Themes:

To the one of the silver tongue

Nastia Nikolskaya, Master of Fine Art

This small sculpture plays on a common inexpensive trophy. The top of the sculpture, where the head of the trophy would normally appear, has been replaced with a tongue. This imitation organ is electroplated with the same shiny finish as the base.

With strong associations to male culture in the public sphere – embodied by awards of recognition and sporting prizes – this small object carries a variety of subtle meanings.

A component of this piece involved meeting with men whose “verbal skills” had made an impression on me. I chose three male students and gave no details about the project. They were in the year above me, adding another layer of hierarchy that brought with it a level of comfort and confidence in contrast to my own.

I filmed each man in fake interview style with no warning beforehand of what we were to discuss. I adopted the position of interviewer, giving them the object as if bestowing an award, and asking them interestedly about how they felt upon receiving the prize of the silver tongue.

As they were put on the spot and had no time to relax and think about it, they immediately started talking about what it was like to receive it, joking about the name and revelling in their victory.

I continued to film, explaining the project and the intention behind it. On hearing that the work was to do with the fluency of their speech and their comfort in self-expression, they were flattered. They offered consolation and support in return, regarding my contributions to the class and apparently pleasant and comfortable demeanour.

The sculpture is a reminder of an issue that is ever-noticeable in group dynamics; women often feel less comfortable speaking up and sharing their points of view. There are those who routinely give more time and space to others. While silence may be uncomfortable, it is nevertheless necessary for others to express themselves.

After these three encounters, I noticed these same men holding back and giving more space to others in group exchanges. Perhaps thinking about the strange encounter afterwards, they realised the intention behind the game. In groups, too many people feel too uncomfortable to say something, and a few feel all too comfortable dominating. This imbalance is often if not always gendered. Cis-gendered male students exhibit an over eagerness to fill silence at the expense of the communicative potential of a space. Given the chance to reflect on this issue, men may notice that it is not always the time and place to let their silver tongue roll.

With thanks to the three people who agreed to participate in the filming; as well as Helen from the GSA casting workshop, Stewart at Macs Locksmiths and Cobblers on Sauchiehall St, Dolly and John at CIR Electroplating, David Excoffier for the image; John at GSA Sustainability in Action Group; the MFA tutors; and Alex Fleming and Miranda Stuart for the conversation.

Full sculpture image