An Exhibition of Radical Speech Acts

Carlos Motta, Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice

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

October 30–November 9, 2010
Opening Reception: November 1, 2010, 6:00–8:00 pm
Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries
The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Parsons The New School for Design

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. The Center will host an opening reception on November 1 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

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 describes 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; Mark 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 space for speech and action, designed by Jordan Parnass out of laser-cut plywood furniture as a contemporary interpretation of U.N. Security Council chamber.

A series of performances and presentations include Trigger Words by Yael Kanarek (November 2), which investigates the impact of words used to categorize, separate and wound; a screening and discussion by Azin Feizabadi of The Negotiation (November 4); AND, AND, AND: Stammering, An Interview by Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong (November 5), which explores the process of becoming a citizen; Mary Walling Blackburn's The Order of the Joke (also November 5th), which parses the raw materials of contemporary war jokes; Performance, Mediation and the Public Sphere, a lecture by Mark Tribe (November 8); and a lecture by Wafaa Bilal about artists' responses during time of war (November 9). All events will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the galleries.

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

For more information, please visit

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
Info: Please contact 212.229.8919 or visit


79 Fifth Avenue,
New York, NY 10003


Media Contacts:

Deborah Kirschner
[email protected]

Kate McCormick
212.229.5667 x3794
[email protected]

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