2016 Archive: Confusion of Tongues: Art and the Limits of Language

16 June – 17 July 2016


a banner with the text confusion of tongues

In Utopia (1516), Thomas More imagines an apparently perfect island society in which citizens share a common language and way of life. It is a text riddled with ambiguities, paradoxes and verbal games: ‘utopia’ itself translates as both ‘no-place’ and ‘good-place’. The book has repeatedly frustrated readers’ attempts to decipher its message. Confusion of Tongues: Art and the Limits of Language brings into dialogue artists who – in ways similar to More – explore the power of language to complicate and withhold meaning. As viewers, we are invited to imagine through and beyond the spoken and written word, to think and re-think, to look and look again.

Oskar Kokoschka, Dialogues part of the publication The Dreaming Youths, 1907, lithograph, 28.6 x 24 cm. The Courtauld Gallery. © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London/DACS 2016.


Susan Hiller, Midnight, Baker Street, 1983, c-type photographs on Agfa Lustre paper 3 ½, 3 parts, each 71 x 51 cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © Susan Hiller; Courtesy Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London/DACS 2016


This exhibition is a response to UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility, a year-long programme of events and exhibitions at Somerset House celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia.