Traditionally, novelists, playwrights and journalists work with spoken language as part of their craft. Artist Joseph Grigely, totally deaf since the age of nine, actually transforms conversation into a visual art form as he explores the nature of human communication and interaction through his art--particularly the everyday exchanges that many take for granted.
This week and later this fall, visitors to the List Visual Arts Center can meet Mr. Grigely and contribute to his latest interactive installation, Ordinary Conversations. The work, to be created while he is artist-in-residence at the List Center for three weeks (September 12-20, October 2-5 and November dates to be announced) will be constructed around Mr. Grigely's own everyday mode of communication with the hearing: writing messages on slips of paper. Ordinary Conversations invites visitors to share written exchanges with Grigely in this manner in a neutral and informal "study" setting that the artist will create in the Bakalar Gallery.
Mr. Grigely considers the slips and notes representing these scraps of conversation as a form of still-life drawing. He will display his MIT "chats" on the gallery walls along with previous conversations and the artist's typewritten commentary. Visitors can examine (and add to) the communiques which are displayed.
"This project is not about the condition of deafness or of hearing, but the manner in which we make ourselves known to others amid individual differences and the creative act which is every person's life," Mr. Grigely explained.
Professors interested in bringing a class or a student group to meet with Mr. Grigely and discuss his project should contact Jennifer Riddell, curatorial assistant, at x3-4400 or
Mr. Grigely, who was born in 1956 in Springfield, MA, attended school at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, New England College and Oxford University. He is a professor in the art history department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Mr. Grigely had his first one-person show in 1994 and has since exhibited his projects at the AC Project Room, New York, and FRAC-Limosin, Limoges, France. He recently published Textualterity: Art, Theory, and Textual Criticism (University of Michigan Press, 1995).
The List Visual Arts Center's Artist-in-Residence Program invites artists to create new work that takes advantage of the special technological, intellectual and support resources at MIT. In turn, the artist opens the creative process to gallery visitors who may share in the development, research and execution of the project and converse with the artist directly.
Mr. Grigely will be present at the opening reception for Ordinary Conversations on Friday, Oct. 4 from 5:30-7:30pm. A catalogue will accompany the show and the project will remain on view through December 29.
The List Center's new hours are Tuesday-Thursday and weekends from 12-6pm and Friday from 12-8pm; it is closed on holidays. On Wednesdays from 12:30-1:30pm, the curatorial staff holds informal discussions and answers questions. For more information, call x3-4680.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 11, 1996.