Speaking in Tongues, Venice Biennale

11 May - 26 November 2017
Chiesa di San Gallo, 30124 Venezia, Italy



Paul Benney’s epic 16ft painting, Speaking in Tongues, together with an extraordinary holophonic sound installation, was presented during the 2017 Venice Art Biennale, in the church of San Gallo, just a few steps from St Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy.

In this work, Benney brings together twelve of his contemporaries to individually express a spiritual awakening - a state of grace. He seeks to demonstrate that a singular piece of art can promote an understanding between disparate ideologies and engagement in a shared spiritual dialogue. Speaking in Tongues resonates powerfully with the underlying theme of the 57th Venice Biennale, which the Chief Curator, Christine Macel, has titled Viva Arte Viva, and its emphasis on reflection, spirituality, and humanism.

At first and from afar the viewer encounters a quiet murmuring reminiscent of prayer or confession. As the visitor moves around the exhibition space the murmuring is interrupted; through the use of holophonic sound focusing technology, by the clearly discernible monologue of each subject; the effect being as though the individual voices are uncannily experienced as aural hallucinations.

The Reliquary series, consisting of two tryptics, appeared alongside Speaking In Tongues and formed an important part of this installation, re-emphasizing the spiritual metaphor of the flame as a representation of the human spirit.

Curated by James Putnam and Flora Fairbairn.