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Emerson Contemporary Show Looks at Linguistic Limitations, Connections

black mineral against black background
“Black Tourmaline (front)” by Kerry Tribe. Courtesy photo

Emerson Contemporary’s latest exhibition, Kerry Tribe: Onomatopoeia, explores memory, consciousness, and the limits of linguistic communication through film, video art, and works on paper created between 2010 and 2021.

Onomatopoeia is the Los Angeles-based Tribe’s first solo exhibition in her hometown of Boston. It runs from Wednesday, January 26, to Sunday, March 27, in the Media Art Gallery, 25 Avery Street, Boston.

Tribe’s work synthesizes cinematic, journalistic, and conceptual approaches, reflected in two quasi-documentary videos that anchor the exhibition.

The Last Soviet (2010), in English and Russian with subtitles, looks at Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who was stranded in orbit as the Soviet Union collapsed below. The works two narrators offer divergent perspectives on the fate and sentiments of the cosmonaut and those waiting for him on Earth. The story has gained particular relevance in recent years, as Americans grapple with the toxic effects of state-sponsored disinformation.

Afasia (2017), in English and Spanish with subtitles, pairs the musings of a photographer whose ability to communicate became altered after suffering a stroke, with Tribe’s own description of her efforts to relearn a foreign language. The result is empathetic understanding and mutual curiosity about the limits of language.

Kerry Tribe looking at field through camera on tripod
Kerry Tribe

Alongside the films, a selection of Tribe’s lesser-known works on paper extend the theme. Silkscreens based on a clinical test used to assess one’s ability to inhibit cognitive interference, along with two new “scratch drawings” that reproduce philosophers’ attempts to diagram our perception of time, encourage viewers to reflect on the unfolding of their own conscious experience.

Two photographic prints from 2017, “Black Tourmaline (front)” and “Black Tourmaline (back)” are being shown in the U.S. for the first time.

In “Forest for the Trees (2015),” a monitor nestled among potted plants and apple crates silently flashes one word after another in a string of aphorisms, suggested in a subject in search of understanding. “Fantastic Voyage (2020)” is merely a recording that visitors are invited to listen to on their devices.

A meet and greet with Tribe open only to the Emerson community will be held Wednesday, January 26, 3:00-6:00 pm. RSVP to In March, Tribe will present a lecture and screening of her early autobiographical videos.

The Media Art Gallery, 25 Avery Street, Boston, is free and open to the public, Wednesdays through Sundays, from 12:00-7:00 pm. Face coverings are required.

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