In James Drake’s Tongue-cut Sparrows communication is relegated to gestures within a set of limitations imposed by outside forces. The installation centers on a silent sequence of video projections of three women—Gabriella, Angie, and Liz—standing on a sidewalk outside a jail in El Paso, Texas. To avoid the bureaucracy of entering the jail, the women communicate with prisoners inside the building using a homemade sign language. Drake, fascinated by the great lengths to which these, and other visitors, go to communicate with their loved ones, asked them to interject poetic texts in their communication and then be recorded on video. Drake worked with the women to select texts from an array of sources, including the writings of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, as well as Shakespeare and Dante. Later, the artist completed a series of large-scale charcoal drawings centering on the same subject matter; in the drawings, images of the figures are joined by some of the words that were communicated between the couples. Often, there is a breakdown, or strain, in the communication—a tension that is emblematic of Drake’s ongoing interest in the social dynamics along the United States/Mexico border.
Object label from Videosphere: A New Generation, July 1–October 9, 2011