Statement #18 | Marie-Andrée Pellerin — Speculative Keys

Performance, June 21, 2022, 7 pm
Followed by a discussion with Sebastian Mühl
Open Space, from 5 pm

Speculative Keys brings together a video work and a sound performance as two iterations of a long-term project about the concept of language fluidity in science fiction literature. With the title, Marie-Andrée Pellerin refers, on the one hand, to science fiction literature that speculatively attempts to generate new social relationships and practice communication acts with radically different living beings, while on the other, to the instrument of the performance, a computer keyboard and its misappropriated and repurposed keys. The artist’s body of research consists of a collection of science fiction stories, which describe various ways of dealing with “linguistic deficits” and alternative ways of conversing with others. Some texts propose abandoning language as we know it in favor of new forms of communication, ranging from an advanced feminist language to telepathy and even chemically embodied signals. Pellerin selects segments from these science fiction stories, some of which were commissioned to science fiction authors for this specific project (Élisabeth Vonarburg, Monika Rinck), and translates them into new narratives and abstract soundscapes. Additionally, coined words from a speculative lexicon developed in the Moroccan desert with her collaborators from the Ansible Institute aim to actualize a practice of language fluidity.

The sound quality of the words plays a key role in these compositions. Pellerin plays back recorded voice fragments with the computer keyboard and composes sequences and abstract loops, which emulate the materiality of the voices. She asks: “What else could have been if language was a more fluid entity? Would have it enabled us to name what still has to be named, to give a voice to the silent ones? In a practice of “speculations against the probable,”* says the artist about her own research, “the concept of language fluidity would offer the possibility of radically different ‘social blueprints’ and unexpected constellations of living beings.” The area of the sound performance is defined by a self-made colorful carpet consisting of tiles that represent symbols called “lexigrams”: it refers to an artificial language created by researchers at the Georgie State University Language Research Center between 1971 and 1979 to communicate with bonobos and chimpanzees with the aid of a keyboard.

Inspired by science fiction stories written by women, the video Une oreille gigantesque capable d’absorber tous les bruits du monde (A Gigantic Ear Capable of Absorbing All the Noises of the World, 2020) encapsulates Marie-Andrée Pellerin’s speculative approach to language. She often develops her moving images, sound installations, and performances on the basis of language related topics and the hypothesis of linguistic relativity, whereby the language we speak formats our thinking and our relation to reality. The video presents Pellerin in a fictional clinical experiment in which a scientist attempts to radically transform her patient’s usage of language with a “praxis of language disturbance”. In this montage of video footage, 3D animations, spoken and written word, and sound experiments, the artist investigates the functionalities of language, but not just on the level of content; it also explores the formal potentials of the video format. Additionally, non-verbal information is given priority over spoken script, and the soundscape and moving images are allowed to affect the way the subtitle captions appear or melt in the picture.

*Karin Harrasser, “As reality creates itself, unforeseeable and new, its image reflects behind it into the indefinite past,” trans. Peter Blakeney and Christine Schöffler, in Kunstraum Lakeside – Research, ed. Franz Thalmair (Vienna: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2019), 17.

Marie-Andrée Pellerin (b. in Canada) lives and works in Linz.


Marie-Andrée Pellerin, Une oreille gigantesque capable d’absorber tous les bruits du monde, 2020

Programming in collaboration with:
Pascale Tétrault

Voices: Stephanie Bergwinkl, Sam Bunn, Clarissa Cohausz,
Cordula Daus, Larose, Martha Oelschläger,
Elisabeth Vonarburg and The Ansible Institute

Texts excerpts from or inspired from:
Sweet Wuff, Monika Rinck, 2021
Muables, Elisabeth Vonarburg, 2020
She Unnames Them, Ursula K. Le Guin, 1985

Sound editing: Marie-Andrée Pellerin and
André Tschinder

Funded by Art Council of Canada and by the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec
Further financial support by the Québec Government Office in Germany, Austria and Switzerland