From Maninka to Polish to Sylheti, New York City is one of the most linguistically diverse places in the world. A new installation by British artist and set designer Es Devlin at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts celebrates this remarkable variety with a celebration of language through sculpture and sound.
Your Voices is a rotating, oversized loom with glowing threads suspended between structural arcs. Each thread represents a language or dialect spoken in New York. As visitors walk through the sculpture they are treated to a multilinguistic soundscape by immersive audio producers Polyphonia. A line from E.M. Forster’s Howards End—“Only connect, and live in fragments no longer”—is repeated in languages from Azeri to Zulu.
Overall, the sculpture is a response to an observation from anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis that “Every language is an old growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought, an entire ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.” It was commissioned by French luxury bubbly purveyor Moët & Chandon.
For this work, Devlin collaborated with the Endangered Language Alliance, a nonprofit that documents vanishing languages in New York and around the world. (The organization maintains a detailed map of the city’s languages if readers want to learn more about what their neighbors are speaking at home.) Past work by the artist, on this side of the pond, has included a labyrinth jungle installation, unveiled as part of 2021 Miami Art Week.
Your Voices will grace the Josie Robertson Plaza, the front lawn for the Metropolitan Opera, through December 18. On some evenings at 6:00 p.m., choruses from around the city perform from inside the sculpture. More information on hours and performances can be found here.