Speechless, a new work by the Rotterdam-based artistic duo Bik Van der Pol (Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol), is a multilayered exploration of how we speak about the precarious state of the natural world. The work consists of a custom-built aviary, which houses four parrots taught to mimic phrases from T.S. Elliot’s seminal 1922 poem, “The Waste Land,” comparing landscape devastated by war to the ecological devastation of today. The aviary is furnished with a jumble of sculptural letters that spell out the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “sustainability.” Part poetic gesture and radical expression, Speechless addresses the power of language within political contexts and our ability to understand and discuss environmental degradation. The work was inspired in part by recent debate in Florida’s state government regarding the use of controversial terms such as “climate change” and “global warming.”

Speechless draws on the uncanny ability of parrots to mimic human speech as a way of exploring the Aristotelian notion that we are political animals, constantly engaged in attempts to influence and govern one another. Historically, the human capacity for verbal language has been used as a point of separation between animals and ourselves. This separation has in turn helped to accelerate our exploitation of the natural world. By incorporating animals that literally speak back to us, the artists envision a situation in which language serves to unite, rather than to divide, humans from animals, with hopes that this reunification may help us address the urgent ecological crises that we face today.

Bik Van der Pol is part of PAMM’s Researcher-in-Residence program, which provides participants with a supportive context for research and an opportunity both to benefit from and stimulate South Florida’s unique cultural resources, setting and community.

Project Gallery: Bik Van der Pol is organized by Pérez Art Museum Miami Curator René Morales. This exhibition is presented by BNY Mellon, with support provided by Knight Foundation. Additional support received from the Mondriaan Fund and the Netherland-America Foundation. Special thanks to Simbad’s Birds and Pets.

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