Unspeaking Engagements

Unspeaking Engagements, Lanchester Gallery Projects, Coventry University, 12 February – 19 March 2010.

Unspeaking Engagements is an international exhibition of visual art at Lanchester Gallery, Coventry University in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. The exhibition includes artists from Thailand, Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan and Britain – though many have transnational affiliations – Unspeaking Engagements was shown at the Art Center of Chulalongkorn University during 2009.
The artists in Unspeaking Engagements explore processes of physical and/or durational engagement as a means of constituting the artwork. Each address their own or the viewers’ awareness of their body in relation to time and space. At issue are questions of how such awareness can be cultivated, felt, represented and ultimately proliferated through the work of art. Unspeaking Engagements showcases artworks as sites of shifting experiences, in differentiation from artworks that require detached observation and propose fixed or final interpretations.

Including work from the following artists:

Tintin Cooper
Institute of Beasts
Adam James
Michael Lee
Tanya Madsen Mahon
Brigid McLeer
Ho Ming-Kuei
Be Takerng Pattanopas
Kamol Phaosavasdi
Nigel Power and Elias Wyber
Hester Reeve
Jonathan Shaw
Carl von Weiler

Note on the Curators

Dr. Brian Curtin is a freelance art writer and curator based in Bangkok, and is currently an adjunct lecturer on the PhD program in Design Arts at Silpakorn University.
Steve Dutton (RCA) is an artist and Professor in Creative Practice at Coventry University in the UK. His projects have been exhibited throughout the UK and internationally.
The following cinematic scenario is a review of Unspeaking Engagements by Andrew Spackman. Andrew is a Senior Lecturer and Course Director for Graphic Design and Illustration at Coventry School of Art and Design. Many of the elements of this text emanate from conversations with the Curator Steve Dutton.

The Review


A man exits a lift, turns, and enter the gallery space. The space appears sparse, incomplete, prototype. Video monitors are attached to walls, headphones sit on plastic chairs, chipboard is unpainted. The exhibition presents itself in a perpetual state of beginning, ongoing and ending. The man walks slowly around the space, stopping only momentarily to look at the exhibits. Once he has completed he walks around again, this time stopping to listen to audio on headphones and observe screens more closely. As he stands motionless watching it is clear he is being transported to some other place.

A second man enters, they greet and immediately begin to talk. Their discussion covers topics of engagement, strangeness, the absence of the body, modernism, game theory and language. After a short while the first man leaves.


The man begins to walk in the direction of the train station. His mind is full of thoughts about the exhibition. He intends to write an article about it, but is anxious. He pulls a notebook from his pocket and begins to put down some thoughts. The note book reads.

- The artist’s start with the notion of the body, but present dislocated versions of themselves. Fictional characters playing out challenging, riddle-some, but seemingly futile and purposeless tasks.

- The artists seem to attempt communication but the language is obscured. It is beyond international, but is not merely personal either.
- Despite the complexity of this language, there is always an engagement. This engagement is highly various, but definitely beguiling. Beguiling is important. There is a feeling of flickering in and out of focus. Flickering states of being of both the work and the viewer.

He has now reached the train station. A train arrives. He climbs onboard and finds a seat and continues to write. Questions.

- The strangeness seems to be depleted by over interrogation of the work. Artworks that are elusive continue to engage, whilst the power of others is depleted. Knowing is not desirable.
- Perhaps the work and the viewer are being placed in a state of oscillation. The work oscillates between states of something and nothing. Could something be knowledge and nothing be experience? Oscillation is most likely in more than 2 dimensions.
- If oscillation is occurring, what is the transmitted wave?
- Why does the artist seek to set this oscillation in motion. Why do they feel the need to 'mess us about'.
- Repetition is good. Repetition seems to be the pivot point that all other things balance/rotate. Repetition is the works forcefulness, whilst its message is a quiet deadly whisper.


A man walks in a dense wood. Momentarily he breaks into a clearing where he is confronted by a wild deer. The man looks at the deer and at once knows what it is to be human. In his mind he thinks of the grand progressive plans he has to shape his world, knowing that the deer can only continue to live a powerless response to its environment. And yet, despite thousands of years of creating, he still longs to be the deer.


A painter presents his work using a laptop and projector. He explains that he is constantly changing the rules for himself and that once he achieves some form of approval he immediately feels he needs to change direction. On the screen is an image of a painting. Along its side is a paint by numbers colour-swatch. Some of the colours are used, some are not relevant. The content is random and everything exists at a point of collapse. He explains that this is the flux for which he is seeking in his work. A man in the audience raises his hand and asks a question.

"but why do you feel you want to mess us about"


The man stands in a large crowd of artist and people attending a private view. They are all motionless, holding drinks and listening to an official give a speech. The speech lacks charisma. It makes little mention of the art on the walls, but instead focuses on the cultural plans for the city. The speech is a manifesto for cultural politics disconnected from art. A second speaker mounts the podium and embarks on a speech, again with only tacit mention of the extensive art surrounding them. Instead they speak about their pleasure of working in a job that brings them into contact with the arts, sport and recycling. After a few minutes the man becomes disinterested and wanders off into a corner. By listening, he feels uncomfortable. As if by offering his attention he believes in both the words and sentiment. Skulking off into a corning is his maximum show of revolution.

How these events connect to the article he writing he is unsure. Perhaps they are too distant. It is not so much that such cultural managers exist that is occupying his mind, but that the perception that you must have cultural mangers. Perhaps it is about language again. If cultural managers cannot speak the flickering language of art, instead they speak a language that re asserts that it is the dominant, accepted and useful language. Perhaps they are frustrated that the 'use' of art is not more glaringly apparent. The man drinks his drink and leaves for the train.


The man sits at a laptop. It is the day of writing the article. Using only his two index fingers he presses the exclamation mark and then the question mark. He repeats. Tap, tap, tap, tap. He increases his speed until it matches his heart rate. As he taps he slips into thought. The camera pans down to a notebook by his side. It reads.

- Has the fixed, knowable, known become a problem for artist. A 'stuck' space.
- Is their work an attempted reaction to the impotence of images in our culture.
- Is oscillation a narrow band of avoidance.
- Does it allow a momentary escape. A dream space which cannot be com-modified, quantified, measured or controlled.
- is the search for avoidance also a search for a 'slow' space, a frozen moment before we entered the 'now'.
- Are artists looking for freedom. A 'potential' form of freedom in place of our narrow experience of freedom that is our contemporary experience. Could this be called 'Liminal Liberty'.
- Is modernism still alluring to artists because if it is considered dead and so no one can own it. New endings of the project could be written and re written without need to test their viability.

The man snaps back into awareness by his phone, which chimes to indicate he has received a new email.