Dont Speak, Eat
Video Projection, Black & White, Duration 02:00mins, 2013
On November 20, 1989, the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (following an initiative by UNICEF and the Polish government) which constitutes the first international legal framework to define and protect the basic rights and freedoms of children with a sum of 54 articles. To date, the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by 193 countries, among which Somalia and the US which, although they have signed it, have yet to put it in legal effect.
Asimis Alexiou attempts to encapsulate the intrinsic discord between theoretical legal acknowledgment and genuine respect of children’s rights today by directing a seemingly paradoxical antagonism between the basic right to survive, food, and the ten elementary rights as mentioned in UNICEF’s chart.
Though the right to food should be in alignment with mental, psycho emotional and physical freedoms of children, in western societies in particular, one can observe a “pretentious” dedication on feeding at the expense of other rights. And in that case, the term “feeding” is not limited to supplying food, but is also used metaphorically for every material benefit of manipulative character; that is, when it’s purpose is to manufacture a false fulfillment, neglecting the rest of children’s needs.
Children do not merely need food in order to survive. They need knowledge, affection, peace and predominantly speech and freedom of expression. Language (langue) as a semiotic system and speech (parole)1 as an individualized realization of speech set humans apart from other living beings and validate the existence of humans as subjects, both as individuals and members of the society.
In the video-performance “Don’t speak, eat” a progressively violent action of supplying food prevents the delivery of speech. Although in the beginning it is presented as a normal gesture of feeding-harmonious preservation and “coexistence”, afterwards, and as long as speech resists, the supply of food turns into an action of absolute abuse, silencing and disdain towards the speaker. Speech, as a voice and a symbolic expression of truth, reacts by increasing the volume of sound, by the speed of delivery and by repetition despite the imposed distress, but ends up in desperate gibberish and is finally neutralized. In this power play, it is unfortunate that suppression and essential violation of rights of children still triumphs; “the word of the grown up, the silence of the little one”2… The manipulative debilitation of speech and the subsequent debilitation of existence and of the rights of children.
Asimis Alexiou’s video-performance received a honorary distinction by Unicef and it was a part of its global campaign for year 2015, as well as in a group exhibition for the rights of children in the central offices of the UN, in Geneva, March 2015.
[1}According to the outlook and distinction made by linguist Ferdinand de Saussure.
[2}Verse from poem “Silence! Do not speak!” by author and poet Aziz Nesin.