about the exhibition
New Works 12.1
March 21–May 20, 2012about the artist
James Sham’s interest in language comes from personal experience (he was born in Hong Kong, but moved a tremendous amount), as well as an acute curiosity about the manipulative uses of speech and how it mediates and conditions our understanding of the world. From this basis, the diverse sources he draws from might include global political events, human-to-technological platforms of communication, and speech acts about civic responsibility. At any given time, he may be working with video, sculpture, performance, and found material related to his subject of interest. In the process of a site-oriented project, he researches the culture and geography of a locale or community and works collaboratively to gain insight into how things came to be-seeking to create a kind of parallel reality by repurposing those components and references into new devices of knowledge.
about the exhibition
For his residency at Artpace, Sham’s work took on several converging interests and directions that have been ongoing in his overall body of work. Each of his three projects concerns the values of sound, silence, and muteness, and their varying demands on listening, hearing, and surveillance.
The video Sham produced with a collaborative team features a cast of deaf performers acting out contentious conversations and arguments through American Sign Language. Using a high-end eye-tracking device (usually used in the military), sign interpreters read the actors’ movements and vocalize the discourse. For the untrained observer, the complex process of reading and interpreting is made physical-allowing us to become acutely aware of the deeper dimensions of signing and the limits of spoken language. As the interpreters read the signing movements, colored dots (coded based on who is interpreting) indicate the eye movements of each interpreter, creating a colorful indexical language all its own. During this process, Sham learned a great deal about cultural expression in non-hearing communities.
In a work that could be considered a counterpoint to the video, Sham created an audio installation regarding speech and intentionality by engaging a community of Texas civic leaders through one-on-one interviews. As they discuss their roles, public duties, and aspirations, certain formalities break down and the audience is able to gain flickering insight into these politicians as everyday people. As a nod to provide a more personalized setting, Sham asked each interviewee to loan a drinking glass of his choice to the project, which functions as an earpiece for the recorded conversation in the gallery space.
Sham includes a third project that appears in the Artpace courtyard. Using a popular commercial tactic-a giant inflatable icon like those used to flag car dealerships-he creates a comical but equally intimidating intervention into architectural space. The exact replica of an American drone (much like the one recently found circling Iran but made in a smaller scale) floats above head, serving as a reminder of the militarized forms of reading, listening, and interpreting used by this country, and referring specifically to San Antonio’s own Air Force bases. The drone will likely appear both droll and dumb to viewers, underlining the artist’s penchant for locating humor and dissonance in the displacement of monumental forms.