Darcey Bella Arnold, a current Studio Artist at Gertrude Contemporary, is one of seven early-career artists in the running for the prestigious John Fries Award. Over the past few years, her work has developed a particular interest in the relationship between language and painting. Language and its accompanying technological applications, can reveal barriers that inhibit and thresholds that release. As receivers of language, we are constantly finding ways to arrange and rearrange what we see and hear in order to move beyond and between these limitations in search of appropriate transmissions bridging the space between us. Arnold’s work is a cartographic exploration of this space, in particular the relation between herself and her mother, for whom she cares.
Painting too is a language. Like writing, it aims to speak beyond itself at risk of erasing the very memory it wishes to preserve. Arnold’s acrylic paintings carefully and poetically translate collected remnants documenting her mother Jenny’s unique experience with observing, forgetting and remembering words, be they spoken or printed. These are intimate paintings, including slips-of-tongues, inappropriate equivocations, and poetic puns. Sometimes, we read Arnold’s renderings of her mother’s diacritic hand as being bi-lingual in form. Mapping her mother’s relation to language and memory these diagrammatic works are personal, not private and reveal a gentle gestural abstraction which text can become.
Paralleled with an essay by Matthew Greaves, these paintings can be seen in may say edit be, Arnold’s first solo exhibition with ReadingRoom, Melbourne.
To quote Darcey via Jenny — applaud x a’pplaud.
— Lisa Radford, 2020
Lisa Radford uses conversation and correspondence as a way of exploring the shared space between images, place and people through writing, editing, exhibition making and education. More often than not she works with others, most recently with Sam George and Yhonnie Scarce but previously with TCB art inc. for some 15 years, and as a member of the collective DAMP. Currently working in the Painting Department at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, she shares thoughts publicly and intermittently in The Saturday Paper.
Darcey Bella Arnold’s practice considers the artists’ close and unique relationship with her mother, Jennifer. Jennifer has an acquired brain injury, which has altered her use of language. As one of her carers, Arnold’s work is a meditation on language, image making and familial relationships.
Using gleaned material, she has explored her mother’s unique use of language and combined it with the artists’ language of image making. Through the use of diacritic marks and the misuse of the English language the narrative is left open for interpretation, intentionally, and language becomes a configuration in the creation of a compositional image.
Darcey Bella Arnold (b. 1986) is an Australian, Melbourne-based artist of British and Scottish descent. Darcey completed a BFA, Drawing at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne (2007), and a BFA, Honours at Monash University, Melbourne (2009). She lives and works in Melbourne.
A selection of recent exhibitions includes: My Mother’s Labour, Sutton Gallery Project Space, Melbourne (2018); Folded brick, Darcey Bella Arnold and Deimantas Narkevičius (LTU) organised by Paulius Andriuškevičius and Nicholas Kleindienst, Neon Parc Project Space, 215 Albion St, Brunswick, Melbourne (2018); and Talking with the Taxman About Poetry, Testing Grounds, Melbourne Arts Precinct (2017).
Darcey’s curatorial projects include Duck on the Pond, involving artists Elena Betros López, Noriko Nakamura, Lisa Radford, Salote Tawale, Roberta Joy Rich and Kalinda Vary at an offsite location in Melbourne (2018); and Bricklaying with artists Dan Moynihan, Georgina Cue and Adam Wood at Rearview Gallery Project Space, Melbourne (2017).
Darcey has been a finalist in the Bayside Acquisitive Art Prize (2019) and the Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize (2018). She attended an Artist-In-Residence program with Eastside International (ESXLA) Los Angeles (2016), and was included in Kimposium, a social sciences symposium curated by Dr Meredith Jones at Brunel University, London (2015).
A 2020 Gertrude Studio Artist, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, Darcey was selected as a finalist in the John Fries Award 2020, with a forthcoming exhibition as part of the award, curated by Miriam Kelly, at UNSW Galleries, Sydney (September, 2020).
A Narrative Review of Bilingual Aphasia Research
Aphasia, commonly caused by an injury to the brain, is a condition that affects the comprehension or production of language. For bilingual individuals, aphasic impairments—such as the inability to switch between two or more languages, and the involuntary mixing of two or more languages—create unique challenges. For centuries,however, aphasia research focussed on monolingual issues. In the late nineteenth century, several investigators began to address the gap in aphasia research, and their work remains important to formulating research questions about recovery patterns in bilingual aphasia. In more recent times, researchers have studied the brains of bilinguals with aphasia in an attempt to understand which brain regions enable healthy bilinguals to voluntarily switch between languages.This research has provided mixed results however, as one cannot infer that a brain region is directly involved in the switching between languages merely because damage to that brain region disrupts switching between languages.
The first reports of aphasia-like symptoms appeared in the Hippocratic Corpus (c. 400 BCE) associated with the Ancient Greek schools of medicine, yet it was not until 1584 that aphasia was described in detail. In his treatise on language disorders, physician Johannes Schenck von Grafenberg described a condition for which “although the tongue [is] not paralysed, the patient [cannot] speak because, the faculty of memory [is] abolished”. It was more than a century later that the first case of bilingual aphasia was reported by physician Johann Augustin Philipp Gesner. Gesner’s patient was an abbot who had lost the ability to speak. The abbot eventually recovered more Latin than German, and involuntarily mixed the two languages in conversation. Gesner did not impute any importance to the fact that the abbot’s two languages were differentially affected, and like Schenck, he considered aphasia to be a memory deficit. Rather than focal brain damage, Gessner suggested that the abbott’s language impairments were caused by “congestion of nerve ducts” outside the brain, and consequently, he attempted to remedy aphasia with bloodletting and foot baths.
Almost a century later, in 1865, Pierre Paul Broca’s celebrated post-mortem studies of aphasic stroke patients’ brains seemingly established that the ‘language faculty’ was localised in the inferior frontal gyrus (the lowest positioned fold) of the left frontal lobe. Two years later, drawing on Broca’s findings, Robert Edmund Scoresby-Jackson wrote the first paper discussing the neurophysiological implications of bilingual aphasia. Contemplating the case of “a gentleman who, after a blow on the head, lost his knowledge of Greek, and did not appear to have lost anything else”, Scoresby-Jackson speculated that while one’s first language may be stored in the posterior portion of ‘Broca’s area’, subsequently acquired languages may be stored in its anterior portion. Unfortunately, Scoresby-Jackson died shortly after his theory appeared in print. As this theory of multiple languages organised in multiple brain regions went well beyond the available evidence, it was largely rejected, and it took decades before bilingual aphasia again became the topic of research.
Research into bilingual aphasia inadvertently resumed in 1881 when the experimental psychologist Théodule- Armand Ribot published a book on the diseases of memory. In the final section of the book, Ribot mentioned the case of “an ingenious Italian” who spoke only French during his fight with yellow fever, yet “on the day of his death, spoke only the language of his native country”. He interpreted the case in terms of retrograde amnesia (namely that recent memories are more likely to be lost compared to more remote memories), and suggested that in bilingual aphasia, the language learnt earliest in life is the one to recover earliest. This minor point in Ribot’s book was soon challenged by neurologist Jean Albert Pitres, who argued that in bilingual aphasia, the language that was used most routinely is the one to recover earliest, as the most familiar language involves the most “stable cortical associations”. Fierce debate between the ‘Ribot’s law’ and ‘Pitres’ law’ camps ensued, however physicians continued to report cases which did not conform to either theory. What is more, both theories were quickly eclipsed by psychoanalytic theories such as Eugène Minkowski’s theory that the language that recovered earliest in bilingual aphasia is the one “closest to the heart”, and Eduardo Krapf’s theory that whether a patient recovered their mother tongue first depended on whether the patient had a “special need to communicate with the guardian of their vital interests” (i.e., their mother). While they failed to establish a general rule for language recovery in bilingual aphasia, it remains an open question whether the factors identified by these aphasiologists—such as frequency of language use and an individual’s preference for a language—influence language recovery.
As interest in bilingual aphasia grew, researchers began to examine the damaged brains of individuals who involuntarily mixed languages (or involuntarily switched between languages) in an attempt to locate the brain regions responsible for voluntarily switching between languages. In 1925, neurologist Otto Pötzl conducted a post-mortem study of a man who involuntarily switched between German and Czech after suffering a stroke. The study revealed a lesion in the left lower parietal lobe of the man’s brain (some distance from the regions thought to be dedicated to language production). Pötzl suggested that a mechanism (i.e., a group of interconnected neurons) may be located in this region of the cortex, and that this mechanism enabled bilinguals to control which language they spoke at any given time. Decades later (with the aid of neuroimaging) many other brain regions have been proposed as candidates for containing such a switching mechanism. In 1993, Salvatore Aglioti and Franco Fabbo reported the first known case of bilingual aphasia after lesioning of the basal ganglia (deep brain structures implicated in voluntary control of motor movements) and suggested that they housed the switching mechanism. Subsequently, in the 2000s, Jubin Abutalebi and colleagues’ studies of bilinguals with aphasia have provided evidence that the left basal ganglia and left frontal cortex contain a neural network responsible for controlling the correct language output, while Michael Ullman and colleagues’ findings suggest that a switching mechanism relies on the temporal and parietal lobes. In short, the switching mechanism has yet to be found, and given the variability of lesions and impairments in bilingual aphasia, it is possible that such a mechanism relies on different brain regions in different individual brains.
Aphasia often affects individuals’ ability to work and meet family responsibilities, which can impact their well-being and the well-being of their families. While it is generally accepted that aphasia can improve with speech and language therapies, the process by which these therapies supposedly remediate aphasia is unclear, and in many cases, it is unclear whether the spontaneous recovery from aphasia is confused with the results of a therapeutic intervention. This lack of clarity is understandable given that there is still little that is understood about the neural mechanisms that support language comprehension and production in healthy individuals, not to mention the little that is understood about the patterns of impairment and recovery in individuals with aphasia. For these reasons, further basic research into the neural mechanisms that support language is required. While this research may not immediately suggest clear-cut ways to lessen the difficulties faced by people with aphasia, it will ultimately aid the development of coherent theories and reliable therapies over time.
—Matthew D. Greaves, 2020
Matthew D. Greaves is an Honours candidate in the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne.