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Mountain of Tongues at Backlit

11 June 18 photos: Alex Kuster

Backlit’s new exhibition Mountain of Tongues is devoted to the transmission of languages in the Caucasus region – on the border of Europe and Asia – which Arab geographers call "Jabal Al-Alsun" or "Mountain of Languages". The show features works by local artists like Leila Al-Yousuf and Ryan Heath, as well as the internationally renowned collective Slavs and Tartars, or the “archaeologists of the everyday” as they call themselves. We grabbed a coffee with Ryan Heath to find out more…

Tell me a bit about the exhibition...
Mountain of Tongues is a phrase used to describe the Caucasus region; about 64 individual languages are spoken there. Exhibiting artists are either from that region, or are making work about the use of language. Me being from Nottingham, I’ve created my own visual language based on Sneinton – where my home and studio at Backlit are – and I’m presenting that in the form of paintings.

What sort of works can we expect to see?
There’s gonna be a couple of video pieces, including a viral video on an iPad somewhere; you’ve got to find it. Slavs and Tartars will be showing a couple of pieces; one of them is a huge, inflatable balloon. It’s quite comical, a big sculptural piece. I’m hoping they’ve managed to find somewhere to put it; it’s absolutely massive! It must be about six meters wide.

Can you tell me a bit more about Slavs and Tartars?
There are two members fundamentally, and they work with multiple people. They’re interested in the space that spans between the west of the Great Wall of China and the east of the Berlin Wall. When I found out they were involved, I was really excited but also a bit intimidated because they are such a big, well-respected collective of artists.

How does your work interpret the idea of blurred boundaries?
I’ve got two paintings; one’s wall-based, and a more poetic version of visual language in the form of an abstract painting. The other one’s a sculptural painting piece and a bit of a deviation from my normal work. I’ve used these roadside frames before, to give it some context in relation to inspiration. I’ve modified it and put some spikes on top of it to reference territory; it’s kind of playful and hopefully won’t seem too violent. It’s presented almost as a warning sign, it feels quite territorial.

What’s the Grand Tour UK Partnership?
It’s basically a Midlands initiative to get the public to see art spaces; Backlit and Mountain of Tongues are being promoted through it. It’s to link places of English heritage like Chatsworth House and local museums, so it’s interesting to have Backlit in there alongside these regal art spaces. There’ll be some workshops alongside the exhibition too.

Anything else you wanted to add?
I’m also part of a project called In Another Place, which shows artists’ work on ten billboards in ten places for six weeks. I’m doing the artwork for Backlit’s billboard, and it connects to the current exhibition, so I’ll be doing a walking tour that starts there and ends up at Backlit. Hopefully it’ll be sunny and we can have some ice cream on the way.

Ryan Heath’s walking tour starts on Saturday 2 June at 3pm, at Backlit’s In Another Place billboard located on the side of Motorpoint Arena

Mountain of Tongues shows at Backlit Gallery until Tuesday 17 July 2018

Backlit website

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