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Parts of Speech by Public Fiction with Triple Canopy: A Commons Artist Project 
at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. January 22–June 9, 2019

 

Parts of Speech is an exhibition on public speech: its rhetoric and form, its language and
delivery. The exhibition is comprised of a public program series anchored by videos and objects,
and will culminate in a publication.

 

Parts of Speech features newly commissioned speeches by Steffani JemisonHari Kunzru
Julio TorresTomeka ReidAstra Taylor, and Christopher Kulendran Thomas;
an installation of video works by Rami GeorgeLiz Magic LaserNicole Miller, Rodney
McMillian
, and Videofreex; and a performance by David Levine. 



See exhibition page (and image captions) HERE

 

Astra Taylor
Title: On What We Owe
February 15
5:30 p.m.

The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 S Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60607

 

A lecture on money as speech and the role of listening in democracy; an assembly to
amplify and organize the voices of debtors.

 

Money counts as speech. Money enables the speech of some to dominate the airwaves
and the speech of others to be suppressed. How, then, do we make space for those of us
who have been shamed for owing money, pressured to toil at low-wage jobs in order to
keep up with payments? How do we ensure that the speech of those who have been
exploited by creditors and ignored by politicians is heard? Astra Taylor, in collaboration
with Laura Hanna, will organize an assembly of the indebted: a forum for people to share
experiences about indebtedness and understand how creditors contribute to (and profit from)
inequality. Taylor and Hanna, cofounders of the Debt Collective, will discuss their efforts to
turn indebtedness into a powerful source of solidarity. (The group recently built a digital
platform that automates the confounding process of contesting and disputing debts, and has
canceled $1 billion in debt to date.) Taylor will introduce the assembly by speaking about the
role of listening in democracy, the balance of speaking, and paying attention to the speech
of others.

 

Hari Kunzru
Title: On the Difficulties in Writing the Truth
March 12
7:30 p.m.

Music Box Theatre
3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, IL 60613

 

A lecture on shaping public opinion in the face of proliferating distractions, distortions,
and misinformation; a competition for attention.

 

In the mid-1930s, with fascism on the rise in Europe, Bertolt Brecht published “Five
Difficulties in Writing the Truth,” an essay on how readers could be turned into revolutionaries.
He asserts that writers must be able to recognize, proclaim, and weaponize the truth, which
means they must understand how to spread the truth, especially to those “in whose hands it will
become effective.” Hari Kunzru’s lecture will respond to Brecht’s essay by considering the
difficulties we now have in writing the truth. In 2018, the main obstacle for those in the U.S. who
might like to shape public opinion isn’t the kind of censorship practiced by the Nazis, but the
proliferation of distractions, distortions, misinformation, and harassment campaigns. The result is
cynicism and the degradation of political and personal agency—for writers as well as readers.
Kunzru’s lecture will employ two voices competing for attention: one is communicating the truth,
the other is undermining that effort, challenging the very notion of a reality that is known and shared.



Steffani Jemison
April 26

 

A lecture on mime, mimicry, and the effort to liberate communication from speech; a performance of
physical theater.

 

What can be conveyed through physical gestures and expressions but not in language? How can the
exaggerated frown of a painted face or the dramatic twist of a torso be understood, if not through
words? Steffani Jemison will reflect on these questions in a performance that engages with the rich
and various history of mime and, more generally, the role of mimicry in addressing audiences and
intimates. To the uninitiated, mime might seem to impose severe limits on what can be conveyed;
in fact, like many forms of dance or ritual or theater, the practice seeks to liberate communication
from speech and establish bonds that transcend conversation. Jemison will focus on mime ministry,
which combines physical theater and gospel recordings and, in the past two decades, has become
a fixture in churches with African American congregations. Drawing on the work of Étienne Decroux,
who popularized mime in the mid-twentieth century (and pitted physical movement against language),
she’ll ask how we can use our bodies to amplify and extend the reach of speech.

 

Tomeka Reid
Title: On Onomatopoeia
May 17
Location: Stony Island Arts Bank

 

A lecture on how musicians perform and remake history, how audiences hear and understand
(or misunderstand) music; an improvisation.

 

Many of the most meaningful aspects of music are not always discernible to listeners. They are,
however, apparent to composers and performers, as they trace a lineage between the past and
present; they enable musicians to create new work by quoting, honoring, and remaking history. Reid,
a cellist and composer who until recently lived in Chicago, is especially concerned with the
reception of jazz and improvised music. She wonders how, without advocacy and education, the music
will continue to be heard, and by whom. Will the stories of musicians continue to be recorded, and
will the references that infuse and enrich the music be understood? How might speech capture music,
and how might music act as speech? In a performance punctuated by remarks and dialogue, Reid will
ask how languages and communities of speakers look backward while moving forward, and who bears
the responsibility for assembling and disseminating the history of the music.
She’ll be joined by Taylor Ho Bynum, Mike Reed, and Ugochi Nwaogwugwu.

 

Christopher Kulendran Thomas
Title: On the Next Economy
May 21
Edlis Neeson Theater
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60611

 

A lecture on transforming how capital is raised, assets are owned, profits are prioritized,
and companies are valued; a corporate philosophy.

 

Christopher Kulendran Thomas, in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann, will present the
corporate philosophy of New Eelam, a subscription-based housing service to launch this year.
New Eelam aims to reshape the global real-estate market by providing subscribers with access to—
and collective ownership of—a revolving portfolio of housing in cities around the world.
The company’s point of departure is Eelam, the homeland for which Tamils in Sri Lanka fought for
nearly three decades, until their struggle for self-governance was quelled in 2009. In installations and
promotional videos, Thomas, an artist and the CEO of New Eelam, has described the company as a
vehicle for reimagining citizenship in response to the dislocation of populations, which has been
accelerated by emerging technologies. But he has never fully articulated the political experiment that
is at the core of the company. In his lecture, Thomas will outline the economic paradigm being
advanced by New Eelam, which hinges on the use of technologies to transform how capital is raised,
assets are owned, profits are prioritized, and corporations are valued.

 

Julio Torres
Title: On Labor and Management
May 24
Edlis Neeson Theater
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60611

 

A lecture on the meaning of work and the power of comedy toas a vehicle for criticism,
persuasion, and even manipulation; a stand-up routine.

 

In a performance, Julio Torres will reflect on how comedy acts as a vehicle for criticism,
persuasion, and even manipulation. Drawing on his experience as a comic and a writer for shows
such as Saturday Night Live, Torres will craft a monologue from the perspective of the pig that
resides under the sink, acting as a garbage disposal, on The Flintstones: the pig petitions the family
for a promotion—from eating to managing trash—and comes to wonder why his species must deal
with human waste at all. Torres will use this scenario to Torres will consider how stand-up routines
and sketches establish expectations, roles, and styles of communication for performers as well as
audiences. As trust in traditional figures of authority—institutions, public servants, business leaders,
journalists—has dwindled, comedians have come to be hailed for expressing unvarnished political
opinions (and avoiding the taint of parties or corporate money). They speak to millions of viewers,
many of whom have few other sources of news. And while late-night monologues and YouTube clips
might enable comedians to speak truth to power, and even foster public debate about immigration or
gun control, comedians also tell viewers what they want to hear. To succeed is to create authentic-
seeming personas and resonant messages that satisfy the desires and confirm the beliefs of audiences—
often with the assistance of a studio audience that is prompted to laugh, cheer, and applaud. Torres’s
speech will ask how audiences understand themselves to be fabricated through comedy, and how they
might watch themselves watching the performer.

 

 

 

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