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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The object of the verb : an aesthetic exploration of language Modahl, Amy Jo


One central question I have explored in graduate school is “What is language?” I decided to explore language through creative research, seeking a new understanding through research writing and art-making. I set out to investigate language visually, materially and conceptually. Using the medium of printmaking, I distilled basic concepts from Linguistics into abstract form. I started by thinking about structural properties of language such as patterns that form words (morphology) and sentences (syntax), those patterns used fluidly by speakers of a language. Visually, the basic mechanics of morphology seem to reveal themselves as colour, shape and line, establishing patterns or breaking into fragments. Syntax becomes parts combining into a whole, with some combinations legible, some not and some more visually engaging. My experience of these concepts has been affected by formal language learning from textbooks, where rules stress what is “correct” or not. Yet, language in use is experience; fluent speaking happens without conscious attention to form. It is using and feeling, sometimes following and sometimes defying “the rules.” Language is also the unspoken; meaning is communicated by gesture, facial expression, and even by physical proximity in space, also called proxemics. The result of my research is three works of art, Morphology, Syntax and Proxemics, which I exhibited at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art in Kelowna, BC in June of 2013.

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