The center piece of VOX (the Latin word for “voice”) is a steel rack covered by reflective tape, in a construction that both obstructs and seals off a passage in space. The object is furthermore illuminated by a strong spotlight, installed on the floor in the same space. The powerful spotlight lights up the reflective sculpture at the same time as it often blinds the viewer. The sculpture proposes the life of languages as processes of never-ending collective negotiation where words and dialects (and entire languages) appear and disappear. And just as every language, the sculpture assumes different shapes, forms and meaning depending on the position of the viewer, obstructing and disabling some viewers, while facilitating and illuminating others.

The use of the English word mothertongue as the title recognizes the existence of this homonym in quite a few languages, using the same word for ”tongue” and ”language”. The title Mothertongue emphasizes the crucial connection between body and language, of language as something existing in the body of each individual, as well as something living in the collective body made up of the people speaking the same language. The sculpture Mothertongue consists of burls of birch found near Lainio in the Torne river valley and of chair parts in wood. These elements have been joined together into one piece, one body. But while some joints are more or less seamless, invisible, others manifest clear and obvious breaks or cuts. Each language is an organism under constant transformation and development. For those who have grown up in a multilingual environment, with several mothertongues, as many in Norrbotten have, or that for different reasons belong to several languages, these languages—as Mothertongue embodies—meet in different ways, sometimes with equity, sometimes with inequality, sometimes naturally, sometimes with force, sometimes not at all.

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst (b.1973) is an artist based in Stockholm. Her practice spans across a wide range of media such as sculpture, performance and site-specific installations in works that often deals with conflicts between social systems and individuals. Gustafsson Fürst has been exhibited both in Sweden and internationally, and is represented by the gallery Belenius, Stockholm. Previous exhibitions includes Not That Cloud at Moderna Museet in Stockholm (2017) In conjunction to that she received the Friends of Moderna Museets’s Sculpture Prize. In her ongoing exhibition Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue at Accelerator in Stockholm, the conflict between the nation-state and languages as well as the relationship language and body is in focus.