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Language in Times of Miscommunication

Mar 4 - Aug 27, 2023

This exhibition presents artworks that use various forms of language to critically examine the complexities of social reality during times of rampant miscommunication.


Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) presents Language in Times of Miscommunication featuring artwork that incorporates various forms of language (poetry, speculative fiction, and slang), modes of communication (propaganda, protest, social media, and advertising), and research materials (archives, political documents, and the news) that together form a timely exchange about the slippery relationship between opinion, fact, and fiction, within the construct of our collective reality.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, argues that homo sapiens surpassed other species by creating complex languages, giving them the ability to articulate “things that exist purely in [the] imagination, such as gods, states, money, and human rights.” Over thousands of years of social evolution, human perception actualized fictions as core principles of civilization, reinforcing imagined hierarchies of power and influence. By examining past events and current actions through art that is critical of social reality we can begin to reveal the fictions that have informed society as we know it.

While this line of inquiry resonates globally, Language in Times of Miscommunication focuses on the United States to consider how the nation’s polemic atmosphere and increasingly divided reality is information by the redefinition of truth (reality that is possibly outside of human comprehension) as that which upholds personal ideology. Removed from the constraints of social agreement and systems of belief, as proposed by Trinh T. Minh-Ha in her book When the Moon Waxes Red, art critical of social reality can critique and deconstruct social norms by offering divergent perspectives. “To disrupt the existing systems of dominant values,” Trinh T. Minh-Ha writes, we must “see through the revolving door of all rationalizations” and “meet head on the truth of that struggle between fictions.” From this position, contemporary art can put forward a critical analysis of how divisive language and alternative narratives have unraveled U.S. society since 2016—a year that marked a shift in acknowledging the fallibility of communication.

Through the formats of exhibition, catalog, and special projects, Language in Times of Miscommunication acts as a platform to question how social fictions are created, interpreted, and, often, miscommunicated. Featuring work by Kristin Bauer, April Bey, Andrea Bowers, York Chang, Jeremy Dean, Jeffrey Gibson, Jenny Holzer, Christopher Jagmin, Glenn Ligon, Patrick Martinez, Elizabeth Moran, Ann Morton, Polymode, William Powhida, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Horacio Rodriguez, Safwat Saleem, and Anna Tsouhlarakis.

Organized by Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Lauren R. O’Connell, curator of contemporary art, with Keshia Turley, curatorial assistant. Exhibition support provided by Presenting Partners Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, Presenting Sponsors Mark J. and Elizabeth L. Kogan Family Trust, and Supporting Sponsor Peggy Sharp.


SMoCA Gallery Guide

SMoCA Gallery Guide: Language in the Times of Miscommunication, 2023 | English

SMoCA Guía de la Galería: El Lenguaje en Tiempos de Mala Comunicación | 2023 | Español


Related Event

Spring Opening Celebration

Friday, Mar 3, 2023, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Join us for the opening of SMoCA’s newest exhibition, Language in Times of Miscommunication, and mingle with artists and fellow art lovers. Enjoy music by Miss Mixx in her Desert Disco Box, drinks from our cash bar, and light bites from a local food truck. Come celebrate with us!

Learn More

Exhibition Catalog

The conceptually designed catalog by Polymode for Language in Times of Miscommunication acts as a twofold object, publication and artwork, that clearly relays essay and artwork while simultaneously conveying notions of intentional and unintentional miscommunication. Oscillating between moments of clarity and distortion, clean spreads of text and image are reused as a background for additional layers of images. With each progression, the background images fade and the text pixelates, simulating a breakdown of information over time.

Pre-order available through [email protected] beginning March 4th.


Related Press

SMoCA curator’s project looks at miscommunication, interview with curator Lauren O’Connell, Scottsdale Progress, March 18, 2023

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Adds New Exhibit, interview with curator Lauren O’Connell, Arizona Horizon (Arizona PBS), March 2, 2023

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art presents ‘Language in Times of Miscommunication’, e-flux announcements

SMoCA Contemplates ‘Language in Times of Miscommunication’ with New Exhibition (Scottsdale Arts news release)

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