Questioning language: a critique from Bethany Collins to Patron


Bethany Collins, “Land of the tyrant”, The Star Spangled Banner series, 2022, charcoal and acrylic on panel/Image courtesy Patron

Sounds, unlike painting, exist in a way other than visual consumption. In the white walls of a gallery, the presence of sound creates an acoustic space. Chicago-based artist Bethany Collin’s latest show, “Cadence,” is another contribution to her ongoing exploration of language. The viewer is forced to confront the contradictions that exist in their own dictionary of words they use daily against their counterparts.

The show revolves around three truly American melodies: “The Star-Spangled Banner”, “Dixie” and “Auld Lang Syne”. Each song shares the similarity that over time the lyrics have changed in response to changing political needs, while the musical rhythm has remained unchanged. As cliché as it sounds, the main text of the exhibition forces the viewer to really read between the lines.

Bethany Collins, “Land of the freed,” The Star Spangled Banner series, 2022, charcoal and acrylic on panel/Image courtesy Patron

Collins offers a challenge to viewers, in how they approach their own language and in understanding the power behind every word and the weight they carry. In The Star Spangled Banner series, the viewer is confronted with a very American element, our national anthem; the consistency of the musical notes contradicts the changing lyrics and challenges our values ​​of what is American. Each piece in this series is in charcoal and acrylic on panel. The pieces highlight phrases from versions of the song, such as “land of the freed”, “land of the brave”, and “land of the slaves”, which speak to different understandings of America.

There is also a spatial element in these works. The staggering of the letters on the panels makes you rethink your position in the lyrical narrative. Collins specifically chooses versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that contradict each other, but so eloquently describe this gray area of ​​what this land is for. If you enter this exhibition looking for a black and white view of the art, you will be pleasantly surprised. As you experience “cadence”, you can think about your own cadence and the different inflections you place on words at different times. How do you understand freedom or bravery in the American context? Is it a simple concept? In a time when statues are seen being torn down, the land of America is changing in a useful way. But also, looking back at how America was portrayed to the viewer, one has to grapple with what it means to us as Americans occupying that space.

As you go through ‘Cadence’ and admire the object-based works, you may feel like you possess a sense of power – you can tangibly see and control your interaction to some degree, but Collins activates the sense of ourselves that we generally associate with our sight. The artist asks the viewer to consider language and how intent and understanding can change within a single word. (Caira Moreira-Brown)

“Bethany Collins: Cadence” is on view at The Boss, 1612 West Chicago, through April 16.


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