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Bread dough and blankets: the main materials of Janet Callinicos's installation Word of Mouth represent the basic human needs of food and warmth. Rather than representing the conventional comforts of home, however, here the viewer finds these two elements in a form that actually denies the body while still strongly suggesting the physical.
Three blankets, institutional-gray in colour and coarse to the touch hang squarely along one wall, mirroring the greyness of inner-city buildings as seen through three windows directly opposite. Dysfunctional, staring coldly and blindly back at the viewer, the blankets threaten to absorb and stifle any exclamations of protest or disturbance.
Below and opposite each blanket sits a rectangular grid of bread dough objects, the material unrecognisable at first. The distorted shapes of the dough are in direct contrast to the ordered arrangement of the rectangles. Each piece of dough arrived at its contorted state when the artist painstakingly placed it in her mouth and spoke a word from a recognized 'authoritative source'. Some softer words produced rounded shapes while others caused the teeth to drag through the dough or to bite into it. The shapes, which have been suspended through a process of baking-'solidified utterances', as the artist has named them-possess a calcified surface similar to that of dried out shells or bones.
To complement the gridded arrangement, a small cardboard label has been placed in front of each bread dough object. Some of these labels display a word which can be linked with others to compile snippets recognizable from electronic media, for example, phrases from advertisements and documentaries. Many remain blank and stare with the same numbness as the blankets. The viewer is left with the misshapen dough as the only clue to a corresponding word and seeks to find the answer in the shape of his or her own mouth. With a seemingly infinite number of possibilities, the cataloguing process must remain incomplete although improvisations can be made. At the end of the room lies a rubble pile of more dough objects-a mass grave of unheard words. This arrangement seems even more overwhelming than the unlabelled grids.
Word of Mouth grants the viewer an empathetic space to consider the anonymity of the voiceless: the gagging, rather than nourishing, by languages of officialdom and authority, the words which, like the bread dough seen here, are displaced from the body without a chance for absorption and filtering.
A sign at the entrance of the space invites the viewer to add personal meanings to the installation by adding or changing words or by rearranging bread pieces and labels. At the time of viewing, the response had been rather conservative, but not without thought. This simply executed but considered installation has conceptual and formal linkages to the work of United States' installation artist Ann Hamilton, particularly her Indigo Blue (1991). a tribute to the numbers of blue collar workers excluded from history. Callinicos' piece carries the notion of anonymity further to include the official 'makers of meaning', the authoritative sources of bureaucracy and media. It could also be read as a tribute to the subtle and intimate codes of improvisation which remain despite a 'blanket' of silence.