Virtual Exhibit

Tongues in Trees Installation

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Tongues in Trees: A Sound Installation

Click the following links to access the Image Gallery and the Audio Gallery

This audio installation of famous Shakespearean monologues performed by adult literacy learners, which was intended to greet visitors to the full Shakespeare Made in Canada gallery space, explores the ways in which adults struggling with literacy due to learning disabilities or troubled / low-income histories interact with and relate to Shakespeare. These monologues were recorded and then, through an audio system set in trees outside the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, triggered by passers-by through the use of motion detectors hidden in front of the gallery. As a moving exploration of well-known monologues, the performers reveal Shakespeare’s relevance to different forms of human struggle and experience, and powerfully demonstrate how Shakespeare can be embraced by all manner of people regardless of education, literacy level, or class. Additionally, the outdoor setting of Tongues in Trees placed Shakespeare in a free community setting, where ownership of his words and accessibility were rethought as a function of the performers’ poignant delivery of familiar lines.


Dawn MathesonIn the Elizabethan period, everyone went to the theatre: commoners stood at ground level, while the upper classes sat in the balconies. Despite this separation, Shakespeare’s words were intended for all classes. His words did not require the viewer to be educated or even literate, but instead expected an understanding of shared human experience. By contrast, modern day Shakespeare is an icon of high literate culture, supposedly reserved only for the well educated and those that can afford theatre tickets.

Tongues in Trees, an audio installation by Guelph multimedia artist Dawn Matheson, uses the medium of interventionist art to create a Shakespearean performance space for adults struggling with literacy due to learning disabilities–or a limited access to education because of troubled or low income histories. When approached with the project, only two of the participants had any past experience with Shakespeare. Nonetheless, each performer found and learned a monologue that personally related to their struggles and life experiences. Tongues in Trees self-consciously refutes modernist notions of elite ownership that attach to Shakespeare and reinvents the relevance of Shakespeare to a wide audience regardless of class, educational standing, or ability.

Click the following links to access the Image Gallery and the Audio Gallery

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