The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is a public participatory artwork by Heidi Quante and Alicia Escott focused on creating new language as an innovative way to better understand our rapidly changing world due to manmade climate change and other Anthropocenic events. The vision of the artwork is to provide new words to express what people are feeling and experiencing as our world changes as climate change accelerates. We will be using these new words to facilitate conversations about the greater experiences these words are seeking to express with the view to facilitate a greater cultural shift around climate change.
This project was inspired by moments that both Heidi and Alicia had where they literally were at a loss for words to describe emotions, ideas or situations they found themselves experiencing because of climate change.
Heidi and Alicia discovered they were not alone – friends, colleagues and people they met in their respective professions were also experiencing this loss for words.
For centuries philosophers, linguists, psychologists and others have noted the power of words to influence people’s thoughts and actions and vice versa. A principal called linguistic relativity (also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), holds that language affects the very ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their entire world, in short their cognitive processes which often inform their actions. It is from the term, linguistic relativity, that The Bureau of Linguistical Reality takes its name.
We reference this term playfully but believe sincerely that until we have the language to describe the changing world around us, we will not be able to fully grasp what is happening.
Here are some examples of the power of words:
The word genocide was created by the lawyer Raphael Lemkin in the 1940s to describe “the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group.” He created the word by combining Greek genos γένος, “race, people” and Latin cīdere “to kill”. Once this word was created a phenomena became real. When people now hear this word, they call up a whole understanding of this tragic human phenomena. They are able to use the word in conversations and debates and those who hear it understand it to be a real thing.
In 2002 at a meeting of geologists, Paul Crutzen a Nobel Prize winning Atmospheric Chemist, was fed up with people using the word Holocene to describe present times. He introduced the neologism Anthropocene. Anthropocene is a new geologic chronological term for the proposed epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems, many cite the Anthropocene era as beginning with the industrial revolution, others with the advent of farming. Anthropocene is now widely used in academia and the art world and is making its way into press articles.
Our words need to reflect our current realities, to help us codify things we are experiencing, such as a world that is rapidly changing due to climate change.
We appreciate that not all the words generated via this creative endeavor will make it into global lexicons. That’s ok. Our goal is to spark deep conversations and reflections about how our cultures can better reflect our new global reality. To inspire cultural shifts to better tackle a world rapidly changing due to climate change.