Brian Dailey’s towering, multi-screen video installation WORDS—the creative summation of an odyssey that took him to nearly ninety countries over the course of six years—is the artist’s investigation into the impact of globalization on the interrelation between language, culture, and environment. While offering a contemporary turn on primordial stories such as the Tower of Babel, the kaleidoscopic, cacophonous, and mesmerizing structure is rooted in the present and seeks to elucidate through this inventive vehicle how languages, and the words upon which they are built, shape our global realities. A powerful visual expression of the challenges faced in communicating across linguistic boundaries and national borders in today’s world, WORDS also reveals the captivating dynamism of humanity in the expressive, physical presence of the range of personalities who come to life on the flickering screens.
Against the backdrop of an international geopolitical landscape undergoing tumultuous and historic changes, Dailey created a list of thirteen words that spoke to larger philosophical concerns facing humanity and found international resonance: Peace, war, love, environment, freedom, religion, democracy, government, happiness, socialism, capitalism, future, and United States. He visited public and private venues on all seven continents, set up his camera and green-screen backdrop in various locales, and invited passersby to be interviewed. A local facilitator presented each of the thirteen words in the participants’ native language and invited them to express—in a single word—the first impression each of the nouns evoked.
Dailey selected and excerpted a cross-section of responses from the targeted twenty interviews from each country, aiming to capture cultural patterns as well as unusual or highly creative answers. In the production process, a backdrop of the participant’s national or regional flag was digitally inserted into each of the selected clips, providing vibrant cultural identity markers. The colorful flags and the diverse replies function as the project’s aesthetic and poetic structure; they also serve as vehicles for unveiling cultural and regional variations, discrepancies, affinities, and the occasionally surprising meanings words can acquire across cultural divides. Dailey edited the selected clips into individual videos corresponding to the specific prompts – one production for each of the thirteen words — and juxtaposed them into a towering thirteen- screen installation. Rather than allowing the different tongues to impose an impenetrable barrier for the viewer, as they did in the ancient tales with which this work resonates, the artist provides English subtitles as a lingua franca through which to decode the multilingual aural dissonance reverberating from the three-sided structure.
WORDS and its companion print series, Words about WORDS, compel viewers to come to terms with the fluid relationship between language and concept and between interpretation and meaning. Confronting us with the multivalent nature of words, the artwork inspires greater appreciation for the mutability of language in constructing meaning. While sharing with other conceptual artists like Joseph Kosuth, Mel Bochner, and Xu Bing a concern for the function and limitations of language in creating meaning, Dailey brings his unique, multifaceted background in art, philosophy, and international relations to bear in his far-reaching and protracted exploration of these issues.
Countries visited to date:
Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
In the majority of countries visited, we relied on local guides and generous support from ToursbyLocals.
You can follow the artist in his international odyssey on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WordsBrianDailey/
The multi-screen installation premiered on January 27, 2018 at the American University Museum in Washington D.C. Future international venues TBD.