Avan Omar Muhammad: "I like the feeling of a word before I understand it. Is a drawing of a word a real word?"

Avan's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017

Eye am


Avan Omar Muhammad’s lecture performance consists of a dark stage lit by a single spotlight. The artist does not appear on stage, but the audience could hear her voice as she recited a text. It is not clear whether the reading is pre-recorded or live, but the text itself seems to come from the artist’s own experience of spoken and written language. Asking questions such as, “is a drawing of a word a real word?” in such a theatrical yet bare staging, Avan’s lecture performance forces the audience to put all their energy into listening. She plays with word and image in order to challenge the viewer’s preconceptions of linguistic meaning. 

For Ray Brassier this lecture performance had to do with signification and” the recognition of anything as a symbol, even at the level sensible apprehension presupposes intangible recognition.” That the text is a recitation rather than an inscription on a piece of paper reveals the status of words and signification and how this affects how we understand the intended meaning of the text: “The question of signification means that one must consider the collective “we” because language is a medium of communication as well as signification. This link involves an acknowledgement that language is collectively authored and articulated.” Brassier was “curious about recurrence of the ‘I’ as site of enunciation” because this seemed to draw attention to the first person and collective “we”. Brassier concluded by remarking “one has to assume there is a hearer.”

Gabi Ngcobo found herself being “seduced by the word ‘word’” with its inherent relationship to the idea of god, or even street language (“word!”, meaning you agree with someone or something is true.) She asked how we arrive at the idea of truth, remarking that, “with truth there should be weakness.” For Ngcobo, “removing the spectacle makes the performance spectacular. The spectacle itself is suggested.” She appreciated the drama of the presentation because it did not fulfill the demands of the format itself.

For Rachel O’Reilly this lecture performance verged on storytelling, and she found the basic didacticism around a peculiar sensibility to be somewhat amusing. She thought that some parts could be expanded on to become an even more playful piece, suggesting perhaps reading Saussure at the same time.

Marina Vishmidt opened her comments with a rhetorical question, “what is drawing a word if it is not writing, evacuating semantic content of a word to take it into the realm of the visual, evacuating its function as a linguistic unit?” Vishmidt commented on another evacuation going on in the lecture performance, the empty spotlight and place holding of “I”. For her, the empty spotlight repeatedly brought it back to a visual metaphor. These elements reminded her of words meant to be looked at as things. Intrigued by the phrase “Eye” am in the title, she remarked, “all these processes happen at the level of listening - not looking. The visual processes are displaced onto the level of the voice.” Concluding her remarks, Vishmidt asked, “what would it be to rewrite it from the perspective of voice and speech rather than drawing and ‘I’?”

Learn more about Omar Muhammad’s written MA thesis: Performing Stereotype

Learn more about Avan Omar Muhammad’s "life after DAI" by means of Avan's website