It Goes Without Saying

A collaboration with artist Julie Wills

Audio and Abrasive, dimensions variable
Created for the exhibition Reclaiming Freedom
Watergate Gallery
2552 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC
September 25 to November 4, 2017

What do we mean when we say something “goes without saying”? The phrase suggests what follows will be self-evident, yet the need to express it evinces that sentiment to be a lie. Considered carefully, the words confuse—it leaves without saying goodbye?— though the familiar phrase offers a cultural shorthand: what follows is true enough to require no further debate.

Proverbs offer moral guidance through formulas that feel similarly self-evident, even when the messages presented are contradictory or problematic. These stock phrases gain power from continual repetition, yet even an obscure proverb carries a seductive moral authority. Its rhythmic arrangement and cadence remain familiar despite the fact that we do not understand its logic or particular reference. Presented as difficult truths, proverbs mandate modified behavior, restraint, or the overt denial of desire. Such language abrades or wears away at us like sandpaper, though we may try to ignore its resonance.

The eight proverbs presented in this installation address seeing and saying, witnessing and expressing. Presented through both audio and abrasive, they suggest a moral mandate about when, where, and how one should speak out or take notice. These words about seeing and speaking suggest a kind of willful blindness, just as proverbs themselves allow blindness in their refusal to engage further discussion or dialogue. 

By adopting a call-and-response format for two voices, the litany of original and altered proverbs becomes discursive once again. The spoken text calls attention to the authority in the proverb’s form, even as the adulterated language is apparent. The resulting dialogue also suggests difficult truths: the recognition of circumstances or events that we do not wish to be true but which must be seen, acknowledged and voiced.