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