Jaume Plensa often includes words, or simply letters, in his works of art. For him, text is a metaphor for society: individual letters come together to form words, which themselves combine into sentences that express ideas and, by extension, specific cultures. Like generations of artists before him, Plensa’s use of text in his work calls attention to language as a system of signification that has the power to mediate our understanding of the world. As one of our primary methods for communicating ideas and narratives, text is also inherently complex, with meanings and interpretations differing from context to context and language to language.
Talking Contents includes a series of Plensa's sculptures made entirely from die-cut steel letters derived from nine different languages. Letters from the various alphabets refuse to come together as words, existing instead as abstract forms, as arbitrary signs and signifiers. As such, each sculpture embodies a dissolution of meaning or breakdown in communication. At the same time, the letters comprising the works are also the components needed to reconstruct words and create meaning—the building blocks for cultural understanding. A firm believer that art has the capacity to transform our lives, Plensa has stated that Talking Continents represents the concept of globalism without judgement, an assertion that is reinforced by the formal qualities of his installation.
The nineteen stainless steel elements included in the exhibition suspended from the ceiling to create a floating archipelago of cloud-like shapes. Metaphorically imagined as islands, countries, or continents, the multi-lingual sculptures speak to the diversity of language and culture, while simultaneously suggesting that global interconnectedness can be a path to tolerance and acceptance. This notion of universal understanding is reinforced by representations of human figures seated atop five of the floating continents. Similarly assembled from a steel motif of alphabetic characters, the gathering of figures encourages us to think about the ways in which we are linked together as a collective humanity. Through his installation, Plensa offers us a space to meet, observe, and contemplate while engaging in a dialogue that inspires inward reflection and outward generosity.
To date, generous funding for Jaume Plensa: Talking Continents has been provided by the David and Paula Kraemer Fund; Ellen Rosner and Paul J. Reckwerdt; Peggy and Tom Pyle; Gina and Michael Carter; National Guardian Life Insurance; Lynda and Charles Clark; Dynee and Barney Sheafor; Sara Guyer and Scott Straus; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.