Among the many things to marvel over in “Talk to Me,” a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art about how people and objects communicate, is a device called the “communication prosthesis.” It’s a rigid mouthpiece that stretches the lips wide, exposing the wearer’s teeth and gums. It forces timid people to look as aggressive and unhinged as Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
As I stood before this device, it occurred to me that it was, to no small degree, a visual manifestation of the semantic landscape of Manhattan — a place where words are loud, large, strange, tinnitus-inducing, sometimes beautifully vulgar, straining to be heard. Language here has teeth; it seeks you out; it wants a piece of you.
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