Preview: Imogen Stidworthy at Arnolfini

Imogen Stidworthy,I Hate, 2007, Mixed Media installation, Commissioned by Documenta 12, Kassel; Courtesy MuHKA (Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp)

Exhibition: Imogen Stidworthy, Arnolfini, Bristol, until April 25

In some ways the work of Imogen Stidworthy goes beyond the limits of visual art, because her main area of interest is speech.

Accent, slang and speech therapy are all explored in her new show at Arnolfini. It is the first UK survey of the Liverpool-based artist.

But despite her concern with language, Stidworthy translates well. She has built up an international reputation, and one piece in her current show was commissioned by Documenta XII, the serious-minded exhibition in Germany that only comes round every five years.

The result is called I Hate and studies the rehabilitation of a photographer who lost his voice in a cycling accident. Sessions with the therapist are filmed along with his own shots of a major scene of demolition and reconstruction, the Eurostar Terminal at St Pancras prior to November 2007.

Her European audience may not get on so well with recent film Barrabackslarrabang. The soundtrack here is Backslang, a language spoken by British criminal types to hide shady deals from the ears of the law. Onscreen imagery weaves in pertinent themes such as class, race, trade and desire.

As two other pieces in the show suggest, language is closely tied to place. Get Here and Topography of a Voice both listen carefully to how Scousers speak, exploring physical word formation and nuance.

This is familiar territory for linguists, yet not so much for artists.

Written for Culture24.

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