Tongues of Fire
Jorge Méndez Blake, Jesse Chun, Adriana Corral, JJJJJerome Ellis, Nakai Flotte
Opening Celebrations: May 26–May 27, 2023
Tongues of Fire is a group exhibition of artworks reflecting on language that has been suppressed, silenced, or obscured. Featured artists include Jorge Méndez Blake, Jesse Chun, Adriana Corral, JJJJJerome Ellis, and Nakai Flotte.
The exhibition’s title is inspired by Chicana cultural theorist, writer, and poet Gloria Anzaldúa and her essay Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers (1981). Anzaldúa urges artists to “write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire.” While her rallying cry was to women artists of color, who were often pushed to the margins of culture, it still resonates widely today. Artists continue to use language, including their artistic languages, as acts of creativity, resistance, and power.
As these artists demonstrate, the dominant languages and prevalent ways of speaking in our culture(s) should be questioned. The unconsidered, exiguous, and uncommon languages carry more urgency with the insistence of their letters, words, and phrases that must be uttered to remain alive. Not only is there an urgency to speak, there is also a need to listen. In order to communicate, there is a speaker and a listener. Thus, the act of sharing truths, stories, and ideas is a form of societal communion.
The works brought together in Tongues of Fire compel us to read between the lines, and to peer into cracks—as seen in hidden poems tucked into the walls of Jorge Méndez Blake’s monumental brick sculpture. Jesse Chun looks at the history of the Blackwell School, Marfa’s formerly segregated institution that banned students from speaking Spanish. In memory of their silence, viewers may ruminate on the absence of language in Chun’s video installation and drawings. Transmissions of thoughts and emotion still find a way to rise and communicate, if we are open to receiving them. JJJJJerome Ellis invites us to attune our bodies to new ways of listening through his music, poetry, and photographs. Ellis’s own experience of disfluency is transformed in his works, no longer silenced and suppressed but thriving and celebrated.
Control of language, of the tongue, is the control of people and bodies. Through the histories of colonization and imperialism, languages were systematically dispossessed—or continue to be. Nakai Flotte’s installation, with recordings and texts of the Lipan Apache, insists on the vitality of the community’s language and its resistance to erasure. Language as speech acts may also protect. Adriana Corral’s prints and outdoor installation feature the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written after the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust, to challenge us to continue to protect the rights of fellow human beings. Words have no currency or elicit any action without mutual agreement on what they signify, and a shared responsibility to value those meanings.
Through new rituals of reading, seeing, and listening, as the artists in Tongues of Fire present, languages are also shown to evolve. These artworks speak to us—with tongues ablaze, as Anzaldúa would wish—and remind us how to be alive. They are a testament to the potential for advocacy, humor, wonder, and pleasure we all may find through language.
Tongues of Fire is organized by Daisy Nam, Ballroom Marfa, Executive Director and Curator, with Alexann Susholtz, Curatorial and Exhibitions Assistant.
Jorge Méndez Blake
Jorge Méndez Blake (b. 1974) is a Guadalajara-based visual artist whose practice researches language, text, and the history of literature, as well as how writing can be translated to visual and spatial compositions. His work explores possible intersections, conflicts, and connections that new readings and translations generate between literature, visual arts, and architecture. He was part of the 13th Havana Biennale, the National Gallery of Victoria Triennale in 2017, and the 13th Istanbul Biennale.
His work has been shown individually at the Bass Museum, Miami, Palm Springs Museum, Kunsthalle Mulhouse, Marfa Contemporary, MCA Denver, MOLA Los Angeles, Museo D’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce, besides MUAC, Museo Tamayo, SAPS y MAM in Mexico City. Between his recent publications are Lenguaje Desmantelado / Dismantled Language (Ediciones inacabadas, 2021), Diálogos sobre un poeta, una manzana y una retícula (Impronta Casa Editora, 2021), Nao de China (BOM DIA BOA TARDE BOA NOITE, 2018), Otra literatura / Other Literature (Ediciones MP, 2016).
Jesse Chun (b. 1984) is an artist based in New York. Chun’s work has been exhibited internationally at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto (Canada); the Nam June Paik Art Center (South Korea); SculptureCenter, New York; Queens Museum, NY; The Drawing Center, NY; and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, NY (United States), among others. Select awards include the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant, and Art by Translation (Paris). Select public collections include the Museum of Modern Art Library (NY); the Smithsonian Institution (DC); the Metropolitan Museum of Art Library (NY); and KADIST (FR). Chun’s video poems, short films, drawings, sculptures and installations ruminate on language, translation, and historiography. Traversing found institutional narratives, documents, and imprints of linguistic imperialism as a site for (mis)translation, rupture, and abstraction, Chun’s work uncovers new immersive poetics for non-linear passages of meaning, time, and untranslatability.
Adriana Corral (b. 1983) received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin and completed her BFA at the University of Texas at El Paso. Corral was awarded a Harpo Foundation Award (2020), Artadia Award (2019), she was invited to attend the 106th session of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary disappearances at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland (2015) and was selected for the Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Grant (2016). Corral attended the McDowell Residency (2014), Künstlerhaus Bethanien Residency in Berlin, Germany (2016), the International Artist-in-Residence at Artpace (2016), was a fellow at Black Cube, a Nomadic Art Museum (2017), an artist research fellow at the Archives of American Art and History at the Smithsonian Institution (2018), an Artist-in-Residence at the Joan Mitchell Center (2018) and will be participating in Prospect 5 New Orleans: Yesterday we said Tomorrow (2021).
Whether facing the internal breakdown of the body or the environment in which it exists, Corral’s work seeks to understand the dynamics of a social structure where power, corruption, and class bias dominate. Corral’s subjects are informed by human rights abuses, memory, and erased historical narratives. The work harkens back from her experiences growing up in her birthplace, El Paso, Texas, a city that borders Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. It is through the lens of these experiences that the artist examines local, national, and international consequences of immigration, citizenship, economic trade, labor, public health, safety, security, and policy. Deeply rooted in historical research, Corral’s rigorous interdisciplinary practice often leads her to work in the archives. In the past, experts ranging from historians, librarians, anthropologists, writers, journalists, architects, human rights attorneys, and the victims’ families have provided her with vital data that aid in the conception of Corral’s works. She knows firsthand the impact a project can have when it has the support and expertise of others. Corral believes art can play an important role in building awareness and empathy. Corral’s current work seeks to amplify the voices and perspectives of those most marginalized.
JJJJJerome Ellis (b. 1989) is a stuttering, Afro-Caribbean composer, poet, and performer. His works are invitations to healing, transcendence, communion, and deep listening. Through an interdisciplinary practice that focuses on oral storytelling, improvisation, and the interrelations between speech, silence, disability, and religion, he’s collaborated with choreographers, rappers, playwrights, booksellers, typographers, podcasters, toddlers, and filmmakers. Mr. Ellis’ work has been presented or developed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, Lincoln Center, MASS MoCA, and WKCR. He is a writer in residence at Lincoln Center Theater. Born in Connecticut to a Jamaican mother and a Grenadian father, he was raised in Virginia Beach, VA.
As a composer, Ellis was awarded a 2015 Fulbright Fellowship to research traditional samba performance and write new music in Salvador, Brazil. There he performed with local musicians at Teatro Gamboa Nova and Feminaria Musical at the Universidade Federal da Bahia. Recent sound design/composing credits include Help (The Shed), Passage (Soho Repertory Theatre), the Radical Craft Design Salon (TED Conferences), and LAB RAT by A$AP Rocky (Sotheby’s/YouTube). From 2008 to 2011, Ellis was resident composer and saxophonist with pianist Trudy Silver at 5C Cafe and Cultural Center in New York City. As a jazz saxophonist, he has performed with Joseph Daley, Aaron Scott, and Shayna Dulberger. Ellis earned his B.A. in music theory and ethnomusicology from Columbia University, studying ear training and counterpoint with pianist and composer Ramin Arjomand.
His diverse body of work includes: contemplative soundscapes using saxophone, flute, dulcimer, electronics, and vocals; scores for plays and podcasts; albums combining spoken word with ambient and jazz textures; theatrical explorations involving live music and storytelling; and music-video-poems that seek to transfigure historical archives.
Nakai Flotte, also spelled as Nakaya is a community anthropologist, scholar, and multi-disciplinary artist Native to the Presidio-Ojinaga border. Flotte received her bachelor’s degree from UT-Austin and obtained a Ph.D. in Socio-Cultural Anthropology (2021) from Harvard University. Her doctoral dissertation examined processes of border externalization, migrant incarceration, and mutual aid in Mexico and the US-Mexico border. For the past two years, Nakai has worked alongside the Lipan Apache Tribe, the Council of the People of La Junta, as well as the local Indigenous community to support in the stewardship of the Holy Camp at Barrio de Los Lipanes and the revitalization of Lipan Apache and Jumano culture, customs, and language. She is currently living in Austin, Texas, and works as a consultant for various foundations, nonprofits, and corporations.
Generous support is provided by The Terra Foundation for American Art; The Ruth Foundation; #StartSmall; The City of Marfa; Fairfax Dorn & Marc Glimcher; Virginia Lebermann & Family; Lebermann Foundation; the Ballroom Marfa Board of Trustees and the International Surf Club.
Special thanks to International Surf Club Founders Rachel & Jeff Arnold; Louisa Stude Sarofim; Sara Carter; Eleanor Acquavella Dejoux; Christopher Hill & Lachlan Miles; and Alex Logsdail; Claudia Llanza; Andrea Hinteregger De Mayo; Tina-Marie Hew Len-Castro, Douglas Woloschek and Art Masters of El Paso.