I’m not sure why, but this year I’ve spotted a lot of contemporary art that features tongues. The last tongue-related work I spotted was a fantastic show by Alicia Radage at the Herbert Read Gallery in Canterbury, Kent – and has finally prompted me to put together this list of art with tongues!
I’ve been trying to work out why I find these works so fascinating and I think it is because they feel so visceral. They all explore in some way the tongue as this doing, moving, exploring, sensing muscle. This point of connection and contact with the external world. This body part which is both inner and outer. Maybe somewhere deep down, they dislodge memories of how as babies and toddlers, our tongue was a vital part of physically exploring the world. Whatever it is, I really feel these works in my own tongue, in this really direct, unmediated way – skipping my brain, and travelling straight to my body.
In reverse chronological order … my top 5 tongue works of 2022!
001 Alicia Radage
My first visit to the Herbert Read Gallery in Canterbury on the UCA campus, and I was blown away by the work. A strange other-wordly pink rectangle of space, filled with earth on the floor, tendrils of tongues and worms creeping over bare skin. In the artist’s own words, an exploration of ‘interspecies communication’.
002 Lenora de Barros
Spotted at the 59th Venice Biennale, “Poema” a work made by Brazilian artist Lenora De Barros in 1979. One of her earliest ‘visual poems’ drawing on a legacy of Concrete poetry stemming from the Noigandres group and her own studies in linguistics.
003 Gerardo Tan
Also spotted at the Venice Biennale, as part of the Phillipines’ Pavilion. A huge video screen of a giant tongue transcribing the sounds of a traditional sogna a chant, from the Cordillera region of the Phillipines, in the medium of squid ink.
Very satisfyingly black and inky! Made me want to try drawing with my tongue – note to self – must return to this idea!
004 Anawana Haloba
Spotted in a fantastic show at the South London Gallery, I really wish I had a better picture to share of this work by Zimbabwean artist Anawana Haloba. Powerful in a visceral, tongue-curling sense, as I realised the artist is continually tracing her tongue through mounds of salt, on and on, through time. And gut-wrenchingly poignant, questioning, painful and damning, as I realised the piece is called ‘Lamentations’ and she is tracing a map with her tongue and she has chosen salt for it’s connection to the slave trade.
005 Tobias Bradford
The tongue that started this post off, back in May of 2022! A disembodied mechanical tongue, in a continuously looping movement, with a never-ending drip of water. Spotted at a fascinating show about ASMR at the Design Museum and produced a feeling of utter physical recoil in me. For the full effect, check out the artist’s video. I think the feeling was so strong it really triggered off a year of tongue-spotting art!