Lukas Malte Hoffmann: Broca's speaks and Wernicke's listens

20 minute presentation for AEROPONIC ACTS  - growing roots in air, DAI's 3 day marathon of lecture-perfomance acts, May 2019.

You enter the same way that words and concepts leave the body, through the mouth, and back to the brain. Back there you can see the historical development of two graphic symbols: the genesis of the speech bubble, and pictorial representations of the human brain. Twinned graphics that represent and shape our conceptions of speech and thought, intertwine and affect one another. Works by Lukas Malte Hoffmann with a sound piece by Gajek

Ana Teixeira Pinto, Rachel O’Reilly, Laura Harris and Hypatia Vourloumis responded to the question:

Do you sometimes give your thoughts names?

Report by Ayesha Hameed:

The audience meets in the courtyard where there are cut-outs of a magenta and a yellow organism, and then walks into the auditorium on a padded pink carpet that bounces underfoot and might be a tongue. The carpet stretches to the ceiling from which a golden banner hangs onto which diagrams of the brain and a speech bubble are projected scrolling upwards in slow jerky movements. Electronic basey sound with percussive elements plays as sunlight streams in from the open doorway. Everyone sits or lies down of their own accord.  

Hypatia Vourloumis enjoyed the work because of her own adventures exploring brain malfunctions and aphasia, and in this context, the philosophies of language. She appreciated the lack of language and emphasis on non-linguistic sound. For her it evoked Roman Jakobson’s work on the collapse of signs into a heap of words. She also drew comparison between the images and hieroglyphs, and Henri Magritte’s play with signs. ‘There is something about sound that exceeds representation,’ she said. ‘What of non-human language, and of organisms that don’t have brains?’ 

Ana Texeira Pinto really enjoyed the speech bubble as image. It evoked work on thought forms, the nineteenth-century attempt to map the invisible electromagnetic spectrum, which connects to the creation of X-ray machines and speculations on how electrical impulses in thought can be documented. ‘In other words, how to represent thought, highlighting the impulse to treat thoughts as things,’ she said. 

Laura Harris appreciated it was not a talk, but something that explored the conditions of speech. The elements of sound/image/speech are not distinct, she said of the presentation that blurred the boundaries between them. The courtyard images made her consider how some of the thinking was not localized in the brain, but dispersed and collective. This for her called to mind Lev Vygotsky’s exploration of language as always being social. 

Rachel O’Reilly pointed out that some of the framing devices were still being articulated in the thesis.