this afford us a different type of insight to the written and to speech? How is power assigned to various types of vernacular and how can we use this understanding? Nearly all of what our society fancies it knows or understands about the world is filtered through language. Because of longstanding philosophical biases, signed languages have not been considered with anything approximating the respect that has been freely given to written and spoken communications.

I have been developing a visual language incorporating different systems and forms of communication in order to examine these same things. Written and performed narratives have been employed in order to appropriately frame visual scenarios; but presenting the textures and emotive gestures of sign language remains central to my practice, no matter the discipline. I have long struggled to accurately express the visual relationship between sign language, written languages, and concrete and abstract meaning. My profound conviction that sign language has a special ability to convey the reverberation that elemental occurrences create within each of us has driven me forward in various efforts.

Recent projects include a narrative short film that featured the written notes used to communicate by the characters overlaid onto the moving image. A separate body of still collages incorporating photographs of deaf people signing, their handwritten notes, and material from their immediate environments were made as part of a residency under The University of Manchester. I employed collages as a medium in both of these bodies of work in order to emphasize the different layers of information exchange coalesced within the piece.

Narrative film is a powerful medium, but the pressures of telling a story mean that you cannot focus on moments and visual compositions with the same intimacy that is possible within visual art. This is why I need to keep pushing on as an artist in order to truly convey what I want to. Art is the primary fountain that feeds back into my entire body of work across mediums." - Louise Stern, 2020.

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