Finding the Words: Anri Sala and Language

Monday, July 31, 2017

This week we take a look back at one of Anri Sala’s earliest works, a video titled Intervista (Finding the Words), 1998, which Sala developed as an art student in Paris.

The 25-minute video takes place in Sala’s family home in Albania, where he videos himself and his mother in conversation over two unearthed film reels from the late 1970s. The films are absent of sound but document Sala’s mother, Valdet Sala, in her role as Secretary of Albania’s Communist Youth Alliance, shaking hands with former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, and speaking passionately about Albania’s Socialist Party. 

That both films are missing their sound is a point of entry for Sala and his mother who, more than twenty years after the fact, has no memory of her words. Sala presents her with a reconstruction of her speech, gleaned by deaf students who were able to lip-read the footage. What startles Valdet Sala more than the political ideology of her youth is her lack of grammatical sense: she is confounded by a use of language that she does not recognise as her own. Sala plays and replays the footage in an attempt to reconcile his mother’s expectations with the forgotten script. “With each viewing Sala seeks to clarify and make sense of what she had said, and yet, paradoxically, the more her words are repeated, the more they are depleted of any meaning.”* 

Both images: Stills from Anri Sala, Intervista (Finding the Words), 1998. Courtesy: kurimanzutto

In Intervista (Finding the Words) language fails to be meaningful. Sala lays bare an insurmountable gap between past and present, between communist and post-communist Albania, and between the real and the remembered.

While Sala’s practice has developed and changed far beyond Intervista (Finding the Words), themes of his later projects are pre-empted in this early work. Most prominently we see Sala interrogate language itself, exposing its limitations, and its tendency to resist our desire for ‘truth’, even when preserved in film. Seeing these failings of language, it is little wonder that Sala turns next to music—a language without words—in his continued interrogation of systems of meaning.

Read more about Intervista (Finding the Words) here, here, or in Natalie Bell’s essay ‘Eluding Language, Escaping Time’ in the New Museum catalogue Anri Sala: Answer Me, 2016.

Learn more about Kaldor Public Art Project 33, Anri Sala's The Last Resort here.

*Bell, Natalie. "Eluding Language, Escaping Time." Anri Sala: Answer Me. Ed. Margot Norton, Massimiliano Gioni. New York: Phaidon, 2016.