Uncommon languages on display in the Pollak Library

In Art, Arts & Entertainment
Tim Brooke’s “Endangered Alphabets” exhibit is open until Sept. 23, conveying the messages of language through art.
(Gretchen Davey / Daily Titan)

While the Pollak Library is usually abuzz with the hustle and bustle of students going inside to study, the Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery serves as a quiet place to relax, learn and reflect on the human race’s abilities to communicate – thanks to its currently hosted exhibit.

Tim Brooke’s “Endangered Alphabets” exhibit was brought to the Pollak Library on July 15, as a way to draw “attention to linguistic disappearance and cultural erosion with the intent of playing an active role in preserving endangered cultures,” according to the Pollak Library website.

“I just think I was drawn to it because I like the idea of conveying a really important social and political message through art,” said Patricia Prestinary,  CSUF’s University Archivist and co-curator of the exhibition.  “I tend to be drawn to art that… acts as a reflection of our culture and our times.”

There are three main components to the exhibit: the “Writing as Art Collection,” the “Article One Collection” and the “Sacred Spaces Installation.”

The “Writing as Art Collection,” which is closest to the gallery’s entrance, features a series of singular characters from different languages carved onto maple wood slabs that represent the evolution of increasingly complex languages.

“They’re not really words; they’re ideas represented with symbols, sort of like the beginnings of language,” Prestinary said. “Then as it progresses it moves into a letter, a word, an abbreviation and onto even more complex ideas.”

Continuing with the theme of language progression, the second part of the exhibition, the “Article One Collection,” consists of various carved maple slabs that depict the first article of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights written in different endangered languages.

“‘The Article One’ wall (holds the most impact) because you’re seeing the same words written over and over again in different languages, and some people find that to be very revealing,” Prestinary said.

The final section of the exhibit, “Sacred Spaces Installation,” holds the only artwork in the gallery that isn’t protected by glass walls.  It features four large wooden slabs arranged in a circle that each have a poem written out in various endangered languages.

“The Sacred (Space) is interesting… It’s right under the vents so when you walk in, it’s a little bit cooler,” said Maria Monzon Gutierrez, a junior Spanish major who visited the exhibit. “It’s probably on purpose, I imagine, and it gives it a little bit of a different feel.”

Throughout each of the three parts of the exhibit is ambient noise playing from an iPad near the “Sacred Spaces Instillation.”  Provided by Timothy Pasch, chair of the Department of Communications at the University of North Dakota, the noise consists of a group of people speaking the Inuktitut, Cree and Mitchif languages over an instrumental riff that plays on repeat.

“(Tim’s) intention there was to allow the viewer to think about the connection between the written word that they’re seeing and the other languages that they’re hearing through the recording,” Prestinary said.  “It allows the viewer the chance to experience the sound as well as the visual aspect of language.”

Students like Gutierrez agree that the accompanying audio loop helps to improve the overall experience of the exhibit.

“It’s cool because it seems like you could zone out a little, but it’s almost like you can hear what they’re saying, even though you don’t know what it means,” Monzon Gutierrez said.

Each of the three parts of the exhibit features plaques that teach visitors about the origins and fates of people who speak the languages that are depicted.  There’s also a book toward the entrance for anyone to leave comments about their thoughts on the exhibit as a whole.

“It’s interesting to read the things besides the panels,” Gutierrez said.  “With a lot of them, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of the piece.”

Prestinary said the “Endangered Alphabets” exhibit does a great job in conveying a message about the significant cultural importance of the written word.

“Because I’m the university archivist, my business is preservation,” Prestinary said. “So even though this isn’t directly related to our university and its archives, special collections and the idea of preserving for the future, it still appeals to me on many levels.”

The “Endangered Alphabets” exhibit will be open until Sept. 23, after which the Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery will close to prepare for the “A Country Called Syria” exhibit, opening Oct. 1.

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