Lift the Lid: 23 Voices was a 10-week podcasting and journalism course co-hosted by LEEDS 2023 and Creative Lives, providing participants with the skills and confidence to create their own media about the culture that matters to them. In this article, Klara Pertmann shares her thoughts on The Weight of Words exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute.

The exhibition The Weight of Words at the Henry Moore Institute, co-curated by Dr Clare O’Dowd and Nick Thurston, is displaying works by multiple artists, exploring how poetry and sculpture overlap. The interdisciplinary inclusion of both words and physical material shape interests two sides of me: the dancer who moved from Sweden to Leeds to train, and the writer who constantly translates my Swedish into another tongue.

Joo Yeon Park, If Every Word 2023 on display at the Henry Moore Institute 7 July - 26 November 2023. Photo: Rob Harris


The sculpture If Every Word, by Joo Yeon Park, consists of aluminium constructs, robust like established institutions, two complex contexts, like two sides of a brain, each engraved with similar suggestions: “What if not every word in your/my sentence is visible”. The letters have been spaced out, revealing words in words, playing with the complexity of translation between systems of signs. I find my own language in an isolated ord (Swedish for word) in the English word, a secret message hiding in plain sight - my w(ord) is literally within the word, generating a feeling of belonging.

An opposite feeling: linguistic exclusion, is familiar to an international student, so when I read the title Standing Heech, I assume heech is yet another English word I don’t know the meaning of. The lack of knowledge forces me to resort to a visual understanding of Parviz Tanavoli’s sculpture. There is something wonderfully childish about learning a new word not through translation of a known language, but through the direct experience of its correlating phenomenon. I absorb Standing Heech’s green, twisting, body of fibreglass, and make up my own meaning, soon convinced I’ve recognized something real. (Retrospective confession: I was “wrong”.)

Shanzhai Lyric, Incomplete Poem (hedge) 2023, on display at the Henry Moore Institute 7 July - 26 November 2023. Photo: Rob Harris


This discussion on wrong and right, is evoked by Incomplete Poem (hedge), a display of printed t-shirts, overlapping each other like a land-fill of pre-owned possessions, or hung up for sale at a market-stand. Bold political statements in camp glitter and misspelt philosophical ideas, make fun of 21-st century self-expression, questioning if the words we use truly resonate. I roll my eyes, but inevitably fall into the role of the consumer, launching a personal game of choosing which t-shirt I would wear.

Contrasting the colourful fast-fashion: tiny refugee-boats with burned up matches as human bodies, aiming from one room into the next one, with only a few boats making it all the way (Dark Water, Burning World: 148 Moons and Counting…, Issam Kourbaj). A similar seriousness is evoked by Five Senses for One Death, in which the poet Etel Adnan’s words have been put on display by his partner Simone Fattal. An attempt to make a loved one’s thoughts and feelings permanent through physical manifestation. The words are important not because of literal meaning but in their function as a transferred memory.

Installation view of The Weight of Words at the Henry Moore Institute until 26 November 2023, showing Shilpa Gupta, Words Come From Ears 2018 and Pavel Büchler, Still Life with Dust 2017. Photo: Rob Harris


A loud soul lives in a flip board named Words Come from Ears. It constantly changes out its letters, communicating short phrases to me, and soon another joining person. With a third presence (including the presence of the flip-board), the energy changes, building tension and unfortunate awkwardness when the words “move closer” appear. The stranger and I stay still, keeping our distance, but I am certain we both feel guilty for not reacting to the instructions. At last I take a “now just passed” as my sign to leave, but only because it feels like the flip-board, or the artist Shilpa Gupta, is commanding me to do so, not because I am bored of the unpredictable monologue.

Slavs and Tatars, Szpagat 2017
bronze with brushed chrome finish, marble. 11 x 27 x 5.5 cm
Courtesy the artist, Kraupa–Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin. Photo: Gunter Lepkowski.


Ambiguous layers of language are portrayed with unexpected simplicity. I recognize myself in the compelling lonely sculpture of a tongue cut in half, pushed into the gymnastic split of a bilingual being. Slavs and Tatars Szpagat (the german word that, like the Swedish “spagat”, has come from Polish via Italian, and translates to “split”) perfectly symbolises the bilingual experience in a culture that values homogenic identities.

The Weight of Words is brilliantly curated, giving each artwork space to speak. It is a journey through multiple layers of language, successfully considering function and aesthetic, the personal and cultural, the silly and serious, the untranslatable and bluntly communicated. I am reminded of a recurring question: Is any version of me (dancer/writer, Swedish/English-speaking…) better, and do such dichotomies even need to exist? The Weight of Words says no. To move, change, and translate, never forms a better or worse version, but one complex collage of identities.

The Weight of Words is open at the Henry Moore Institute until 26 November, 2023. 

I'm a 22 years old dancer from Sweden, who moved to Leeds in 2021 to train at Northern School of Contemporary Dance. I've performed in work by Northern Rascals, Dr. Joseph Mercier and Imogen reeve, while also developing my own creative process as a dance maker and writer. I'm part of the guest writers program of Dance Art Journal, on which website I published my first review. My dance and writing practices constantly pose new questions for me to explore; my main research interests are phenomenology, literature and linguistics, but I'm currently curious about ideas on memory and the body as a living archive. Klara Pertmann, Lift the Lid: 23 Voices participant