‘Real dialogue is where two or more people become willing to suspend their certainty in each other’s presence.’ David Bohm
Mother Tongue is a community visual Dialogue which I started with a partner Terry Rumble in the early nineties. This visual dialogue was inspired and based on the work of physicist and philosopher David Bohm. Bohm’s work on Dialogue grew out of conversations with Krishnamurti who was a spiritual leader deeply knowledgeable in Eastern philosophy. Bohm went on to develop and implement experiments in verbal dialogue groups that were replicated all over the world, many of which continue to this day. I was inspired by David Bohm’s work and wanted to try applying some of his dialogue ideas in a visual way. In the 1990’s I started to work with an artist friend to experiment with the technique, working in relationship together, to apply some of Bohm’s ideas to the visual realm.
“We are all linked by a fabric of unseen connections. This fabric is constantly changing and evolving. “
As Terry and I continued to meet on a regular basis, we developed a “call and response” way of reacting to each other’s creations. Realizing that we needed consistent structure, we decided to limit ourselves to a single format. In referencing Bohm’s verbal dialogue process, we chose a long narrow shape which alluded to the imagery of Persian manuscripts and implied the structure of word, sentence, paragraph.
After a year of working together in this way, we began to invite others to join the conversation. This invitation required each prospective participant to first observe and consider the existing images before creating their own response to the ongoing conversation. Over time an inventory of images emerged and the imagery and subject matter began to branch into many directions
“Consider, for example, the work of an artist. Can it properly be said that the artist is expressing himself, i.e., literally “pushing outward” something that is already formed inside of him? Such a description is not in fact generally accurate or adequate. Rather, what usually happens is that the first thing the artist does is only similar in certain ways to what he may have in mind. As in a conversation between two people, he sees the similarity and the difference, and from this perception something further emerges in his next action. Thus, something new is continually created that is common to the artist and the material on which he is working.”
“In nature nothing remains constant. Everything is in a perpetual state of transformation, motion, and change. However, we discover that nothing simply surges up out of nothing without having antecedents that existed before. Likewise, nothing ever disappears without a trace, in the sense that it gives rise to absolutely nothing existing in later times.” David Bohm
The Mother Tongue project went on to travel to many sites and eventually grew to more than 250 panels created by various groups of artists, students and community members. Over the 20 years that the project was active the visual conversation was in constant flux. It reflected the many interpretations creative impulses and individual skills and interests of the participants as well the concerns of the communities it visited. In turn the accumulation of images added to the richness and variety of the dialogue. The Mother Tongue dynamic web page can be viewed at <mothertongue.co>
“One prerequisite for originality is clearly that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it. Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear to him may be overturned. No really creative transformation can possibly be effected by human beings, either in nature or in society, unless they are in the creative state of mind that is generally sensitive to the differences that always exist between the observed fact and any preconceived ideas, however noble, beautiful, and magnificent they may seem to be.”