our words make worlds



In their most recent work, Soundshapes, Inma Álvarez, Mara Fuertes-Gutiérrez and Carlos Montoro have explored the intersection between multilingual spaces and participatory arts. At Tate Exchange and online, visitors have been reacting to audio recordings of sayings and proverbs in various languages by placing a colourful shape on an online grid. They have to rate the sounds by how much they like and know the languages they hear. Some languages sound weirder than others (World Atlas of Languages Structures) and languages are not neutral anyway, which shapes people’s responses to other tongues. 

Sayings and proverbs embody teachings, values and lessons distilled through time, within and across cultures. Some of them are widely shared, while others reflect specificities of a time and place. The Soundshapes experience at Tate Exchange in 2019 culminated in the presentation of a multilingual coat and headwrap that feature 120 sayings in 15 languages, colourfully woven and painted by embroiderers, language teachers and members of the public. 

The garments were designed by textile artist Sonia Tuttiett with support from East London Textile Arts at Tate Exchange. They were created during the week-long 2018 edition of the Who are we? exhibition as the participants shared stories related to the featured sayings across languages and cultures. The conversations were captured by visual ethnographer Marcia Chandra and filmographer Sam Bland, and co-produced with support from The Open University and Counterpoints Arts as short films that are available on the Language Acts and Worldmaking YouTube channel

Funding was provided by Language Acts and Worldmaking, a flagship project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Open World Research Initiative as part of the project's efforts to regenerate and transform modern language learning in the UK by foregrounding the power of language to shape how we live and make our worlds. The focus is on the transformative and pivotal role of language teachers as creative mediators between diverse languages and everyday cultures. 

Click on the image below to access the Soundshapes online platform.