Category Archives: Events

How To Do Things With Words

An Exhibition of Radical Speech Acts

October 30–November 9, 2010
Opening Reception:
November 1, 2010, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries
Parsons The New School for Design
66 5th Avenue at 13th St.

NEW YORK, October 18, 2010—The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design presents How To Do Things With Words, an exhibition of radical speech acts organized by Melanie Crean, an artist and assistant professor at Parsons. On view October 30 through November 9, Parsons will host an opening reception on November 1, 6:00-8:00 pm.

Carlos Motta, Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice (2010)

The exhibition presents the work of fifteen artists and collectives who explore the relationship between language and power, media, action, and socio-political context through gallery works, talks, workshops and performances. The exhibition takes its name from the title of a groundbreaking treatise by British philosopher J.L. Austin, who eloquently presented the concept of speech acts. He disavowed the notion of language as something passive that simply outlines reality, but rather described it as a set of practices that can be used to affect and create realities. Austin’s premise is that speaking itself contains the power of doing.

Participating artists include Melanie Crean; Azin Feizabadi and Kaya Behkalam; Andrea Geyer and Sharon Hayes; Yael Kanarek; Carlos Motta; Martha Rosler; the Iraqi/U.S. Cross Wire Collective; Mark Tribe; and The Yes Men. Artists presenting talks and performances include Wafaa Bilal; Feizabadi; Kanarek; Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong; Tribe; and Mary Walling Blackburn.

Several pieces in the show relate speech to the urgency of the political process during an election season. Carlos Motta’s Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice (2010) reenacts a series of speeches concerning the concept of peace, originally delivered by six liberal Colombian presidential candidates from the last century who were assassinated because of their ideology. Performed by actors in public squares in Bogota during the last presidential campaign, the work emphasizes the transformative potential of fiction as a tool of reparative collective memory. Azin Feizabadi’s The Epic of the Lovers: God, Mafia and the Citizens (2009) muses on the disparity between individual and collective desire for change during an evolving political movement. Melanie Crean’s The Anonymous Archives (2008-10), is an online archive of interviews that document the rapid shifts in Iraqi and American desire for political change during the period of US military divestment, beginning before the 2008 election of President Obama, and finishing just after the current US mid-term elections.

The gallery space itself is intended as a site for speech and action, designed by architect Jordan Parnass with laser-cut plywood furniture as a contemporary interpretation of U.N. Security Council chamber. Student and advocacy groups will be meeting in the space throughout the run of the exhibition, exercising their speech rights in a form of ongoing performance.

Related performances and presentations take place in the galleries at 6:30 pm:

  • November 2: Trigger Words by Yael Kanarek investigates the impact of words used to categorize, separate and wound;
  • November 4: The Negotiation, (produced by Haus der Kulturen der Welt), screening and discussion by Azin Feizabadi;
  • November 5: AND, AND, AND: Stammering, An Interview by Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong explores the process of becoming a citizen; Mary Walling Blackburn’s The Order of the Joke parses the raw materials of contemporary war jokes;
  • November 8: Performance, Mediation and the Public Sphere, a lecture by Mark Tribe;
  • November 9: Lecture by Wafaa Bilal about artists’ responses during time of war.

The exhibition is supported by funds from Parsons The New School for Design and The Jerome Foundation.

For further information, please contact For information about individual project descriptions, click here.

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The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center is an award-winning campus center for Parsons The New School for Design that combines learning and public spaces with exhibition galleries to provide an important new downtown destination for art and design programming. The mission of the Center is to generate an active dialogue on the role of innovative art and design in responding to the contemporary world. Its programming encourages an interdisciplinary examination of possibility and process, linking the university to local and global debates. The center is named in honor of its primary benefactor, New School Trustee and Parsons Board Chair Sheila C. Johnson. The design by Lyn Rice Architects is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

General Information:
Location: 66 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street, New York
Gallery hours: Open daily 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. and Thursday evenings until 8:00 p.m.; closed all major holidays and holiday eves.
Admission: Free
For information about the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center Please contact 212.229.8919 or visit

How To Do Things With Words: project descriptions

How To Do Things With Words
Sat Oct 30 – Tue Nov 9
Opening Reception: Mon Nov 1 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries
The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Parsons The New School for Design
66 5th Avenue at 13th Street
Organized by Melanie Crean

Art Work Project Descriptions:

The Shape of Change
Melanie Crean, 2007-2010
The Shape of Change is a series of projects that analyze the capacity of speech to produce personal and political change. Projects include Music for Shiloh, How My Son Learns to Speak of War, Conversations on the Line and The Anonymous Archives.

Music for Shiloh
Melanie Crean, 2010
Music For Shiloh is a musical score that investigates how language expresses desire and thus constitutes individual subjectivity, tracing how an infant can go from cooing to forming full sentences over a two year period. A series of one-minute of video clips, recorded every month for 24 months until the child is able to say “I love you”, is rotoscoped into a series of abstractions that lead to the creation of a musical score. The process emphasizes the profound nature of developing the capacity for speech in a two-year period, as reflected by the meticulous nature of archiving that act. This project serves very much as a personal, intimate counterpoint to the larger, more political form of The Anonymous Archive.

How My Son Learns To Speak of War
Melanie Crean, ongoing
How My Son Learns to Speak of War explores the process of understanding and verbalizing conflict in a series of monthly interviews with the artist’s five year-old son. The project investigates when and how war is understood, where it is learned from, and how it is described.  In kindergarten, there is great concern with power animals, robots and playground altercations, with vocabulary concerning wars in Iraq and Afghanistan slowly filtering in.

Conversations on the Line, 2010
Participants: Zaydoon Ali, Zaid Balasim, Mohammed Basim, Rachel Bernstein, George Bixby, Melanie Crean, Chris Crews, Alaa Dhiaa, Huong Ngo, Gabrielle Guglielmelli, Julio Hernandez, Kimberly Hogan, Jessica Jaffe, Lauren Larken, Hasan Nasir, Grant Noel, Andrew Persoff, Ayoush Qais, Ali Salim Abood, Rafal Usama and Or Zubalsky.
Conversations on the Line was an exchange conducted between a group of students from The New School and The University of Baghdad. The project investigated the role of language and power in the class room, and how education systems might be used to foster change, freedom of speech and human rights. The conversations inadvertently began to address the nature of online communication: at once amazing for its ability to reach across cultural boundaries, but fraught with technical difficulties in an era of multiple software platforms and electricity outages. After a series of writing exchanges and online conversations, the participants chose topics from the conversations to pursue in three artworks: I Can See the Road But Dare Not Speak its Name, And Longing Is No Longer Speaks and No Its Broken, Broken For Me Too.

I Can See the Road But Dare Not Speak its Name, 2010
Tamara Chehayeb Makarem, Melanie Crean, Rafal Usama, Hasan Nasir, Zaid Al Nasiri
I Can See the Road But Cannot Speak its Name investigates the portrayal of female subjectivity in postwar Iraq. In an international media environment where Iraqi people are often represented by male politicians, crowds of men on the street and traditional women in veils, how do young professional Iraqi women seek to portray themselves to an outside world which largely renders them invisible? The gaze that observes them is predominantly objectifying, assuming a stereotypical portrayal of traditional women whose role in society is secondary to their male counterparts. The text chosen to complement the photos are words of longing, addressing an unknown You, who might be a lover, the future identity of the writer herself, or the future identity of her country, Iraq.

And Longing Is No Longer Speaks, 2010
Rachel Bernstein, Gabrielle Guglielmelli, Julio Hernandez, Kimberly Hogan, Huong Ngo, Grant Noel, Andrew Persoff, Or Zubalsky
Beginning with an exploration of Immigration and Human Rights, And Longing Is No Longer Speaks juxtaposes the portrayal of immigrants in the media with excerpts of poems and stories from those who have recently been displaced. Nearly invisible text serves as a poignant metaphor for the invisible struggle of immigrants in the United States and abroad and the stories that go untold of the loss of home, sense of security, and community that continues to happen well after the official war is over.

No Its Broken, Broken For Me Too, 2010
George Bixby, Melanie Crean, Chris Crews, Jessica Jaffe
No Its Broken, Broken For Me Too explores the notion of ‘free speech’ through textures in a type based composition. The United States and Iraqi constitutions, the codification of legal control over speech, form the background layers. Formatting is removed, portraying the basis of our two governments as neatly bounded information, representing the utopian nature of how speech should be protected in an ideal world. Contrasted with these idealized boundaries are ragged columns of text, excerpted from skype conversations between Iraqi and American students. Efforts to discuss free speech are frequently punctuated by technical difficulties. The strongest elements of the composition are personal stories from students in both countries, portraying the very visceral reality of how speech is experienced in every day life.

The Anonymous Archive
Melanie Crean, 2007 – 2010
The Anonymous Archive is an online archive that investigates the ability of language to describe change on a national level. It tracks how Iraqis and Americans profess their desire for change, democracy and freedom as the two countries attempt to disengage from one another politically, and how these concepts themselves change over time in response to outside events. An interactive interface demonstrates commonality and disparity between records from different times and places, and allows viewers to visualize the ever shortening life span of political vocabulary, concepts and trends. The project can be found here.

The Epic of the Lovers: Mafia, God and the Citizens
Azin Feizabadi and Ida Momennejad
26:25’min, 2009
Two intermingled narratives melt into images to construct the piece. The first consists of personal diary entries prior to and after the 2009 Iranian elections. The diary starts with a personal fascination with a role playing game highly popular among the Iranian youth, ‘Mafia, God and the citizens’*, about which the author is about to make a film. The diary entries reflect a parallel between the making of the film and a record of the subjective reflections and emotional reactions of the author to the participation of millions in silent protests, violence against the protesters, and political elements, iconic images, and symbolism emerging during this era. The second narrative consists of a body of questions collected from Iranians and non-iranians concerned with this movement as a fragment of the historical processes shaping up the future.

The Negotiation Version # 2
Azin Feizabadi and Kaya Behkalam, 2010
HDV, 35min, Produced by Haus der Kulturen der Welt
A diverse group of actors come together on a film set analogous to the architecture of a conference room – a round table. The script: an unnamed visual/textual three-act drama on an undefined revolutionary situation. Within the working process: directing, reading, rehearsal and embodiment – in which the actors interpret their real and scripted characters – the borders between fictional and factual histories, individual and collective desires, projections and biographical backgrounds become more and more blurry. Only commented from afar by an authoritarian narrator, the actors discuss, improvise and negotiate between language and the necessity for action. But to what extent can Action be thought and performed beyond the inherited dramaturgical patterns, which the theatrical holds in itself?

In Times Like These, Only Criminals Remain Silent
Andrea Geyer and Sharon Hayes, 2005
In Times Like These Only Criminals Remain Silent takes its name from the slogan on a banner held by Daniel Berrigan and Ned Murphy in a protest outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, December 1972. Jesuit priests and anti-Vietnam war activists, Berrigan and Murphy protested the NYC Cardinal’s practice of praying with U.S. troops in Vietnam each year.  Andrea Geyer and Sharon Hayes’ project consists of five double-sided posters that ruminate on political desire and on the negotiation of social and political belief systems. On one side of each poster is a line-drawing of a different protest image traced such that the placard or banner is intentionally left blank and the faces and details of the people in the photo left vague. On the other side of each poster is a set of questions addressed to a generic “you” about belief systems, public opinion, identity formation and knowledge production.

Not Yet, No. 1
Yael Kanarek, 2010
wood board, the words “not yet” in silicone in Hebrew and Arabic
31.5 x 31.5″ / 80 x 80 cm
Kanarek uses the square as a basic metaphor for space. Illustrating the universality of territorial dynamism, Not Yet, No. 1 is a linguistic composition that examines spatial construct that is marked by both Modernism and globalization. The words, “Not Yet” reference Reem Fadda’s essay “Notyetness” which uses the term to describe the state of Palestinian national project. Despite the inert constant lack of notyetness, it becomes a driving force of action and self-regeneration. Notyetness proposes a break in the period of digress, it is a zone where everything is possible. Linearly organizing the piece are incomplete rows and gaps that articulate an imagined physicality. Using a range of blues and greens the words “not yet” in Hebrew and Arabic fill the picture plane, describing a collective feeling of mixed emotion. In between the words and grid is a knitted fabric of social connection the probes the meaning of one single thread that has looped into itself. Transliterations: Hebrew – Ada’in Lo / Classical Arabic – Hatta

Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice
Carlos Motta, 2010
Set against the current presidential election campaign in Colombia, Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice is based on a series of performative actions in public squares in Bogotá. Six actors of different social and ethnic backgrounds read peace speeches originally delivered by six Colombian liberal and left-wing political leaders (Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Luis Carlos Galán, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, Jaime Pardo Leal, Carlos Pizarro and Rafael Uribe Uribe) who were assassinated in the last 100 years because of their ideology. These ‘acts’ focused on the need to remember the systematic elimination of voices that have dared to oppose the ruling order by articulating their differing points of view and that have denounced by name those responsible for Colombia’s repetitive history of political corruption and violence. Drawing upon the notion of ‘narrative justice;’ that is, justice from the perspective of an aesthetic experience instead of a normative concept, this work offers an exercise of collective memory to underscore its transformative potential.

If It’s Too Bad To Be True, It Could be DISINFORMATION
Martha Rosler, 1985
16:26 min, color, sound
In a collusion of text and image, Rosler re-presents the NBC Nightly News and other broadcast reports to analyze their deceptive syntax and capture the confusion inserted intentionally into the news script. The artist questions the fallibility of electronic transmission by emphasizing the distortion and malapropism that occurs as result of technical interference. Stressing the fact that there’s never a straight story, Rosler asserts her presence in character-generated text that isolates excerpts from her sources, rolling over the randomly erased images. In Rosler’s barrage of media information, the formal structure is inseparable from her political analysis.

Chinoise A
Mark Tribe, 2009
Chinoise A is a remake of a scene from J-L Godard’s “La Chinoise” (1967) in which a radical student contemplates bombing a university. The original scene, which takes place on a train, is reimagined as an online video chat. The script, which is based on a transcription of the Godard film’s English subtitles, is relocated from Paris to New York and updated from 1967 to 2004.

The Yes Lab
The Yes Men (Andy Bichelbaum and Mike Bonnano), 2010
The Yes Lab is a series of workshops and trainings to help activist groups carry out Yes Men-style projects on their own. This video presents the Yes Lab with footage from one such lab, that took place at Columbia College, Chicago.


All performances take place at The Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, 66 5th Ave. at 13th Street. at 6:30 pm.

Trigger Words by Yael Kanarek
Tuesday November 2nd, 6:30 pm
Live Action Performance, produced by Lauren Larken
Trigger Words is an experimental speech action with 8-10 multilingual participants of all ages. During the event the group of people call, cry, shout and whisper a single word in their native tongue, to generate a velocity of sounds, which have been used to classify, categorize, separate and wound.  The action is choreographed into simple movements, to speak the unspeakable and to trigger emotions and experience around otherness. By choosing words that are commonly used as artillery to wound, we may relieve some of the pressure and context of these Trigger Words and discover a more profound understanding of the power of language.

The Negotiation
Thursday November 4th, 6:30 pm
Azin Feizabadi introduces and screens The Negotiation.

Huong Ngo & Hong-An Truong: AND, AND, AND – Stammering: An Interview
Friday November 5th, 6:30 pm
What defines the [multiplicity] is the AND, as something which has its place between the elements or between the sets. AND, AND, AND — stammering. —Gilles Deleuze
In this tutorial, participants who have never had to naturalize into the United States will rehearse the process of becoming a citizen through an interview format. Those who have gone through a process of naturalization will have the option to relinquish their citizenship. Within the span of a conversation-interview, participants will help problematize the notion of allegiance and the structure of authority and power implicit in the state. Finally, this tutorial will help to underscore the ideal of responsibility to community and place, while also considering different forms of belonging through the concept of ‘nomadic citizenship.’

Mary Walling Blackburn: The Order of the Joke
Fri Nov 5, 7:30 pm
Together we will parse through the raw materials, goat, helicopter, soldier, child, as used within specific contemporary war jokes–American and Anti-American–produced by both the invaders and invaded. These ghastly jokes reflect a double suicide “in slow motion that devour each other and are exhausted in each other.” [Genet] These jokes thrive on Internet humor sites, are studded throughout Youtube videos authored by US soldiers, and perhaps, are passed from mouth to mouth on American and Afghani streets.  Can we disrupt the order of the joke?

Mark Tribe: Performance, Mediation, and the Public Sphere
Mon Nov 8, 6:30 pm
In 1968, protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago chanted “The whole world is watching,” and shortly thereafter their images appeared on the evening news. These days, protesters bring their own cameras and post their clips on YouTube. Has participatory media effected a structural transformation of the public sphere? How have media technologies and practices changed the roles of public space, performance, and the human body in politics? How have new forms of mediation and distribution altered the ways in which history is produced and experienced? Mark Tribe will discuss recent work and current projects, including a video archive of police surveillance of activists, a Skype video remake of a scene from a Godard film, and reenactments of Vietnam-era protest speeches.

Wafaa Bilal: lecture
Tue Nov 9, 6:30 pm
Wafaa Bilal will give an artists talk about his life and work with text, performance, and body modificatin.  Wafaa gained international attention with his 2007 work Domestic Tension, wherein he sequestered himself in a gallery for a month with a paintball gun which people could shoot at him over the internet – a statement on the remote and technological nature of the war which claimed his own brother in 2004. He has continued to create provocative, dynamic pieces, including inserting himself as a character in a video game originally crafted to celebrate the US invasion of Iraq and later hacked and recast by Al Qaeda. His latest medium includes tattoo, with the 2010 piece “…And Counting” using his own body as a canvas for tattoos representing Iraqi and American casualties and exploring the double standard in their acknowledgement. He is an assistant professor of art at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Conversations on Change

Conversations on Change
Friday, April 23, 2010 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Parsons The New School for Design
25 East 13th St., 2nd floor, NYC
Admission is FREE

For Conversations on Change, scholars and practitioners from the fields of art, science and religion discuss commonalities and differences amongst their views of political change. The discussion series is part of Melanie Crean’s The Shape of Change, a series of projects that examine our nation’s evolving concept of change, seeking to countermand the empty political brand the term was reduced to in recent elections. Ms. Crean is a full time faculty member in Parson’s School of Art Media and Technology. The three participants include:

A A Bronson is an artist and healer. Co-founder of the influential collaborative General Idea, Bronson is currently the President of Printed Matter, Inc. in NewYork City, and Artistic Director of the Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary.

Alaa Majeed, an Iraqi journalist and activist who has worked with the Committee to Protect Journalists documenting press freedom violations. Alaa has recently resettled in the States, so has an interesting approach to reform and political change.

Sensei Jules Shuzen Harris is a Zen Soto priest. The Sensei has been a practicing Buddhist priest for over 25 years, and he is also a psychotherapist and 4th-degree Dan Black Belt in Laido (the art of drawing and cutting with a samurai sword) and Kendo (Japanese fencing).

For more information, please see:

If you are not able to join us in person, log on to:

Presented as part of the Vera List Center’s 2009/2010 program theme “Speculating on Change.”